It’s hard to imagine that San Japan is nine years old. What started as a idea between a couple of college anime fans turned into one of San Antonio’s largest conventions and South Texas’ largest anime conventions. After solving their first year growing pains when the con moved into the Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center for San Japan Mach 5 in 2012, and by the time San Japan Samurai Seven (San Japan 7) roll around in 2014, it seemed that the con has comfortably settled into the HBG Center and could take its time expanding slowly. Till the City of San Antonio decided to update the convention center and expand it, making it even bigger. Thus with San Japan 8-bit being the last year that it would be in Exhibit Hall 1, San Japan 009 would make Exhibit Halls 3, 4A and 4B its new home. This also meant that the arcade room would have to be relocated. In addition to moving to a new layout, San Japan also had to move to a new weekend, specifically Labor Day Weekend. Can San Japan readjust to the new layout and taking place during a month that has most fans going back to school? Let’s find out.
More spacious- This year San Japan main areas, the dealer’s room, artist alley, and arcade room were relocated to a different area of the HBG Convention Center, albeit a section many con goers are farmialr with due to other conventions using that same area. To make the most of their new space, the San San Japan staff decided to separate the arcade room and relocate it to the third floor of the HBGC. With the added floor space, San Japan had even more space than before for all three sections. This made the lanes in between the dealer’s room and artist alley much wider for a better flow of traffic, even if there are people who stop cosplayers and ask for a picture. Now instead of trying to time the moment a picture is taken to the time it take to pass between the cosplayer and the picture taker, you can just easily go around. The arcade room also received even more room for all of the arcade cabinets, consoles, PC, and seats for onlookers and those wanting to take a quick break. This new spacious area doesn’t just pertain to San Japan itself either. Ever since the new area of the HBGC was opened this Spring/Summer, this gave cosplayers new backdrops to have their photo-shoots and more space for weary parents to rest as their kids run off enjoying the con. Hopefully for their ten year anniversary, San Japan thinks about expanding into the new areas of the HBGC or at least consider using some of the new facilities.
New date fits- Now having the convention dates moved from July, which is still summer break for many convention goers, to Labor Day weekend, which is already one month into the school year for many, was controversial. Not to mention that weekend was also the same weekend as PAX Prime, DragonCon and several prominent conventions. However since those conventions are out of state, they don’t really affect San Japan’s numbers in any way (that I know of at least). I know it might be a bit harsh to have to wait another month, but personally I think the new dates suit San Japan perfectly. Yes there might be students going back to school or already started classes, but think of it this way:now that they know San Japan is on Labor Day weekend, they can plan ahead for the next year to do more since Monday schools are closed.
By having the con on these dates, San Japan opens up the possibility of having newcomers visit that would have never though of going to an anime convention. This ranges from the overseas family who came to San Antonio to see the newly minted World Heritage site Alamo to the family who want to getaway for the weekend but doesn’t want to travel to far.
More vendors- Since San Japan had been moved to a new area of the HBGC, they needed to figure out how much room do they have to house the dealers’ room and artist alley since they’ve moved the arcade room to the third floor ballroom. It turned out that they had tons of room, and I do mean tons. So with that they added more vendors, both on the dealers side and artists side. There were some brand new artists and dealers that I’ve never seen before in the San Antonio con circuit. Sure some of the booths were basically selling the same merchandise, however with such a wide variety of dealers, it was easy enough to find the best booth with the best deals or haggle a dealer down.
More programming in HBGC- With the added room that the San Japan staff was given, they were able to increase the amount of panels that could be held in the HBGC’s panel rooms. This meant that San Japan was able to provide more programming than before. In addition to more panels, this year San Japan added in two fashion shows as well. As San Japan readjust to its new layout, you can expect more panels and extra programming to be incorporated.
Better layout management- I’d like to think I know my way around the convention center pretty well. San Japan has been there for at least four now, Alamo City Comic Con for three years, PAX South two years and one year for Terror Expo. So you would think someone like me wouldn’t get lost so easy then, right? Well sort of. There were times when trying to look for events taking place within the HBGC panel rooms, I would take a wrong turn. That’s mainly due to have the con relocated to the other end of the HBGC. However with some time and getting use to the new layout, this won’t be much of a problem. However, the layout management for the dealers’ room and artist alley could use some improvement. Yes I like the fact there there is enough lane space that not even a cosplayer stopping to get pictures taken could stop the flow of traffic. But with everything seemly so sped out, the exhibit hall gave off the illusion that there was a ton of empty space. And to be honest there was. To solve that problem (which is kind of a good problem to have if you think about it) its time for San Japan to step up its game. How?
Slowly bring more industry booths- By slowly bringing in more and bigger industry booths/vendors. Yes I know that Funimation and Sentai Filmworks have been showing up to San Japan since the move to the HBGC, but since both companies are from Texas, they’re not that hard to get a hold of. I want San Japan to step up their game and start booking more industry booths. They don’t have to rush out and try to get everyone all at once, but they should at least reach out to them. I’m talking about companies like NISA, Idea Factory International, Bandai Namco, J-List, Crunchyroll, and many other Japanese related companies. There are so many possibilities to be had if San Japan reaches out and invites one of these companies. For example, in the case of the video game companies not only could they bring demo units of upcoming games, but they could also bring some of the staff who worked on the games, maybe some voice actors if they have the time. This might sound expensive, and it probably is. But if San Japan can slowly invite companies likes these one at a time and not all at once, I think this will pay off in the future and expand San Japan clientele.
For the most part, San Japan was a success as usual. However there were a few bumps that they encountered along the way, mainly having to get used to a brand new layout and taking place during a weekend were some con goers are students getting ready to go back to school or already started school. In regards with with the layout, I’m sure with time and as other conventions go through the HBGC, San Japan will learn, take notes and improve on their own con layout by the next San Japan. I also hope they start to at least talk to some of the bigger industry clients that I mentioned so that they could generate some interest in attending. Other than than there was more room, more programming and more San Japan thanks to the new dates. I mentioned last year and I’ll always mention this, as long as the staff keep putting love and effort into each San Japan, there will never be a “bad” year. There might be a few bumps and cracks in the road ahead for sure, but I don’t think any fan run con has the extreme support of its community like San Japan does.