Animation on Display 2017 March 22, 2017Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Otaku.
Tags: 2017, Animation on Display, AOD, AODSF
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Animation on Display (AOD) is a weekend convention celebrating anime, video games, cartoons, and other fun and geeky stuff. AOD 2017 took place on March 18 & 19 at the Santa Clara Marriott.
This was my 6th AOD, and the second year of staffing at this small animation convention. I could tell that this year’s con was going to be smaller than the previous year’s one, based on venue size from a previous staff meeting, so my expectations were low for it. It also didn’t help that one of the main guests of honor couldn’t make it at the very last minute. Anyways here’s my experience of AODSF 2017.
Day 1 – March 18th
I woke up several minutes before 7AM, which made me scramble to just get ready to go and drive the approximately 45 minute commute as my shift started at 8AM. I had set my alarms to go off at 6:30AM, but I don’t remember hearing them go off. That or maybe I snoozed them and went back to sleep. Either way I didn’t have time to give myself time to get ready at my own pace. I did at least write up a list of things I needed to bring along with me the night before, so that I wouldn’t forget anything and make it easier to account for them too.
I arrived at the hotel just as the 8AM hour approached, luckily there was no traffic on the freeways. I grabbed my staff badge among other things and headed over to Registration to set up for the day. Unlike last year, the area we had for registration this year was better as it was a dedicated registration counter, complete with a back room for all our supplies and our own personal belongings. We wern’t sitting right next to sunny windows either so I didn’t have to worry about overheating.
From 8AM to 2PM, it was working time at the Registration department where the lines would come and go but never reached overwhelming levels. I could understand the relatively smaller turnout, as there wasn’t many big events going on, especially with the cancellation of Lotus Juice due to Visa issues at the arriving airport the day before. That’s also why I decide to work this con because it makes it more worth it, financially and work experience wise.
Continuing from my last point, I would not staff big cons or cons that have events or things I want to see, as I go into event photographer mode. I want to see everything and capture as much as I can with my camera and skills with it, as my goal has always been to use photos as a mosaic or pieces of a puzzle to create a big picture of the event to an outside audience, to give them a similar experience as what I felt. During my first six hour Registration shift, I watched as countless photo opportunities in the form of cosplayers pass by. I knew it would be harder to take cosplayer photos later because they may leave con, get tired and go on the side, get taken by other cosplay photographers, etc. The first opportunity is usually the best one for cosplay photography in my opinion. You just don’t know if you will see that cosplay/cosplayer again.
I had a break between 2PM and 3PM, so I made most of my time by eating lunch I picked up earlier at the hotel lobby via staff food voucher, then going around to tour the con. While browsing the Dealers Hall, I bought a Pokeball cushion to add to my growing couch collection of pillow plushies. I also swung by the Console/Arcade Gaming room to get info and sign up for the Overwatch tournament, as it was the main event I was looking forward to for this year’s AOD. However what I didn’t know, was that this tournament was being played on PS4 rather than PC. In the program it didn’t mention what platform version was being used so I assumed PC, though the room is labeled “Console/Arcade Gaming” so maybe I should of figured it from that. I even brought my own gaming mouse for this event, similar to how people bring their own controllers for other games. I play Overwatch on PC only, so I felt that trying to play the PS4 version would not bode well for me. I would still have my game sense, but not my control sense. Playing FPS games on console is not my forte. I left the game room disappointed as I headed back to Registration for my 3PM to 5PM shift.
As expected, my last shift of the day was fairly uneventful. During the periodic drought of customers, I hopped onto Fire Emblem Heroes and 3DS. At 5PM I anti-climatically said my farewells, grabbed my stuff in the back, and headed out to what was left of the con.
I mostly wandered around after, seeing that most cosplayers were either resting on the side or were with other cosplay photographers. I tend to not want to be a bother to people who look busy or tired, so I resigned myself to take venue photos. I also checked out the Overwatch tournament a bit, as I was just curious how people played it on the PS4. AOD’s Overwatch Tournament was 3v3 on Ecopoint: Antarctica, single-elimination. The first game was pretty close, but the moments were definitely not on the scale as PC ones are (for obvious reasons).
I left afterwards to grab dinner at the hotel lobby again, this time of a bento box as the main meal. I don’t know if I was just hungry or if the food was just really good, but it was a satisfying dinner at the very least. I stuck around a bit longer to see if there was anything I wanted to see/do last minute, but decided to call it a day and head home at around 7PM.
Day 2- March 19th
I woke up at around 6:30AM, this time being able to have some time to get ready instead of rushing. As my shift started at 8:30AM, I left around 7:30AM to head over to Santa Clara, stopping once to get some gas at a Costco on the way. I arrived on the dot for my first 3 1/2 hour shift for reg, where it was pretty much dead besides the occasional waves of people.
During the down time at reg, I played Fire Emblem Heroes, Pokemon GO, and managed my 3DS Streetpasses. It was a good use of time as I used it to level up / do quests in Fire Emblem, catch some new 2nd gen Pokemon as I haven’t really played it in a while, and attempted to beat one of the requirements in one of the final racetracks in Slot Car Rivals.
At noon I had an hour break so I went around con to see what was going on, picked up some lunch, and also bought another pillow plush at the Dealers Hall, this time of a 1-up mushroom from the Mario series, something I’ve been looking for to match my super mushroom I bought at AOD last year.
Between 1PM and 3PM I worked at reg for my final shift of the con. It was as slow as ever so it was back to the mobile gaming grind for me.
At 3PM con work was finally over, but at the same time the con was almost over as well. I walked around con, but at this point I was unmotivated to pursue taking photos. Most cosplayers were not in (my opinion) ideal photo taking conditions (resting on the side, bad lighting, grouped up with others, etc.). I did stop by the gaming room and played some PS4 Overwatch for the first time, but of course I was having trouble with the controls. By 3:30PM I was already in my car thinking about if there was anything else I should do at con before leaving. While I came to the conclusion that there was nothing left that interested me here, I decided to at least use the restroom before commuting back home. As I started to walk back to the hotel from the parking garage, a guy ran out one of the side doors with some staff members on his tail yelling at him to stop. A nearby armored cosplayer who saw what was happening joined the chase, dropping pieces of his armor and belongings as he ran towards the runner, towards the parking garage. As I entered the hotel, I heard that he stole from the Dealers Hall. Whether or not he was caught I’m not sure. After using the restroom I went back to my car, again thinking about if there was anything more for me at con, which there really wasn’t at this point. I felt bad that I didn’t even attempt to take any pictures/video of the earlier incident, as a photographer that is. I left AOD at 4PM, with random thoughts swimming around my mind about this whole weekend.
Thinking about my AOD weekend as a whole, I’m not too satisfied about it to be honest. While I was at con all weekend, part of the reason why I wasn’t happy was due to things at home.
Besides me missing opportunities for photos throughout the two days due to staffing, everything else about the con went smoothly for me; Con location was relatively easy to get to, the weather was nice, I found some things to buy at the Dealers Hall, free hotel food was good, and no problems with staffing at Reg.
Right before the con weekend started, a close relative of mine had to go to the hospital, and even during the weekend she was still there. The problems stemming from it weighed on my mind even though it was being taken care of, for the most part. This was probably the first time while I’ve been at a con that this situation has happened for me, and probably what affected my ability to try and enjoy the con when I could.
As for next year, I do plan to attend AOD again, and probably staff as well. My next con will be good old FanimeCon in May. I do have some new ideas I want to toy with for that con, such as making new business cards specifically for my photography and have some sort of custom laminated badge to wear and identify myself as a photographer.
FanimeCon 2016 June 5, 2016Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Otaku.
Tags: 2016, Anime Convention, Coolmikeol, FanimeCon
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It’s that time of year again! I attended this year’s FanimeCon which took place May 27th – 30th at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. FanimeCon is an anime convention “by fans, for fans”. I’ve been attending this anime convention since 2011, and I do intend to attend it annually as long as I’m able to, as it is one of my favorite cons around.
For all of my photos taken at the con, please check out my Flickr set FanimeCon 2016.
Day 1 – May 27
Got up early in preparation for the first day of Fanime at around 6am. After showering, I had to do some quick shopping at my local Safeway. I waited for the arrival of my friend who was tagging along for the first day of the con before we headed to Safeway, also grabbing a bite to eat for breakfast there. I came back to my place to drop off the groceries and grab the things I needed for Fanime. We left SF at around 8am.
After about an hour drive, I was able to find parking within the San Jose Convention Center quite close to the doors that lead from the parking lot directly into the con center. We proceeded to line up to pick up our pre-reg badge. Because I heard of the long lines from social media the day before during Day 0, I brought mini chairs in anticipation of being in line for a while. During the wait, I was on my 3DS sorting through Streetpasses on multiple games. I never really used the chairs I brought because the line was consistently moving every couple of minutes. 1 hour and 27 minutes later, we got our badges.
Because most major events were not happening until a few hours later, we decided to tour around San Jose State University, which is only a few blocks away from the convention center. Afterwards my friend and I split up to do our own things.
At this point it was about 11:45am, still more than two hours until Opening Ceremonies which I planned to attend. In the meanwhile I went around getting myself familiar with the area.
Quarter before 2pm I made my way to Stage Zero to prepare for Opening Ceremonies. I always like to attend the opening and closing ceremonies because I they make it truly feel like the con has officially started/ended. It also is a way for me to preview the guests of honor, as well as feel the vibe the con has.
After the Opening Ceremonies concluded, I made my usual rounds of checking out the Dealers Hall and doing cosplay shots primarily in the convention center lobby. Normally there would also be a bunch of cosplayers in the tree area on the left of the entrance of the convention center, but unfortunately it was occupied by the badge pick up lines. At least this would only affect Day 1, as the rest of the days of the convention they moved the entire line inside, for both the sakes of the people in line from the heat outside, and the cosplayers and photographers who use that area as a backdrop.
At 7pm I called it for the day, called my friend to regroup, and headed back to SF. It wasn’t quite the end of the day yet for me as we called my other friends to come over so that we could go out have dinner at local restaurant. By the time I got home, I didn’t have much energy to do much else than go to sleep with Day 2 directly ahead.
Day 2 – May 28
Day 2 started almost the same as the previous day did, though I did wake up slightly later to give myself some more sleep. This time my sister was tagging along for the day. We left for Fanime at around 9:15am and arrived just after 10am. I parked at a different parking lot about a block away from the convention center as it was going to be cheaper than the convention center’s $20 parking. To my surprise, this parking area was nearly empty despite it being a peak time for people to park. I guess its because it is sort of hidden, and some people would rather park in the obvious places.
I helped her get her at-con badge, which luckily had a much shorter line than the pre-reg badge pick up line, though it still took about an hour for her to do so. Afterwards we went around the con a bit together before grabbing some lunch from a food area in the back of the Dealers Hall. We split off afterwards, so I went back to do my rounds of photography.
There were a few cosplay gatherings I wanted to check out. That’s one of the things that makes Fanime great in my opinion, the cosplay and the gatherings that form at this anime convention. Most of them are visible and easy to get to. Maybe it’s more so than other cons I’ve been to because I’m somewhat familiar with the area, but also because everything is generally in one place. I don’t have to commute back and forth a large distance every time I wanted to check something out on the other side of the con.
Once things started to settle down, we decided to leave at around 8pm. To my pleasant surprise, when paying my parking fee, it was only $7 for pretty much the entire day. Compare that to $20 at the convention center and it was an easy guess for where I will park in the future for Fanime.
Day 3 – May 29
I felt good after two days of relatively solid shooting of pictures, already about 1K taken. I was actually worried that I’d fill my 8GB SD card to the max for once. I also have a 32GB, but delegated it to my small point and shoot for video shooting purposes back when I went to Sakura-con. I didn’t think I’d need to use my 32GB SD on my DSLR, so I kept it in my small camera from then. I’ll have to buy either at least a 16GB or another 32GB for my DSLR now, so that I don’t run into this issue again.
For today I was going alone, which is an advantage for me as I would have less to worry about. Leaving at around 9am, I decided to stop by a local McDonald’s to pick up breakfast as I didn’t eat before I left home. I got back to Fanime at around 10:30am, on time for another cosplay gathering I wanted to go to at 11am. As I was getting out of my car and gathering my stuff, I noticed I didn’t see my DSLR camera bag. Looking around the car it was nowhere to be found. To my horror, I realized that I probably left it at home, which is roughly an hour drive back, two hours round trip. I called home to confirm that I left it there and sure enough I did. I wasn’t about to go through a whole day without my DSLR, especially as a photographer. I knew that going back and getting it would cost me about two hours, but it was worth it in my opinion. Since I was already here though, I decided to go to the cosplay gathering at that was happening soon. I figured my point and shoot would be good enough for that. Luckily by 11:30am it was over for the most part, so I bolted for my car for home to get my camera.
I got back to Fanime with my DSLR in hand before 2pm and I immediately went to work. If you didn’t know, this year’s Fanime was quite hot, literally. Temperatures were running in the mid 80s, though being directly in the sun made it much worse. Cosplayers were mostly in the lobby area inside the convention center, or in shady areas in the outside. I didn’t get any sunburn because I avoided being in the sun for an extended period of time. I do feel bad for the people who were wearing cosplays that made them hot, as is one of the few reasons why I don’t cosplay much myself.
I got myself an early dinner from Subway, and afterwards shot some more before going to The Best of the Angry Video Game Nerd showing at 9pm, something that I go watch every year. I prefer the older episodes of AVGN (1 to 100), but this year they were showing some of the new ones I haven’t watched yet which were good too. I left the con at around 10:30pm and got home an hour later. I was very tired after the events of the day so I think I went to sleep right away.
Day 4 – May 30
The final day of con finally arrived. A couple of my friends wanted to tag along, one of which came on the first day. We left a little past 9am to arrive as usual an hour later. I planned to park at the cheaper parking lot, but it was closed probably due to Memorial Day holiday. I ended up parking at the Convention Center, which is at least convenient if not for the price. At con, It was pretty dead looking during the last day. Combined with that and the badge requirement, the main floor of the con had the least amount of people I’ve seen during all the times I’ve been to Fanime. My friends went to do their own thing, and I went off to do my own, photos and stuff.
I stayed around for Closing Ceremonies, which is usually not really eventful besides officially ending the con. They had a little (poorly put together) slideshow of some photos from the con, as well as a couple of performances and speeches from the remaining guests of honor. Q&A took place at the end, but that’s when most people leave, myself included. The only somewhat important info that was revealed at the Closing Ceremonies was the theme for next year’s FanimeCon, Magic, as well as the announcement for the first guest of honor, an American voice actor (don’t remember the name). It does sound like Fanime wants to fix the issues that plagued it this year, by also giving some information early for Fanime con goers of next year. Even the website is updated with the date of next year’s con and info.
I met up with my friends shortly after I left the con at my car, and we headed in the direction of home. We went to a Red Robin to eat some dinner, while the Golden State Warriors were playing game 7 for the chance to be in the NBA Finals. They won by the way if you don’t know. Afterwards grabbing a pie from a place called Nations which are very good. We headed home and I showed some of the pictures that I took before disbanding. That is the end of my FanimeCon 2016 story.
This year’s FanimeCon felt a bit off, and seeing other people I know say the same thing online on social media at least tells me that I’m not alone. I guess some of this stems from issues that were arising even before the start of the con. The first I remember was the housing problems with hotels reservations. This was the first year that I did not attempt to reserve a hotel, and I’m glad I did so. Fanime did a thing where people were given priority to reserve hotels if they also had a registration badge with the con. While this sounds like fine idea to avoid scalpers (people who go to con without a badge) to book hotels, it also made problems to people who also reg with Fanime as well. Bear in mind that this information is some that I’ve heard on social media, so I’m going solely on that. In the end, some were not able to get the rooms that they were probably able to get in previous years, some even learning they got double booked day of. Definitely not fun.
The second thing was the changes made to registration. For the past two years, Fanime put a lid on what’s known as LineCon, long lines from people picking up their registration badge. I was expecting the same this year, as many were probably too. Unfortunately last minute changes to the registration system caused LineCon to return in a explosive fashion. I remember monitoring social media on Day 0, reading about how long the lines were. Wait times of a few hours were reported, and videos coming from the pre-con were not very comforting to people who were to face the lines the next day. It was explained that there was some sort of software/equipment malfunction with the previous system and had to be replaced entirely with a new system, which explains the new barcodes that were E-mailed a few days before the start of the con.
Personally I didn’t have much problems with the con. I thought the new policy about the second floor being badge only fine. It definitely lessened the amount of people on the floor, though the Dealers Hall wasn’t too different in terms of it being crowded. For the most part the staff had most entrances to the second floor locked down. Though there was one point where I thought I found a hole in their net with the elevators, the ones near the convention center parking lot. I took it up to see if someone could get on to the second floor unchecked, but low and behold there was a staff there the moment the doors open up. I had my badge then so no worries on my end, though I thought I did see some people without badges try this.
I also didn’t attend any panels/events at all, besides going to the viewing rooms every once in a while. While they had some decent guests of honor this year, they just didn’t pique my interest enough for me to check them out. Nothing really different from previous years, but at least the main reason why I come to Fanime is still fantastic.
Overall, FanimeCon 2016 was alright, but it feels a little underwhelming when compared to my previous years going to it. Maybe it’s because I didn’t stay at a hotel this year thus breaking the full experience, or that I had to take a detour to go back home to retrieve my camera. Could of also been LineCon or the bad things I was hearing about before Fanime started too. A mix of all these things could of caused my feelings to by mixed on the matter. All I know is that I still enjoyed myself, and that I will plan to come to Fanime next year. Until then, see you all later.
Sakura-Con 2016 March 31, 2016Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Otaku.
Tags: 2016, Coolmikeol, Sakura-Con, Seattle
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Last year I made a promise to myself, to change, to do things differently, to experience new things, after a stagnation in my life. I knew that if I was to grow as a person both physically and emotionally, that I should learn to start doing things on my own. This led me to decide to go on a solo trip to Seattle for Sakura-Con, which I’ve heard and seen good things about it. Going to a place I’ve never been to, I’ve never gone traveling on my own on this scale. This was going to be a test on multiple levels to see for myself if I can make this trip a success. From my experience of previous trips with friends to other anime conventions, that had its ups and downs, I wanted to try and avoid the negatives that can come from group trips to truly enjoy the experience.
It all started when I happened to catch word of the start of the Sakura-Con housing reservations. It was early November 2015 that I reserved a room for the dates shown below. I knew that this was the first step in making my trip a reality, as getting rooms for convention can get tricky if you don’t jump on it the first day. Upon reserving my hotel room, I was not completely certain about making the trip yet. It was only on the last day of November that I made my decision final to go with my registration to Sakura-Con right before the price increase. Now things were slowly locking into place. The last main thing I needed to take care of was the transportation. With help from Expedia I was able to secure a round trip flight between my home of San Francisco and Seattle, WA for a little under $200. This was around mid January when plane ticket prices seemed to be the lowest for my destination. I also looked into also using public transportation to get from the airport to Downtown Seattle. Luckily there is a train called the Link Light Rail that can get me from the airport to Seattle in about 40 minutes for $3 each way. With these reservations and plans in place, I had myself locked in for a trip of the year.
The hardest part of doing all of this though was not the planning, nor the costs. It was the fact that the partial reason I was taking a solo trip to Seattle was because of my experiences with previous group trips with friends. Ordinarily, trips with others should make for a better, enjoyable trip with the added benefit of splitting costs. The enjoyable part though will only work if all of the people involved in the trip are invested and interested in the journey and destination. Countless times have I invited people on my trips to just become either uninterested or just tired of the trip. I end up feeling bad and/or having to babysit them throughout the rest of the trip. It doesn’t help that since I’m focused on photography, I move around to place to place in a snap, and having people following me around basically puts a leash on myself. I feel constrained when that happens which affects everyone else. It’s not that I dislike having people with me on trips, it just depends on the trip itself. I probably wouldn’t mind as much if it wasn’t a trip to an anime convention. Why am I obsessed with photographing anime conventions? That can probably be connected to my old mentor Danny Choo, who used to blog much more about his life in Japan. I was inspired to share my own experiences via photos that I now try to do the same, at least with anime conventions and such. To get back on topic, the reason why my group trip experiences made this a hard decision to make, was because my friends and I have been discussing a road trip up to Seattle for quite some time. As none of us have gone up there, it would of been a new experience for all of us. Right before telling them about my trip few days before leaving, I had that almost sick feeling like I was backstabbing them. I knew it would of been worse if I didn’t tell them at all, so I mustered up the courage to let them know as causally as possible, with the previous experiences and truth in mind. They seemed to take the news well, not reacting negatively as I thought might happen. I’m still up for a road trip with them, but probably not for an anime convention anyways. I still feel bad writing this part, but it’s for the best for all of us I think. Change comes with consequences, both good and bad, and I intend to tip the scales to the good side for the future.
Before I begin my day to day journal-like entries of my Seattle/Sakura-Con trip, if you’d like to just check out my photos of my travels, which are in (for the most part) chronological order, please check out my Flickr album Seattle / Sakura-Con 2016.
Day 0 – Thursday, March 24
Waking up suddenly to multiple alarm clocks at around 6AM, I got out of bed, took a shower, and called my mom afterwards to wake her up since she was going to be my ride to the airport. I did my final checks of my list of what to pack and left home just after 8AM. Riding through rush hour traffic, I got to the airport around 8:45AM. As it was my first time flying on my own, I was left to figure out what to do next. I knew that I probably wouldn’t get away with my luggage being carry-on to Seattle, so I went to the self-help kiosk to get it tagged for check-in for $25. After sending it away from the check-in counter, it was to the security checkpoint to get screened. While the line looked a bit long, I got through the line and security in about 15 minutes. Afterwards I went directly to my gate where I had about an hour until boarding. While waiting, I saw some people that I suspected was also going to Sakura-con, more so confirmed when I overheard them talking about “con and panels”. I didn’t enter their conversation, but I wanted to at least introduce myself as another fellow con goer. After that opportunity passed, I figured that I’d pass time by playing on my 3DS, also wondering if that would signal that I’m a Sakura-con person to anyone else waiting for our flight.
At around 10AM I got up and into line for boarding, and got into the plane and seat at about 10:20AM. Our flight was scheduled to leave approximately 10:40AM, but it was running late for reasons. We left the terminal around 11AM and got airborne 10 minutes later. On the plane, I sat between two people; a man on my left who had aisle seat and a girl on my right who had window seat. Throughout the entire flight the girl was playing Fire Emblem Fates, and I got a little intimidated to bring out my own 3DS in the beginning, I guess because I didn’t want her to think I was copying her? Dunno. Even now as I’m writing this I can’t describe why I felt like hiding my 3DS for a bit. I know it’s stupid, I’m just shy lets just leave it at that. During midflight, we got out snack and drink which translates to a Asian-style snack mix and canned juice. The snack mix was a mixed bag, meaning that for the most part I didn’t really like it, I’d prefer the standard peanuts. The juice was way too sugary, and I wished I asked for just water. This was when I realized that I should of ate more at home than just a yogurt, as I had a small headache that comes from me not eating enough earlier in the day. Right before takeoff and after, I had a anime OST on my iPod that I wanted to play at that moment of full acceleration and liftoff. I’ve had it planned ever since I first heard it from the anime Aldnoah.Zero S2 Ep. 1, when the Deucalion launches from under the sea to space. I wanted to experience flight again partially for the feeling I felt during that scene, and adding appropriate music did the trick. I just wish that I had the window seat, especially because during the landing in Seattle, we flew directly over the Space Needle which would of been awesome if I had the chance to record that. Didn’t want to reach over and ask the passenger for the opportunity as I thought it would have intruded on her space. After landing though, while waiting for the people ahead to get off the plane, the girl next to me called out to another friend of her’s (I presume) and heard her mention the word “con”. I decided to take that opportunity to ask if she was going to Sakura-Con, and it turns out she was. She was actually one of the artists of the artist alley and we exchanged business cards before leaving the plane.
My first task to do was to pick up my luggage from the baggage claim. I was worried that I’d get lost in a new airport, but signs led the way easily to where my bag was. I also knew that I needed to eat to prevent the worsening of my headache, so I grabbed a breakfast sandwich and a water bottle and ate before proceeding to the Link Light Rail. Getting to the train took a bit of a walk outside, which was colder than SF has been recently, so the air was chill but refreshing. Signs once again pointed myself in the right direction and before I knew it I was at the station. Buying myself a $3 one way ticket towards Downtown Seattle and seating myself, I prepared to view the scenery of a whole new city. Basically it was lots of trees, far away snow covered mountains, and tunnels that both a train and bus can use. At one stop along the way though, a random fare checker came on board to check everyone. I’m used to this at home as we have it every so often. What scared me was that I couldn’t find my ticket for a moment while he was checking the other people. Luckily I had just dropped onto my seat and presented it just in time when he came to me. After a 40 minutes ride, I arrived at Westlake Station. Surfacing in Seattle for the first time, I strangely felt as if I was home. The area felt like a mix of cities I’ve been to before: San Francisco for the cold and coastal areas, Los Angeles for the big buildings, and San Jose for how everything seemed close by. Basically all the good things of each city put together for a anime convention.
I headed to my hotel which was about two blocks away, The Paramount Hotel. I was expecting the registration desk to be busy, but there was almost no one around to my surprise. Check-In was quick with no problems, and with my room key in hand I went up to the 9th floor to settle in for a bit before heading to the convention center to pick up my badge.
Since nothing was really happening at the con on Day 0, I wanted to take at least some time to explore the area since I figured I would be focusing on the con when it started tomorrow. I walked down Pine St towards the fish market, after checking out Westlake Center, and just explored the random paths that I found. I generally knew what was around the area based on my map research on Google, so I didn’t fear getting lost.
I made it to the Seattle Aquarium which had a bunch of construction going on around it, but following a parallel street got me to Waterfront Park where there was the Seattle Great Wheel, a Ferris wheel on the pier. I took a few photos while looking at the cityscape, and saw some stairs leading back up to downtown to another street.
The stairs brought me to Union St, where after a short walk found myself a Target. I went inside to check it out to find other con goers shopping as well, and I figured I’d do a little grocery shopping myself as I had a refrigerator in my room. I ended up only getting a few things, like waters and snacks, and would of gotten more food if I had a microwave, which I didn’t have. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped by a McDonald’s to get a burger and fries, and with that added to my Target bag I had a full bag of food stuff for my room.
As my headache from earlier was still faintly but continuously there, I was afraid at one point that I might get sick, because of also the cold winds that I was walking through the entire time outside. I knew that food and sleep was the best medicine for me, so I returned to my hotel for the night at around 6pm, sounds early but I knew I needed rest from the flight and headache for the start of the con tomorrow. As I had the room to myself, I took advantage and decided to take a good long hot bath before going to sleep, something that I can’t really do at home. It was to help ease my headache and allow me to feel more sleepy. It definitely was a pleasant time to just relax and not have to think about much. Went to sleep at around 1am as that is around the time I usually start to sleep at home.
Day 1 – Friday, March 25
I wanted to take a quick tour of the convention center before the Opening Ceremony Ceremony at 10am, so I got to the con before then. Entering through the doors on 8th and Pike St, the first floor of the convention center looked like it was part of a mall. Looking straight ahead you can see a series of escalators going many floors up, and at the top you can see the Sakura-Con banner with the sun shining right behind it. These escalators take you to Levels 2, 3 and 4 of the convention center, the 4th floor being where most of the main events and halls were. Levels 2 and 3 had smaller rooms that had some con operations rooms, panel rooms, Cosplay Repair Station, Karaoke, etc. The 4th floor contained the main stage and Dealers Hall/Artist Alley, as well as several panel rooms. There was also a multitude of areas for cosplayers on this floor, mainly out on the Outdoor Plaza, South Galleria, and in front of the entrance of the Dealer’s Hall. That being said, there was plenty of areas for cosplayers and photographers outside and inside the con. So many staircases, little secluded areas, on all floors. This amazed me a lot as I’m used to being at anime conventions where most casual cosplay photography took place in the middle of crowds, but here at Sakura-Con if you wanted to find a good area for photo taking, whether it be in a natural environment or urban setting without others around, this is the con for you. While being outside though, there was a noticeable amount of smokers/vape users, and as I don’t smoke I tended to have to limit my breathing directly around those people.
Moving on to the final floor of the con is the 6th Level. The escalators near the main stage takes you directly to the 6th Level, but there was other escalators to the left of the info booth that let you pass through the 5th Level (closed to the con/business offices I think) to the 6th. I though at first that the 5th was closed off to the public for staff only, similar to how at Anime Expo, the highest floor visible from the main lobby is for staff and guests of honor only. On the 6th Level was the main panel room, as well as the gaming rooms, AMV Theater, Sakuradome, and anime viewing rooms. What surprised me at first about the Console Gaming room, was that there was no CRT TVs in sight. I’m used to seeing a mix of old and new TVs at other gaming rooms at other conventions, but I found out that Sakura-Con has a separate room for retro gaming that uses only CRT TVs.
While doing all the touring, I kept tab over the line for the main stage where the Opening Ceremonies was going to be held. At first I didn’t see much of a line, but that was because I was looking at the wrong line. The line I thought was for the ceremony was actually for buying Sakura-Con merchandise. The real line for the event was in the neighboring room that was labeled the autograph room, but a small sign that I didn’t notice before indicated that it was also used for line formation for events using the main stage. By the time I got into line it was already pretty long, but I knew the main stage room was large so there was no real concern of where I was going to sit. I also had my DSLR equipped with its 18-135mm lens, so I had the zoom power if needed. As we entered the room, the first thing you notice is the many screens, two on each side of the stage, and three for the back so that everyone can see. I was situated on the right viewing a screen that looked to be of LED lights put close together. It didn’t look too great, so I had to either focus on looking at the actual stage, or at a projector screen if I didn’t want to see pixels in the video.
Opening Ceremonies started late, but it ended on time. The ceremony opened with taiko drumming, followed by a quick AMV made for the event, then some words from the Con-chair (I think). After that there was more music played by traditional instruments, both old and new. It ended after that, which was good because like I said they were able to end on time. At other cons I’ve attended, they also introduce the guests of honor which takes most of the time, which they didn’t do here. Most of the guests at this year’s Sakura-Con were industry based, and none of them to me were “die to see” material. Not saying that they weren’t important, just not on my plan to see if I had other things to go to.
Back on the 4th Level across the Skybridge over Pike St was the Dealer’s Hall/Artist Alley. It had it’s usual assortment of anime goods booths, as well as some industry ones and local business ones. One booth that had my attention was the Pink Gorilla booth, a well-known retro and imported video game retailer, located right near the front of the hall. I heard about it from a friend back home and so I decided to check it out for both our sakes. Pink Gorilla’s actual store was not that far, a short 10 minute or so train ride away. Originally I was planning to check it out when I had time, but since they had come to Sakura-Con, I thought the booth was good enough instead of traveling out of con to go to the actual store. Because I’ve been to so many Dealer’s Halls at other anime conventions, I didn’t take photos of it too much, nothing too interesting from what I’ve seen. I will say that it was of decent size, but smaller than that of FanimeCon’s due to the fact that Sakura-Con uses the same space for both a Dealer’s Hall and Artist Alley.
Near the South Galleria of 4th Level of the convention center was a couple of places to get food. One was a cofffee place, and the one next to it was a Subway. Originally when I did research at home of the area using Google maps, I saw the Subway that is located in front of the convention center on the street. I did not know that there was another one located right in the heart of the convention as well. That made it very convenient for me on a few occasions throughout the convention days, as I have a Subway gift card I got as a birthday present from a relative. As I couldn’t eat meat on Friday due to reasons, I ordered a tuna sub which was better than I expected. The line at Subway was always busy, but this branch had many workers, each focusing on a part of the sandwich making process. I never had to wait too long for mine to be made, so I give them a solid A for timeliness and effort.
During Day 1, I was struggling to get into the flow of cosplay photography again, and so when I took a break at my hotel in the middle of the day, I wrote about how I felt in this regard on my Facebook. Here’s a copy and paste version:
“Taking a short break from the con, so far Sakura-Con seems very nice: Lots of space because there’s 6 floors of the convention center, which also feels like a mall with the variety of food choices (Subway brunch). There’s also spaces right outside perfect for cosplay photography. The downsides to this though is that everything is spread out more than I’m used to. While it doesn’t take long to get from point A to point B, I act on visual instinct which means that photo OPs for me happen on sight, versus planned/scheduled which I assume there are photographers who already has a lineup of cosplayers to take photos of.
Another thing I’ve noticed about my recent habit of cosplay photography is that I’m not as eager to take photos of cosplayers as I used to, probably because I’ve taken many of that character before, or because I’ve been desensitized to seeing so much cosplay that I don’t deem it as interesting as it really is. I need to break through this so that I can really show how Sakura-Con is overall, as my style of photography is all about the overall approach. I want to present the con so that viewers looking at my album of photos will feel like they were there. I take photos not only of cosplayers and events, but also of the venue itself and how it works with the event.This post is much longer than I thought it would be, so I think it’s time I left my laptop to get back to the con. Luckily it’s only a 2 min walk back to it so taking breaks doesn’t feel like I have to dedicate so much time to it (for traveling between hotel and con).”
As I wasn’t having too much luck with finding good photo opportunities, I decided to go look for a place for dinner. Westlake center had a food court so I decided to find something there. I got myself some shrimp teriyaki, and a chocolate chip cookie from Mrs. Fields for dessert to enjoy back at the hotel.
I went back to the con afterwards for the Awesome Anime Openings panel at 7pm because I wanted to see some “awesome” anime OPs, for ones I’ve never seen or ones I’m hoping will be included in it to see others’ reaction to them. It was pretty entertaining to watch random anime OPs, old and new, weird and epic, all part of the J-pop culture in their own ways. It was unfortunate that the panel ended early due to technical difficulties. After the panel I wandered around the con a bit more to see what it was like at night, but didn’t stay long and returned back to my hotel for the night at around 8:30pm.
Day 2 – Saturday, March 26
I was lazy to get up out of bed, so I didn’t get to the con until around 10AM. For brunch I got a breakfast sandwich at Subway, which wasn’t as good as I hoped but it would do. Today I was committed to taking more photos with more quality. Quantity and quality is my policy.
At around 1:30PM I went to where the Sword Art Online Movie Special Event was being held. At first I thought there wasn’t much of a line, until I turned the corner and found a mass amount of people waiting around. Sakura-Con has a policy posted that lines are not to be formed 30 minutes before, but obviously people did anyways. We didn’t get into the panel room until almost 2:30PM (Panel scheduled to start at 2PM), and at first based on how many people were in line still I was slightly concerned that maybe the room would fill up before we had a chance to get in, but there was still lots of empty chairs upon entering. We received a exclusive mini poster of the movie key visual showing Kirito and Asuna in their new clothing design. We also got a ticket which was for raffle prizes to be held later during the event. The event revealed new character designs and plot details for the movie, as well as having a live drawing by the series artist abec. At the end a raffle was held for various items such as microfiber towels, wall scrolls, actual scripts used for specific episodes, etc. On a couple of occasions, I was extremely close to winning. As you can see my number was 7289973; the first time it got close was when the number 7289975 was called, the second was when number 7289972 was called. Each time a ticket number was called, slowly reading it out to the audience, many of us in the crowds sighed in disappointment when they got a number that didn’t match. Imagine my reaction when twice it got down to the last digit. So close, just a couple numbers off.
After the event I headed to my room real quick to drop off the poster and promptly headed back to con for more photo ops.
After seeing that things were calming down at con, I decided it would be a good time to head out to buy some more souvenirs and dinner. I was about to take my usual route on 8th Ave under the conference center, but a split second after thought told me that I should take a new route to see what’s on those streets on the way to Westlake Center. That decision ended up becoming a mistake once I reached Pike St. and 7th Ave. Two guys were apparently trying to promote their music saying that they were raising money for kids or something. The first thing one of them asked me was my name which I gave. At the time I didn’t think much about it, but when it came to the time they were asking for money for their music CD, I wanted to decline. That was when the guy said that he couldn’t let me just walk because he already “autographed” the CD for me. I never asked for the CD, nor did I think he was going to ask for money because of how fast he approached me. I realized this was a trap for idiots like myself who now felt like I was obligated to give money for a service that can be barely called so. At first I thought I could get away with giving a dollar, but he guilt tripped me into giving $15 by saying that he needs money to make even with the costs of making the CDs, which I bet don’t cost as much as they imply. After the money was given, I walked away toward my destination, which I wished I took my usual route as there’s not many people on there usually. I guess the reason why I didn’t just walk or run away the moment he asked for money was because I didn’t want to make a scene in public. I didn’t want them to call me out on something that I consider a scam. At that time and even now, I have a bitter taste in my mouth and a churning in my stomach from the experience. As bad as it was, I wasn’t going to let it ruin a pretty good day, considering it a learning experience for the future. Normally anyways I ignore people who are giving things away or trying to talk to you while walking, but like I said this guy was out of my sight until it was too late to move out of the way. I did lose $15, but I also told myself that it could of been worse and lost more, and that I can get back that $15 relatively easy back at home. It seemed that these guys were having a streak coning others, as I saw that holding a large wad of cash as I was leaving the scene.
After buying a few more souvenirs for family, I got some dinner at the upstairs food plaza again, this time trying the Cheesesteak place by getting an Original Cheesesteak and Garlic Fries. I got it to go, as well as a Peanut smoothie from a smoothie place. I brought it back to my hotel room for me to enjoy in peace after what had happened in the streets before.
I started pre-packing my bags for the journey home the next day. I wasn’t going to sleep early though, as I planned to go to the Kinaiver Premiere, Trigger studio’s newest anime, at 2:30AM. Why it is so early in the morning? I don’t know. (Maybe to coincide with the preview screening at the United Cinema Toyosu happening on the same day in Japan?) While I was waiting to return to the con, I wrote Day 2’s events, still fresh in the mind before heading back to the convention center.
Directly continuing from Day 2, I got back to the convention center at around 1AM. Security for the con was now screening for badges at the front door which was nice so that we don’t get random others coming in as well. Of course there was a lot less people roaming around but it was still lively enough that it didn’t feel like a empty con. I headed to the top floor of the con where the Kinaiver premiere was going to take place later, but to kill time before then I hung out in the console gaming room and played some good old Super Smash Bros. Brawl, by myself and 1 on 1 with others who wanted to join. As 2PM approached, I wanted to start leaving for lining up for the premiere, but as I was playing with others using borrowed con controllers/game, I stuck to playing until it was a good time to do so. When it became time to call it quits, it was after I had lost my only 1 v 1 match, and I didn’t want them to think I was leaving just because I lost, so I did let them know I was waiting for a 2:30AM premiere.
There was a fairly long line that formed from the viewing room, which definitely wasn’t there an hour ago. Staff handed out posters of the anime which was a nice bonus I was not expecting. Upon entering the viewing room, I found some empty seats really close to the front, which got me second row first seat. I was surprised that I was able to get a seat this close to the screen, but the downside was that the screen was off center which made me turn my head to the right a bit uncomfortably. When the premiere started, it was initially clear that watching was going to be more of a chore, as the subtitles were all the way on the bottom, obstructed by the first row people. I wasn’t the only one who was having this issue, as I guess enough people complained for the staff to re-size the screen so that everyone had a better chance to see them. After the technical difficulties, we finally got to watch without interruptions.
The Kinaiver premiere was alright. It definitely had telltale signs of Trigger production. I won’t spoil too much about it since it’s not out yet at this moment, but basically its a strange turn of events that involves our main group of characters. Most of the details about what’s going on behind the scenes are vague, but I know that it will grow and develop like how Kill La Kill did. Each character’s unique with their own personality and secrets, which will play a role with how they’ll interact with one another throughout the series. That’s all I’ll say about what the anime is about, but you can get a synopsis from MyAnimeList if you want to learn a bit more about it. As for whether I will be watching the rest of the series, I plan to since I already watched the first two episodes, might as well. Do I think that the anime will be good? So far I think it will be average, but that’s based solely on my impression from the premiere.
I got back to my hotel room for my final night in Seattle. I went to sleep around 4AM, with alarms to wake me up at around 8AM. Didn’t really get out of bed until almost 9AM, but it didn’t take me long to get ready to leave the room for good and check out of the hotel. My main agenda for this final day at con was to do last minute shopping in the Dealers Hall, as well as to take final photos with my DSLR before packing it away for the trip home.
At around 1:30pm I got lunch at Subway for the 3rd time, before leaving Sakura-Con close to 2pm for a ride back to the airport via Link Light Rail.
While going through airport security, one of the TSA agents noticed that I had a shirt on with an anime character when I had to take off my sweater for screening. He asked me what anime it was from and I told him it was an original character. The shirt that I wore (which I’m still wearing now) is of Mirai Suenaga in her retrograde suit with the Japanese reading “Support Japan!!” for when Japan dealt with the Tohoku Earthquake back in 2011. He continued to talk to me even though it was time for me to go through the screener, so I didn’t really know what he was saying past that point. It was nice to randomly find (I assume) an anime fan in the middle of a security checkpoint in an airport, though the saying “There’s a time and place for everything” kind of made me rush through there as I didn’t want to bring attention to myself.
After gathering all my stuff together, I made my way to my gate which was a bit of a walk away. It was about 3:15pm when I found myself a seat at the gate. I figured that boarding would be around 4pm with my flight scheduled to leave at 4:50pm. While waiting, I figured that even if I left the con at 3pm, I probably still would of made it on time. Confirming my thoughts was the fact that my plane arrived at the gate slightly late, so I didn’t board until close to 5pm. I could of stayed at the con at least one more hour and would have not had to wait or have been late for my plane. The main reason why I planned to arrive at the airport like I did was because of precaution, you never know if it would take long to get through security as I heard that sometimes the lines can get long with wait times up to an hour. Since I haven’t been flying for several years, I guess the checkpoints have become more streamlined as I haven’t had to wait more than 15 minutes to get through the line and screening process.
As I was boarding the plane, stop and going through the center aisle, I happened to recognize someone. As I got closer I realized that it was San Francisco mayor Ed Lee. I couldn’t believe the coincidence that he happened to be flying on the same plane as me. There was a point where I stopped right in front of him, where I could of said something to him. However I could tell he was not alone, and that he probably also wanted to keep a low profile as mayor of one of the most iconic cities on the west coast, let alone the world. I ended up passing him by, not uttering a word for both of our sakes. I didn’t take a photo either as I didn’t want any issues arising from it. I did wonder what would of happened if I just greeted him, but I didn’t want to chance screwing up the trip just as it was ending. I believe he was in Seattle that weekend because a Democratic caucus was being held there, and he was just heading home.
For my flight home I had the window seat, so I took full advantage to take photos/videos of the outside and in front of me. When I think about it, my fascination of flying in hindsight is a little childlike. I have the need for speed, and the feeling of being off the ground. I guess it’s partially tied to my love of anime as well, and my recent liking of the mecha genre and flying in one of them. While I like flying in planes, the longer the flight the worse it will get so relatively short flights (3 hours or less) I think are the most ideal for me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be able to handle longer flights, it would just be more uncomfortable, especially if the destination I’m flying to is in a different time zone.
Landing in SFO at approximately 7pm, I called my family who was to pick me up to let them know where I was at. When they were at the airport, apparently they said they couldn’t find me, and low and behold it turns out I came out to the departures area and not the arrivals area. An easy mistake to make, since I didn’t check in my luggage this time, I ended up not going to the baggage claim area which was right next to the doors to the arrivals area. I quickly found my way one floor down just in time to catch my ride out of the airport. We went out for dinner at a local ramen restaurant in my area before heading home. I gave my souvenir gifts to my family, watched some ERASED with them before calling it for the night at midnight. This pretty much ends the events of my Seattle/Sakura-Con trip.
This was a fantastic, amazing trip for me in my opinion. Sure, there were little incidents here and there, but they did not detract from the whole experience of the trip. The main thing that made this trip a success was that everything went according to plan, and that I learned from my experience traveling. Will I make the trip again? Probably. Will I try traveling with friends in the future? It’s a possibility that I can probably make work as there are enough other things to see and do besides the con to keep them interested and busy. Will this lead to new travels to new places? You know it, just don’t know where and when it will be.
Throughout the trip and even now, the whole experience felt like a dream. One moment I’m in my room back home doing my usual things, the next I’m in a new place I’ve only simulated in my mind many times in preparation for the place I was actually at. Coming back home and revisiting these memories, I know that they’re real, but fleeting at the same. That’s why I’ve been furiously recording every single thought that comes to me that I’d like to share. It’s both for you as the reader to visualize my travels, and for me to never forget the feelings and experience I felt. I remember as the days before the trip loomed by, I sometimes felt hesitant and scared for what might happen on the trip. The feeling of uncertainty creeped on me as thoughts of delays, getting lost, missing flights etc., built up in my mind. Even through all that, I knew that I wanted to go, and that these were nothing more than fears from not knowing what was out there in the world. To conquer these, the only way was to dive right in, and figure it out along the way. With careful planning and common sense, everything fell into place, which has boosted my confidence in trying even more new things in the future.