Sakura-Con 2013

You know it’s springtime when the cherry blossoms are blooming with costumes posing outside the Washington State Convention Center. Sakura-Con is a celebration of Japanese pop culture with the pale pink petals not only providing part of the convention’s logo, but a picturesque theme of the three-day long party. As the Easter weekend was a little early this year, Sakura-Con ran from Friday, March 29th until 31st, 2013.

I was pretty excited for this convention, considering it would host the premiere of Sword Art Online in English, alongside panels with the series creator Reki Kawahara, plus a concert by Eir Aoi and Luna Haruna. Not to mention, Bryce Papenbrook, the voice of Rin Okumura from Blue Exorcist and John Swasey who was Lord Death in Soul Eater (among his many roles). Only this time, my friend from Texas, Tony, would make the trip to the Emerald City as my local pals weren’t able to attend due to prior obligations and financial reasons.

Sakura-Con had made some changes for registration (these wouldn’t affect me, but I’ll mention them anyways) allowing regular registration to occur alongside pre-registration badge pick-ups on Thursday. While there were lines to collect our badges, they weren’t excessive and a number of people had shown up in cosplay; the escalator ride up to the third floor had us standing behind the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors from Doctor Who. Before we left, we picked up a couple of convention shirts so we could strut our stuff later.

The first of many brilliant days for this long weekend, Friday started off pretty well. Donning our first costumes for the convention — Tony as Yukio Okumura from Blue Exorcist and myself as Soul from Soul Eater — we detoured towards Pike Place Market. Just as finished crossing the street, a reporter and camera person ambushed us for a segment on a local station (I never bothered to ask) to get our opinions on replacing the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil with a peacock. I think it was our outfits that caught their attention. After enjoying our traditional morning breakfast of fresh Russian pastries from Piroshky Piroshky and coffee from the first Starbucks store, we made our up to the convention centre for the first day of Sakura-Con.

EVA Unit 01

EVA Unit 01

This is what, my sixth Sakura-Con (I think)? And Tony’s second. Making our way into the Exhibitors Hall, we stopped by the Epic Cosplay booth to chat up Ejen Chuang, the photographer/author behind the book Cosplay in America. When Ejen wandered off to snap more pictures, we made began to peruse the room overflowing with figures, books, DVDs, games, costumes, wigs, snacks, shirts, plushes, bags, and so on. If you want variety and stuff from both North America and Japan; the dealers in Sakura-Con can hook you up.

Since last year, the convention has utilized the Guidebook app for mobile devices to help attendees plan their weekend. I find the app amazing at organizing the guests I want to see and letting me know 5, 15 and 30 minutes prior to their start. It’s just so much easier to go “tap”, “tap”, “tap”, done! Our first autograph session was at 12:00 pm with Reki Kawahara in the cavernous 4B. With my copy of the Sword Art Online book in hand, and my friend with a poster of the main character Kirito, we were able to get his signature and a couple pictures of him scribbling out his name. Really awesome.

Wandering around the building, I happily began taking photos now realizing that using the RAW format would be incredibly beneficial in post production and allow me to save images that might be too over exposed and such. Outside, I bumped into the awesome Naruto Uzumaki cosplayer from previous years; as always it was great to catch up.

Amaimon

Amaimon

Before lining up for Bryce Papenbrook’s autograph at 5:00 pm, I purchased a copy of the Blue Exorcist DVD, even though it wasn’t dubbed into English. Regardless, Bryce was amazingly amicable and popped up to pose with my friend for a few pictures. Wow! We would meet up with the voice of Rin Okumura again later on in the evening, for his panel/premiere of the last two episodes of Blue Exorcist.

Changing out of our costumes, we scarfed down a quick Italian dinner down at Il Fornaio and then made our way back to the convention centre for the Bryce Papenbrook’s and Stephanie Sheh’s panel and English premiere of Blue Exorcist episodes 24 and 25. Bryce, who remained after the episodes were shown, held a Q and A session and posed for even more photos. What a champ!

For Saturday morning, we got up a little earlier and prepared for day two. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to cosplay Tachimukai Yuuki from Inazuma Eleven, and I was able to borrow part of my friend’s Raimon goalkeeper outfit for most of the day. Leaving the hotel, we snacked on a brief breakfast while walking up to the convention centre for an early morning panel with Bryce Papenbrook (can you see a theme here?). It’s funny how we hustle and rush make a panel, but they don’t start exactly when advertised. Anyways, we got to learn more about Bryce, how he got into voice acting, and watch his reactions to some of the more interesting questions asked by other fans.

I encountered so many different cosplays, not just characters from animated shows, but movies and video games. The cast from Wreck-it Ralph, classic Link from The Legend of Zelda, fellow Inazuma Eleven fans, and even King Arthur and Patsy, complete with coconuts, from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Halfway through the day, I transitioned out of Tachimukai and back into Naruto. Funny, I seem to get more pictures of myself taken as the ninja than any other costume… and I’m not even that great, too.

Here’s an interesting story. Last year, my friend had encountered John Swasey at another convention in southern Texas. Upon sharing the story of his journey in becoming an American citizen, John asked to be kept apprised of Tony’s progress. Fast forward to this past Friday, and John is in 4B signing autographs. Approaching him with his certificate of citizenship, John let out a joyous cheer and congratulated him. The story doesn’t end here: John invited Tony to his next panel and wanted to share his story with other attendees. And he did; I captured a portion of it and my friend uploaded it to YouTube. How wonderful!

Outside, I engaged in a small photoshoot with Tony who dressed up again as Yukio Okumura in the park and plaza that covers the I-5. I managed to capture some really nice poses, but he pined over the fact he did not have the guns Yukio uses in the series. Perhaps next time. We then traded places with him taking my camera and focusing on me and the tiny blue rasengan toy I ordered from Japan. While I liked how the pictures turned out, I thought I could be a little more creative in my poses (and maybe empty my pockets next time).

Reki Kawahara and Eir Aoi

Reki Kawahara and Eir Aoi

As 4:00 pm inched closer, it was back inside and upstairs for the one event we both had been waiting for: the English premiere of Sword Art Online. Herded into a line-up on the sixth floor, it was evident that it was a full house. But, the doors opened and we made it inside, albeit near the back of the room. After some opening words from Reki Kawahara, Eir Aoi and Luna Haruna, the lights dimmed and screen lit up. Before the show actually started, Aniplex treated us to some video clips from two of the primary English cast members: Cherami Leigh as Asuna and Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito. The whole room was into the first two episodes; cheering and applauding at the credits, Kirito’s and Asuna’s onscreen appearances and even booing Kibaou as he places blame on the beta testers. This is what I love about watching anime; bringing so many people together and sharing the excitement and fun it brings. Thoughts of the dubbed version? I enjoyed it; the voices sounded natural and flowed with the action. I know what I’ll be buying when it comes out on DVD. My friend bolted after the end of the second and final episode of the screening to get another Sword Art Online poster signed by the English voice of Kirito (he was adamant on getting this).

By this time, it was already 7:00 pm and the Luna Haruna and Eir Aoi concert had just begun. While it was pretty packed, we were still able to snag some seats in the back and take in the show. I thought it was pretty neat that both of the performers took the time to speak in English to the crowd, complete with the translations written down on paper in hand. Of course, Luna Haruna sang the ending song Overfly as clips from the anime played in the background. Eir Aoi then took the stage and broke into Innocence, the second opening. However, we were in for a treat when they both returned and performed a duet of Crossing Field, by LiSA. Everyone appeared to have a really great time — I know I did.

Rasengan!

Rasengan!

While we were headed out for a late dinner, I bumped into my pal, the other Naruto, just off of the escalators. This made a perfect opportunity to snap some more proper rasengan shots as he has larger glowing orb. As always, this brought in a small crowd of attendees looking for some good pictures.

I know I say this everytime, but Sundays are always depressing at a convention; you pack up your belongs, close the door to your hotel room for the last time and make your final rounds through the venue and promise to meetup with your cosplay buddies next year. I decided to put on Naruto for the last day, while my friend opted for more casual clothing. While passing by the Aniplex booth in the exhibitor’s hall, I noticed Reki Kawahara and Bryce Papenbrook surrounded by Aniplex staff and fans taking pictures. Before I knew it, I was right in front of Mr. Kawahara and shaking his hand, but Mr. Kawahara took notice of the shirt my friend was wearing; one of the Japanese promo tees for Sword Art Online. So I snapped some pictures of them together. What an amazing opportunity.

I can’t find any fault with Sakura-Con 2013. The staff were the friendliest I’ve seen in my time visiting, always ready to tell you what line is for which panel, and vigilant. Guest selection is always top notch and varied. Exhibitors always have plenty of selection and find someway to part me of the cash I bring down. Keep using the Guidebook app, I love it! The concerts are well organized and entertaining. I definitely cannot wait until 2014 and see what they have planned for us. If you’re looking for pictures, they’re all on Gallery. See you next year!

About Frederick Linsmeyer

A regular pop-drinking, hockey-watching, snow-shovelling Canadian, Frederick, aka Nephrus, loves his anime. Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Frederick runs amok between his hometown and the states of Illinois and Texas, spending time with friends, at anime conventions and looking for some good burgers or sashimi.

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