Naka-Kon 2023: A Midwest Tradition

2023 is our fifth year of covering Naka-Kon, a local con in our area. My photographer and I experienced the event and really took what it had to offer. In previous years we’ve questioned whether or not the event was worth traveling to, we’ve discussed how it celebrates Japanese heritage, and more. This year, I want to take the approach of discussing why we need something like this here in the heart of America. Let’s go!

Where should I start with this year’s article?! This time around there is a lot to talk about. I suppose I should get the small issues I had out of the way. After that, we can get to the fun stuff. First off, I think it was both a good and a bad idea to have the fighting game arcades out in the downstairs lobby area of the Overland Park Convention Center. It’s great because, before the opening ceremonies, people were playing them to pass the time. This may have encouraged people to come in and play even if they haven’t paid to be there. Who knows, maybe the intent was to have a small free area for people so that they see everything else, get fomo, and buy entry.

But the issue that I came across is that they put it in this area that has giant floor-to-ceiling windows and the windows go up very high. That allows a ton of sunlight into the place and as the day went by the sunlight eventually made it onto the arcade machines. It was for about an hour each of the three days and you simply could not see the screens. At all. If you watch the video that we made, you can actually see the sunlight smattered across the screens. I’ll add the video in right here. Then you can keep reading after watching!

My only other nitpick is the rhythm game room. There was one wall where each rhythm game was within 3 feet of each other and they certainly could’ve been spread further apart. Unfortunately, not every game was the same volume some were definitely louder than others. I truly believe that we could’ve seen a different configuration in that room. Maybe put a non-rhythm game in between each of those games. The dancing games were fine because they were spaced apart and they’re so giant. I really hope that this can be remedied next year because I found no point in continuing to play when I couldn’t hear my song.

Finally, we can get into the good stuff. The last few years I took the time to really pick apart the event. I admittedly wasted my time and the reader’s time. And that’s assuming that they even wanted to finish the article. There was plenty of good stuff, but it gets a bit boring when I get in the weeds discussing why I liked certain things. This time around I just want to instead (quickly) discuss my favorite elements of the event and why I feel that they make this event overall important. Why I feel like our area needs it overall and why you should attend if you’re in the Midwest.

•Cultural teachings like how to wear a kimono properly, Japanese brush calligraphy, and anime writing. I think that while it’s not enough to make someone have all of the knowledge in the world on these topics, it’s still important. If they get an hour of knowledge, it isn’t for passing time. It’s to get the attendee a good jumping-off point. A well-rounded panel or talk can get you into a new topic. And learning more about Japanese culture is what Naka-Kon attendees strive to do. It’s like, their whole thing! We don’t have anything else like this as of now in this area, so it’s incredibly valuable to the locals.

•Charity Ball that features full proper attire and ballroom dancing. This is one feature that has made Naka-Kon unique for so long. It sounds ridiculous but people wear the utmost nicest dress clothes and typically blend it tastefully with their favorite anime or game characters. A dance like this is not something that you find anywhere else, heck, not even locally. Naka-Kon is giving us something different that makes our entire area unique. It’s worth the travel for this dance alone.

•Sure other events have arcade games like Naka-Kon does. But I think what makes it truly engaging is the fact that it has such an amalgamation of what other events bring separately. Some bring fighting games, some have tabletop gaming, some bring rhythm games, and some do console gaming. Naka-Kon takes the time (and money) to make sure that the event has all of those represented at the same time, but primarily Japanese versions of them. I can’t think of another event that has all of these represented and has so many of them across several rooms! And we have it here, in the middle of the US. Stop by sometime.

•As usual, Naka-Kon supplied some anime voice actors, which is a blast to see. They actually take the time to have panels as well. I’ve been to several events in which the guests simply stay and sign stuff to make more money. Other times, they get up and shop with everyone else and don’t spend time even at their tables. I don’t want to ever again be at an event with a guest where I can’t see them at a panel as part of the cost of entry. That’s one thing you can take to the bank with Naka, they’re going to have a few panels with the guest across the weekend. It’s consistent and the only reason that it wouldn’t happen is if a guest had to cancel suddenly.

•Finally, I love how deeply rooted cosplay is at Naka-Kon. There is both a celebration and a competition for cosplay over the weekend. The celebration in question is a cosplay parade in which people of all ages and experience levels can join in, the only downside is that it’s first come first served. They do literally what it sounds like, they march along a predetermined route so that people can see the parade of cosplayers’ costumes. It’s great fun and it’s a way for people who are too nervous to do the competition can get their work shown off.
The competition is exactly what it sounds like and each year they get different judges from around the country to participate. Naka-Kon has also wised up and put the competition earlier in the day. I’m not certain what year they implemented that, but I don’t see other events in our area doing it. Other events will dangle it like a carrot to get you to stay until the very end of the day.

So the overall feeling I had from Naka-Kon is that it’s finally getting back to the way I remember from before. I know it’s hard work and I know they’ve put in the hard work. Now it’s truly feeling like a unique event that couldn’t be replicated by anyone else. There’s just too much unique fun for all walks of life. I just want to see them expand into a larger space so they can do more. I say it every year and every year I mean it more and more. I’m guessing the price of renting the place is too good to move, but each year that’s the only complaint I hear from people. Anyway, I digress, if you’re in the midwest or travel a lot, you should definitely stop by Naka-Kon 2024. The official dates have been announced as May 24th to 26th. See you there!

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