As I looked upon the Lancaster Convention Center, a big grin appeared on my face. To put it simply, I needed this! It’s been too long since I could just enjoy a convention. Now I have the chance to enjoy Zenkaikon. Zenkaikon is an April convention that takes place in Lancaster county, which is in the same corner as Philadelphia.
While Zenkaikon is the first convention I did attend this year, it is not the first convention I could have attended this year. Kotoricon is cool, but I would have nothing to report on there. I heard Magfest is awesome. Awesome enough to attract other staff from The Fan, but I couldn’t grab a hotel roommate to make it affordable. Ponycon is intriguing, but I was quite sick during most of February. That would also cross Katsucon off the list. There are also at least a few cons that flew under my radar.
By the time Zenkaikon rolled around, I was physically and emotionally ready for it. My anticipation for Zenkaikon was due to how… chill it was. A guest cancels at the last moment? It’s cool. A V.A. gotta work and there are plenty of other guests to see. My press pass didn’t come in? No worries, they know I’m good so I know they’re good, right? Okay, I did get worried and made an inquiry. Turns out I was approved and they didn’t send me a notification because my application was late. I knew I had nothing to worry about! Sorry Zenkaikon. Sending it in six or more months in advanced feels creepy so you end up going to the other extreme and apply at the last-minute. I’ll try to find a better timing in the future.
With that potential disaster unpotentialed, I quickly grabbed my badge and just… chilled. The city of Lancaster has such a nice downtown area with a “Main Street” vibe. For those willing to do a little searching, you can find some interesting secret areas full of personality. The Lancaster Convention Center always had cold water and clean bathrooms just a few steps away. You don’t appreciate something until you really need it. Zenkaikon, as always, will even validate your parking! This is all standard protocol as this point but I feel it’s worth repeating.
While I did largely chill, I did make a point to attend a few panels. For example, Uncle Yo! Who he’s an uncle to is a mystery to me but he was there. While the geek comedian is now a mainstay of the Mid Atlantic convention scene, Zenkaikon will always be his home convention. The home field advantage must have been in play because his routine was particularly sharp that day. I certainly enjoyed it.
Since it was his hometown con, Uncle Yo was also a co-host for Cosplay Burlesque. For those not in the know, Cosplay Burlesque is like a Cosplay Masquerade except they take the cosplay off. This group of performers are also a mainstay of the Mid Atlantic convention scene. Normally, I don’t get to see them at Zenkaikon due to room capacity getting filled. This year they finally fixed that by putting them in Main Events. These people know how to execute an established formula to please a crowd (unlike Keji Inafune). Even Uncle Yo got into the act! If you ever wanted to see Uncle Yo strip, Zenkaikon 2016 was your chance. My only criticism is in the overuse of Kylo Ren. I know The Force Awakens is the new hotness but three scenes with the same character is starting to overdo it.
The usual suspects are always fun to see but Zenkaikon does not stop there. Being part sci-fi, they like to draw outside the regular anime voice actor pool. In years past; they got John de Lancie and Jim Cummings. This year they got Dante Basco. Okay, I’m not sure if he counts as outside the stable of anime voice actors, but he’s still a cool guy. He was freakin’ Prince Zuko for cryin’ out loud! I went to his panel and he’s just so chill. By listening to him, you’ll learn that he’s just like anyone else. He fanboys over Mark Hamill, plays League of Legends, and hates Teemo just like everyone else (though I’ll never understand the last one). He even agreed to do the Guests Against Humanity panel; which I missed. That panel was not held in Main Events but in a smaller panel that got filled up before I got there. You win some, you lose some.
I missed a lot of things to be honest. Richard Epcar and Ellyn Stern were both guests and I saw them about as much as your Overwatch teammates see the objective. I did manage to get within meters of Vic Mignogna but that was it. He goes to so many cons I know I’ll see him sooner or later (like at Anime FanFest). Most of the panels didn’t catch my eye and the video game section couldn’t hold my attention for long. I did try to get into an Artemis game but found that all the slots were filled up. I’m actually not very salty about that because that means more people can experience it. I found myself at the tabletop area more often than not.
I find myself put off by that decision. I can play all the tabletop gaming I want at my Friendly Local Gaming Store so why would I spend my con time playing more tabletop games? For one, Zenkaikon has always done tabletop gaming well. It has its own room with a good game library in an accessible location. I can also play games that I don’t normally have access too. I could actually rope people into playing Barbarosa or Machi Kuro. Expect a full review of Barbarosa in the future a mini review of Machi Kuro right now. While I only played a few casual games, I can see it’s appeal. Machi Kuro feels like Settlers of Catan with less trading and more game mechanics. Channel A was also seeing some play. It does become unwieldy once you go beyond four players; especially when everyone is named Bruce. I don’t know how that started; I just went with it. I even played Ticket to Ride! Playing Ticket to Ride is sort of like watching DragonBall Z reruns. While I may scoff at how unsophisticated it is; sometimes simple and fun is exactly what you need.
I spent a large majority of my time just chilling. Walk around, take a few cosplay pics, and then walk around some more. It was all just chill; even with the traffic lanes. You see, when they were taking seating for the Cosplay Masquerade, the line has to move across the hall into the theater. However, this being a convention, the hall was filled with people moving through it. We were about to cross the streams when a staffer stepped in and directed traffic like a four-way street light. Everyone politely waited their turns and got to their destinations without incident. I personally found the whole ordeal hilarious. It also got me thinking…
How could it get so crowded with only three thousand people? Let me check the Zenkaikon attendance numbers. Three thousand people attended the 2013 convention. It jumped to four thousand at 2014, five thousand (or so) at 2015, and well above five thousand for this year. So that means Zenkaikon grew sixty percent over four years. That is both surprising and insane. How did it grow so fast? By being a great convention.
You should have been to the feedback session this year. Most of the time people bring up concerns, generic praise, or just rip into the con chair on occasion. Zenkaikon was all praise; and enthusiastic praise at that. Everyone was literally gushing at each other. “Oh you’re the best convention ever Zenkaikon!” “Well that’s because your the best convention attendees ever!” “It’s so family friendly here!” It was as if all our positive thoughts converged into a hivemind of self-congratulations. Is this what’s it like to be a Homestuck fan?
While success is sweet doesn’t it bring up a few issues? Foremost, won’t Zenkaikon out grow the Lancaster Convention Center in a few years? What do we do when that happens? Cap attendance like Koritcon? Endure the endless lines of Otakon? Move to a new city like AnimeNEXT? Each choice has its own perils and Zenkaikon must be prepared for whatever decision is makes; but it won’t be alone. Their feedback survey did ask for input on the subject so they are aware of the situation at the very least. It’s a problem they’ll have to chew on for a while but isn’t that the type of problem you want your convention to be having? I think so.