This seems to be the year for local conventions to celebrate big anniversaries, and Anime Detour is no exception. The con’s 15th anniversary brought about a bigger change than other conventions, though—it moved downtown to the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis. The year 2018 also brought about its largest attendance yet, with 6,299 people joining the fun. (The previous record was in 2017, with an attendance of 6,217.)
The convention space at the Hyatt Regency gives a good framework for future years. Although Anime Detour’s 2018 marketing head, Shanna Opsahl, noted that the attendees should “expect change” as the convention applies lessons learned about how best use the new space, it’s easy to see there’s plenty of room for the convention to be the best version of itself. The most common comment heard, from both Anime Detour staff members and attendees, was how the new venue, with six floors of rooms, gave more room for everything.
The con suite, the video-game room, and the dealers room came away as three of the biggest winners from the move. Not only was the new con suite larger than the space was used at the Bloomington DoubleTree (which Minicon also left in 2018), but it also connected into a kitchen. The gaming room was upgraded to a space large enough to hold a small arcade in addition to the tournament, computer, and console-gaming setups. There was even enough room for Nintendo to run a promotional table on Saturday. The new dealers room was reminiscent of one of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds’ exhibition halls in size. It was ginormous.
Moving from floor to floor was fairly easy—both elevators and escalators connect the first five floors, though the sixth was accessible only by elevator. The convention area had two separate elevators, and many of the floors also allowed easy access to the hotel’s other elevators as well.
The 2018 Anime Detour chair, Jayson Stob, and head of administration, Megan Stob, were both full of praise for the new hotel and particularly appreciative of how welcoming the Hyatt Regency staff was toward the convention. They mentioned that the hotel had even put out extra hand towels in the guest rooms, along with a note specifying that the extra towels should be used for makeup removal. Some hotels have been known to be more hostile when it comes to makeup on towels, so this was an especially welcoming touch.
The hotel had two eating areas available during the con: a hotel restaurant and a coffee shop. While I didn’t get a chance to try the restaurant, I did partake at the café, which offered a selection of breakfast dishes, sandwiches, entrées, and flatbreads. The prices for both eateries were reasonable, at least by hotel food standards, and, aside from a stale Rice Krispies bar, everything I ate was fairly tasty. The healthier grab-and-go options led Opsahl to comment that she “felt more healthy here than at any other time” at a con. The coffee-shop workers even got in on the fun—I saw one of the baristas sporting cat ears.
Anime Detour continued its humanitarian efforts this year with an excellent charity auction featuring everything from autographed swag from shows to a gift basket full of Hello Kitty wines. All proceeds were earmarked for the American Red Cross National Home Fire Campaign, and while I wasn’t able to get a total for 2018, previous years have raised up to $36,625. The convention also continued in its mission of looking out for previous special guests: an additional fundraising effort was made for Christopher Ayres, a 10-time guest of honor who requires a double lung transplant.
If you enjoy cosplay, Anime Detour is the place to let your costume-filled heart shine; it’s the only convention I’ve attended where I’ve felt there were significantly more people dressed up than not. A number of panels focused on helping attendees spice up their current costumes or providing information, such as how to “Frankenstein” sewing patterns to assist in creating next year’s costume. The masquerade featured 48 entrants, all of which, from novice to master, were of high quality. It’s obvious that many of the contestants put a lot of work into their costumes and performances. Especially creative was the entry that portrayed a specific moment from the movie Anastasia, using two people to portray the costume change that happens in the main character’s imagination.
The convention featured a number of guests of honor, as well as a number of alumni guests who have all attended previous Anime Detours. Twin Cities Geek contributor Briana Lawrence (who has written a number of wonderful pieces on cosplay) and partner Jessica Walsh brought their writing projects and expertise on costuming. The other special guests of honor included F. Wesley Schneider (cocreator of the Pathfinder RPG), Faye Mata (Lulu in League of Legends), Xander Mobus (Joker in Persona 5), and Kaigi Tang (Odin in Fire Emblem Heroes). These guests and the alumni guests of honor participated in a number of panels and were available for signings. A particularly fun panel was “Gaming Time with Guests,” where Schneider ran a short RPG scenario with players Mata, Mobus, Tang, and con chair Stob in which—in a literal case of “stuff falls, everyone dies”—the mechanic for conflict resolution involved playing Jenga.
Other panel covered all aspects of anime, from specific shows to the behind-the-scenes production, but also gave time to other subjects, such as K-pop and video games. It was especially nice to also see a few panels and activities providing a chance for attendees to learn about other aspects of Japanese culture, history, and politics. Sometimes fans can get stuck in stereotypes, and more panels that promote a deeper understanding of the context can lead to less unintentional racism.
If all the panelling and other activities left you needing down time, there was plenty relaxation opportunities available in the manga reading area or in one of the five round-the-clock video rooms. Or, if you were in the mood for something more artistic, the artist alley and art show were both available for the viewing and purchasing of art, and the craft room provided some DIY fun.
With the convention being downtown, there were some new positives, but also some new challenges as well. Logistically, I generally have to drive to conventions and hate having to get in my car to drive places once my initial arrival. With so many things in close proximity downtown, I was able to walk to run certain errands after arriving at the convention. There’s a large number of places to grab food within a small radius, from casual to fancy, and Target is only a few blocks away—though it’s a much closer walk on the street (under 10 minutes) than in the skyways (about 25 minutes). Speaking of the skyways, the two overflow hotels, the Millennium and the Hilton Minneapolis, are connected via the skyway system, which is nice when it’s 18 degrees in April. One thing to note, though: most of downtown’s food and shopping on the skyway level is not open on weekends.
Going into the convention, transportation to the event was the biggest logistical challenge. With the hotel change, this is one place where there was a lot of information to convey, and some of it wasn’t as consistently available on the convention website as it could have been. Discounted parking was supposed to be available at both the attached parking garage (down to $13 a day) and at the nearby Minneapolis Community and Technical College ($5 on entry, no fee on exiting, Friday through Sunday only). A shuttle bus ran between the hotel, the MCTC garage, a few other parking ramps, and the Hilton. I ended up parking at the attached ramp, figuring the extra money was worth the convenience, but upon exiting was charged $24, more than I expected. I would have significantly appreciated information on what I was supposed to do to get the advertised rate, because I couldn’t find anything in the program book or on the website. Talking to other people afterward, it seems I was supposed to get it validated by the hotel, or perhaps the rate was only available to those who stayed there. In this case, a little information would have gone a long way and possibly impacted my driving decisions.
While Anime Detour did a great job in providing maps, working to find affordable parking options, and providing some information about public transit, there’s just a little more work to be done in communicating the details—which is a takeaway that any other convention considering a move downtown should take to heart.
Aside from parking, the only other big issue the convention had was with the party-room layout and flow. To be fair, the best part about the Bloomington DoubleTree is its poolside cabana rooms; the balconies, patios, multiple access points, and wider hallways make for a great party setup, so it’s going to be a tough comparison for any other hotel as far as party space goes. At the Hyatt, the party rooms were on the third and fourth floors and were accessible from the main event space, but through some twisty-turny hallways. Getting from one floor to the other was fairly indirect as well, and with the narrowness of some parts of the hallway, it didn’t take too many people for the space to feel clogged and claustrophobia inducing.
Any time a convention moves, it creates difficulties that aren’t always visible to many of the attendees. There are a million new things things to consider: function-space placement, vendor booth sizes, how noise will affect sleeping rooms, and more. To have only two real pain points really says a lot about the amount of work that the Anime Detour staff put in behind the scenes, and, since they seem to have an outlook that indicates a willingness to learn from the lessons of this year, I’m optimistic about the potential for next year to be even better. In the meantime, I’m going to get started on my “to watch” list. Anime Detour made it grow a little.