After fifteen hours of travelling we finally arrived at West Palm Beach. The temperature was quite hot (about 30′ C/86′ F) and excessively humid—I don’t know how people can live in such a climate (constantly moving from the air-conditioned buildings to the sweltering outside is enough to catch one’s death). Jason & Lynn, document.write(“”); the Chibi-PA organizers, picked us up at the airport. I was disappointed to learn that the convention’s name is not pronounced “PeeHey” (as it could have been an hommage to Protoculture Addicts — J/K) but “Paw” and simply means “small party.” We quickly escaped to our beautiful hotel suite at the Crown Plaza to get some well deserved sleep.
On Saturday, after a quick breakfast at the hotel, we took the shuttle for the convention center located a couple of miles away. Having the convention so far apart of the hotel was not inconvenient because of the shuttle (but it ran only on an hourly schedule and, the convention center not being a regular stop, you had to call to be picked up—but you could always catch the shuttle downtown, just a 5-minute walk from the convention). The first thing I did was to check the convention’s layout. It was good as it was all concentrated in the same area of the Convention Center, on two floors (unfortunately neither the floor plans nor the schedule are/were available on Chibi-PA’s website). On the first floor, you had the registration, one small dealer room, three video room, one panel room, and a video game room (further away in the convention center there was also a vendor offering some fast food). On the second floor, you had a large dealer room, the main event room and, along the balcony, the artist alley. The dealer rooms were stacked with various nice goodies and the convention was pretty well organized and staffed. I have no complain.
The main guest (beside myself) was Makoto Nagano, the champion of the Japanese obstacle game show Sasuke (known as “Ninja Warrior” in North America) and his Q&A was the first event I attended. He arrived late, but the delay allowed the room to fill up. It was interesting to learn about this guy (I never heard of him before since the show is not broadcast in Canada, and I was more interested in his life as the captain of a fishing boat than in the game show itself), but unfortunately the english pronounciation of the Japanese translator was not very good and it was sometime difficult to get what she was saying. Right after that event, Nagano-san did an autograph session on the second floor balcony and I set up my table right beside his to sell and introduce my magazine to the crowd. At 5 pm we ran a panel where we introduced the magazine, answered questions, did a small focus group to get feedback from the audiance and discussed the anime industry situation. The crowd was good, in fact better than I expected (the room was half full, with about 20-30 people). I gave away copies of the magazine to each participant. I missed the koto and Fushu Daiko concerts (I was busy holding our presentation table and the panel), but attended a very interesting panel following ours, “Kimono Class with Yoshiko Carlton,” where a couple of Japanese ladies explained the intricacies of wearing a kimono. At 7:30 pm we walked to the beautiful CityPlace mall downtown, ate at a mexican restaurant and picked up some snacks at a grocery store before going back to the hotel to rest.
On Sunday, after a quick breakfast at the hotel, we arrived at the convention on time to attend the second of Nagano-san Q&A. After that we walked again around the nice outdoor CityPlace mall to take pictures. Then, while Nagano-san was again signing autograph, I hold the magazine presentation table. At 3 pm we had another panel, but no one came (the crowd was definitely thinner on Sunday). We hung around the convention a little (checking more carefully the dealer room). After that we walked around downtown in search of the beach (it’s called West Palm Beach, isn’t it?) but it was not within walking distance (we did make it to the “canal”). We finally came back to the hotel to rest before going out to eat with the convention organizers. I wish we could have some time with Nagano-san to discuss and do an interview.
Early Monday morning Jason & Lynn drove us to the Fort Lauderdale airport from where we flew back to Baltimore and then Burlington, where a friend picked us up and drove us back to Montreal. Flying over the trees in Vermont, with all their various fall colors, was beautiful. The trip back took only eleven hours and was a little less tiring, but the whole week-end left me rather exhausted (it must have been due to the heat and flying five planes in four days).
An amusing anecdote: at the same time than Chibi-PA, the Palm Beach County Convention Center was also hosting some Christian group convention on Saturday and some church activities on Sunday. It was funny to see all those people dressed as their best on one side of the convention center and, on the other side, fans dressed as their favorite anime character! At some point Sunday, someone (presumably attending the “other” convention) came nearby the registration area and shout some invectives equating us to the devil. Cool.
Overall Chibi-PA was a nice convention. The Florida convention scene is clearly well organized (although it is knowing the usual occasional feuds among competing organizers), but the demographics of the state (mostly an aging population of retirees who doesn’t care much for anime) are condemning the local anime conventions to remains small and barely solvent. However, there is nothing wrong with small conventions. There might not be any industry panels or many big guests, but they are usually the most fun to attend. If Chibi-PA was a small party (I estimated the attendance around 1200) for the fans to congregate and enjoy themselves (I only wish I had more time to enjoy its activities), its most endearing quality was that it extended its focus not only to anime and manga, but also to many related aspects of Japanese culture. If you have the opportunity to attend Chibi-PA in the future, I recommand you to do so. Let’s party!
I’ll post some pictures and video clips later.