Hey, everyone! Welcome back to another convention review! To start off, this is an out of state convention for me, so I will be talking about hotel and transportation expenses more than I usually would.
A few months ago, I talked with a friend (Takuto) about cosplay and he brought up a convention called Naka-kon. I honestly didn’t think too much about it and only asked him for some details, not even bothering to check out the website. Recently, however, the same convention was brought up again while talking to Otaku Gamer Zone and I thought it was about time I checked this place out.
Naka-kon is a convention located in Overland Park, Kansas and was originally started by the University of Kansas’ Anime Club back in 2005; however, it later became unaffiliated with the university and is now run by anime fans and volunteers. Naka-kon’s mission is to spread and celebrate Japanese culture and animation.
Naka-kon 2016 ran from March 11 – 13th and was located at the Overland Park Convention Center.
Registration for Naka-kon is slightly different from what I’ve seen at other conventions. Usually, the earlier a person pre-registers, the cheaper a badge is, while the closer to the convention, the higher the price. At Naka-kon, badges were the same price regardless of when the badge was purchased and this year, the badge price was $55, which, considering the size of the convention, wasn’t bad. Depending on how you look at it, this price has a con and a pro. For people who like to pre-register because of lower prices, well…it won’t work here. For people who are forgetful (like me) or who decided to last minute attend (also like me), this is really helpful! No longer will thoughts like oh darn I should have decided sooner or if only I’d remembered! plague you!
Badge material also ran between paper and plastic as it was softer than the usual plastic badges. Personally, I prefer the hard plastic badges for my badge collection, though these weren’t too bad. I mean, they could have been paper…(thinks about Acen). Attendees also had to write their name on the badges, which is pretty fun and adds some personality to your badge that printed names won’t!
It’s been a while since I last watched a dub series and because of that I was initially skeptical about the voice actors at Naka-Kon (I only know the older voice actors!), but once I arrived at the convention and started attending panels I realized my worries were for nothing. All of the guests were great and made me laugh. Some of the guests invited to Naka-Kon were Micah Solusod, Ayu Sakata, Greg Ayres, Karen Strassman, Amelie Belcher, Erica Mendez, Austin Tindle, Earthbound Papas, Nobuo Uematsu, Critical Hit, and many more!
Here’s our cast for our VN with Micah and Ayu. If you guys hear some “Waruto, best waifu!” and “Dat ass do” on Twitter, this is where it was born!
Some of my favorite panels that I attended involved some guests panels, such as Micah and Ayu’s panel where we created a visual novel and Amelie Belcher’s art related panels like “Anatomy for the Artist” and “Digital Painting.”
The amount of panels at Naka-kon was slightly disappointing but also very impressive. While other conventions have the whole day filled with one event after another, Naka-kon only had a few panels happening at once. If you look at the schedule, it’s pretty obvious to see where there were gaps so I was often found standing around near registration just taking pictures.
Many of the panels I attended were guest panels, Funimation panels (the only Industry guest), enthusiast panels (“How Japan Enchants the West”), and one paid event (sake taste testing). I also usually attend fan panels during my downtime at a convention, but Naka-kon didn’t have a selection that really interested me.
Aside from panels, I also went to the AMV contest and I was very impressed with the videos people submitted, especially this year’s winner who made a very trailer-like video for Beyond the Boundary (WATCH IT *CRIES*)
These videos have been uploaded to YouTube for those curious to see what was submitted.
Overall, I was really impressed with the quality of the panels and they really reflect Naka-kon’s emphasis on educating their attendees. For example, Naka-kon had a slew of cosplay and art related panels where con-goers were encouraged to ask for advice and learn new techniques. In “Anatomy for the Artist,” Amelie Belcher didn’t just give us some anatomy tutorials. She also talked about her educational background, some challenges we can possibly face as artists, and how to overcome them. It was a very informal panel where all questions were thoroughly answered and tips were given.
I really wished I could pull a Naruto and attend more than one panel at a time. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to master the Shadow Clone Jutsu…and to the yaoi fans, Naka-kon didn’t really have much to offer. There was only one yaoi panel called “Super Happy Yaoi Funtime,” which was two hours long. I was initially excited, but the panel only consisted of watching two yaoi series and giveaways. I tend to prefer the Yaoi 101 panels, the analytical yaoi panels, and Yaoi-con’s Bishounen bingo.
In terms of location, I was very happy. Since this is an out of state convention for me, I really had to think about the expenses and Naka-kon really made things easy for me. All of the major hotels were within walking distance and there was free parking. Free Parking! I have never been to a convention that offered free parking and thank you, Naka-kon for this. I literally just parked outside the convention and that was it. No need to worry about being over time limits or paying some $30 a day at a garage.
This is only part of the parking outside the convention center. They also had a garage for overflow.
Aside from the hotels being in the same strip, there are many food places. It’s a bit further out than the hotels, but with a car, con-goers are set. Usually, people are forced to buy food at conventions because they can’t go out and find places nearby. That was not the case with Naka-kon. While the Sheraton and convention center did offer food options, like always, I recommend not to buy from them. It’s always overpriced.
Although not healthy, some places that I found were Buffalo Wild Wings, Subway, Jack in the Box, and Wendy’s. There’s also some Target and Walmart stores a bit further out.
The Overland Convention Center was also a really good choice for Naka-kon. The size of the convention and hotel really made the convention feel larger than what it really was. (For 2016, Naka-Kon placed an attendance cap at 9,300 visitors.)
DEALER’S HALL/ARTISTS’ ALLEY
Anyone like figures? Have a collection of them at home and want to buy even more? Well, Naka-kon really outdid itself in the figures department. On the first day, the Dealer’s Hall opened at 4pm and the line stretched on forever! It seems that this is a really major part of the convention, which was interesting to see. Naka-kon had a pretty varied selection: anime, manga, plushies, figures, book bags, wall scrolls, key chains, figures, blankets, and did I mention figures already? Yes, while there was a variety of items, the amount of figures really put everything else to shame.
This can be a good thing if you’re a collector or a bad thing if you’re not. Personally, I’m more of a manga junkie and the amount of manga being sold at Naka-kon was very limited. There were only two booths and the selection wasn’t varied. It was only until Sunday that I was able to find some $5 manga deals at the Dealer’s Hall and Swap Meet.
Aside from anime and manga, Naka-kon also had the Kansas Public Library as one of the vendors. At their booth, they were giving out free books (novels), T-shirts, and posters on the condition that people stop by and write down why they loved their library. Being a frequent patron of libraries, I immediately went over and filled out sticky notes on all three days. There didn’t seem to be a limit on how many books one could pick up off their table, however, the selection was also random. I picked up a few that I really wanted but couldn’t take because they were the second or third in a series.
The library was also making pins out of discarded manga, which seemed to be the most attractive of their freebies. They welcomed attendees to browse through their piles of manga, some of which included Skip Beat, Eyeshield 21, Crimson Hero, House of Five Leaves, Emma, and many more! They did ask that we keep to one pin per person just so that the booth didn’t get overcrowded, but if you were there when it was clear, they did make more than one button per person.
The Artists’ Alley was in the same room as the Dealer’s Hall and was located in the back area of the hall. Again, this part of the convention wasn’t very abundant. Aside from manga, I also tend to spend the most money in the Artists’ Alley since I believe in supporting artists. The selection of artists that were present was impressive, but I really thought it was lacking in size. There were probably about twelve artists, give or take a few. Considering Naka-kon’s size (9,000+ attendees), I expected their Dealer’s Hall and Artists’ Alley to be larger but that wasn’t the case. For example, even a much smaller convention like Uchi-con, which was in a single wing at a school building, had its own space for artists. As this convention starts to grow, I really hope that more artists set up tables!
In the picture above is the artist Bonnie Tang/Cypritree. She is one of the few that really impressed me and I really wanted to buy some of her prints but I didn’t recognize any of the shows that she did fanart for (yeah I’m picky like that). Still, I highly recommend checking out her stuff!
RECOMMENDED OR NOT?
As the convention came to an end, I began taking notes of some of my favorite events at Naka-kon and began rating the different aspects in comparison to other conventions I’ve attended. I do think the nine-hour drive was worth it (for personal reasons mostly) and I’d love to go back next year. I do recommend this convention for those in the nearby Midwest states only. I don’t think it’s worth flying over from places like California or Maryland, but if you’re a neighbor of Kansas, I recommend checking it out.
I ended up driving out to Kansas from Chicago and it’s very easy to navigate. I just took the I-55 towards St. Louis and then the I-70, which took me all the way to Kansas. There were no tolls to worry about, traffic was light, and the road wasn’t hard to drive through compared to Colorado, which has a lot of steep ups and downs and crazy curves. Gas costs were about $120 at the most for the whole trip and even coming home, I had some gas left. Of course, this is me driving a fairly big vehicle. For someone driving a car, the cost could be WAY less
The hotel was also not expensive if you consider certain aspects. I actually went to the convention with my brother so we split costs for everything. The hotel we stayed at was Extended Stay America, which wasn’t ideal but also not bad for what we paid ($80/night between the two of us). The room included free internet, a king bed, and a little kitchen, which is always a plus when going to a convention. There was plenty of space so it didn’t feel crowded and we had quiet neighbors.
So far the price for a nine-hour drive from Chicago is at $275 (Badge, Hotel, Gas). If I had planned for this, the price may have been more affordable since I would have looked for someone to room with. However, this is what it would be with two people splitting the cost. Food was also another cost that ran a bit high for us, but this all depends on the individual and how much is consumed.
My Final Rating: 6.5/10, slightly above average. Naka-kon was a good convention to check out, especially if you’re in the area and are on a budget. However, if you want to experience something more ‘mind-blowing’, I’d check out one of the bigger conventions like Anime Expo and Otakon, though I can’t guarantee your wallet will be intact after a trip to these conventions… If you’re in the area or have time to drive out, I definitely say go check it out at least once!
Pictures of cosplayers, Dealer’s Hall, and other parts of the convention can be found here.
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