To some seven years may not seem that old. In the convention scene to even get past the first year and on for a second year is considered a small miracle. A lot of hard work, determination and a bit of insanity goes into pulling together a con year after year, but as the dust settles and the doors open on the first day, all of pain of staying up late working on contracts for guests, hotels, vendors and the main venue melts away as the organizers and their volunteers see attendees smiling having a great time. This year was no different for the people who put on San Japan, San Antonio’s largest Japanese culture and anime convention, as 2014 marks their seventh year. And like each year there is a theme attached to it. This year the con was known as San Japan Samurai Seven, which is a reference to Akira Kurosawa’s epic samurai film, The Seven Samurai. So far San Japan has been on a pretty good streak with attendees generally satisfied with the convention, Is seven really a lucky number this year or will the con roll a snake eyes?
Restructuring of dealer’s room/artist alley- In the first two years that San Japan was in the HBG Convention Center, I mentioned that they needed to move the dealer’s room somewhere else. It can get crowded in there really quickly (especially on Saturday) and can be a danger to both attendees and the vendors themselves. This year they have finally listen. Instead of putting the dealer’s room in one of the bigger ballrooms, it was moved to one of the exhibit halls. This gave attendees, cosplayers and the vendors plenty of room to walk around and breathe. The added increase of space also allowed the con to increase the number of vendors. As San Japan continues to grow I hope that they add in more vendors, maybe add in more industry oriented booths.
Expanded daytime gaming room- In previous years attending San Japan I would mostly hang out in the gaming room when not attending panels or was tired of walking and needed a gaming break. This year’s daytime gaming room had a more variety of games than in previous years. In addition to console gaming, there were dedicated arcade cabinets with fighting games provided by Ultra Arcade, actual Japanese arcade cabinets, and PC gaming. While I would have prefered more easy to play Japanese games, the expansion of the daytime gaming rooms is a good step in the right direction.
Diverse selection of panels- This year’s selection of panels for San Japan 7 had to be one of the most diverse selection in the con’s history. From body painting to history of tokusatsu and more there were all kinds of panels for attendees to see and enjoy. It was great to see so many diverse panels covering all kinds of subjects. However there was a slight downside to having so many panels, which will be explained shortly. Regardless, I hope this diversity carries onto next year.
The Silent Hill Band- I’ve been to a few concerts before, but never at an anime convention before. Previous bands that have played at San Japan, while good, were not really not my thing so I skipped out on them. However this year I attended the concert for The Silent Hill Band and it was the highlight of the con for me. I’m not just a fan of the Silent Hill series but also a fan of Akira Yamaoka’s previous works. Now Yamaoka and crew don’t really play much in the States, so being able to see them play was a rare and awesome chance. If you would like to know more about the band, I did a brief interview that you can view here: http://youtu.be/3SIldr2m_1I
VA back up plan- Having a guest back out due to an unforeseen circumstance is a rare occurrence at cons, but when it does happen sometimes the con cannot call in a back up guest in time. One of the headlining voice actor guests for San Japan 7 was Troy Baker. After starring in some of his biggest roles of 2013(Joel from The Last of Us, Book deWitt from Bioshock Infinite and The Joker from Batman Arkham Origins) fans were filled with hype. However Troy had to back out and cancel his appearance. For most cons, this would have sent them into panic mode, not San Japan. Within a month or so before the con, it was announced that va Matt Mercer (Leon Kennedy from Resident Evil 6, Levi Ackerman from Attack on Titan) would fill in for Troy Baker. The fact that they had a back up and had nothing scheduled for the week of San Japan 7 was one part luck and one part good organization on the staff. Let’s hope that if a 1st choice guest isn’t available, that the San Japan staff continue to have contingency plans.
Some volunteers more disgruntled than usual- I know that earlier I wrote how seeing attendees having a great time makes volunteers feel great about themselves, and they should be. However I’ve been attending San Japan for six years, and almost every year there has been complaints about volunteers being a little bit more pushy than usual. While I do understand that it is hard to try to be nice and polite to hundreds of people for hours on end, there is a difference between using a loud voice and shouting. While walking around the Hyatt portion of the convention, I did happen to notice this occurring several times. Most of the time this would happen in hallways near where panels were located. Yes I understand that it’s a fire hazard to have people sitting down near the walls in hallways, but shouting is a bit much. Having people not sit on the floor could be easily shoved, which also happens to lead into another problem I noticed.
Little to no set up time between panels- As someone who has helped on panels before, it takes a bit of time to set up and get ready. Not that much time either, about 15 minutes tops to make sure that the mics are properly set up, the projector is running properly and any other technical help panelist might need. I noticed that in some of the panels, there wasn’t a set amount of time to set up for the next panel. This caused some start time delays and had people stand outside in the hallway longer. I think if there was three different dedicated tech teams (one for the Grand Hyatt, one for the exhibit halls and one for panel rooms in the convention center) for the three main areas of the con, volunteers would be able to usher in attendees in a timely matter and the tech volunteers wouldn’t have to be running long distances to get any gear needed.
Better press to volunteer communication- As a member of the press I was entitled to a few privileges, one of those privileges being access to early seating for panels and allowing to set up any video recording equipment to record the panel. I don’t think a majority of the volunteers knew about that. However I do not blame them since I didn’t see many press outlets. This was made visibly apparent with the few members of the press I did see in the press room, which also included San Japan’s internal media team. Now I don’t mind if I have to stand in line with the rest of the attendees if there’s a general no early seating policy in place, but it would be beneficial for both the press and volunteers if volunteers knew what privileges the press have.
Needs to eventually shift to four days- In the six years that I have been going to San Japan, the same thing has been said each year by attendees: “It’s only gonna get bigger.” San Japan 5 was the first signs of that when the con moved from the Marriott to the Grand Hyatt and the HBG Convention Center. By moving the con to the current location, this gives it plenty of room to grow. However this year saw an increase of events and panels taking place, most of them taking place at the same time. With so much content this year, and with more to come as San Japan grows, three days won’t be enough. Eventually the con will have to add in an extra day to make room for the panels. There are talks about moving the convention to the Labor Day Weekend in the future to test out a four day format.
Another year in the books as the saying goes. San Japan 7 was one of the biggest years in the con’s history and it looks like its just going to get bigger and better. While they still need to work on some things to make attendees experience a bit smoother, the general consensus was that everyone had a great time. And in the end, that’s all that matters, making sure that attendees and guests are happy. I know that I enjoyed my time and hope to again attend next year and see what the San Japan staff have in store.