Reviews of North American Cons, 2018 Summer

Going to do some personal reviews of North American anime cons, obviously only from my point of view:

  • NY-region based – defines what is local (Northeast US, East Canada), what is expensive (flight-wise), and what I think is expensive (not a lot)
  • 20+ years going to anime cons in the US and Canada. And nowadays flying to Asia for events but anyways…
  • Mainly for JP guests – Is Learn2Offkai still a thing?
  • Not that poor anymore? lol – Time is arguably more valuable to me than money.
  • Some cons I have not been in recent years. I’m limiting this list to only cons I’ve attended in the past 5 years.

Goal is to be concise and easy to compare, largely as pros/cons listed. Why? Because cons lend themselves to long-form write-ups as I’ve done on this blog thus far, but I want to change the framing to see what yields from this exercise with short form writing. I’m breaking general estimate on “JP guest count” by “few, some, quite a few, a lot” in incremental amounts.

Notes: I break out cons by small (<10k), medium (10-20k) and large (20k+). Just about all anime cons are < 35k in the US and Canada. Anime Expo is the one exception at over 120k in 2018. (Fanime may be the other exception…) I generally only go to larger cons because of the guest issue–hard for small cons to bring guests, except the very dedicated ones… Anyways.

Sakuracon

Large, city-center con center brings flavor and urban environs to a tightly run con. Seattle is part of the charm. Usually taking place around Easter, so Sakuracon runs against Anime Boston most of the time. Also one of the more unusual con center buildings to find a con in. I went once in 2014, but want to go again! (Since 2014, I went to AB, nowhere, Japan, and nowhere as a point of reference).

Pros:

  • Easy access to city resources, night life etc
  • Easy to get housing
  • Mass transit available (inc. to the SEA airport)
  • Usually quite a few JP guests, hit and miss on music JP guests
  • Meet the guest dinner…!
  • Coincides with start of new cour

Cons:

  • Seattle makes the con on the expensive side
  • The con is outgrowing the venue somewhat
  • Inner city issues (panhandler etc) a bit more prevalent than other cities
  • JP guest list is very hit and miss

Anime Boston

Also a large, city-center con. Usually brings a good JP music guest or three, plus the usual JP and dub casts. Like Sakuracon it is dated around Easter or start of the Spring season (for simulcast premieres). Located in walking distance of Fenway Park so lots of sports pubs and late eats. Also, it’s in a mall, and literally next to a church (for Easter observers). I went once in 2014, but want to go again! (Since 2014, I went to AB, nowhere, Japan, and nowhere as a point of reference). Recently known for long lines for security theater sakes.

Pros:

  • Solid programming for fan and pro content
  • Solid music guests from Japan usually
  • Well-served by mass transit & nice night life
  • Coincides with start of new cour

Cons:

  • Relatively, Boston is very expensive
  • Con venue has a lot of bottlenecks, and bag check historically has been slow here

Kawaii Kon

As being a small con, the biggest anime convention on Hawaii is a really different sort of an experience for a mainlander like myself. Kawaii Kon usually brings good JP guests, although it’s hit-and-miss with music. Cheaper fare to Japan, lower visa requirement, and just being a paradise sort of environment make this attractive for JP guests in general. In prior years high profile JP industry and fan-type attendees also have been spotted at this relatively small con. Affiliated with AWA I believe? I attended in 2018 and 2016. Tweet above is from Akagikuro, a gravure cosplayer who now dabbles in drawing manga about autism, but visited Kawaiikon on her own this year.

Pro:

  • Hawaii is great – including food, food options, beaches, stuff to do. Biased towards tropical island as someone who deals with NY/NJ winters…?!
  • Quite a few JP guests, fairly intimate setting. At least one music guest
  • Not crowded, very laid back.

Con:

  • Waikiki is pretty expensive, but not that expensive…
  • The flight from NYC to Waikiki is sometimes more than Japan… And most of us are going to have to fly there.

Anime Central

Likely the biggest anime con in the US Midwest, the Chicago-suburb con is now served by rail across Chicago metro area, taking you to both of its major airports. Well it is right next to ORD, so free hotel shuttles can serve air travelers. Always can count on Acen for good guests both production and entertainment types, even if some years are better than others. It’s in mid-may, so it’s a bit hard to schedule in for people going all in for Memorial Day. I attended in 2018 and 2014.

Pros:

  • Decent guest list, sometimes very good
  • Possibly the best rave in the US con scene
  • Maybe geography? Not far from most of US and Canada
  • Mass transit is available now…

Cons:

  • Timing is usually tricky due to right before US holiday weekend
  • Con is a bit aways from Chicago proper, without much around to do right in the area.

Anime North

The largest anime con in Canada is close to the US midwest, and not that far from the US northeast. One of the US Memorial Day weekend battlefields. Canadian cons may be similar to US cons on paper, but the execution and feel are actually different, they run closer to EU cons where all the fans just go to one large gathering to do stuff. Screening and panels are more split off. Part of it is venue design and choice but the vibe is slightly different. Personally I enjoy Anime North because of local foods and drinks, and Toronto (and Vancouver) is a good city for anime/idol culture, in North America.

Pros:

  • Usually some JP guests, and different guest lineups than US cons.
  • Canadian discount (based on exchange rate)? Things aren’t expensive either, even by Canadian standards
  • Typically, more compact schedule with more guest programming than US cons.

Cons:

  • Foreign country requirements (passport, cell phone plans, etc)
  • Worse-than-usual line management
  • Kind of middle-of-nowhere near Pearsons airport.

Animazement

Laid back con in the South, Raleigh provides great vibe and food options. The con historically brings repeated guests, namely these old time big names with their friends. Good if you like older JP guests and some random entertainment acts, like Han Keiko or Ishida Akira. One of my favorite cons actually, but I wasn’t able to go in recent years because it lands on Memorial Day Weekend. It’s a mid-size con now but I used to go when it was still around 6000-7000 folks strong. I have to preface one thing though, which is I’ve last been since 2013, so it has been over 5 years that I have last visited Animazement.

Pros:

  • Raleigh is inexpensive and has a lot of great food/entertainment options, good venue for its size.
  • Can be counted on for veteran Japanese guests–some number of them.
  • Did I say food options are good? They are good.
  • Laid back con in the States, mid-size population means easy going.

Cons:

  • Very specific kind of guests and very hit and miss on anisong guests.

AnimeNext

I guess AnimeNext has now more than 20k attendees, but this is the local NJ con I attended since the early part of this decade. ANext has moved to Atlantic City a few years ago and now is more of an ordeal, because it’s hard to get to without a lot of great traveling options not by car. It generally brings in a predictable set of guests and overall has been very good for me, especially given the low opportunity cost to attend. Fine for a local con but not sure if you’d fly for it. It is also one of the cons kindest to Trigger, I think, so they’ve made some cool stuff for this con over the years.

Pros:

  • Not too crowded for a con this size, and solid options at the con overall
  • Decent guests generally: a few a year. Almost can be counted on for a good one each year
  • OK location, if a bit unique. Lots of entertainment options

Cons:

  • AC is kind of a dump and a tourist trap if you ask me

Anime Expo

It’s a huge con with 100,000+ warm bodies attending it every year now. I attended every year the past 5 except 2015. It is home to some great Japanese guests and entertainment, such as the recent AWM shows. I also put on a party the past couple years at AX. Southern California is the ideal anime location in America, and the population density of anime fans, despite the urban sprawl, makes this huge con possible. Part of it is the large Hispanic, African-American and Asian demo. Part of it is the relatively low cost of travel from/to Japan via LAX (as opposed to every other airport in Continental North America). Anime fandom also found its roots there probably the earliest, in the Americas. It’s a big deal now that it is the con to go to for people into the international and national scene, as well as just seeing the spectacle year in and year out–if anything it’s a “you got to go once” event.

Pros:

  • Almost guaranteed to have relevant contents and top guests every year nowadays. Many JP guests in general, especially industry ones.
  • Good meet up opportunity since many fans go, you’re bound to run into friends (more likely you can’t say hi to them all)
  • Some concert venues are ace: MS Theater and the Novo are all world-class facilities
  • Massive industry presence, just about everyone (even Japanese companies) represents at AX.
  • World class city with a lot of stuff to do
  • Kicks off the summer cour

Cons:

  • Need to drive to go to most places outside the con. Thanks to ridesharing/haling services things are a lot easier now. If you rent a car you have to then pay for parking or worry about finding cheap parking.
  • Really expensive, even before the cost of flight there. The con itself overall is expensive, and the city is pretty expensive too. It’s also 4 or 5 days long which makes it expensive.
  • Without a Premiere badge you really can’t do a whole lot at this con, or at least many of the popular things.
  • A lot of events conflict, so what is on paper is often a fraction of what you can experience as you can’t go to everything you want to go see.
  • Line control is frequently bad, due to the large crowds but also staff and volunteers are often not well-trained. Personally I’ve been screwed over in lines at AX more than all my other con experiences combined.
  • A lot of the waiting in line takes place outside, under summer sun in Socal

Otakuthon

The big summer con in Canada on the East side, Otakuthon gathers all the nerds to Montreal’s interesting convention center which offers touristy sights and easy transit throughout the city. In the past few years they have stepped up their guest game and is elevating beyond just being a fan con/nerd prom. I attended twice in the past five years, this year and two years ago. It generally runs on the same weekend as Anirevo Summer. This growing con has also gone from mid-sized to large in recent years.

Pros:

  • Montreal is a great tourist city. It’s the closest you’ll get to Europe on the East Coast. Good food and sights.
  • Good value for American visitors due to currency valuation
  • Usually a good music act each year, or more. A few JP guests overall.

Cons:

  • Not the most organized con for attendees
  • It is still in Canada (international travel)

Anirevo Summer

Yin to Otakuthon’s Yang, Vancouver Convention Center hosts Anirevo Summer. To me this con is half the city and the crowd, and half the top notch seiyuu guests. At least recent years, they are pulling a sound director as guest, and he helps bring a bunch of seiyuu to the con. It is a pretty local thing too, working with the Japanese culture setup in the city. I think I might go to this con again, because I had a lot of fun when I went the first time in 2017. Like ANorth, this con stacks the deck on guest content every day, so it’s good value if just for that. The population here slants decidedly in a Chinese meta kind of way, even more than Toronto. Looking at my pro/con list, I guess Anirevo is a lot like Otakuthon LOL.

Pros:

  • Seiyuu guests strong. Some number of JP guests can be had each year.
  • Vancouver is a great destination for gastro tourism, and tourism in general
  • Paid photo shoots with guests sometimes
  • Meet the guest event!
  • USD discount

Cons:

  • Not the most organized con for attendees
  • It is still in Canada (international travel)

Otakon

Otakon is my “home” con in that I’ve been going to it since 1998, and I’ve yet to miss it since. However the con sure has changed over the years, and while much stayed the same, I’m not sure if some of the things ought to have changed, or ought to have stayed the same, were for the best. It’s now in Washington, DC, and bounced back to 29k attendees this year. It has a big space to fill up in the new con center, but some crowd management is still in order if this year was any indication. Otakon is mostly known being the big east coast con (with big east coast con guests) back when big anime cons were rare, during its Baltimore days. Now they aren’t and a lot of mid-size ones have cropped up in the Northeast, eating into Otakon’s hype and attendee base. It’s still the biggest fish in the DMV urban zone (DC Maryland Virginia) however. The move to DC, overall, is a major upgrade. And I present why in the below image:

Pros:

  • Can be counted on for good guests. Vary a lot, but on a good year you can have quite a few JP guests, others just some.
  • Now has a tourism spin, because DC is pretty okay for that. Plus ridesharing options and a functional metro.
  • Competently run con overall. Staff talks. Generally a very good con not counting guests and programming.

Cons:

  • Kind of expensive for what you get, and a bit one-size-fits-all which is an old school approach to their attendees.
  • Need more hype (after AWM last year)

AWACon

Anime Weekend Atlanta is another historic piece of anime nerd gathering over the years, but it has transformed into a serious contender for JP guess-ness and having overall solid programming. Atlanta is also squarely in the south and full of that charm, if you’re into that. It used to be the AMV con but as the format dies slowly it definitely pivoted well. I attended it three times in the past 5 years.

Pros:

  • Generally solid guests, especially for music. Can be counted on for some JP guests.
  • On the cheaper side for an American con
  • While a larger con, it’s a little more laid back than most

Cons:

  • Not sure if it’s a real negative but it’s going on more than 3 days now
  • Hard to get around without a car. If you do have a car, you can explore all the good local eats and sights.

AnimeNYC

I kind of want to write this post for AnimeNYC. AnimeNYC is kinda the second coming of NYAF, because it’s run by the same people to a degree. The story was that there was NYAF, it was a pro/for-profit con. It was sold and merged into NYCC after a few years of growth over at Javitz in Manhattan. Then NYCC basically gutted it (the anime ghetto years) but the JP and anime crowd did kind of latch on to NYCC over the years, with industry programming. People who ran NYAF left NYCC’s parent corp over time. NYCC, no matter how it’s sliced, is not an anime con anymore, and really doesn’t do any true anime con programming besides maybe cosplay stuff and industry stuff. Leftfield then became a thing and, run by the same few people behind NYAF, wanted to reboot that anime con in NYC. That was AnimeNYC. This year NYCC is doing some dedicated anime con programming but who knows how it’ll turn out (especially since it costs extra). It’s important to note that in the years after NYCC’s gutting NYAF, there has been no large anime cons in the NYC region. There are mid-size or smaller cons in the surrounding area (Castle Pointe, ANext, etc) and small festivals (the one put up by the JP government in the summer, as well as the cherry blossom festival). Now there are at least one other small con inside Manhattan proper. But my point was just that AnimeNYC fills a gaping hole of need for a mid-large size anime con in the area.

Last year at AnimeNYC, things felt a lot like NYAF at the Javitz. It was a small, first-time con, by NYC standards, but still 20k people turned out. This year they will also have AWM, so it’s pretty hype. It also had some first-year-con growing pains so hopefully there are fewer pain points the second time around. It isn’t old enough to have a track record, but the first two is really solid so far (on paper).

Pros

  • NYC is a destination. Big city with lots of stuff to do and eat. Mass transit works well enough.
  • Solid music and production lineup, especially the music side.

Cons

  • NYC is really expensive
  • Javitz area is kind of a dump, and far from a lot of stuff for that consumer con style of event

That’s it… Here are some other cons I am thinking of visiting and haven’t been.

  • Ohyaocon
  • Nekocon
  • AUSA
  • Anime Matsuri
  • A-Kon
  • Anime Fest
  • Nan Desu Kon
  • Fanime

I guess there are curve balls like CharaExpo USA too. I left out Taiyoucon because I’ve been only once and I kind of forgot about it. Maybe next time.


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