JAFAX 2016: What’s changed?

I had the opportunity to attend JAFAX 20 this year from June 24-26, and the differences between the former Grand Valley State University event to the program put on this year were completely different, and I wanted to share my thoughts and what I noticed about the program for people thinking about going next year.

JAFAX (the Japanese Animation, Film and Art Expo) used to take place at Grand Valley State University. For 19 years, students and visitors alike could attend this two-day event completely free of charge. It was a daytime convention, which meant that most events were over by dark. But it was fun, and being free, it was never a hassle to book a hotel to make sure you could go both days.

Except the convention grew so large in size that in 2015, JAFAX was unable to continue being a convention on the campus of GVSU. There was no convention in 2015, leaving fans to wait for an announcement of when the event would come back. The convention came back in full swing in June of 2016, but now, the once-free event costs $45 at the door.

This year, badges at the door were $45 for the entire weekend. Other Michigan conventions are around this price for their at-the-door registration. The big kicker was the hotel. The DeVos Place (x) in Grand Rapids, MI, is a rather nice hotel. It’s absolutely beautiful and the staff is exceptionally friendly. But the hotel was $159 a night with the convention block rate. In addition, parking at the hotel was almost $30 a day.

The price felt really steep for what is technically a first- year convention, but it was for sure one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed out. The staff was very friendly, and the only complaint I had was that because of the number of weddings the hotel was also hosting over the weekend, detours took a little while to figure out.

Another issue that was easy to see was the long registration lines on Friday. From what I understand from the JAFAX Facebook Page (x), they had many more attendees show up than they had anticipated. Rumors circulated about how it was partly due to the wifi going down or being throttled somehow, and some attendees found themselves waiting for their badges until around 7 p.m. For a convention like Youmacon,  which has a sizeable amount of overnight programming, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But the only things really happening after around 7 p.m. or so were panels and a concert. So many people were left upset with nothing to do.

However, JAFAXwas super receptive to feedback. People who bought Friday-only badges were given free badges for Saturday. And though there were scheduling conflicts, where the program book said one set of times, and the schedule said another, it was easy to talk to staff and navigate around the convention.

The venue offered itself very well to a convention, with plenty of sitting room and spaces to congregate. There were plenty of spaces outside to host photoshoots and the inclusion of photoshoot times in the schedule was helpful. And with such a beautiful hotel, I was able to get some fantastic pictures of both myself and of other cosplayers at the event.

I had the opportunity to run panels at this event, and was very happy to say that, despite having technical problems and scheduling problems, the convention staff was super helpful in getting us the right cords and working with other panelists to get us where we needed to go as quickly as possible.

Despite problems at the event, it felt like the staff was working their tailbones off to make the best of the weekend and show their potential for growth. I think taking a year off between JAFAX 19 and JAFAX 20 was absolutely needed for the event to be as fantastic as it was this year. Problems aside, the event shows huge potential for next year. I would highly recommend it for people in the area, though I would recommend possibly looking into hotels off-site. The convenience of being right there was nice, but the price tag was rather high, and there are plenty of other hotels in the area. Unless next year’s JAFAX allows for free or discounted parking at the very least, I would say stay in a nearby hotel or even just check out the event for one day.