Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Naka Kon 2012 Recap

My annual trip to Naka Kon was this past weekend. This year was definitely a change for me.

The past three years I've run a small sub sector of the convention: the Gaming sector. However, this year, I took a big step up. I essentially oversaw everything that happened at the convention that attendees could do.

Of course, the majority of this means figuring out the schedule, which is done well in advance, but there's always fires to put out: Panelists not having the right kinds of computer cables, Guests not being at the right place on time, schedule changes, etc...

Most of Friday was taken up working on a single event: Our Formal Ball. In past years, the host has taken an approach of "make people dress up, play music and magic happens". Instead of dancing, we instead get something more awkward than a junior high dance. So this year, with assistance from one of my best friends, we decided to 100% rework the ball. We chose only waltzes, had a 2 hour waltz lesson prior to the ball, had a bunch of staff we taught to assist everyone and pull wallflowers off the wall, and had games to keep everyone engaged. We had "dance cards" that required people to interact and learn various waltz steps that could be turned in when completed for a chance at being ball king/queen, prince/princess.

For this event we'd anticipated ~300 people, but printed 350 dance cards just in case. A few weeks before the con, I started getting worried that that might not be enough. Questions about the ball were eclipsing anything else. Even the announcement for the ball was getting more "Likes" on facebook than the announcement for the two biggest Guest voice actors (usually the biggest draw at conventions).

And I was right to be worried. We ran out of dance cards before we even got through the initial line. The 1000 ft dance floor we laid down wasn't even close to enough. We needed 4 times that (which isn't even available)! Regardless, it was an amazing event and towards the end, every single socially awkward nerd in the room was waltzing.

However, towards the end, I had to step out for 20 minutes for an emergency meeting. It wasn't just the ball that was bigger than anticipated. It was the entire convention. We had over 3,000 attendees arrive on Friday alone. Usually Saturday is the big day for people arriving and if that held up again this year, there would be no way we could accommodate everyone. We simply didn't have enough badges printed and the staff couldn't handle another day of that. The call was made to close registration several hours early.

But as luck would have it, Saturday's registrations were slow. The final numbers were somewhere around 1,000. It seems that having major events like our formal ball and concert on Friday are becoming bigger events than the usual main draw: The costume competition (which is Saturday).

While I didn't have a single event taking up my time on Saturday, it was the day of my annual "Anime Mythbusters" panel. This year I had the largest room available for general panels. Our most desired Guest this year, Steve Blum, had the exact same room the hour before me and only managed to fill it 3/4 the way. For me, it was standing room only. Yes, science can be that cool.

This year I added 4 new segments including things from Avatar (the show, not the awful movie), Samurai 7 and Nyan Cat. I think this was easily the best year yet and can't wait to start touring it to my other annual conventions.

Saturday was busy in other respects too. Our voice actor Guests had a few things they decided to change around on us and we couldn't get the word out to attendees, which caused major headaches. It was also the day of security incidents, two of which involved the police. Our security team did an amazing job, but we're lucky to have a team that's composed of a large number of current and ex-military as well as former and off duty police officers so if any security team is ready to handle such things, it was ours.

Sunday went pretty quietly. It had to be up at 5:30 am to do my shift in our con HQ which wasn't fun. I had a panel on Sexism in Anime later that day and the amount of tired was kicking my butt. I wasn't intending on having any powerpoints and was just going to deliver it straight lecture style to not detract from the message, but I knew I was too tired to remember everything. Also, when that tired, I become more dyslexic so I couldn't use my notes I'd prepared as a crutch either. As such, I used my 4 hour shift to put together a powerpoint so I could remind myself what was going on in big words but not have to read too much.

In the end, the panel went spectacularly. I'd used my #1 favorite anime, Gurren Lagann, as a case study. My basis for the discussion was Allan Johnson's Gender Knot in which I went through several points that fit each of his criteria and examined whether they were present. Eventually, I'm wanting to expand this to many more animes and start building up a survey of the entire genre instead of a single data point.

The panel had about 300 attendees and several of them stayed after to discuss things further including apparently one that reads this blog (small universe). It was a really great experience and I've submitted it to Tokyo in Tulsa for July. I can't wait to update it and present it there.

Naka is usually my first convention of each year and has consistently been my favorite. This year's was easily the best, despite all the issues we encountered. But most of those issues are something that can easily be resolved and Naka 2013 will be even better.

Now to continue sleeping.