Sakura-con 2010 wrap up

When I walked in to Sakura-con Friday afternoon, I planned to stay for a short time just to check out the con and get a general feel for what was going on. Instead, I stayed for several hours, drawn in by screenings, panels, and other special events, as well as the fun of simply walking around and checking out the many excellent costumes attendees put together. There really is a lot to do and see at Sakura-con which is definitely the best-organized con I’ve ever attended. Being fan-created and fan-produced makes all the difference. All of the activities offered were things that people really wanted – not every room was jam-packed, but none of them were empty.

Back when I was a kid, you learned to dance in gym class (if your parents hadn’t already taught you) but from what I hear, today’s young people don’t always get the chance. One of the coolest things I saw Friday was the “Learn to Waltz” demo that prepared con-goers for the fancy-dress ball held later that evening.

Demos throughout the weekend taught other useful skills: Aikido, fencing, judo and more. When your only exposure to fighting arts comes from what you see onscreen, it’s fun to see what they look like done by real people.

Of course if you wanted to see these things done onscreen, you could do that, too. Screenings are a very important part of the con, so much so that they ran all weeklong from the early morning to the next early morning, offering con-goers the chance to check out all kind of works, including premieres of new features Initial D 3rd and 4th Stage, Slayers Evolution-R, Opium and the Kung-Fu Master and Trigun. The screening rooms offered an excellent variety of shows and movies, everything from the sweetly comic to the dark and intense. People who aren’t familiar with anime often stereotype it as being all the same thing, but shows and movies cover a wide range of topics, anything from cute alien frogs to mecha warriors to ghost hunters to ordinary people just trying to find their place in life – Initial D is focused on the adventures of a young man whose ambition is to be the best driver ever but it’s also a great coming-of-age tale of young people trying to figure out who they are as they cross the bridge from childhood to being grown up.

I’m not much of a gamer myself (I’ll settle for my nice, peaceful casual games, thanks) but based on the excitement level in the gaming rooms, Sakura-con was the place to be for those who are really into it. It was great to see how cooperative people were even when there were lines; I’d been told that Sakura-con is full of friendly people but I was pleasantly surprised to have my expectations exceeded. Even when it got crowded enough that moving from one place to another took some serious work, people were consistently friendly and good-natured.

The main attraction for me was getting a chance to see all the costumes and it was in regards to cosplay where the friendliness of Sakura-con truly shined. Any subculture that involves people creating and wearing elaborate costumes is, obviously, a subculture that also involves photography – a lot of photography. Con rules and cosplay etiquette both require that photographers ask before taking photos and over and over again I witnessed people politely asking for photos of cosplayers who politely posed. At one point I observed two young ladies not only tirelessly posing for what seemed like an endless series of pictures but taking care to come up with a variety of poses so everyone shooting them had a chance at an image that was at least a little unique.

Some characters are particularly popular, so I was curious to see what would happen when two or more people wearing the same costume encountered each other. I didn’t really expect any drama but it was fun to see how encouraging and complimentary people were: “You look great!” “You look great, too!” was the order of the day.

If there was any downside to Sakura-con, it was only that for a casual fan like me there were moments when there was too much of a muchness; with so many things going on at the same time, it was sometimes hard not to be overwhelmed. Since I’d been warned about this, I took steps to cover myself–going out to Freeway Park for some fresh air helped and screening rooms and panels were a good way to sit down and take in one thing at a time. The one area that was most difficult for me was the vendor fair – there was so much on offer that I barely knew where to begin and end. (I want to give special props here to the staff at the BPAL booth. Their colognes have a huge cult following so their booth was always crowded but no matter how many people swarmed around it, they were steadfastly friendly and helpful and calm.)

In the future, I would definitely take the advice given to me pre-con to make myself a schedule before going. It’s easy enough to change your mind once you’re actually there, but I think having a plan would’ve reduced some of the overwhelmed feeling.

Overall, however, I was very pleased by how well Sakura-con was organized and enjoyed attending very much. I will definitely attend again.

If you’d like to get involved or learn more but don’t want to wait for next year to arrive, check out Sakura-con’s sponsoring organization, ANCEA, the Asia-Northwest Cultural Education Association.

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