Matsuricon 2016: Inexcusably Disorganized

Over the weekend I went to Matsuricon, an annual anime convention in Columbus, with my boyfriend and five other friends. Everyone else in my group had been to Matsuricon before, as well as a number of other anime cons, and I just attended my first anime con earlier this year (ColossalCon in Sandusky). I’ve watched several anime series in whole or in part, and I’ve really enjoyed most of them, but anime cons are much less my scene than, say, GeekyCon.

I had a lot of fun at Matsuricon. I was impressed with Artist Alley, and I bought a couple of prints and found several more that I really liked but just couldn’t quite justify purchasing. I thought the actual vendor hall had a pretty good range of products for people who are really into anime, although my friends thought it wasn’t as good as in previous years. I enjoyed some of the programs I went to, such as a workshop with voice actor Lisa Ortiz (which Jeremy got to participate in), Pokémon trivia hosted by Tara Sands, one of the voice actors for Bulbasaur, and a concert by Brina Palencia and her YouTube alter-ego. And of course I had a good time hanging out with my friends between panels and at meals and at night when we all crowded into Erick’s apartment. But there were a few things about the con that I found disappointing, and one thing in particular that was downright infuriating.

The one thing I wanted most out of the weekend was to meet Colleen Clinkenbeard, a voice actor who’s played a wide range of characters, including Riza Hawkeye, one of my two favorite characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, my very first anime, which Jeremy and I watched on our first date. (We looked all over the con for a print or poster of Hawkeye that I could purchase and Colleen could sign, but we couldn’t find anything, so Jeremy sneaked away to Artist Alley and commissioned one for me! It’s perfect and I love it!) Jeremy and I knew there would be a long line of people wanting to meet Colleen on Saturday, so we showed up about an hour before her signing was supposed to start, and the area that was designated for the line was already full and many more people were still wanting to get in line. After several minutes of disorganization on the part of the staff who were in charge of the situation and being told very sharply not to stand in the middle of the intersection of two hallways, we were told by a stressed-out guy in a plaid shirt (who was clearly trying to be firm but reasonable) that those of us who hadn’t made it into the main line could stand in a separate line behind this pillar, out of the way of traffic in the hall, and we might get a chance to get into the signing room, but it would depend on how long it took to get the first group of people through. So Jeremy and I joined this line and waited for a little over an hour. We watched the people in the main line be let into the signing room, and we hoped that we might be able to get in too. All of a sudden, this other staffer, a tall guy with rainbow-dyed hair, started shouting at all of us who were standing where we had been told to stand that we all had to get out of line and disperse, immediately, or he would escort us out of the con himself. We could come back when there were fifteen minutes left in the hour allotted for signing and see if maybe they could let us in. Anyone who complained that we were standing where we had been told we were okay to stand or otherwise tried to reason with Rainbow Hair Guy was screamed at. I’ve dealt with some rude con staff in my day, but this guy seriously took the cake. He was belligerent bordering on verbally abusive, and Plaid Shirt Guy was nowhere to be seen.

So Jeremy and I moved away from where we were standing to another spot that was still near the signing room, intending to “just hang out there” until we were supposedly going to be allowed to attempt getting in line again, and many other people did the same thing, and we were all shouted at again and told we had to leave the area. So Matsuricon staff were literally trying to police where we chose to stand. We were so insulted and disgusted that we gave up and decided to try for Colleen’s signing on Sunday, hoping that disturbingly rude Rainbow Hair Guy wouldn’t be there. Our friends Dani and Kayla later got in a long line to meet some different voice actors, and they stood there for two hours before they found out that the line had been capped several yards ahead of them after only thirty minutes. So Matsuricon let several hundred people stand in line for an hour and a half without communicating that the line had already been capped and they would not be able to get into that signing session under any circumstances.

On Sunday, Jeremy, Dani, Kayla, our friend LaMar, and I showed up more than an hour before Colleen’s signing was supposed to start, and we encountered the same totally chaotic scene, which Plaid Shirt Guy and a couple other staff members were trying to sort out. (Thankfully, Rainbow Hair Guy was not there.) At least this time we were allowed to “just hang out” in the area before they started allowing people to line up for Colleen about a hour before her session was supposed to start (there was a line for another set of voice actors already underway). And Jeremy, Dani, Kayla, and I managed to get into that line by pure luck. They literally had a staffer point at random people in groups of one or two and allow them into the line, and then they cut it off once their very small area that had been marked off with tape was full. LaMar did not get to meet Colleen because the staffer didn’t point at him.

So I did get to meet Colleen Clinkenbeard, and she was very friendly and loved the print Jeremy had commissioned for me, but I left Matsuricon completely shocked and disgusted by the way they handled the lines for special guest signings. The rooms for the signings and the space in which people were allowed to stand in line were extremely small, and my friends told me that signings had previously been in a different location with a whole lot more space. The fact that the Columbus Convention Center is currently under construction in some areas is no excuse, because there was a very large room on the third floor that would have been great for signings, but it had been set aside to continuously play episodes of the show One Piece all weekend (and that room was never even close to full). There’s no way that the staff could have been surprised by the number of people who wanted to get into the signing sessions, especially on Saturday, the most highly attended day of the con. All of my friends said attendance seemed to be about the same as it had in the past, and anime cons are notorious for long lines outside signing rooms. The staff should have been trained how to handle a crowd and most especially not to shout at and threaten attendees. The kind of disorganization I witnessed might have been understandable at a con that was only a year or two old, but this was year number eleven for Matsuricon. That’s absolutely inexcusable, and it made me pretty loath to attend Matsuricon ever again, or at least until I have some kind of proof that the con has its act together.

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