Earlier this year, I wrote an article on the New Orleans Comic Con, held annually at the Morial Convention Center, which is largely focused on superheroes, sci-fi, and assorted pop culture. While Comic-Con is the foremost pop culture con in New Orleans during the winter, the summer sees another massive fandom event: the anime convention Mechacon. Starting in Lafayette in 2005, shifting to New Orleans’s Hilton Riverside in 2011, and finally arriving at the New Orleans Hyatt Regency in 2017, Mechacon has attracted consistently larger and more enthusiastic crowds for anime and Japanese pop culture. Mechacon is similar to Comic-Con in many ways and attracts the same sort of crowds, though at the same time, its position as an anime convention grants Mechacon a unique fandom atmosphere.
While large comic conventions largely focus on merchandise and celebrity guests, anime conventions often consist of a dynamic mixture of merchandising, original art from local artists, cosplay, and video games. The percentage of cosplayers is higher than at many other fan events, and merchandise and original art are separated into the “Dealer’s Room” and “Artist’s Alley.” Multiple rooms are set aside for screenings of anime in a variety of genres, and another large room is dedicated to video games ranging from Tekken to Smash Bros tournaments to Japanese Pachinko machines. Gaming and entertainment industry groups still interact with fans at these events, and Mechacon was also the site of test demos for Sony’s Virtual Reality setup PlayStation VR and the recently-released Nintendo Switch.
In addition to the mainstays of the anime convention, Mechacon’s recent years have seen a dedicated focus on sci-fi theming and the uniqueness of the event. After Mechacon’s 2016 theme of “The Last Party on Earth,” Mechacon’s shift to the Hyatt Regency was paired with a figurative shift to “Crescent Station,” a space station housing all of humanity in the year 2318. Crescent Station, incidentally, holographically projects the image of present-day New Orleans to its immediate surroundings.
Given the increasing popularity of Mechacon and fan events in general, I reached out to the event staff for an interview on event planning, anime conventions, and making Mechacon the best it can be.
Q: Mechacon has steadily gotten more popular over its years as a local event since it initially moved locations to New Orleans. Do you think this is indicative of anime going more mainstream?
A: “While there are a number of factors that have increased the popularity of anime and fan conventions in recent years, increased awareness of and access to anime can’t be discounted. With the advent of streaming services making anime more easily accessible and with social media making it easier for people to share their interests, anime has gained a wider audience than when we started in 2005. There is no doubt MechaCon, and Anime conventions in general, have benefitted from this.”
Q: What prompted the sort of rebranding of Mechacon as more explicitly sci-fi oriented in 2017?
A: “MechaCon’s content and programming focus hasn’t changed or become more sci-fi oriented at all. The only change was the addition of a theme related to the backstory of our mascots, Jett and Zee, who pilot a giant robot in the future. With the move to the Hyatt, we saw an opportunity to capitalize on the unique, state-of-the-art nature of the facility and combine it with our own GEARE Universe to create a new and truly unique convention experience, but we still welcome anime fans of all stripes, and will continue to provide content for the widest possible range of attendees.”
Q: Was the switch to the Crescent Station theme meant to coincide with the switching of locations from the Hilton Riverside to the Hyatt Regency, or was that just coincidental?
A: “While the space station concept and the incorporation of the fictional United Forces military elements into our staff had been discussed for years, it wasn’t until the move to the Hyatt became necessary that we saw a clear path to making it a reality. So yes, the Hyatt Regency, both the staff and the facility, was integral in making Crescent Station work the way we envisioned it, and we could not have asked for a better partnership.”
Q: Can we expect more of the Crescent Station lore to unfold at future years of Mechacon?
A: “There is quite a bit of lore surrounding Crescent Station and MechaCon’s GEARE Universe available already on our website at http://www.mechacon.com/solnet, and we do intend to expand on that through our partnership with OVA: The Anime Roleplaying Game, content revealed as part of the convention events and additional media released on our website. We are still gauging public interest and demand will certainly play a role in how much and what we do with our fictional future going forward.”
Mechacon took place from July 27-29, 2018 (or, 2318, depending on who you ask). Next year’s Mechacon is slated for July 26-28, and it’s sure to be a great event for both locals and on-campus students looking for a unique experience in Japanese animation and pop culture.
COVER PHOTO: Mechacon