Con Report: Kumoricon 2017

Hmm. Another report about a con from last year at almost the end of this year. Must be time for Kumoricon again… I’m not very good at this, am I? Well, with this year’s Kumoricon right around the corner, let’s take a look back at last year, with Kumoricon’s second year at the Oregon Convention Center.

Day 0

If you’ve ever been to a convention that doesn’t mail badges, you probably know that all cons really start with Day Zero, the badge pick-up day. If you’re really lucky, Day Zero may even be a preview day, limited to just the press, industry professionals, and sometimes even the VIPs.

While Kumoricon isn’t of a large enough size yet to warrant a preview day, it is a con that does not mail badges and is just large enough that you absolutely want to pick up your badge on Day Zero, if you can. I arrived shortly after badge pick up was supposed to begin, and there was already a sizable line. While I was attending as a VIP for the second year in a row, I joined the end of the line, as there was no separate room at the other end of the convention center for VIP badge pickup this time. I also never expect those perks to begin until I have my badge in hand and it’s officially Day One.

That said, I was very pleasantly surprised to see a staff member check the line just five minutes later for anyone with a, “Specialty Membership.” I was quickly relocated to the end of the VIP line inside the registration hall.

VIP membership at Kumoricon isn’t cheap, and it is quite limited. However, it has a perks package so impressive, it rivals those I’ve seen at other cons – let alone perks I’ve had as an industry professional. It is absolutely worth getting one if you can – not just for the ability to jump most lines – but because of the extraordinary, individualized attention you receive, starting with one hell of a swag bag, pre-loaded with the VIP liaison’s contact information, all of the convention information, and a ton of goodies.

Day 1

I am a crazy person that believes in getting to con with plenty of time to spare. Before doors open, kind of spare. Crazy enough to get the first, very empty, line 35 bus of the day kind of person (it wasn’t empty for long.)

I arrived at the convention center so early, the building restaurants weren’t even open yet. While not my first choice for coffee any more, there is thankfully a Starbucks right up the street that opens very early (there’s also a 24/7 Dutch Bros at the other end of the convention center.)

One coffee and pumpkin loaf later (tis the season after all), I headed back down the block to camp out at the Manga Library before seating for Open Ceremonies. If you are a crazy person like me, the Manga Library is usually the one of the first spaces of the convention to open. Kumoricon has an excellent selection, and it’s the perfect space to unwind between panels. 8:45am. Time for…

Controlled Chaos: 2017 Edition
Controlled Chaos: 2017 Edition

I was wondering how moving Main Events from upstairs to downstairs would work out for Kumoricon. Turns out it was about the same: a semi-organized – but civil – mob of people. Picture a MAX platform at rush hour when all of the MAX lines are disrupted. That’s about what you can expect for many of the queues at Kumoricon.

Now to be fair, I can’t fault Kumoricon too much for this. As far as lines go, the Oregon Convention Center is a logistical nightmare – it’s like the entire building was designed to never expect to see a mid-size to large show. It’s one of the nicer convention centers I’ve been to for sure, but I have to think whoever designed the building at Metro had never attended a convention in their life. On the upside, it’s not the escalator hell the Washington State Convention Center was, nor is it the, “Why are there four mezzanines?” the Javits Center was… Ooof. Memories of cons past. On to happier thoughts, like…

Some relaxing Koto music to start Opening Ceremonies.
Some relaxing Koto music to start Opening Ceremonies.

If you’re one to skip opening ceremonies for a convention, I’d actually attend Kumoricon’s. With a very small number of exceptions, it doesn’t conflict with any other programming at the convention, and there are plenty of…

Wait, no marshmallow guns this year?
Wait, no marshmallow guns this year?

Darnit. So much for that segue. Guess there won’t be any crazy shenanigans this year.

Just kidding.
Just kidding.

Now that’s more like it. Guest introductions and con jokes out of the way, it was time for Kumoricon to really begin.

It's Con O'Clock.
It’s Con O’Clock.

Somehow, I managed to not book anything for the first hour and a half of Kumoricon on my schedule. I do believe that’s a first for any convention I’ve ever been too. I already knew my way around the OCC, so there was no need to wander around trying to find everything.

Somehow, word of the rear balcony on the upper level never traveled outside of Kumoricon 2016, and it was completely empty. I could’ve gotten laps in while watching people down below go through small crowds to get from one end of the lower lobby to the other. The rear balcony is probably the fastest way to get from Hall A to Hall C, and has a much better view. There is no way to get back down in the middle to Meeting Rooms B, however.

After a few laps around the convention center and lunch (pro tip: eat actual food during a con), 12:30pm rolled around, and it was time for the first panel of the day, Creating Voices with Josh Grelle.

Creating a voice for anime takes actual work.
Creating a voice for anime takes actual work.

One of the reasons I like that Kumoricon is still what I’d consider to be a mid-size con is the fact that almost every panel is relatable. Kumoricon doesn’t have a lot of industry involvement, and in a way, that is a good thing. Panels are more of a discussion than, “Here’s what we have that’s new. Please buy it.”

That said, Josh’s panel wasn’t a discussion about making voices – it was really making voices, right there, at con.

It starts with vocal warm ups.
It starts with vocal warm ups.

Vocal warm ups consisted of going through each of the vowels (spoken, so A became ay, as in Eh) in the alphabet, with each consonant in front of them. So, we started with Ba (bay, bay, bay…) until we got to Ga (Gay, gay…) and things derailed. Come on Portland, we should be used to that word by now. But instead, the room burst into laughter, something Josh mentioned happens every time. So we tried again from the top. Since we got to the same stopping point, we moved on to evil laughs instead.

Next up for the day was a much less serious panel, Ask Jerry Jewell Anything. If you’ve never talked to a voice actor before and you have the chance to meet and talk to Jerry, I would highly recommend it.

Jerry Jewell: One very down-to-earth guy.
Jerry Jewell: One very down-to-earth guy.

I was blown away by how casual the panel was; Jerry was a very down-to-earth guy and insanely easy to talk to. It was like a Reddit AMA happening live at the con. Jerry gave such straightforward, honest answers, the panel attendees actually started running out of questions to ask faster than I’ve ever seen at a panel before. It was unreal, but a very welcome change. I honestly wish more panels were like it.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to head upstairs almost too soon for a live drawing session with Grant Alexander from Pixar. If that’s not a Pixar name you recognize, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It was actually a bit sad to see one of the larger panel rooms practically empty.

A rough outline.
A rough outline.

It turned out that Grant collaborated with TRIGGER a fair bit, and spent some time with them at one point. That slowly became more apparent as the sketch revealed a crossover between Toy Story and Kill la Kill.

Coming together with color.
Coming together with color.

Afterwards, it was time to head back downstairs for NHK’s Tokyo Eye with Lisle Wilkerson. If you have a genuine interest in Japan – and I mean more than just an interest in the anime and manga pop culture side of Japan – I would strongly recommend starting to tune in to NHK World. It’s free, and basically Japan’s version of the BBC.

Technical difficulties resulted in being unable to watch some clips Lisle brought along, so the panel turned to an AMA about living in Japan. Did you know Japan is still very much a cash-only country? It’s true; Japan isn’t bleeding-edge in all regards. Many ATMs even close on weekends.

Before heading over to the DoubleTree for a late dinner, there was time for one more panel: Fairy Tail Guild – UNITE! with Cherami Leigh and Todd Haberkorn. I’ve actually never watched Fairy Tail, so I had no idea what to expect.

Short answer: a lot of laughter.
Short answer: a lot of laughter.

Apparently Fairy Tail is quite the comedy. I should probably add it to the watchlist.

TRIGGER wasn't the only quirky group at Kumoricon this year.
TRIGGER wasn’t the only quirky group at Kumoricon this year.

Todd decided to answer questions for part of the panel as the voice of a Purell bottle from under the table. It was hilarious.

Having thoroughly exhausted myself from laughing so hard, it was time to hop on the MAX to the DoubleTree for Ghost Neko’s Purranormal Cafe. For 2017, Kumoricon decided to try having a Maid Cafe at the convention… well, almost at the convention. The DoubleTree, which is the convention hotel, is a couple blocks east of the OCC, or two stops by MAX. Unfortunately, it also happens to be next to the Lloyd Center. If you’re not familiar with the area, I will simply say this: be alert especially at night, and travel in a group whenever possible.

The cafe experience was interesting, to say the least. It was Kumoricon’s first time having a maid cafe, and I had the very first seating. Things went without a hitch, but it was a bit of an odd set up. Since the cafe was at the DoubleTree, the food was done by the hotel, including the actual food and drink service. You also made food and beverage selections before actually being seated. The food was OK, about what I expected for hotel catering, but a little underwhelming for a Hilton property.

My table and our butler. (Note to self: Don't wear shorts for 2018.)
My table and our butler. (Note to self: Don’t wear shorts for 2018.)

Everyone was seated in tables of five, so if your party was smaller, you were combined with another to fill a table. Cards were accepted, but there was a limit of two cards per table. I very strongly encourage bringing cash for the maid cafe. Games and a keepsake photo are also available for a small fee. No personal camera usage was permitted, so best to put any you might have away before entering the cafe. Overall, the experience was what I would expect for a first time event for the convention. I have no major complaints, but there was room for improvement.

Belly now more full, it was off to the convention center for one more panel, the 18+ Funimation Peep Show. Let’s just say Kumoricon gets very fun after dark, if in a predominately perverted way. Make sure to get your 18+ handstamp before the sun goes down. Stamps are not given at the door of any 18+ panel.

Would you like to play a game?
Would you like to play a game?

Day 2

For Day Two, I managed to be busy enough to completely forget to really take any photos, despite sleeping in much later than Day one. Remember, sleep at con is important. Please forgive the wall of text that is Day two.

Day 2 started off with the VIP autograph session, arguably one of the biggest perks that makes VIP worth it. While it doesn’t guarantee an autograph or two from every guest, the majority of them are usually present. Unlike 2016’s Kumoricon however, 2017’s session took place at the autographs line rather than a private room. While this setup did mostly work, it led to a lot of questions from other con attendees and kept con staff quite busy checking badges and running crowd control. There was also no oppertunity for guest selfies this time either.

Just a few signatures collected.
Just a few signatures collected.

Giant pile of autographs acquired, it was on to the Studio TRIGGER panel line as soon as the line opened. While it was moved to a much larger room for 2017, the panel still quickly had the line capped and room completely filled. I think it would be interesting to see if another Japanese Guest of Honor would fill the room like TRIGGER. It’s hard to say if it’s TRIGGER’s quirkiness as a young studio or being the only Japanese Guests of Honor (excluding music and fashion) that cause them to fill the room every year.

Image from the Darling in the FRANXX website. ©ダーリン・イン・ザ・フランキス製作委員会

Just like last year, no photographs were permitted in the panel. The panel was primarily a preview for their new series, which was a collaboration with A-1 Pictures. A-1 Pictures is one of the larger names in Japan, so things sounded promising. We were shown a teaser of what appeared to be a mecha, called Darling in the FRANXX. Not too many details about the series were given, but it looked like one to watch out for. Hopefully it doesn’t go to Netflix this time around.

I was very happy to see TRIGGER wasn’t the only panel that was going to fill a room for once. However, I can’t say the crowd for the next panel came as a surprise. Vic Mignogna is arguably one of the largest names in the voice acting industry for the US. There was a lot of cheering from fans, even more than TRIGGER got, which I considered very impressive.

It was almost a little unbelievable, until someone shared one hell of a tear jerking story about how Vic and anime seriously changed their life. I have never seen a guest legitimately cry at a convention before. It was unreal, and a very light panel quickly became the most serious panel at the convention. I would be amazed if Kumoricon ever saw anything quite like it again.

Video not mine, but best I could find of the panel. Skip to 1:05 for the feels.

If anyone ever tries to tell you anime cons are just fun and games that aren’t worth it, please feel free to share that clip (linked if you can’t see the embed) and call them a lier. Tissue boxes in the convention center now depleted, the next panel of the day was Inside the Voice Actor’s Studio, conveniently still in the same room. It was a much lighter ask us anything panel with Josh and Jerry, who are even more fun when they lead a panel together.

Wrapping up my time in the Auditorium for the day was Battlesaurs with Grant and Studio TRIGGER. I’ll have to see if the library has a copy of The Toy Story That Time Forgot, which apparently was a Toy Story holiday special that aired on ABC. If you’ve ever wondered what a Studio TRIGGER and Pixar collaboration might look like, I’d say it’s exactly what I at least would expect.

It looks like this.

As the clock hit 7pm, it was time to bid the Auditorium farewell for the day and head over to the DoubleTree for the Sake Tasting. The sake tasting is a paid, ticketed event. If you’re looking for an excuse to drink at con, it’s not the event for you. However, if you have a legitimate interest in sake, especially how it’s made, you’d be hard pressed to find a better presentation in Portland than one by Marcus Pakiser, Oregon’s leading sake sommelier and one of only sixty “sake samurai” officially recognized by the Japanese government.

OK, so there was a little fun had as well.

Thankfully, the sake tasting wrapped up a little early, leaving just enough time to make it back to the OCC for some Kumoricon After Dark panels, the first of which was the filled Todd Haberkorn Presents: (In)-Appropriate Nighttime Stories.

18+ AMAs are always fun, and Todd’s panel was no exception. The flip of a coin decided who got to ask the question, you or Todd. I volunteered a quarter from my pocket, and a coin flipper was found to moderate the panel, a term I use loosely when all of the questions Todd asked if you were unlucky were most definitely 18+. Not even close to PG.

Also not even close to PG was Portland-local FAKKU’s panel. If you’ve never heard of them, absolutely do not Google them at work. They’re an, ahem, mature website and publisher whose books are all in the locked case at Powell’s – and not because they’re highly collectable like some of the other materials in the case. FAKKU’s in a bit of an interesting transition period right now as they transition from a scanlation site to a legitimate distributor of, well, “health” material.

Day 3

Technically, the timing of FAKKU’s panel actually made it part of day 3, but the last day of Kumoricon for me officially started with the Animation Roundtable, which was smartly located in the Main Events hall, the largest room of the convention. It was an excellent discussion amongst all of the animation guests of honor, those from Dreamworks, Pixar, khara, Studio TRIGGER, and Portland-local LAIKA (OK, so LAIKA’s actually in Beaverton, but it’s only one town over.)

Masters of animation from all corners of the world.
Masters of animation from all corners of the world.

After a fascinating roundtable, it was time to head upstairs one last time for the final panel on my schedule for the year, Studio khara. It was a little odd seeing khara be scheduled for the last day, but I was happy to see that didn’t stop the room from filling up. No photos were allowed, even though were weren’t shown any previews of the final Evangelion film. We just received confirmation it was coming. Eventually. Naturally, this explanation was given in the form of a short animated film.

Two hours later, it was time for Kumoricon to come to a close. Before Closing Ceremonies, the winning AMVs for the year were shown, and I’m happy to report the art of the Anime Music Video is not dead yet. While I think the AMV scene isn’t what it used to be now (thanks, copyright on YouTube), there is still some incredible talent out there.

Out with a bang. Literally.
Out with a bang. Literally.

After the AMVs, it was time to end con with a bang, well multiple bangs. Of taiko drums. As guests said their goodbyes, awards were given, and teasers of next year given, a pile of notes slowly began to grow on the stage floor…

Notes? We don't need notes.
Notes? We don’t need notes.

Last-minute jokes were made and with a sizable pile of paper now on the floor, it seemed like this just might be the end of Kumoricon for the year. But it couldn’t end yet. No, there was something missing. Something important. We couldn’t possibly forget…

THE Chair.
THE Chair.

Oh yes. THE chair was back. I think this undoubtedly will be a running joke for Kurmoricons to come.

One does not simply end con without the chair.
One does not simply end con without the chair.

And then, with all the loose ends tied up, Kumoricon was over. Or was it?

Day 3.1

Kumoricon does very well with sponsorship from local Portland businesses, such as Tokyo Otaku Mode and Wacom. This year, Wacom sponsored all of the animation guests (how else does one get such an amazing lineup?) For VIPs and charity auction winners, Wacom handed out invitations to a special post-con event at their building in the Pearl District. There, Wacom served local pizza and beer and gave the chance to play with their entire product lineup, even some products that were actually still prototypes at the time (something I learned much later).

Said prototype. Oops.
Said prototype. Oops.

Yes, that’s a 24-inch 4K tablet. It was glorious. Unfortunately, I’m terrible when it comes to art, so I couldn’t even remotely come close to really pushing it to its limits. Needless to say, no, that’s not me drawing. The event was a very nice surprise and the perfect way to end Kumoricon 2017.

For more photos from Kumoricon 2017, head on over to Flickr.

See you soon for 2018, Kumoricon.

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