Washington State hosts Sakura-Con, one of the top 10 largest North American Anime conventions, at the Seattle Convention Center. It’s a big venue to host a convention in, sharing a legacy of hosting events like the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) and Emerald City Comic Con (ECC).
I’ve been to a few PAX before, and that convention is 3 (now 4) days of running around the blaringly loud, attention grabbing, game filled Expo Hall trying to pick a line that won’t take 5 hours to play a 5 minute demo. There’s also an extensive board game library to rent and play, along with panels to partake, and tons of free-play video games to enjoy. It’s borderline exhausting, and absolutely fantastic.
Entering the convention center for Sakura-Con was a completely different experience. There was actually room to move around. I even commented on how, at PAX, I wouldn’t have been able to even demonstrate how much room there was by moving my arms because PAX is just that crowded. We were up the escalator and into the Expo Hall in seconds, a considerable breeze next to PAX.
The Expo Hall was similarly easy to navigate. Isles were spacious, exhibitors showing off their wares were always visible, and you could meander from place to place without feeling like you were constantly in someone’s way. That being said, there was a considerable lack of things to do in the Exp Hall. Merch, collectible items from various Anime brands, art pieces from various indie and professional artists, and the general board game/video game booths were the main attractions. I have never seen a larger collection of collections in my life, but I haven’t been to Comic-Con yet, so we’ll see about that.
It really just made me aware of how much of a passive hobby Anime culture is to me. There was amazing talent in the artwork that was on display. Pieces that, if I was younger or more loose with my money, I would have unloaded a truck-ton of money to posses. Just imagine what an image like Thorin “Smokinshield” would look like and tell me you aren’t interested?
T-shirts, messenger bags, and hats not only of Anime, but of all things cute, anime-like, or things that other people think are just cool. There were even awesome Power Ranger shirts, the symbols of the Rangers were there in shirt form yes, but shirts styled after something like 1960’s propaganda.
With just as much creativity as there was for the merch, the Cosplay was very inspiring. Characters from Anime like Attack on Titan and Naruto, as well as video games like Kingdom Hearts and Phoenix Write, to more obscure things like Blue’s Clues and Futurama were all represented. A one day pass to Sakura-Con grants you access to a gallery of intricate, time-intensive cosplays, as well as simple nods like hats or t-shirts to virtually anything enjoyed by nerd culture.
In contrast to PAX, Sakura-Con feels less organized. With a lack of things to do besides shop in the Expo Hall, the activities to pass the time result in one of three things: panels, free-play (video and board) games, or theaters. Ignoring the games, since I can already do that at PAX, I intended to make panels and theaters a focus. Panels are blocks of time dedicated to letting people in the industry – voice actors, artists, impassioned community members – discuss interesting topics, their work, or teach in some cases. Theaters hold screenings of various anime, groups of episodes, movies, even premiers of new content to attendees. I didn’t get to any the first day because, by the time I had my fill of just observing everything at the con, most of the day’s interesting activities were over, except for the actual masquerade ball.
My second day at Sakura-Con was filled with more order. I went through the schedule and found a few panels that sounded interesting. For example “Awesome Anime Openings – Remix Edition” was a panel for showing fan created openings of Anime, like Lupin the Third’s opening crossed with Metal Gear Solid, or the opening to Sword Art Online done in Gary’s Mod.
Sakura-Con, like many other Anime conventions, hosts AMV (Anime Music Video) contests. Featured categories include Action, Drama, Fun, and quite a few others. I sat in for a portion of the screening. I saw a ton of interesting anime I’ve since considered watching, as well as a lot of great editing talent. One video that I thought was particularly clever, was a mash-up of many different Anime done in a fighting game theme called Ultra Fighting Bros.
Overall, Sakura-Con was a worthwhile experience, much like any well established convention. I definitely got a sense that Sakura-Con was more a convention by the people, for the people while PAX is more by the industry for the people. I felt like the Merch Hall (Expo Hall) was disconnected from everything else, while I feel like at PAX, the entire convention feels more connected.
But, if you are into anything Anime, or are considering getting into it, Sakura-Con is a home away from home.