Last weekend Joe and I attended the local anime convention Zenkaikon, and it was there we decided to do something a bit different from my normal con review for this post. We had the idea we would do a sort of roundtable ‘Tales from the Con’ post from 2 very different perspectives. Mine from having been in anime fandom for most of my life, having had attended anime conventions in various roles from attendee to guest for the last 12 years. As opposed to Joe, for whom this was his first foray into anime cons.
We both had two very different views of the con and I think there is something there for the people who are long time fans and those new to the genre. Check it out after the jump!
Last weekend I had the honor of attending Zenkaikon 2009 with press credentials, now this was not my first time at Zenkaikon. I fondly remember attending this con when it was simply 2 adjacent hallways at the Valley Forge Scanticon back when it first debuted in 2006. I arrived at the new location of the con in the Valley Forge Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in King of Prussia, PA and was happy to find that there was free parking, but since this is a smaller anime con I didn’t feel the need to arrive early – the convention started at 9:00am and I pulled in at 9:07. I found upon getting out of my car that I had definitely underestimated the drawing power of Zenkainkon, when I saw that the pre-reg line literally wrapped around the hotel and snaked out into the parking lot.
From what I understand a bit of the line debacle was due to the fact that the planners of the con had originally planned for the people to line up inside the convention center, thus making it easier to go through the registration area, which totally makes sense. But the hotel not only changed the configuration of the registration area, but also changed how they were permitted to line up attendees on the day of the event. They discovered this approximately an hour before registration was due to open on Saturday, which gave them little time to adapt and started them off to a severe disadvantage.
This change understandably led to some confusion among the staff. I honestly don’t feel bad for the people didn’t preregister and just showed up, I mean there was a cap and it was listed on the website how many spots were open, the organizers were really good about that. My problem is with the people who did preregister some of which spent 2+ hours waiting in line to get in, and ended up missing events that they had possibly wanted to see. For next year, the organizers are investigating an early check-in option for pre-registrants the evening before the convention and when I contacted them about my write up the organizers stated, “We deeply regret if any of these issues diminished the potential enjoyment of some of our attendees.”
After walking the length of the line I slowly made my way to what I perceived was the entrance and luckily I was able to get right in because I was there to cover the con. Upon inspecting the space something became very apparent to me, this space didn’t look like it was nearly enough to hold everyone in the line outside. After I walked the convention space for a bit gathering my bearings, I snuck in and attended opening ceremonies, which featured along with a really well done and funny video done by the staffers, a performance by Reni Mimura a J-Pop singer. Reni relocated from Japan to New York in 2008, and is the definition of kawaii in my book, stealing the show performing in bunny ears and a maid outfit. After her performance there was a skit by the staffers, and I decided to check out the line outside and get some pics of the great cosplay I saw on the way in.
Outside in the line, which was now not only just all the way out in the parking lot, but had actually started to wrap around it. I was surprised to say the least that people were probably having as much fun outside in the line waiting to get in, as the people inside the con. They we having a ball posing for cosplay pics, and showing some real camaraderie with their fellow line members. They were even doing the hokey-pokey! This is one of the areas where I think the con really succeeded in spite of the fact that it was having such growing pains. Speaking with several people I got the same vibe that they were not expecting this wait in line from a smaller convention but they overall were enjoying their experience. But I really think this is Zenkaikon’s last year as a “smaller convention”, and from what I understand next year they are not only already planning for a bigger venue but a larger staff as well and I quite honestly think its great having a larger con closer to Philadelphia.
After getting some great cosplay pics, which you can see, on my Flickr or at the bottom of the article, it was off to the dealers room and artist alley. Which as the con filled up got harder and harder to navigate. The dealers room had a good selection and the prices were fair for an anime convention. The artist alley’s offering on the other hand were a bit slim and a bit disappointing, I really enjoy the booths with actual artists who you can see sketching away on their newest masterpiece but there weren’t as many of those there as I would have liked to see, plus artist alley was basically off to the side of the dealers room, and some people because of how the two were situated simply missed it. It was about this time that the con started to fill up and the hallways started to get really difficult to navigate due to all the people and if you have ever been to an anime con you are well aware people love congregating in the halls, and here that was not such a good idea.
The gaming area was well stocked with import and domestic games but they were broken up into 2 rooms instead of one large area, like most cons. After checking out the gaming area I headed back out for another line check, and just to get some fresh air in general. The con was now a sea of people and I really couldn’t walk though the halls without bumping into some one. The line was gone out side but people were now doing photo ops around the convention center. After a bit I stepped inside again and visited the musical guest area on the second floor. Here I ran into Reni Mimura from earlier who had the cutest little table as well. I chatted with her a bit and found her to be even more sincere than I possibly could have imagined, I purchased her cd and began another round of the con.
It’s around this time I really started to notice that people were simply taking the fact that they were in this convention space, and really molding it into whatever con experience they wanted the convention to be for them. I saw a few empty panel rooms but I never saw an empty hallway or an unused cosplay photo op. It’s one of those weird things that you hear about but until you really see it, it’s hard to believe like you see in those sappy Christmas movies. Because quite honestly this con could have turned out much differently, I mean with all the things that went wrong. But people were still having fun and meeting new people in spite of it all. The thing that really drove the point home to me was standing outside watching a bunch of Akatsuki cosplayer pose for pictures outside and watching the interaction between people I had seen arrive by themselves, but they were now part of a bigger group and that community is what I think made Zenkaikon work in spite of the troubles. Because people aren’t going to remember waiting in line for 2 hours but they will remember the great conversations they had while waiting in that line. Hopefully next year we will see a better space, better organization and even more great cosplay, but with a great community like I witnessed building – it shouldn’t be that hard.
It should be known immediately that Zenkaikon was my very first anime convention and while I’m a pretty big anime and manga fan, I wouldn’t consider myself as an otaku by any stretch of the term. To be 100 percent honest, when I first heard that we were invited to attend Zenkaikon back in August, I didn’t expect something huge. Well, I was half right in my expectations as when I pulled up at around 12 p.m, there was a line (more like a horde) of not-so-patient attendees sprawled across the parking lot of the Radisson Hotel. The con had amazing numbers for an event so local, yet a teeny bit of space for all of us to roam around in which was mostly in the subterranean portion of the building.
This place was absolutely teeming with cosplayers; to the point where I could guesstimate about half of the attendees were dressed up like their favorite anime characters (and about half of those were Naruto related). Now, I’ve seen cosplayer photo galleries from conventions like Comic Con and even Otakon over the years, but there’s nothing like witnessing two versions of Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka face-to-face (both in full character, mind you). Zenkaikon was an enlightening experience, to say the least.
As for events, there was always something going on, but not necessarily something of my interest (not really into AMV competitions, sorry). Despite the lack of enthralling events or panels, I did have a blast blowing through Metal Slug 5 with a guy who looked about my age and normal enough (i.e. was equipped with Earth dweller clothes) in one of the gaming rooms. For whatever inexplicable reason, the Robotech team reunion panel (arguably the most appealing event of Zenkaikon 2009) was put off until 5 p.m, which was sadly too late for me to witness.
In short, probably the most entertaining aspect of the con that broke my proverbial otaku cherry was simply oo-ing and aah-ing at some of most elaborate cosplay outfits I have ever seen. I mean, these kids really do put a ton of effort into these costumes for accuracy’s sake and many deserve the utmost of props. I had a blast just hanging out and chatting with some of these guys and gals about anime; not to mention, eying the glazed expressions of dozens of parents throughout the halls. Zenkaikon is a great event to ease anime con newbies, like myself, into the scene, however I have only two requests for the Zenkaikon crew for next year’s event: just a wee bit more room and prioritize the events a little better (everyone loves Robotech).