BJ-T goes to the Naka-Kon 2019 Anime convention

by Charles Gerian

I woke up this past Friday, March 15, with the same jittery feeling I always have before the convention road-trip. The familiar butterflies that could be described as stage-fright or maybe cold feet but without the urge to run.

It's a feeling that keeps me young, because while the convention scene has changed drastically and almost unrecognizably since my first rodeo more than a decade ago with Anime Festival Wichita 2006...that feeling of anxiousness and excitement has never went away.
Despite the old, jaded, bitter crones my friends and I turned into there is something about the convention hype that makes waking up at 7 a.m to strap in for a 4-5 hour trip worth it. The kind of excitement and thrills that make the return on Sunday with aching feet and heavy eyes worth it.

Naka-Kon 2019 was held this past weekend in Overland Park, KS at the Sheraton Hotel and convention center, and the Blackwell Journal-Tribune got press passes to attend thanks to the wonderful people running the show at Naka who were more than supportive of the press.

After a detour through the beautiful open plains of Kansas on the way to Coffeyville to see my friend's mother- and a troubling moment of gathering resources when we found out Kansas was in a beer drought- we touched down in Overland Park just around 5 and quickly realized our go-to parking area was filled to capacity. I don't mean “Damn there's a lot of cars”, I mean, “DAMN, there's TOO MANY CARS”. People were parked against curbs and patched of grass in the expansive lot, congesting every single square inch of blacktop they could find, and this was only Friday! Eventually we had to just use the valet parking the Sheraton provided which was cheaper than you would think. That was a clear indication about the kind of weekend Naka 2019 would have in store.

The first walk into the lobby of your “convention hotel” is always so satisfying because it becomes a homecoming of sorts. It becomes your “we're back” moment. Seeing the eager cosplayers dressed as their favorite characters from video-games, TV shows, anime, movies, wandering around as such a sharp contrast to the Sheraton itself. There's something so unique about just absorbing the visual of a purple haired warrior brandishing a comically large cardboard sword strolling with his vibrant cape billowing over the hotel's gleaming marble floors with it's glossy wood-finished really is worlds colliding.

I took a ridiculous amount of pictures and spent a ridiculous amount of money, which are to things that one should expect from these conventions. I attended several panels that were set up as well including a Metal Gear Solid retrospective which was wonderful, and an informative GODZILLA retrospective which made me realize how little I actually knew about the King of Monsters. There was a huge attendance, as expected, but some were saying it seemed like less people were present due to the horrible weather plaguing the upper midwest around Missouri and Nebraska, which is understandable. Naka, even with the weather keeping some out-of-state company, was still massive.

As far as fandoms (fan groups) and cosplayers, a major hit this year was “My Hero Academia” which I don't personally follow but know of. Disney princesses oddly were a huge presence as well, and they looked fantastic. I was more than surprised though at the amount of characters from “The Legend of Zelda” series, and not just the most recent one. There were cosplayers from Breath of the Wild, Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Majora's Mask, and A Link to the Past. Another big hit was SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

I was Peter B. Parker on Saturday and got to interact with a lot of fun cosplayers dressed as Miles Morales and Gwen Stacey from the film. They were all entertaining and so much fun to talk to, you can see me cracking up actually in my new profile picture because of that Miles and his pose that he surprised me with. The look of embarrassment and disappointment he has is PRICELESS.

The main attractions to these conventions are usually, for most people, the vendor hall and the game rooms. The vendor hall at Naka is probably the same size as our Event Center here in town, and that is JUST the vendors hall. Booths from wall to wall selling almost anything you could imagine. Authentic hand-made leather wares, statues, collectibles, and action figures from nearly every anime under the sun, T-shirts and other wearable memorabilia, imported Japanese candies and sodas as well as garments like kimonos and various robes, vendors selling chaimail, art, prop could spend Friday-Sunday in there from open-to-close and still probably not get to see EVERYTHING.

The dance Saturday night- an impressively ear-shattering, fist bumping affair- was the cherry on top and our press badges got us up close that my colleague and I could get videos and photographs of the wild crowd, talented stage dancers, and ecstatic musicians. Take a look at the pictures and tell me what you think!

Naka-Kon's talent booking was also astronomically impressive this past weekend. The convention had guests of honor like voice actors Keith Silverstein, Alejandro Saab, Kristen McGuire, and Billy Kametz. It wasn't just actors though! Naka had also scored a bonafide industry sensation like manga author and designer Yoshinori Natsume, as well as lolita fashion brand "Metamorphose temps de fille".

Also in attendance was a "Who's who" quartet of authentic Japanese talent: Aya Kamiki (premiere J-pop artist and Broadway star), guitarist Leda, bassist Taizo Nakamura, and

drummer Masayuki “MABO” Nakamur. Musically inclined fans might recognize Leda as a member of the rock group "BABYMETAL". Some of these artists have never even been stateside before, so hats off to Naka's scouts.

There was dozens of panels hosted by the convention and by fans, and the people my colleagues and I interviewed and talked to were impressed with the quality. Word of mouth around the convention from the multiple people we had sparked conversations with was one word: "Wow". While the BJ-T traveled only two and a half hours to be there, one cosplayer- a fun loving Vegeta named Monty- drove from Texas just for that weekend! It's amazing how far people will go for quality. We can't wait to be back for Naka-Kon 2020.

This summer the BJ-T is hitting Tokyo in Tulsa and Anime Festival Wichita.