There was a time when the number of anime events in the UK roughly equalled the number of Swiss naval victories. A time when the shelves of HMV sagged under the weight of Guyver and Fist of the North Star videos, a time when the till rang as thousands exchanged good money for copies of Urotsukidoji or The Gigolo. Back then a few hardcore fans decided that they wanted to celebrate the other kinds of anime, the kinds that were passed around reverentially on fourth generation tapes and ignored by the UK distributors of the time. These fans decided to launch an event with this aim, that event was Minami Con and 15 years later it's still going strong.
Minami Con is one of the UK anime scenes' real survivors,
outlasting numerous clubs and societies and even some of the anime
distributors that eventually released the anime they promoted.
Unlike most UK conventions Minami Con has run every year since
its inception and remains a small event, with its capacity capped at
350. Held in the Novotel hotel in Southampton,
Minami Con is conveniently located a short walk from the town
centre, train station and a couple of retail parks. This makes
it easy to get to and puts plenty of facilities nearby, which is
more than you can say for a lot of anime events!
The con itself is held mainly on the Novotel's ground floor, with the hotel bar forming the central hub. The activities largely take place in a single room which can be split into several smaller rooms by using sliding partitions. The full room is used for the opening ceremony and party, and is split up to accommodate the dealers room, a screening room and a couple of event rooms from then on. The screening and event rooms are combined for larger events such as the auction and cosplay masquerade, and the changeable size and layout is used very effectively by an experienced committee. The remaining parts of the con are held on the fifth floor of the hotel, where you will find the
remaining screening rooms, the Bring & Buy and the ops room nestled alongside the normal hotel rooms. Strangest of all though is the games room, which is held in another hotel! In fairness it's held on the ground floor of the Ibis Hotel which is right next to the Novotel, but it's still a bit odd.
As mentioned the Novotel hotel bar is the central point for
the convention, and is always full of congoers and cosplayers
downing a few beers and a handful of uncertain-looking hotel guests.
The bar usually has a special convention menu, as the hotel
restaurant is reserved for normal hotel guests, and this year a
special Japanese food stand operated in the foyer. The stand
offered snacks like wasabi peas and also some more substantial food
like miso soup and rice and vegetables, and the bar also joined in
by stocking two types of Japanese beer and selling a special green
tea and vodka cocktail. Food and drink are also available at
convention events such as the Cosplay Cafe, Sake and snack tasting
sessions and cookery classes.
For the most part the focus at Minami Con is on established fans. At Amecon there's a focus on the UK anime scene, with distributor panels and major anime screenings, at Alcon there's a focus on fandom in all its facets, from web design to ball-jointed dolls and Gundam building workshops. At Minami Con there is very little of this. It knows its audience and instead of trying to teach old dogs new tricks, or worse, what they already know, it focuses strongly on social activities, Japanese culture and games. From Iron Cosplay to Mecha Play Your Cards Right, Super Sentai piņata and Haruhi Twister, the activities are a perfect accompaniment to drinking and partying! This
gives the event a very laid back feel and this is reflected by the attendees in what is always a fun and chilled out weekend.
Minami Con holds a revered spot in the UK convention calendar, partly due to its longevity, and partly due to its registrations policy. It is the con to attend if you want to prove your fan credentials, and there is a slight air of exclusivity about it. The con's policy of opening registrations for next year's event on the last day of the current one usually sees around half of the spaces snapped up months before general registrations open. This means it can be very hard to get into, but it does help to ensure the convention's ongoing survival. The committee know what they're doing, they know what works and what doesn't. The convention could easily be bigger than it is but instead of increasing the capacity they have refined what they have, making it probably the best run event in the UK calendar. One thing's for sure, there's no other UK convention like Minami Con.