Anime Festival Orlando has been a con I’ve been putting off for some time. Having been to every major Florida con except AFO, I felt some sort of obligation to go at least once. Oddly enough, it was suppose to be my first convention several years ago until plans for it fell through. Now, having experienced at least eight different conventions, how does one of Florida’s oldest conventions stack up?
At first I had some pretty high hopes for the location upon hearing this was a hotel-style convention. I was thinking it would be all inside one big building like at two of my favorite conventions: AWA and EXP. However, upon arriving I found the hotel to be like Florida Anime Experience, in which you have to park and walk from the hotel room you are staying at (and these walks can be lengthy) rather than taking an elevator up and down. It does not help either that the temperature during the entire weekend was said to be around 100 degrees. Then there is the convention center itself which is essentially a very long 15-20 ft wide hallway. This would not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact this was one of the largest anime conventions in Florida. Parking also becomes a problem particularly if you aren’t even staying there. I remember seeing cars parked in very unconventional ways or parking at a building across from the con. It also rained Friday and Saturday night. On the bright side at least there were indoor food caters.
This also becomes a problem if you want to take pictures. For such a large convention attendance-wise, I rarely took any shots in the hallways simply because there was a lack of space to do so. AFO does shine in its outdoor lagoon area. This place had bridges, water, statues, fountains, and all sorts of variation to take advantage of. The only downside is that it is somewhat of a small walk from the convention center and if you wanted to get great pictures you’d have to convince people to go out in the blistering sun to take them with you.
Once I became more settled, I found the convention had a lot to offer. There was a game show room that ran during the entire weekend, most of which were complete with prizes. These tournaments varied from video games, video game trivia and even anime trivia. Speaking of tournaments, I noticed one event going on called Conquerors of Neo Orlandia. In this event, players can join a faction and collect game money by attending various panels to help win or as they put it “conquer” Orlandia. While I didn’t have the time to try it myself, I found It to be very innovative as a way to keep attendees involved with the convention rather than just attending. Then there is the costume contest. This was pretty straightforward with no problems, but with the only complaint being on Sunday. I am not quite sure why this is becoming a trend for conventions to hold it on Sunday as opposed to Saturday, other than pushing attendees to stay at the hotel the entire weekend.
On the topic of Cosplay, I was certainly very impressed. While not as good as what you would see at MetroCon, there were certainly a lot of visible effort put forth. Some of my favorites included the Fire Emblem, Pokemon, and Monster Hunter cosplayers. There also seems to be a deflation in the oversaturation of Hetalia and Vocaloid. However, these cosplays were certainly present in the many panels created for them. One panel in particularly I was curious about was the “Miku Musical Adventure” (I admittedly being a fan). While not as fancy in its initial presentation, it certainly blew away a similar panel that was done at MetroCon. Essentially it was different (and good) vocaloid cosplayers acting out certain songs rather than trying to sing them. There was also snacks at this panel which was a huge plus. Other panels I enjoyed that come to mind were Fatal Frame, Stunt & Fight Choreography, Press Start: The Movie, and Angry Otaku.
As far as Dealers go, it was a pretty standard size. I’d say close to over 25 dealers. All of your typical items here except I did notice one advertising massages. Speaking of which I do have to applaud AFO as they had a video game dealer and it was the first con I was able to spot one all year. The Artist Alley was spread across the hallway and I believe there was somewhere between 15-20 artists. There were, of course, the other typical elements you see at the con. There was a generic rave, but if I remember correctly it lacked any cool visualization. Video game room was pretty decent with a lot of space, no foul odors, and a decent variety of around 10 games though no DDR.
Now the biggest thing I did notice that also sets itself apart from other cons is what was going on outside of the convention center. A friend of mine who told me that this is one of his favorite conventions said that AFO is a “party con”. So at night, once you go out by the pool areas, it is cluttered with all sorts of people and music. In fact, you’d almost think it was part of the con seeing so many people partying around the pool. Though not part of the actual convention, the pool parties seem to have been a big highlight for a lot of people.
In the end I was glad about finally attending AFO and now able to say I have attended every major anime convention in Florida presently. However if I had to sum up the experience in three words it would be “sweaty and crowded.” So as far as me returning next year it is kind of up in the air, but if they were to move to a larger venue I’d definitely consider it.
Pros: Organization was decent enough, lots of contests/tournaments, OK gaming room, good dealers. Very social atmosphere.
Cons: Costume Contest on Sunday, VERY HOT weather, rain, finding a place to park, very crowded
All Pictures by Kenneth Davis