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Review:Naka-Kon 2019

Every year, about this time, we jump in the car and head for Overland Park. Overland Park is home to only of the only Japanese culture based conventions. Every year is another chance for it to be better or worse. So whether you’re Japanese yourself or an otaku, this convention can be for all. So how was it this year? What did we get into? Well read on, this article is littered with pictures. However, there is also a slide show down below as well as a video compilation too!

Pros:

  • Japanese language panels-These panels are for anyone truly. You could be self-taught and speak pretty decent Japanese and just need to hear some easy to remember tips from an actual teacher. Or maybe you’re as fresh and unknowing as we were. Either way, it’s always a fun time to learn a little more culture and you can’t go wrong at any convention you attend, learning some new language.
  • Game tournaments-The tournaments seemed to be rolling around the clock! We know that there fighting game tournaments as well as Mario Kart 8 tournaments. There were probably a ton more on each day, but it was hard to keep going back to the tournament room to see what tournaments were in the queue. I almost wanted to dive in and try my hand at Mario Kart, but we had so much to do and see, it would’ve taken quite a while!
  • Board/card games-There was a whole (giant) room dedicated to board games, card games, and anything that can be played on a table top. With rooms like this, they have to be large and accommodating with plenty of seating. Some of the more sizeable games and/or games with lots of players, need to be catered to. The scale and scope of some of these games and how long they take require space. Naka-Kon did a great job giving them maybe too much space!
  • Pachinko/console/sit down arcade gaming room-There were technically three video game rooms. There was the tournament room that we’ve already mentioned. Then there was this other room next to it that was littered with Pachinko machine. There were also smaller arcade machines in there that you could sit at and play against others. We saw things such as Tetris and some various racing games. There was a large machine or two like Super Monkey Ball. In the same room, there were some TV’s with an array of consoles hooked up to them. Each TV home for a different console and game combination. We saw PSVR in there running Beat Saber as well as an ITG and Pump It Up machine here too!
  • Standup/rhythm arcade room-The third room with gaming featured much larger, more advanced arcade games. Plenty of them were delightful rhythm games. However, there were some arcade fighters and unique weird machines such as a Dance Evolution and classy machines like Time Crisis 5. This room was not to be missed because it also featured some classics like Pop N Music. You could always tell the fan favorites as those had the longest lines.
Jeff Goldblum “Succulent Love” purchased from a booth at Naka-Kon 2019
  • Maid Cafe-The Maid Cafe seems to happen every year like clockwork. Essentially a staple of the Naka-Kon formula at this point. So what the heck is a Maid Cafe anyway? Well, to explain it as simply as possible: you’ll come in and be seated at a cute table that has been adorned with whatever may fit the theme. Then you’ll be waited on by people in maid’s attire. The event features an assortment of treats and tea for you to taste. There are also some participation based games. And best of all is a performance to watch.
  • Open World Concert-This was probably the ultimate highlight for us all weekend. Sure, we were a bit beaten down by running all around trying to see everything and driving back and forth. But man, I cannot stress enough that the Open World event was not to be missed. While I know they haven’t had the Open World concert before, I hope it becomes a staple. There’s nothing more relaxing than enjoying orchestral renditions of video game music new and old. Eric Roth, the conductor, also engaged the audience every few songs. He’s so loose and awesome and more approachable than most uptight conductors.
  • Dance Party-If you’re awake at midnight and know you need to shake it until you break it (or until 1:30 AM), you can attend Naka-Kon’s dance party. We weren’t able to attend, so we’re not entirely certain who DJ’s this specific event. They mention 3 different DJ scenarios in the book, however, it’s doubtful that it matters. Anyone who attends is sure to have a good time getting the lead out!

  • Celebrity meetings-There were plenty of celebrities to make their appearance this year at Naka-Kon. From hosting panels, to answering questions, to signing autographs, they did it all. Even when Kara Edwards tweeted out that she had to cancel a panel cause her voice was going out, she stepped up to the plate and signed autographs in place of the panel. Everyone seemed to be having a blast meeting their respective idols at Naka-Kon this year and the ticketing system from last year seemed to work out a lot more smoothly!
  • Aya Kamiki concert-This was one of the reasons that you attended Naka-Kon this year. The price of admission alone was warranted by this. I’m willing to bet that there were people who love Japanese pop music and never go to Naka-Kon came to this year’s event. The moment that they saw Aya would be performing her first American concerts at Naka-Kon 2019, they immediately bought tickets.To talk about the event itself; there were plenty of seats if you just wanted to sit and watch. Or if you wanted to jam out, the front half of the room had standing and/or dancing space. The music was more rock than pop, which was fantastic. And when Aya Kamiki hit the floor and belted out her notes, the room was just in awe! She was cute but strong on stage. Even if you didn’t know Japanese, you could still feel the emotion in the music and see her actions and get a gist of what the song was about. She performed two concerts and while we didn’t attend both, people came out of her concert Saturday night with giant smiles on their facing and humming her music!
  • Cosplay contest-We attend every single convention we attend because of cosplay. And while we are not necessarily cosplayers ourselves, we can thoroughly appreciate and respect the effort, talent, and money that goes into it. We love seeing the fruit of their labors. This year was no different (in a good way) and we were not disappointed. It was kicked off with Shiny Dreamers doing some dance routines. Then the hosts of the event came out and did some (witty?) banter. It was really less about the hosts who spent more time talking than the cosplayers and more about the cosplayers. And the cosplayers did a fantastic job this year. There are images of all of them in the slide show for those interested!

  • Photo locations-There was plenty of cosplaying going on, that’s for sure. The bottom line is that people doing cosplay needed dedicated locations to do that at that didn’t get in the way of traffic. There were locations allocated for them and it made traversing the con easier for those not cosplaying. Furthermore, there was a dedicated place for people (cosplaying or not) to take pictures in near the concessions. It was designed to look as though you were dining in a Japanese home, very classy.
  • Vendor hall- featuring figures, wall scrolls, pins, import games, posters, artists drawings, board games, dice, plushies, clothes, anime DVD’s, Japanese foods, leatherworking, mystery boxes, chopsticks/Asian dishes, and artists.
    Some of the more exemplary vendors and artists worth mentioning are Vector Penguin (find her work @VectorPenguin on social media and etsy to see what we mean [also use code SAVE10 if you like her stuff]). Her products were beyond unique and catered to people who love Switch as well as other fun Japanese topics!Then there was Play to Beat Brain Cancer whose sole purpose is to raise money by selling custom gaming supplies! If you want to donate or read more about the cause, you always can by clicking on their site here. Then there was S2HeartDesigns, which had some of the coolest artwork we came across. This table travels all around the country as well as selling on their site. If you love Japanese art and clothes, they have some really nice products. Check it all out here. Lastly, we bought our Jeff Goldblum painting from Amelie Belcher. She has a metric ton of fun, original artwork and you can find it all on her site here. Seriously, check out her stuff, it’s SO fun.
  • Tons more!-There was much, much more going on at Naka-Kon 2019 than we even got to attend! From a fashion show, to a swap meet, (literal) agility challenges, manga library, lots of various panels, charity ball, karaoke contest, Lolita Tea Party, dance lessons, 24/7 anime screenings, apparently even sake tasting! I was astounded that they filled their convention out so well. I really didn’t know that all of these things were happening as the days went on. While we tried to attend as much as we possibly could, there was no way we could see and do everything there. That’s a testament to the showrunners, most definitely.

Cons:

So many positives. The con that I complained about the most last year was fixed. Furthermore, there were tons of improvements that I didn’t even know needed to be improved, so kudos to Naka-Kon. If I were to have any downsides listed, they’d really just be me trying to nitpick something out.

I would say that there appeared to be noticeably less vendors in the vendor hall. Now, if this is true, it’s definitely a double-edged sword. I would go so far to say that it’s probably better than worse. Yes, there are less vendors to buy from, I get that. But overall, there was more space to have people comfortably stand and look at the products. Thus giving a better chance to think about the purchase and not feel rushed.

There was also the small issue of the wristband requirements for 18+panels. The system was a great system, there is no denying that. However, they definitely should’ve communicated it on signs throughout the entire two buildings that Naka-Kon inhabits. While we were able to get ours, there was clearly people frustrated that they didn’t see the page in the book informing them.

That is half their fault and half the fault of the fact that the free book isn’t read by everyone. And if it is, people can’t possibly be expected to read every page of it. People just want to fly by the seat of their pants at the convention and while that’s not the fault of the convention, the fact that they have a book that gets ever thicker every year is. This book is seriously 120 pages long.

The whole wristband thing is strange as even the page in the book doesn’t clarify how many are available. It simply says first come, first served. If people saw that there were only 600 available on Friday and realized that there were way more than 600 people at the con, they would’ve gone in droves to that table. But that’s again assuming that they read the page.

I think the simplest solution is to mention to everyone picking up their badge that if they need 18+ wristbands, to head to the Cottonwood hallway. Or, better yet, just have the wristband table in the registration hall. It’s large enough, people will see it and see the time table on it, and it’s the same room that people will be lining up in anyhow for 18+ panels. So when they get a wristband, the volunteer can inform them to return to that very room when it’s time to line up for their respective panel.

Lastly, while we appreciate that there are hosts on stage for the cosplay competition, can we swap them out? We like puns as much as the next person, but when that is every joke…it gets tedious and then turns to cringe. Even the audience was literally booing and saying stop. A nice thank you after the person leaves the stage is sufficient and nobody would argue a thank you or a salutation. But again, I’m really grasping at straws trying to find anything that they could even improve on.

Overall Thoughts:

This year was great, it really was. Last year we were more perturbed than entertained. And while this year gave us tangibly fewer celebrities, it didn’t seem to matter. Nobody was spread thin, everything had a time and a place that didn’t seem to massively overlap. We really were glad that the music act made her American debut not just once, but twice that weekend. All in all, I’m more excited about Naka-Kon 2020 than I was for 2019. If you’re in the midwest and you love Japanese culture or just nerd culture as a whole, we think you’ll like Naka-Kon!

Slide Show:

Video Compilation:

(Sorry, had to block the audio from the Aya Kamiki concert)

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Photos, video, and co-written by @el_lee7

If you like the author’s work, follow him on Twitter @V1RACY

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