Animazement is a special place for me. One of the very first conventions I attended in the late 90s, it was where I discovered that there was more to the conventions that just panels, merchandise, and screenings. There was, and still is, a thriving convention community, and Animazement helped create it. At least for me. After many years of regular attendance other real-life things prevented me from attending regularly. But on a whim some of my oldest friends and I decided to head back to Animazement in 2014. I really didn't know what to expect. The con had long outgrown its original home and moved into a convention center. Enough years had gone by that even the locals whom I used to be able to expect there had moved away. The staff was likely much different, too. But to my pleasant surprise, even years later Animazement hadn't lost its friendly, open, welcoming feel.
The convention still offered much of the same things as I had remembered. Panels were very fan-oriented with both popular and niche interests represented. Long gone are the days of trading VHS tapes but the video rooms were showing some of the most recent stuff and classics. The dealer's room and artists' alley were exactly what I expected. The alley had a lot of artists selling their goods and the dealer's room was small but still full of merchandise. With so much more merchandise available domestically now the dealers' content has shifted a lot towards apparel and trinkets instead of the tapes, CDs, and books from the past. That is to say, Animezament has kept up with the times without changing too much.
Downtown convention centers are typically not the best place for smaller cons. Such districts are usually very business oriented, with limited dining and entertainment options available in the evenings and weekends, but the downtown Raleigh area had plenty to entertain guests. The nearby hotels offered plenty of space very close to the con center and city-designated public areas free of traffic were always filled with con goers taking a break from the regularly scheduled events. And that's really where Animazement has found a perfect balance. The convention provides enough to do so that one never needs be bored, but doesn't cram all the big events so close together that they feel hectic. That leaves plenty of time to relax and socialize or rest. Despite the prevailing heat, there was always a bigger crowd outside than inside. Sadly the heat and harsh sunlight made for less-than-optimal photography conditions, but the spacious air-conditioned convention center interior made up for that.
What mainly prompted my friends and I to head down to Animazment this year was the incredible guest roster. The currently extremely popular shows Kill La Kill and Madoka Magica were well represented with many voice actors and staff members present. What really make the guest list go from amazing to incredible was the addition of the Gundam voice actors. For fans of what may be the most popular anime franchise ever this was a golden opportunity to hear them all together and, with fairly modest waits in line, get autographs. Animazement being a moderately sized convention with a large draw of locals, the lines and waits are very manageable. Unlike the huge conventions such as Otakon, Anime Expo, and New York Comic Con, you don't have to plan your whole day around one or two events. Of course, the guests themselves deserve many thanks, often staying past their time slot to give everybody in line a chance to get an autograph.
The location is also fantastic for any fan of food. My group went out to eat often and were not disappointed. In proud southern tradition, the Raleigh area hosts some of the best bar-b-que around. After years of covering masquerades I still love them, but the lure of amazing food was too much to resist. While the drive to some of the higest-rated restaurants is long, the food (and the hole-in-the-wall locations) are well worth it. The only drawback of going to Animazement is the relative lack of hotel space within easy walking distance of the convention center. Even hotels miles away sold out very quickly. That being said, after such a great experience this year I'm keeping an eye on the hotels to see when they open back up so I can reserve a room for next year.