Conventions are often considered practically holy for any hobby they might pertain to. As an opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals and share interests that you might not be able to do elsewhere, they are very important to a lot of communities, and the anime community is no exception. However, I have frequently heard of conventions that have been lackluster for a variety of reasons, ranging from the attendees to the panels to the management in general.
Last weekend, I was given the opportunity to attend the Kansas City anime convention, Naka-kon (naka means 'middle' in Japanese), as a member of the press. Armed with a press badge, me and my friend/assistant ShotReturned explored the convention, going to as many panels and events as possible. Through my experiences, I can confirm one thing: Naka-kon is an ideal experience for anime fans or nerdy fandoms in general. Held mid-March every year in the Overland Park Convention Center, Naka-kon has the variety of experiences and competent management to have the makings of a great convention.
I think that perhaps the most crucial detail of a convention (and certainly one that has caused issues at many other conventions) would be the general environment. Anime, since it represents the entirety of a country's animated features, has a vast number of fandoms, and some are significantly bigger than others. As such, it is difficult for many conventions to cater accurately to all of them. While I would not dare make the claim that Naka-kon executed such an effort perfectly, I can say with confidence that they made a great attempt. The bigger anime with the biggest fandoms (Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online, etc) still were represented more heavily than others, but I never felt like the big shows were the entire focus of the convention. They certainly weren't in the panels, as only a few even had a SINGLE activity/panel dedicated entirely for one show. When I was visiting the 'Anime Name That Tune' panel (which focused on guessing the opening and ending themes from various shows), AKB0048 songs actually came up multiple times. When talking at his Friday morning panel, Matthew Mercer mentioned his role as Levi in Attack on Titan's English dub only once or twice. The cosplay reflected this diversity of representation, and although I was unable to get all of the ones I wanted (somehow I didn't get a single Haikyu! cosplay even though I saw numerous good quality cosplayers, something I still regret), but I did manage to get enough to give everyone an idea of the diversity and quality represented by the attendees at the convention:
Note: the Kill la Kill/Bane cosplay was done by 'Evil Genius Crossplay', the picture with the large black wings was done by Akuma no Cosplay, and the chocobos were the products of Seirei Creations.
One of my favorite activities at Naka-kon was walking around and seeing/taking pictures of the immense amount of incredibly varied cosplay. Previous authors' visits to conventions have yielded some excellent photos, but I was in awe at the quality and amount of cosplay at Naka-kon. The convention has continued to grow, and had a rough estimate of 8,500 paying attendees this year. The convention was laid out between two main buildings, the Overland Park Convention Center and the Sheraton hotel, both of which were home to many panels and many cosplayers. They had two main floors, each with connecting hallways, and a large open courtyard in the rest of the middle space. This layout resulted in an extremely nice multi-floored square, one that I did many laps around when photographing cosplayers.
Interestingly enough, the Kansas City Comic Convention also happens at the exact same time as Naka-kon. Obviously, the fandoms of the two overlap, so many have to make a choice between the two. Naka-kon is the better-attended of the two, and not just in numbers alone. I saw several people cosplaying as the Green Arrow from DC Comics at Naka-kon, something you might consider strange considering one of Comic Con's main guests is THE Green Arrow himself, Stephen Amell. While I'm sure many went at least to see him at some point, the reason that so many chose to attend Naka-kon instead, in my mind, was the significantly greater level of content at the convention.
At any given time, there would be at least four or five different panels going on at once, and not only did panels start early in the morning and run until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, but there were also anime screenings the ENTIRE night long. This far outpaced the content provided at the 'competing' convention. Of course, Naka-kon also had guests of its own, ranging from the Japanese voice actress for Naruto (Junko Takeuchi) to a big-name Japanese DJ (Hachioji P) to American voice actors such as Matthew Mercer and Patrick Seitz. They even had a Shinto (a Japanese religion) priest, Rev. Barrish, present. The variety of guests was most definitely a contributing factor to the variety of panels, once again enforcing the idea of representing many fandoms.
It wasn't just individuals that were represented at Naka-kon, however. Both major streaming companies, Crunchyroll and FUNimation, were present at the convention. FUNimation only had a booth at the vendors area, but Crunchyroll arrived in full force. Employees ran panels and promoted with a booth that featured a webcam that livestreamed convention-goers and allowed commenters watching to reply to them, flashing comments across the screen as they were made. These two companies helped make the 24/7 anime viewing rooms possible, and greatly enhanced the quality of the convention. Their marketing worked for them as well though: I heard several convention-goers talking about how they might get a Crunchyroll subscription. In an industry plagued by piracy, this is a good step in the right direction.
Overall, my experience at Naka-kon was most definitely an ideal anime convention experience. The quantity and quality of things to do, such as the guests, panels, events, and cosplay, made for an entertaining evening not only for me but for many others. If you live somewhere convenient enough to attend, I highly recommend doing so when the convention comes back next year from March 11-13.
You're reading Ani-TAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku's community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. Ani-TAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. Click here to check us out.