In a repeat of last year's F.A. Cup Final, it was once again London versus Sheffield except this time, F.A. stood for Favourite Animecon. Young upstart AUKCon were making their first appearance on the hallowed turf of the Conway Halls near Holborn, London, where the first leg was played on February 19th, with the away tie taking place two weeks later in the Rutland Hotel, Sheffield, home of the respected giant, Anime Day. Only one thing was certain: we Brits could never again feel superior to Californians over their dumb habit of organising two cons in a fortnight...
Location: This, Brian, was a category of two halves. The major appeal of AUKCon here was that I could get up, have a leisurely breakfast and get there in about 45 minutes, rather than enduring British Rail on a Friday night. On the other hand, the Conway Halls felt more like a school - no running in the corridors! - as opposed to the laid-back Rutland. AUKCon 1, Anime Day 1.
Catering: What is a convention without the opportunity to indulge in large amounts of food 'n' drink? Here, experience told in favour of AD4, with the tried and tested Fat Jack's proving superior to anything Pizza Hut could offer (though I do recommend the Conway Halls' chocolate cake). On the alcohol front too, in Sheffield you could get a drink without leaving the premises; at the Conway Halls, it was strictly non-alcoholic beverages (as I said, like a school!). AUKCon 0, Anime Day 2.
Guests: AUKCon managed to bust the long-standing embargo on foreign players, and pulled over Toren Smith, writer of the 'Dirty Pair', giving them an unassailable lead in the category. AUKCon 1, Anime Day 0.
Dealers' Room: Another key element, and both conventions proved strong in this area. I spent more money in Sheffield, but this was mostly because I had more money to spend! AUKCon snuck ahead, with Kiseki selling subtitled copies of 'Return of the Overfiend', but AD4 equalised with a devastatingly good table of fanzines (Cajun Sushi Bar, Legend of the OVA Fiend, Trash City and... now, what was it called again?) Accusations of bias in this section are utterly unfounded. AUKCon 1, Anime Day 1.
Video Program: Yep, both had them - or so I'm told, didn't see much at either! AUKCon 0, Anime Day 0.
Sociability: This one possibly was the crunch. In Sheffield, everywhere you went, you would stumble across groups of anime fans, lounging around tables, and chatting amiably. While the amiable chat was still possible in London, the amount of lounge space was severely limited, and as someone who views these events as a social occasion more than anything else, critical failing. About the only near-suitable space was the fan room, which was a neat innovation, deserving of future expansion; otherwise, you had to spend all day wandering round like the Flying Dutchman. AUKCon 1, Anime Day 3.
Duration: AUKCon's strategy was notably different, in that they had specifically targeted a one-day convention. However, it all really petered out at about 5 p.m; at that time in Sheffield, even though they'd started on the Friday evening, things were just warming up - those who experienced the bear-pit atmosphere during 'Kekko Kamen' will understand EXACTLY what I mean! Sheffield's stamina eventually run out at Sunday lunchtime, by which point AUKCon was already a distant memory. AUKCon 1, Anime Day 2.
Summary: AUKCon 5, Anime Day 9. So, a comfortable victory for the old guard, seeing off the young pretenders without too much trouble. A fair result, I'd say, reflected in the fact that while I was quite happy to go up to Sheffield for AD4, I'd have been a bit disappointed had I made the same trek to find AUKCon. On reflection, it was something of a mis-match; AUKCon might have been more fairly described as an anime mart, albeit an upper-class one, rather than a convention as it lacked most of the social elements which to me are the crucial elements for a good con.
However, with no Anime Day next year (the organisers taking a very well-earned break), the field will be open for a newcomer, and AUKCon certainly showed enough promise to make it a leading contender for promotion to the Premier League.