With the restrictions on public gatherings, most summer and fall events just won’t be happening for a while. This includes anime conventions, so no Animethon either. To fill in the gap, some groups have decided on a virtual approach to events, with Funimation and Aniplex throwing their hats into the ring as well. Unfortunately, their schedules collided (more on that in a bit), so I can’t give either my complete attention. Instead, I’ll change things up a bit by covering both at the same time. With that, these are my impressions of FunimationCon 2020 and Aniplex Online Fest.
First things first, let’s talk about the viewing experience. One good thing about virtual conventions is that you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home, you can just stay in your pajamas all day and snack if you want.
Aniplex Online Fest was streamed on YouTube and Bilibili, while FunimationCon 2020 was hosted on a custom-built website, at least from what I can tell. The Funimation event required attendees to register, and it was only open to residents of the CANZUK countries, Ireland, and the USA, while the Aniplex event was open to pretty much anyone with Internet access.
Funimation and Aniplex
To better understand the differences between these two conventions, let’s first talk about who’s running them. Aniplex, in this case Aniplex USA, is an anime distribution company that sometimes does music production as well. They’re a subsidiary company of Aniplex Inc., which is itself a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment. Funimation is an anime distribution company as well, mostly known for dubbing Japanese content into English. Though Funimation is a joint venture between Aniplex and Sony Pictures Entertainment, the company is independently operated. Even so, these two companies are still closely affiliated, and they often cooperate in anime-related matters.
The main issue we have here is this: Funimation hosted their event from July 3-4, while Aniplex hosted their event from July 4-5. I don’t know how/why this schedule clash happened on the 4th of July of all dates, but accidental or intentional, it happened regardless. While it’s not impossible to plan your way around this (not having to move between physical venues certainly helps), it’s still rather inconvenient. I realize the issue’s not as simple as just asking them to host their events on non-conflicting days… but I digress. Now then, let’s talk about the actual conventions.
Promotion is an essential part of any event, and Funimation kinda failed in this aspect. FunimationCon 2020 was their first attempt at hosting a convention, and it clearly shows. They didn’t have their schedule ready to view until only 3 days before the event, when most events have their schedules ready to go weeks in advance. They didn’t even bother to put it up on the registration page; instead, you had to comb through social media to find it. You’d think that kind of information should be readily accessible, right?
Their web design also needs improvement. The info on the registration page was bare-bones at best. It didn’t even say where the convention will be streamed, a detail so crucial it should’ve been right next to the name and date. A sign-in email the-day-of isn’t good enough. At least tell us it’ll be on a custom website so we know beforehand. Also, the Instagram feed was way too bulky, taking up space that could’ve been used to… I dunno… show the schedule? Preview guests? Advertise exclusive merchandise? Anything to build more hype? This is exactly why first impressions matter. If I hadn’t already committed to making this post, I’d have probably just skipped this convention and gone straight to Aniplex’s stream.
Grievances aside, however, the actual website looked pretty good once you were logged in. Navigation was relatively easy, though input lag was a small problem, and the color design grew on me over time. I also appreciate the ability to pause livestreams mid-way, a feature missing from the Aniplex stream.
A few thoughts on the panels which caught my attention: FLOW (the band) is cool as always, the My Hero Academia dub voice actors seem chill, and the Fruits Basket VA dub cast has great chemistry together. Overall, though FunimationCon 2020 performed decently well once it was underway, I can’t help but feel that the aforementioned issues soured my experience.
Aniplex Online Fest
Simply put, the event page for Aniplex Online Fest was everything that FunimationCon’s registration page should’ve been. It had tons of interactive elements, a clear timetable with event descriptions and guest lists, merchandise previews for those interested, as well as event details and affiliates. This was also Aniplex’s first attempt at hosting a convention, but their marketing was much better.
When it came to the actual streams, Aniplex took the safe path and used pre-existing platforms. Not that there’s anything wrong with the safe path, but going by first impressions alone, it felt a bit less special. To give credit where it’s due, Funimation took a risk in designing their own custom streaming site, and it paid off for them.
The Aniplex panels, in contrast to Funimation’s casual webcam style, were done in a more formal style with the main guests together in one room (albeit socially-distanced). The SAO Alicization: War of Underworld voice actor/director’s panel was interesting, as was music composer Yuki Kajiura’s special (putting aside the technical glitch in the transition). I liked the chemistry between the voice actors in the Irregular at Magic High School, Misfit of Demon King Academy, and Cells at Work! panels; you can really tell how much they love their roles.
I had to miss the initial airing of the Kaguya-sama: Love is War? panel due to prior commitments, but thankfully, the panel archives were made available on Aniplex’s YouTube channel for a limited time. They didn’t have to do this, but I appreciate the extra show of goodwill on their part.
While I felt that one convention held a definitive edge over the other, they both still had elements that made them worth attending. For FunimationCon 2020, this was the laid-back atmosphere and English accessibility. For Aniplex Online Fest, this was the production quality and guest variety.
Side Note: there was actually a third convention during that weekend, Anime Expo Lite, which was held by Los Angeles-based convention Anime Expo. However, I decided to not include it here. They didn’t have enough panels that held my interest, and two conflicting events is already enough without trying to juggle a third one.
If these types of events were to become a trend in the future, I’d welcome it. That would at least be something good to come out of this pandemic. For now though, I’m just happy to get something, even if it’s not in-person. I probably won’t cover any more virtual events unless they’re especially noteworthy (don’t want to over-saturate the subject), but I’ll stay on the lookout for more of these kinds of events.