After visiting my first anime convention in my final months of college in March 2007, DaigaCon in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I knew I needed to seek out more conventions to feed my burgeoning love of anime and the fan community. This led me to wake up my sister super early on September 22nd, 2007 to take the nearly two hour drive down from Chattanooga to the Cobb Galleria, where I’d participate in my first, but certainly not last, Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA). At the time AWA was celebrating its 13th year, with a “mere” 10,000 attendees, a third of what was estimated to have attended in 2022.
For my eyes though, entering Anime Weekend Atlanta was like discovering a bustling Otaku metropolis full of strange sights, sounds, and perhaps smells too. I planned a full schedule of panels including one featuring some of my favorite podcasters Anime World Order, which I found had Otaku Generation members in attendance as well – I fanboyed hard over all of them. I also ensured we would meet some of the guests, and specifically my sister and I both wanted to meet Greg Ayres who then, and everytime I’ve met him since, has been an absolute treasure. Of course we also marveled at all the cosplays too, and to this day my sister and I still recall some of our favorite cosplays we saw that year including a fancy deer cosplayer who bowed upon meeting us! After exhausting ourselves with panels, events, and running around, with the tiredness leading to some sibling squabbles, we took a break and relaxed in line outside the door for the concerts of the evening featuring Peelander-Z, The Emeralds, and The Captains. After rocking alongside the bands, in the late PM early AM hours, we drove back where I summarily had my first post-AWA sleep and recovery. This day still is treasured in my heart and my memories.
Since my trek down to my first AWA, my love of the con, as well as its importance in my life, has grown year after year. As a member of the press in attendance for many years, I had the pleasure to interview some incredible people including the author Helen McCarthy, music artist and producer Taku Takahashi, Otaku USA founder Patrick Macias, and DJ/producer TeddyLoid to name a few. I’ve also made many lifelong friendships, which makes AWA feel as much like a reunion as it does a convention. I’ve even had my share of heartbreak connected to the con, with friends who used to attend with me passing away, and also missed moments and lost connections over the years. All in all it has added up to the con becoming an incredible part of my life, which I think is why I was especially feeling emotional leading into this final year at the Cobb Galleria.
This year was my 16th trip to the convention, which I’ve attended consecutively (excluding the year of the Covid cancellation) since that first trip down in 2007. (This was also Anime Weekend Atlanta’s 29th year in existence.) My place in fandom has certainly evolved since then, as I’m now the former president of an anime club, former radio host of an J-Pop/J-Rock/anime college radio show, and former director for an anime con that ran for seven years. My time spent watching anime has dropped significantly too, less due to lack of interest and more time obligations, and so though my love of anime, anime cons, and the culture therein has never waned, I’ve seen myself go from a young upstart to becoming a somewhat elder statesmen looking on as new generations take their own paths into the fandom. I caveat that all to say that coming into this year’s Anime Weekend Atlanta was emotional at the onset, as the rumor mill had predicted – correctly so – a move from the Cobb Galleria, AWA’s home for the last twenty years, to the future home of the con the Georgia World Congress Center.
Many of us undoubtedly had and have mixed feelings about the move, though as a past con runner myself I certainly understand many of the pressures and the reasoning for the move, but without yet thinking too much on the future we all wanted to focus on the time and present and to enjoy this convention to its fullest. Thanks to a combination of wonderful weather, an incredible array of guests, panels, vendors, and artists, nearly everyone I encountered was able to do just that and seemed to really enjoy their AWA experience to the fullest.
Certainly there were some changes: the hotel introduced wristbands for the lobby, the main path of flow between the Cobb Galleria and the Renaissance Waverly was reversed (I eventually got used to it), and registration was in the old theater, which feels like it should’ve been used from the start. Yet what remained the same spoke to the success of the con over the years and presented a positive outlook for its future. I’m specifically speaking of things like the packed, yet fun if you got inside, Super Happy Fun Sell. I’m also including the many incredible music performances such as the rave, highlighted by the inclusion of TeddyLoid and Taku Takahashi of M-Flo. I of course have to shout out the full array of guests, who drew folks to their panels and to the back of the dealer’s hall for autographs in droves. Likewise the panels were awesome as always, including Dave Merrill’s Anime Hell, a panel whose presence over the years has been like a steady anchor in the everchanging schedule. (Merrill helped create Anime Weekend Atlanta, and previously served as con chairman.) Lastly and most importantly everywhere in the con there were fans of all ages, some in cosplays which is always incredible to see, who through their presence and participation in the con showed their love for the fandom and for each other by helping to create this place for us all to just geek out for a weekend.
It’s important I think to remember that the fans are the rock of conventions like Anime Weekend Atlanta. Merrill in his opening for Anime Hell highlighted the work of every fan at the con, and in the American anime community at large, who through our presence and support not only helped make Anime Weekend Atlanta happen all these years, but also helped build the anime fandom that now flourishes in America. “We did that”, Merrill emphasized, giving credit to fans over companies. That’s an incredibly resonant point and a reminder that while AWA may change in various ways over the years, as long as fans remain, and as long as it’s a welcome home for this community, no matter where the convention will take place it’ll have a lasting life for present and future anime fans for many years to come.
Zippy is a contributor to Cosplay in America as well as editor of Last Looks