Sundays at conventions are always generally the quietest of a convention, and the final day of Alcon started pretty slowly with only a handful of events taking place before midday.
With the bar and cosplay café closed until 12pm the main early
points of interest were the dealers room, which opened at 10am, the
cosplay photoshoot and a couple of early panels. The Anime
Breakfast Club took place again, but low attendance saw the cereals
and toasters moved into the hallway of the Queens Building, which
proved a very popular decision as groggy attendees started rolling
in. Being held early on the Sunday morning is the kiss of
death for a convention panel but the Trip to Japan panel and
Skull Branded Pirates Q&A went on despite low attendance.
Even the game and screening room were deserted (giving us the chance
to battle through a few levels on Streets of Rage 2
uninterrupted), and the issues with the dealers room evaporated...
largely because hardly anyone was there to go in it. After
lunch things kicked off once more but the dealers room was run far
more effectively and there was no repeat of the colossal queues that
had plagued it on Saturday.
The final round of panels and workshops kicked off in the Queens Building at midday with the lecture theatre hosting a pro-artist panel and Pro Iron Artist competition. Meanwhile the Artist Alley was taken over by Ball-Jointed Doll fans for a meet and workshop, but unfortunately the Making & Styling Cosplay panel was cancelled. The Cosplay Café and Bar re-opened though and the second screening room started showing a lengthy bill of Japanese live-action drama series. Later the Queens Building hosted a Machina Shogunate Q&A, the second part of Sonia Leong's excellent Manga Workshop and the Alcon Q&A, which we attended with great interest. The
panel was extremely interesting as convention chairman Mike Towers fielded questions about the accommodation, the scheduling issues on the Friday and the dealers room before outlining their future plans for the convention. After this panel there was a fun chopstick lesson hosted by committee member ShadowJam, and then the Queen's Building shut up shop and the action switched to the bar. The closing events kicked off with a double bill live gig from the Skull Branded Pirates and Machina Shogunate before the charity auction and closing ceremony. UK Otaku hosted a live podcast before the final parties ended the convention in style.
Once again Animetion enjoyed Alcon as a whole, although we were disappointed at that some of the issues from last year still persisted. The convention is hugely enjoyable and pretty varied and innovative, plus the bad reputation it still carries from 2007 ensures a different crowd as many convention regulars stay away. The Cosplay Café was one of the best we have been to at any UK convention and made an excellent alternative to the bar for those who didn't want to or couldn't drink. The Anime Breakfast Club was a great idea too, although we thought it worked better when the tables were moved into the hallway rather than tucked away in a screening room. The accommodation remains excellent, not only is it great to see a convention have sufficient on-site accommodation for all the attendees but to offer it at a lower price than any other UK convention is the icing on the cake. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and the communal kitchen areas are spacious and well equipped with cookers and fridges. Both accommodation blocks are close to the bar and main convention building, and the organisers made a fair stab at ensuring that friends are kept together - although some last minute key mix-ups meant that things didn't go completely according to plan.
Alcon is pretty community orientated and tries to make itself affordable to ensure that it doesn't alienate its young fanbase, and this has both good and bad points. On the plus side it is cheaper than any other UK convention, with both accommodation and registration costing close to half what it does at other events. There is also the free breakfasts on offer in the convention building and the bargainous Cosplay Café, whilst the bar prices are reasonable and the nearby Sainsbury's keeps food costs down. However, on the minus side the convention cuts a lot of corners to keep prices low, including only hiring the convention buildings on convention days and hiring the lecture theatre on the Queens Building upper floor for only a few hours across the entire weekend. By hiring the building for the minimum period the organisers miss out on valuable set up time, and this was the main cause of the delays
and technical issues that plagued the panels on Friday. The under-use of the Lecture Theatre was a massive shame too, the room was by far the best the building had to offer in both size and technology but was used for just a handful of panels. Mike Towers revealed that the room was expensive to hire in the Alcon Q&A but even so it feels like the convention is handicapping itself when it doesn't fully utilise the facilities available to it. If it's a money issue the convention could raise registration costs to cover it, we can't think that many would complain about a small price rise considering Alcon costs around £20 less than pretty much all the other UK conventions.
All in all Alcon 2009 was an enjoyable weekend with a good social atmosphere. It's not afraid to try new events and has a pretty packed schedule, plus there's an admirable focus on what the fans want in both price and content. It is better value for money than most other UK anime events, but suffers from cost-cutting, underage drinking and the occasional over-zealous gopher. As it stands it is a great social event but it still has issues to sort out when it comes to organisation - for a convention to have to cancel a handful of anime screenings because they can't play region 1 DVDs is frankly embarrassing. An increased capacity for 2010 seems inevitable but we hope it does not lose the things that set it apart from other UK conventions such as accommodation for all and smaller, first-time panels. Alcon 2009 was good fun, but after the huge strides in 2008 it's a shame the convention couldn't push itself to greater heights.