At Naka-Kon 2023 "Resilience" was more than just a theme
Fans of Japanese anime, manga, and culture flocked from all over the Midwest (and beyond) this Memorial Day weekend to Overland Park, Kansas to attend the 19th year of the Naka-Kon anime convention held in the expansive halls of the Sheraton Hotel and Overland Park convention center.
Perhaps the 2023 convention can best be summarized by the theme: “unkaku” or “resilience”.
In March of 2020, on the Thursday night before the convention was set to be held, the Naka-Kon directors made the controversial decision to cancel the convention as the world was gripped by the rapidly spreading outbreak of COVID-19.
The directors were, ultimately, caught between a rock and a hard place as state and federal governments battled on a minute-by-minute basis to adapt and adjust to the pandemic.
Due to the cancellation, the convention took a major financial hit.
In 2021, the convention returned in a smaller COVID- conscious form over Labor Day weekend, and then in May of 2022, the convention slowly returned to normal albeit with vaccination and mask requirements in place as well as various social distancing measures.
This year, in 2023, there were no mask or vaccine requirements and it seemed that resilience was more than just a simple theme.
The hallways were alive with the kind of joy and life that many had not seen – or likely felt – since the convention’s 2019 weekend.
The vendor hall was expanded this year, allowing for more space for the attendees and merchants and the joy was tangible seeing cosplayers coming and going, checking out various stands selling art, candy, collectible figures, plush toys, drinks, and more.
2023’s guests included voice-acting icons such as Aaron Campbell, Clifford Chapin, Khoi Dao, Kristen McGuire, Zeno Robinson, Laura Stahl, and Mark Whitten who have lent their talents to many of the industry’s biggest sensations including popular anime such as “Demon Slayer”, “My Hero Academia”, “Trigun Stampede”, “One Piece”, and “Fairy Tail” as well as video-games like “Detective Pikachu”, “Final Fantasy VII Remake”, and “Genshin Impact”.
Chiaki Mayumura was in attendance, a musical guest who has done various commercials and anime theme songs. Another guest was Amelie Belcher, a Texas transplant from New Orleans who streams on Twitch as well as provides fans with insights into her life through her blog at amiarmy.com.
Belcher spoke at the convention’s “Con Horror Stories” panel, which earned rapturous applause and big laughs from those in attendance.
The convention’s highlight came in the form of the 2023 Cosplay Contest which featured a performance from Three Trails Taiko, a Kansas-based NPO who plays the taiko drums.
The contest was held Saturday afternoon with winners including a Snorlax-wearing Kansan who walked the stage to deafening roars from the crowd as well as the ultimate winner who did a performative stage display from the early 2000’s anime film “Escaflowne” which garnered gasps and cheers from the crowd as well as an emotional response from the announcers.
Cosplay guests included Luna Flare, Diana Tolin, Momo Karino, Philip Odango, Diana The Great, and Duff Cosplay.
Friday and Saturday nights were electrifying with rave dances that quite literally seemed to shake the entire convention center.
Musical guests included international DJ “Dantz” as well as Ray Kirk.
Programming through the weekend included panels that tackled various subjects including LGBTQ+ representation, video games, Hollywood adaptations of anime, and light-hearted fandom debates.
I attended one such panel which was a debate between “waifus and husbandos” or, basically, hot characters in various anime, video games, and manga.
Raising my hand to take part in the debate, I was unexpectedly called up where I had to argue between Roy Mustang from the anime “Full Metal Alchemist” and the character of Android 18 from “Dragon Ball Z”… to say I was unprepared would be an understatement.
Thankfully my “opponent” and the panel moderators were more than good sports about it, and it turned out to be a hilarious and fun experience.
The convention’s hotel, The Sheraton, took part in the fun of the weekend as well with Japanese-themed meals from the hotel restaurant as well as themed drinks.
The hotel staff helped to control the traffic of the hotel’s elevators and did so with style and fun, playing dance music at the elevator bank and guiding the flow of guests to the elevators, making sure things didn’t get too crazy.
Next year, Naka-Kon is holding its 20th-anniversary celebration, so expect something BIG…
This month, I will be traveling to Anime Festival Wichita in...well, Wichita.
AFW is a smaller-scale convention which, if you’ve never been to a con, is a fantastic starting point! It will be held the last weekend of the month in Hyatt Regency.
My pictures are uploaded to my Instagram and TikTok channels which are avrgcharles and avgchuck respectively.
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