It’s been just over a week since the 2014 Sakura-Con. Now that we at Skewed and Reviewed have had time to recuperate, we feels it’s time to give the low down on the con. Our likes, our dislikes and what we might want to see in the coming years. Though this is the first year we have attended the con in an official capacity, we have some contributors that are old-hands. This report will be coming to you through the eyes of the noob, the novice and the veteran. But first, here’s an introduction to the con from Lisa Heimbigner.
Sakura-Con is the premium Anime and Japanese culture of the Pacific Northwest, gathering fans of not only anime, but also of manga and Japanese pop culture over Easter weekend every year. This 3-day event takes place right in the heart of Seattle, at the Washington State Convention Center, and includes panels, a vendor hall and, of course, artist alley. But let’s not forget, this con runs all day and all night. Attendees also have access to the convention center at night for 24 hour gaming and movies, as well as a beat-bumping, laser-flashing spectacular of a dance that runs well into the night. There is definitely something for everyone at this con.
But Sakura-Con is very different from Emerald City Comic Con, held in the same venue only a couple of weeks earlier, and other cons. From the moment you arrive, it feels for like a festival than anything, and it invites con-goers to feel at home and enjoy the stay. Its uniqueness is what has helped it grow over the years, and why so many people continue to attend year after year.
Well, this is by first Sakura-Con and I honestly did not know what I was getting myself into. Unfortunately, I did not get to enjoy the first day, but did get there that night and was able to enjoy the night time festivities. When I was told the con was a 24 con before, I thought… that’s a cute way to put it, but doubted that it were true. Boy was I wrong. The first thing we did was head into the rave that runs until about 3 AM, and it was definitely spectacular. The music was going, the lights and lasers abound… and up on the big screens they were running music videos and clips of anime that worked well with the music. It was a great gathering, and it really seemed like everyone enjoyed being there, and being with those around them. Even if the person standing next to you was portraying a Team Rocket character and you were there dressed as Bulbasaur.
After the dance we headed up to the gaming rooms, where everything was also in full swing. They had a slew of non-next gen consoles setup, with the exception of the Wii-U. They had PlayStation 2 and 3, the Xbox and Xbox 360, as well as the Wii and Wii-U. Plus they had a ton of titles for each system that you could check out by offering your badge in trade (of course you would get it back). They even had Just Dance set for the Wii, and boy was that entertaining. Being broadcast on a large projector, crowds from anywhere between 4 and 50 would amass to all join in and dance with the players. It was a spectacle to view, and even more so when I have recorded a few of the SKNR staff partaking in the fun.
Gaming pretty much wrapped up our night, and we headed out in preparation for the next day. Which is when I spent most of time in the Vendor Hall and Artist Alley. There is no shortage of want in either of these areas. If there is something you like, whether it is anime or not, it’s probably somewhere here. T-shirts, collectibles, key-chains, video games, cosplay accessories… the vendors have it. The great thing that I saw here was that a majority of the merchandise is actually really good quality. I have been to cons in the past where you walk out with something you think is awesome, only to get home to see something you didn’t notice, or find the it not as quality as you thought. I actually didn’t have that worry here. I don’t know if there is some sort of vendor-vetting, or if the vendors simply respect their customers more, but whatever it is… keep it up.
There was also a great assortment of artists, in various ranges and styles. From very elaborate perler bead displays, to incredibly detailed sketches and commissions… there was something from everyone. They even had a vendor taking the much adored TV and movie actors and the characters they portray, and placing them onto body pillow cases. This way you ladies, and some gentlemen, could have a nice cozy night with those that you love so much.
With more gaming and dancing the second night, we went into the third day a little bogged down from the weekend. But still just as energetic to get out there and check out the sights. Unfortunately, though, we did not get to any panels. But I was looking at them and didn’t understand some of what they were offering anyway. I was a fan of anime when I was in high school, but sadly have not kept over the years. Sakura-Con is clearly a convention for established fans of the genre, but I did not see a lot to invite new fans in, or help to find something that they might like. I think I would like to see more of that next year.
Cosplay. Cosplay is an immense thing at Sakura-Con. My biggest issue was I didn’t know what half the people are supposed to be. But that’s my problem, something I hope will be mostly corrected by next year. From the incredibly simple, to the intricately elaborate, they were there. And the greatest part was the photo shoots. Established time when you could meet with people who have cosplayed from the same anime or universe that you did, and you just socialize, take individual pictures, and a huge group picture. Of course not every anime or manga, or even non-illustrated media was represented by this, but it was great to see the big gathering of Pokemon and Attach on Titan.
My favorite part is to walk through Freeway Park and view all the cosplayers during their photo shoots. There are always a lot of anime, manga, and other categories represented, but this year it seemed like Frozen and Attack on Titan were the thing. They were everywhere. For the panel-goer, you will find panels that range from anime speed dating to interviews with your favorite Hetalia character. The gaming hall has everything from retro games, to table top, card and console gaming. Playing Just Dance with 10 people on a floor-to-ceiling screen at 1 AM will have you never looking at the game the same way again.
For me, Sakura-Con has an unchanging format from the last few years. The convention layout has stayed the same, allowing it to be easier to find where your favorite sites are each year. The con has become more user friendly though, employing more avenues to communicate in the months before hand to coordinate photo shoots and meet-ups. The convention organizers have done a great job of recognizing when something isn’t broken, you shouldn’t fix it.
I recently had a conversation with a coworker, and by conversation I really mean debate, about the level of surety that I was going to a “Con”. His argument was that it should be called “The Con”, and the ensuing explanation made me realize just how long I’ve been doing this. Of course “this” being the anime convention circuit. I was 15 when I started, and at 28 I’ve seen a lot of changes. The conventions have been everywhere from small hotels in Everett, WA with a cost of $30, to filling the Washington State Convention Center to capacity with a $65 price tag. The debate continued because I believe one doesn’t just go to the con like one goes to the grocery store. You Go To Con. And it isn’t just a weekend, one day or even just a few hours. It’s an event. I’ve traveled for hours in cars crammed with props and suitcases for precisely that reason. I’m going to an event.
I can remember a time when cosplay was someone throwing on their orange sweats and a Naruto headband over their bathroom bleach job. They were considered cosplayers. They poured their heart and every ounce of confidence into that cosplay, and it showed. Their fearlessness was nothing short of admirable. Over the years, I’ve watched the trends change (even participating in a few myself), but they could always be predicted by what the big anime was at the time. Nowadays, you would never see that kid with their heart on their sleeve in just sweatpants. The ante has been upped. If your desired cosplay can’t be found online to wear wholly, then you make it yourself. Sometimes you stay for hours, or days, at a time working on it. Even sometimes finishing it in the hotel room 30 minutes before the con opens. 13 years ago cosplay outfits couldn’t be purchased at the drop of a hat with a wireless connection and PayPal. Your beautiful, adorable Lolita frills and flowers had to be made. And the intricacies of Steam Punk… not even a thing then. Ponder that.
This year, I saw more Disney’s Frozen and Attack on Titan than I ever thought possible. It was like Naruto and Bleach had a second coming. Call me old, or just old-fashioned, but I have been at this for a while and don’t remember Disney ever being anime. Don’t get me wrong. I commend every single cosplayer for doing what they do, but Disney has never been anime. It is in its own category altogether: Disney. Not that Disney cosplayers don’t have a place, but this is an anime convention. Disney is animation, but ANIME to the veteran fan will always mean Japan, Sailor Moon, Geta sandals and terrible imports that I paid more than I should have.
On top of the excess Disney, I have to remark on the 14-16 year olds wearing next to nothing, but lacking the confidence in themselves to pull it off, which is a crime brought on by social pressures. First, there is no such thing as an age appropriate cosplay, but kids… if you are going to put on your fishnets and boots and be Harley Quinn, you better be ready to strut your little hearts out cause that character has moxie. But there-in lies my point. Most of these kids are picking their cosplays based on how scandalous the outfit is, not because they feel any affinity/love for them. Tragic.
Location is everything. As I previously stated, I started going to Con when Sakura-Con was still known as Baka-Con and was held in whichever hotel they could get to agree to the madness. I remember one year it was held in two hotels, and you had to walk a block between them for the dealer’s room and events. This atmosphere forced us to mingle. But who better to mingle with then other people who the same love for something that you did. It was a good space too, and when they moved to the WSCC it got even better! I had room to roam with people like me, and there were wall to wall theaters playing anime movies I was never going to be able to see otherwise.
So Sakura-Con moved to the WSCC, and nerds everywhere rejoiced. For a few years at least. I’m still happy with the move, don’t get me wrong. Artist’s Alley went from a hallway in a hotel to half a storage building, at least it feels that way. The dealers’ room was no longer in the same space where they served breakfast. We now have raves, formal dances and the space has served us so well it has essentially become a conclave of nerds and geeks. But at the same time, I feel it has taken something from us as a group. The hotel allowed for a more intimate setting; a place that almost forced us to befriend the person standing next you. But the WSCC, for some reason, makes you turn a blind eye to the person next to you.
When I started this roller coaster, the community was small and we were all strangers who loved a culture. Now I go to Con knowing I will meet people. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever known. However, the methods we used are forever changed and we can never go back. But why would we? We are a movement! Everyone has a hobby; it’s a basic truth of life. But Con-goers, we wear our hobby in public with leather, lace and sequins. We regret nothing, except maybe the odd poor shoe choice. How many people can say or do what we do? How many people have the courage to walk outside in crowded placed with ears on their head, or laced into their corset, all while adopting a whole new persona to fit the outfit. The answer is not many… Or maybe 42. So while I have aged, and Con has changed in so many ways, it is still an event that brings joy and new experiences. Not all changes are for the better, but this is our chance to show the world all that we are.