Sakura-Con has evolved over the years, and in its 15th year the convention shows no sign of slowing down. This was my fifth time attending and I brought along a friend who hadn’t been before — I wanted to show him how things were done in the Pacific Northwest since he’s invited me down to a few conventions in Texas. I kept telling him how much I enjoyed Sakura-Con and that he would too. Needless to say, he did. Sakura-Con was held over the Easter weekend, April 6th though 8th, 2012 at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in downtown Seattle, Washington.
Since my first visit in 2008, there have been plenty of changes, but considering the number of people attending has increased year-over-year, the Washington State Convention and Trade Center started to show some limitations in terms of capacity. Registration was moved to the Grand Hyatt Seattle Hotel, while those who pre-registered online collected their badges at the Conference Center, a new addition to the convention centre. This freed up the halls across to the Pike Street skybridge to allow for an expanded exhibitors hall and artists alley. It also solved the issue of having people who hadn’t purchased a badge the trouble to slog through everyone who had and prevent them from sneaking through into the event.
Another noticeable change was abolition of single-day badges. Only a full weekend pass was available for purchase. Sakura-Con is a non-profit event and when purchasing a badge for the convention, you actually are purchasing a membership to the organization. In order to maintain their status as a non-profit event and to continue hosting a fun-filled weekend in the years to come, the Asia-Northwest Cultural Education Association(ANCEA), Sakura-Con’s parent organization, made the decision to change the purchasing structure. It was either that, or ANCEA would wind up paying additional fees and taxes to the city of Seattle which would threaten future conventions. This didn’t apply to me directly as I always go for the full weekend, but there might be someone who may not be able to afford a three-day badge or may only want to attend one or two days due to time constraints. Removing the individual day badges lets attendees stay as long as little as they want.
I had arrived in the Emerald City Thursday afternoon after picking my friend up from Sea-Tac International Airport. I booked our room at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel on 6th Avenue through the convention website last November to prevent last minute hassles. Doing this provided a number of benefits: the hotel is across the street from the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, the price, the ability to receive wristbands for priority entrance to concerts, dances and other performances, and complimentary internet access in the hotel rooms. I had stayed at the Sheraton last year and enjoyed it so much so as to return for 2012.
Once we had settled in, it was off to the Conference Center to collect our badges. Pre-registration opened earlier than previous times, starting at 12:00 pm PDT instead of later in the afternoon. As always, the line-ups inside we negligible and 10 minutes later, we had our badges and the time to explore downtown Seattle.
Friday morning began with the obligatory trip to Pike Place Market in cosplay, stopping off for a warm, freshly baked piroshki at Piroshky Piroshky and a hot drink at the first Starbucks store. Of course while wearing Naruto’s outfit, I had garnered a number of stares while waiting in line for my coffee; I was also engaged in a lively conversation about Sakura-Con with the barista who took my order. While next door at the Mexican Grocery, a passing group of band students on a school trip stopped to peer through the glass at us, curious at our costumes.
Arriving at the convention centre after breakfast, I pulled out the camera and began asking passing cosplayers to take their picture. Sakura-Con began strictly enforcing a no photo policy in high traffic areas, namely the main atrium with the escalators which were demarcated with black and yellow tape on the floors. Convention centre staff stood by making sure that everyone kept moving and that anyone taking pictures did so out of the way against the walls to keep the flow going. It’s always tempting to stop someone in costume for a shot, but not worth the intervention and the possibility of facing repercussions from staff for holding up everyone else. I had learned from some Panty and Stocking cosplayers that they were sternly lectured while posing the in exhibitors hall which was a little bit of a sour taste for me
Usually before the exhibitors hall opens, a line up would form and it could take almost an hour before those waiting could get in. At least that’s what happened in previous years. When we made it to the fourth floor, there was no line up and all the doors into the exhibitors hall and artists alley had opened up, which both shared the same floor space (but on opposite ends). We found a few of our friends at their tables in the artists alley and chatted them up between sales and questions before turning to peruse the other booths.
The exhibitors hall had an increased selection of vendors selling a wide variety of manga, DVDs and Blu-ray, books, figures, toys, memorabilia, costumes, weapons, treats and other services. In the centre of the hall was the Nico Nico booth where a live feed of the convention was streamed to the Internet and passersby were corralled into answering questions and to showcase their outfits. There was always a crowd around this spot and had attracted a few people wearing the infamous troll face as masks. A large screen scrolled responses from those online watching the feed. On more than one occasion I had made funny gestures or movements (nothing inappropriate mind you) as walked by.
One of the vendors in the exhibitors hall was handing out samples of a Japanese energy drink, Yunker and taking video of people in cosplay to bring back to Japan. I watched as the person ahead of me belted out the product’s slogan before I was in front of the camera. I have stage fright, so when I’m in front of a camera that’s recording me, I tend to be come anxious — so I held out the small carton and blurted “dattebayo” before running out of the booth. My friend went up next and performed the whole slogan without missing a beat.
Continuing to browse the exhibitors hall, we spied the fanciful designs of the band Moi dix Mois at a table signing posters. Surrounded by a number of intimidating security and convention staff, the both of us agreed not to get any closer or take any pictures. With Sakura-Con’s size and reputation, they are able to attract guests from Japan and North America. Musicians like Moi dix Mois, and STEREOPONY, English voice actors Steve Blum, Todd Haberkorn, industry figures Retsu Tateo, Michihiko Suwa and Japanese seiyu Masakazu Morita. The list goes on.
The weather was fantastic all weekend — plenty of sun and warm temperatures in the low to mid-teens (Celsius-wise) — large crowds took the advantage to gather in the plaza and park straddling the I-5. Many photoshoots and games took place outside making it almost hard to walk around. I was able to find a few spots to make an impromptu photoshoot of my friend in his Mamoru Endou cosplay from Inazuma Eleven. He returned the favour to take a couple of myself in my new Soul Eater outfit.
I’m known mostly for being Naruto Uzumaki; this time in addition to the orange ninja, I tried out being Soul Eater Evans. Everything on the costume was perfect, except for the wig which was more of Kakashi on a bad hair day. I’d chosen this wig over others because it was styled and therefore much better, I thought, in my eyes. Of course it’s not perfect, but it’s time I learned how to properly style my wig for future conventions.
As Naruto, I bumped into another Naruto cosplayer, the same one from last year when we had a small photoshoot with me charging his light-up rasengan. He was with a Kakashi cosplayer, but we re-enacted the scene from 2011 and that got the attention of a number of passing attendees who all stopped to capture the action. It was good to meet up with him again — he’s a pretty neat guy to hang with. I was recognized by others out of character which always comes as a surprise, but a welcome one nonetheless.
My friend met up with some of his online buddies — one of which participates in family cosplay, something that I found pretty neat. The whole family dresses up as the cast from Kingdom Hearts; with Maleficent, Ansem, King Mickey and Riku. It’s not an activity most families would consider, but they pull it off so well and really enjoy doing it.
We checked out a panel on Friday night, The Hot Seat with Leah Clark and Todd Haberkorn, two voice actors who work for FUNimation. I won’t go into much detail of the panel as it was adult oriented, but it was pretty amusing if you’re into that style of humour. Most of the panel rooms were on the sixth floor and instead of lining up outside the doors, staff corralled everyone into an open spot next to some of the arcade games. Here we formed a line to wait before being led to the panel room. It looked pretty organized and staff were on hand directing newcomers to their appropriate line based on what panel they were waiting for.
I did miss attending some performances, including the cosplay show. I was itching to try out my relatively new 55-300 mm zoom lens since I’m almost always never close to the stage to catch the costumes. It would’ve been perfect if I could use the tripod and cable release to ensure a clear, shake-free image. I also would not have minded taking part in the rave; in past instances of the convention, it’s been very easy to get into because the size of the room and doesn’t really have limits on the capacity — although I’m certain it does, but I haven’t seen it closed due to capacity, like at other conventions.
Sakura-Con published their schedule, map and convention information through the Guidebook mobile app. With my new Android phone, I downloaded it and used it see what panels were happening, what guests were attending and so on. Even better, I was able to add a notification to an upcoming panel to alert me 10, 15 or 60 minutes before it started. It’s a great idea; staff can push updates and changes quickly which makes Guidebook so much more versatile a paper schedule. Of course, Sakura-Con has that giant schedule board by the main escalators. I found the app really handy and there were posters with QR codes to download it scattered throughout the convention centre.
I always enjoy coming down for Sakura-Con — it’s always put together well, I like the location, the people are always friendly, plenty of amazing costumes, and there’s always something to do or see. It’s quite obvious that others look forward to the Sakura-Con weekend; the size is always growing and I’m always seeing people having fun. I’m looking forward to the 16th year of Sakura-Con next March; it’s going to be a blast!
Photos from Sakura-Con 2012 can be found on Gallery.
Tags2012, anime, convention, cosplay, Inazuma Eleven, Leah Clark, Naruto, photos, recap, Sakura-Con, Seattle, Soul Eater Evans, Todd Haberkorn, Washington State Convention and Trade Center
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