By Manny Nolasco
Intro - From Hype to Reality
The first time I heard of Naka-Kon was spring of 2013. My best friend, Cory Smith, asked if I wanted to attend, but it was on the weekend of my dad's birthday and I had already made plans with the family. I had to respectfully decline this invitation, but with great regret as this would've been my first anime/cosplay convention I would ever attend. Words couldn't describe the anticipation I had for this trip. This year, nothing was going to stop me, as my calendar was already marked for the dates of March 14th - 16th.
The first thing that caught my attention at Naka-Kon, was the sheer size of the Overland Park Convention Center. The hallways were so huge, I often thought I was in a hanger bay of an airport. I also liked how in every large gathering space, were several round tables with at least 8-10 chairs per table. This was perfect for catching your breath, fixing your costume, or for staging spontaneous photo shoots. It was equally helpful if you wanted to conduct a brief one-on-one interview with someone or a group of people. Unfortunately, I did not have time for this; however, next time I hope this setup will be the same next year so this option is still available. The registration area and the vendor lobby was the size of a gymnasium (both located in separate rooms). This meant that lines were virtually non-existent and spacing was adequate for smooth crowd flow. Restrooms were also located in the vendor room, which was especially helpful for both the vendors and attendees. Security detail was at its best, as the entrance to the restrooms were monitored for shoplifters, and warning signs to prevent shoplifting were made in advance. Safety was certainly not a question at Naka-Kon, and much of this can be attributed to the awesome Naka security and staff managing the convention.
Continuing on the theme of "size", the number of attendees was the most I've ever seen! It wasn't until the last day that over 7,300 attendees were tallied for the entire weekend, and even at the time of this announcement, this number was still being determined. The hallways were constantly filled up with cosplayers or those not in costume. This meant that costumes varied drastically, including the level of difficulty in making them and the different types on display. Sword Art Online, Naruto, and Fairy Tale cosplays were the most prevalent. I was hoping to see more SteamPunk costumes, but what did surprise me, was the considerable presence of Madoka Magika cosplayers (see below):
As with any large crowd, at one point I felt like I was squished in a sea of cosplayers, shoulder to shoulder and with one person in front and behind me. This can especially feel daunting if one is not used to tight spaces. Fortunately, the con-goers themselves were very courteous. I was glad to see that folks were polite and they did their best not to push, step on, or storm their way into panels or the vendor room. At the same time, I didn't hear of any incidents of items being stolen or pickpockets, which could've definitely been an issue with so many people crammed in one area.
This was the first time I've witnessed a convention being blessed. It started with a small skit performed by Naka staff, about a goddess trying to save humanity and Naka-Kon itself. She made a bet with a demon that she would prevail over him by the convention’s end, restoring her power to rule over Naka-Kon. The play's overall message was that through the presence and camaraderie of attendees at Naka-Kon, alone would generate "good" power that could keep away the spirits of evil. By the end of the convention, if the goddess attains enough "positive energy" from the crowd, she retains her benevolent power over Naka-Kon; however, if she were to fail in her quest, the demon she placed this bet with would be the next ruler. Here's some footage of that event below:
After the skit had concluded, you were left with the impression that this goddess character would traverse the hallways of Naka-Kon. This not only gave you the opportunity to meet her in person, but further immersing yourself into the Naka-experience with purpose. By accompanying the goddess on her trip, this would also help keep evil spirits away, further aiding her in winning the bet. This was truly unique and a first for me to experience at Naka-Kon.
This was my first time attending a live death-metal concert, or Japanese musical group for that matter! Living up to the hype, these girls not only came all the way from Tokyo, Japan, but with a BANG as they rocked the crowd with ease. Unfortunately, I wasn't permitted to take pictures/video during their performance, but I can safely say that based on the crowd's reaction, nobody left disappointed. Each band member came out on the stage with varying attire. The singer had a semi Lolita black dress with a sleeveless red corset top, while the other members ranged from wearing daily school clothing, to rock shirts and fishnet stockings. What was even more interesting was their slight ability to speak English, as they spoke Japanese most of the time. But language was no barrier between them and their audience, as crowd members still sung some lines in Japanese, and screamed along with the band during their performance. After the event, I bought the band's CD album and had each member sign it. This was definitely a major highlight for me on this trip. Below is my signed copy of their album, as well as what they each look like:
Q&A with Travis Willingham a.k.a. "Colonel, Roy Mustang"
Listening to Travis-or Colonel "Mustang" if you prefer-was a treat in itself. I had no idea that the humorous, narcissistic bravado that Mustang exudes in the anime Full Metal Alchemist, is also a personification of the actor himself. Travis lit up the crowd with non-stop laughter as he addressed each question with a satirical response. Of the many questions asked about his character and his career, the question about his first con experience was by far the funniest. He explained how the first convention he attended was not only overwhelming, but how he “experienced” the definition of being “glomped” for the first time. To see what I mean, checkout the video below (I apologize for the baseball bat and samurai sword being in the picture, as these fans were trying to get Travis’ attention while patiently waiting on being called on):
With the daunting number of cosplayers that attended, I was both excited and curious as to how the coordinators of Naka-Kon would be able to do a show within the scheduled timeline. To my amazement, the theme of the show was centered on quality and variety, rather than quantity. This is not to say that there was a shortage of cosplayers that entered the contest, but those who did, were exceptionally talented in their ability to craft their own costumes. You can tell from the brief gallery below that many animes and manga were well represented in this contest. Unfortunately, another panel I attended conflicted during the time they announced the winner of this contest. But as you can see from our developing photo gallery, that deciding a winner was no easy task. Check back with us this week as we'll announce soon when the full collection of Naka-Kon pictures is posted.
SEGA: Hatsune Miku Project Diva F panel
Having recently reviewed the Playstion Vita release of "Hatsune Miku: Project Dive F" (click here for review), attending this panel was an absolute must. It's a good thing I did, because outside of the game's development, I learned that it was an equally challenging task to convince SEGA executives for its western release. With the help of an unprecedented Facebook campaign asking SEGA and Miku fans if they would consider supporting this game through at its release, was SEGA convinced to make this their next project. The result was an overwhelming positive response, which was enough for SEGA developers to get the OK to for the game’s development. Another important fact I learned was that this game is not a "port"-meaning that this title was converted from one console to another, like PS3 to Vita-but that this game is a "localization" of the title. This means that serious work went into the Japanese to English translation, copyrights to songs had to be re-acquired, and the button commands associated with the game had to be modified for western audiences. For example, in Japan, the 'X' button is typically used to exit a game and 'O' (or circle button), is reserved for accepting a setting or progressing to the next screen. This had to be reversed for the western Playstation 3 and Vita. I was equally impressed with all the little knickknacks that were being handed out during the panel. Here's a picture of the Sonic the Hedgehog hat pin I received during the panel and one of SEGA's own Miku cosplayer that danced at their booth during the entire weekend:
I also had the pleasure of sitting down with brand manager, Aaron, as we discussed the development of the game. You can checkout our video on YouTube via the link below:
Michelle Ruff a.k.a. “Rukia Kuchiki” autograph signing
Being able to not only see, but speak with voice actress Michelle Ruff in person, was the golden moment of my entire weekend. When the first couple seasons of Bleach aired on Cartoon Network, my sisters and I would watch this show religiously as a family. For the longest time, we thought we watched the show to see what would happen next to the main character, Ichigo Kurosaki. It turns out that Rukia was actually our reason for watching, as we would sit in anticipation for her rescue by Ichigo in the first two seasons of the show. I was truly surprised to personally hear that Michelle's normal voice sounds very much like Rukia's. Which makes me think, if I saw her in a grocery store, would I have recognized her just by her voice? Throughout her autograph session, she was a very sweet lady and took time to not only personalize individual signings, but take pictures with her fans-despite the long line and the possibility of going over her scheduled time. As you can see in the picture below, I asked her to sign and address two Bleach: Vol. 2 manga’s with her character on the cover to each of my sisters. I also had her sign my copy of one of the Gurren Lagann disks with her character, "Yoko," on it:
You can also checkout this brief video of her entrance during the opening cermony (doesn't she sound like Rukia with her normal voice?):
Diversity in Cosplay (hosted by Chaka Cumberbatch and "Team Whatever Cosplay")
Of the various conventions I attended in 2013, not once did I encounter a panel that addresses the critical topic of diversity and the social issues with cosplay. I was glad to see this topic brought up at Naka-Kon 2014, but I'm pleased to announce that Cosplacon 2014 (click here) will have a panel on this as well. As much as cosplay is centered on creativity and unity through fandom, issues like racism and stereotypes still exist. As the moderator of this panel, Chaka asked Team Whatever Cosplay some great probing questions like, "Does body proportion have an effect on the quality of appearance of your costume?", or "Does ethnicity play a role on the characters you or your friend’s cosplay as?"
Team Whatever Cosplay's response to the first question was, yes, body size will be criticized by cosplayers and non-cosplayers alike; however, this is not to say that this should be acceptable. Cosplay is an acceptance of yourself and your abilities as a costume designer. When you observe-or dare I say "judge"-other cosplays, rather than considering the person's proportion, one should admire the detail or craftsmanship put into their costume. Continuing with the thought of personal image, sadly, ethnicity can be a target for criticism. To answer the question on ethnicity, the group's response was that ethnicity should be embraced, rather than ignored or scrutinized. Why should there be an issue with a Black "Naruto", or a Mexican Ichigo (Bleach)? At the same time, if you are self-conscientious about skin tone difference between you and the character you’re cosplaying, there are ways of modifying your cosplay. This includes certain makeup to lighten your skin, wear a costume that shows little to no skin, or put on a mask. As the author of this article, I personally like to cosplay as "Kirito" from Sword Art Online: Elfheim Online and I'm Filipino, not Caucasian.
Lastly, during the panel I felt obligated to ask the question, “If a cosplayer gives you consent to take their picture, is he/she also simultaneously giving you consent to post their photo online?” The general response was, yes, a cosplayer typically knows (or should know) that by saying “yes” to their picture being taken, the very possible chance of it being posted online; however, out of courtesy as a photographer, you should tell the cosplayer(s) you photograph where they can find their picture online so they may share this with others at their discretion. Below is a picture of Chaka with Team Whatever Cosplay-and yes, I did ask for their consent and gave them a business card so they can find their picture online:
With all the hype that surrounded this convention with both positive and negative experiences told to me by previous convention goers, I had extremely high expectations for Naka-Kon 2014. I heard that last year's special guests topped the charts with fans including: Nobuo Uematsu (musical composer for games like Final Fantasy), Greg Ayers (voice actor for "Youhei Sunohara" from Clannad), and Kyle Heber (voice actor and narrator for Dragon Ball Z). Unfortunately, I heard that some folks had issues with long, disorganized lines and that they felt like they were treated like cattle when directed to the next panel.
I'm pleased to announce that I personally did not have any of the above mentioned issues at Naka-Kon, but that I was impressed with the quality of direction and courtesy of the security and staff. In many cases, if I needed assistance looking for a room, security would walk with me and point me the room, or provide verbal instructions if I preferred. Don't believe me, checkout this snapshot I got of security personnel at the registration line:
I never like to rate conventions on a number scale because, 1) numbers can be subjective when trying to associate the difference between "so so" vs "good" and, 2) to me any live event is a unique experience in itself, which can change in quality the following year or next performance. So I leave you by saying this: Naka-Kon 2014 was a GREAT experience and I would highly recommend everyone to visit Naka-Kon 2015! This was the second biggest convention I've attended in the Midwest, aside from the gaming convention, SGC, in Dallas, TX. But Naka-Kon 2014 was definitely the largest cosplay convention I've ever attended. Now I know why my best friend Cory-who's accompanied me on all my previous conventions-had so much to say in high antcipation of Naka-Kon this year. I'm just glad to have been part of the experience and for anyone reading this article, I hope to see you at next year’s Naka-Kon!
Thanks for reading this in-depth review of Naka-Kon 2014. I had a great time meeting other fans and sharing this experience with them. As noted in the article, I will be posting the complete set of gallery pictures and eventually my interview on behalf of MSP with SEGA's representative for the production of Hastune Miku: Project Dive F the game.
Once again, shout out to all the amazing guests and WONDERFUL group of staff and volunteers who truly made this a memorable experience for everyone! You can definitely count on me going to Naka-Kon 2015, and who knows, maybe you could be in the next photo gallery!
This is Manny or "ThatCosplayGuy" signing off!
<--Me derping around in my best attempt as "Kirito" from SAO.