An overview of Anime Weekend Atlanta 2019

By Tommy Thai

Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA) is a convention in Atlanta, Georgia that focuses on anime, manga, and other aspects of Japanese culture. It has traditionally been held annually every year since 1995 and is the largest convention of its type in the Southeast. This year’s AWA took place from October 31, 2019 to November 3, 2019, at the Cobb Galleria, a big change from its usual end of September timeslot that has been consistent for years. According to its own Facebook post, the reason for this change is because of conflicting schedules with Dragon Con, another major convention in the area.

AWA 2019 this year broke a few firsts for the event. It was the first North American premiere of ARIA, a performance by the virtual Vocaloid IA, and it was the first year of a smartphone app-based schedule instead of a physical booklet schedule. Both of these are signs of the increasing trend of technological aspects of conventions becoming more and more prominent each year.

The overlap with Halloween weekend possibly helped the convention this year, generally, Thursday is the least busy day of the convention, but since it overlapped with Halloween (October 31) this year, it seemed significantly busier than previous years. It was definitively the busiest Thursday this author has ever seen at AWA. The line for the typical Super Happy Fun Sale (a garage sale of sorts for attendees to sell their merchandise) that happens on Thursday stretched across huge swaths of the venue unlike years past. Thankfully it was also moved to a much larger ballroom as well.

An ARIA Concert in Japan

Anime Weekend Atlanta ARIA

Also on Thursday was the IA ARIA concert, a unique kind of concert that stars a Vocaloid (essentially, a virtual avatar rendered in real life that performs and sings like any other idol) who combines a real performance from a voice actress with technology and real-life dance performers on stage. This concert was also the only one during the weekend that required a separate ticket from the regular badge for the weekend, as it was part of the ARIA World Tour that will be traveling to the rest of the country afterward.

IA wasn’t the only musical guest at AWA. Every year several concerts are performed by the usually Japanese guests that are invited every year and are generally guests who otherwise never come to the Southeastern United States.

i☆Ris Saturday Concert

One of the main concerts this year was i☆Ris, a Japanese idol group with a surprisingly strong fan presence in the West. So strong in fact that their fanbase created a call book, which lists common chants and phrases used by the audience during their concert.

The entirely fan-made callbook

The actual concert itself was full of energy put on the professional Japanese Idols and their loyal fanbase. Even when you don’t necessarily understand the words of the songs, it’s incredibly obvious how much practice and effort they give into their singing and dancing.

One of the other strong focal points about Anime Weekend Atlanta is the strong emphasis on cosplay around the convention. Like all anime conventions, you’ll find plenty of people dressed up in costumes from their favorite anime, manga, comic books, and even Disney characters. What makes AWA a little bit different from the other conventions, however, is the clear catering and lengths the convention goes to. One such example is the dedicated Cosplay Repair station that is loaded with extra sewing and art materials anyone in need of help can stop by and use, or even get extra hands to help with any last-minute adjustments.

Anime Weekend Atlanta

The cosplay repair station

There was even an entire cosplay gallery for cosplayers to show off their previous hard work and give a little glimpse into what it takes to create some of the humongous detailed outfits seen around the venue.

Display showing off a cosplayer’s Geralt costume

This is a very class act by the Anime Weekend Atlanta staff to help encourage people to participate in the hobby that also attracts even more attendees every year. A win-win situation for all parties involved.

This year the Fate/Grand Order tour was also heavily involved in the production of the event. Fate/Grand Order is a mobile game based on the visual novel Fate Stay/Night that is hugely popular among anime enthusiasts, especially in Asia where it topped consumer spending one year. This year as AWA was part of the tour they created special stickers that fans could get by getting special stamps at stations allocated around the venue.

Stickers from the F/GO tour

Furthermore, Fate/Grand Order also reserved a large booth in the Dealers section that sold merchandise, both physical and digital, as well as containing a large timeline for fans to look at while they waited in line.

Aniplex had a large booth dedicated entirely to the Fate/GO timeline

That isn’t to say Anime Weekend Atlanta doesn’t have its own fair share of challenges, however. It is very clear that AWA has been growing in size every year and this year more than ever before felt crowded with longer and longer lines as the weekend went on. Multiple autograph lines got so long that they were being hard-capped only minutes after the signing officially started. Some vendors in the dealer’s hall complained of late responses for news about their reservations. Also one of the major concerts scheduled for the weekend, Starmarie, had to be canceled so last second that the paper schedule still has their concert listed on it. (Granted, this seems to be linked to a general trend of visa issues that has plagued multiple conventions.)

Anime Weekend Atlanta, even with the huge sponsorships and the high profile musical guests, still feels like it’s explicitly catered towards the common attendee. Nearly all of the big-name concerts this year like Mashiro Ayano, Nano, Myth&Roid, etc were all free to enter and watch. The venue itself is twenty-four hours with panels going on constantly, and there are food options in the venue itself that are still serving out food at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning. There are fun, fan-run panels like the Gachimuchi (Don’t Google this at work!) power hour that offers a glimpse into just some of the more underground fandoms that populate the scene. AWA still just feels like a grassroots celebration of Japanese culture, and it’s one of the few conventions that this author always makes time to go to every year.

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