Kawaii Kon reaches out to Oni-Con Hawaii attendees

This post is coming to you from Otaku Ohana Mobile HQ, a different room at the Ala Moana Hotel than in April, yet with the same lovely view of the yacht harbor between the Hawaii Prince Hotel and another building, the name of which I still wouldn’t be able to tell you without Googling it first.

kawaii-kon-logoThe last time your friendly neighborhood anime/manga blogger stayed here, as you might have figured out if you deigned to click on that link above, was for Kawaii Kon. This time? It’s just a humbler staycation retreat, some time to relax and catch up and plot out a few more work-intensive posts for down the line. And yet somehow, Kawaii Kon has managed to generate some news that’s drawn me back to the keyboard sooner than I expected. It feels somewhat … appropriate, in a way.

On Sunday afternoon, Kawaii Kon posted a rather lengthy update to its Facebook page. The big big news, which I won’t be going into much detail here because we barely have enough time to cover all things anime/manga/cartooning, never mind adding sci-fi to the mix, is that the dates for sister sci-fi spinoff Hoku Kon have been set. The preview day will be Dec. 7 at the Doubletree Alana Waikiki’s Pikake Room, while the full convention is happening July 24-26 at the Hawai’i Convention Center. (Side note: I haven’t really heard anything bad coming out of the just-completed first edition of HawaiiCon, the sci-fi convention on Hawaii island held over the weekend, so it looks like we may have another winner there. They have dates for next year, too: Sept. 10-13.)

But then there’s the matter of the final two paragraphs, which directly addresses the silent elephant in the room on the local convention scene: Oni-Con Hawaii. Right now, given what we’ve seen in May (original post here, reactions here) and in August, I’d be very surprised to see anything emerge from the brand this year … or ever again, for that matter. Here’s what Kawaii Kon had to say about the situation:

On another note, last year when we heard that Oni-Con Texas expanding their convention to Hawaii under the title of OniCon Hawaii, we wished them the best of luck in their new adventure. As a first year convention, OniCon Hawaii did an admirable job overcoming many challenges. Right now it looks like there may not be another OniCon Hawaii this year and we think that is unfortunate for the fans. As much as a convention puts in work to make a successful event, the fans too put in a lot of effort and planning as well. 

While we don’t have any contact with the main organizers of OniCon Hawaii, we at Kawaii Kon wanted to see if there was anything we could do for the fans that were looking forward to OniCon Hawaii 2014. What we came up with was this: If you pre-registered for OniCon 2014 and bring proof to our Windward Mall Anime Day on October 11, 2014 we will give you a free DVD (while supplies last).

So, would-have-been Oni-Con attendees (or even those of you who’ve been keeping an eye on this whole situation from afar): What do you think of the offer? I’d love to hear your reactions, whether in comments below or over on Facebook.

Former Oni-Con Hawaii chairman speaks out about show

With 149 days left in the year and no news on where, if anywhere, Oni-Con Hawaii 2014 will be held since the last time I wrote about it, the chances of the convention actually taking place this year are becoming increasingly remote, if not entirely unlikely.

Now comes word that Steve Okubo, former Oni-Con Hawaii chairman, posted a statement both to the Oni-Con Hawaii Facebook page and his personal page this morning. The statement, uncut and unedited, is reproduced below.

Regarding Oni Con Hawaii.
My apologies for the length.

I have remained largely silent about Oni Con Hawaii and the Hawaii Japanese pop culture convention scene for the past many months, partly because of a personal family loss, partly because I’ve had no official access to the various social media sites and email channels we setup for OCH 2013, and partly at the request of intermediaries who told me that a second year of OCH was being planned.

If this message is deleted from the OCH page, please share with others that it is also posted on my personal Facebook page.

First, I want to give a long overdue thank you to all of those who worked so hard to make OCH 2013 successful beyond everybody’s expectations. I know you all sacrificed a lot and I truly appreciate everything you did. It was a great honor and privilege for me to, literally, work along side such awesome people as the members of our “Team O.H.A.Y.O.”! I wish I could have done something for you, but unfortunately, the needed support from the mainland that I was promised never materialized. OCH has cost me, personally, in several ways, just to insure the inaugural convention happened at all, and unfortunately, I can currently do no more than offer you my humble, heartfelt, and long overdue thanks. Not being able to do more than that is one of my biggest regrets.

It is unfortunate that OCH never received the resources and support that were promised us and should have been provided at the outset, from Texas, but despite the lack of that support, our Hawaii ‘ohana came together to create a first-year convention that was incredibly successful. Of course there were issues and things that could and should have gone better, but all things considered, we did what most thought couldn’t be done. We were told by the convention center that OCH went much more smoothly in it’s first year than others did after several years. This I attribute to our awesome staff, our wonderful partners, vendors, and artists, but mostly because of all the great fans who attended. I’ve been told that a convention is only as good as the fans make it, and I truly believe that to be the case. In my opinion, Hawaii has the best fans, anywhere, bar none!

I wish I could tell you exactly what was up with OCH, but I do not know what Texas has planned, as I’ve had no direct contact from them. I had heard, a couple of months ago, that they would be having another event and would honor the pre-registrations taken at OCH 2013, however, you may want to consider seeking a refund. That’s up to you. I had heard of one case where someone tried to get a refund from a credit card company (I believe it was VISA) who refused to refund them, citing the reason that the “event had already occurred.” Of course that is not the case, and if it would help anyone at all who wishes to have their charges reversed on the credit card they used to pay for the $20 pre-reg, I would be more than happy to speak with your credit card company, as the chair of the first year of OCH and verify with them that the event you paid for, OCH 2014, never happened.

Hawaii really needs another Japanese pop culture convention to bring our local fans what they deserve. We’ve grown far beyond one annual event for this genre. The unprecedented success of OCH 2013 proved how true this is. Although there are some visionless people who, unfortunately, can’t understand this and continue to foster an “us or them” mentality, I feel the exact opposite is true.

Diversity fosters creativity and growth. As chair of OCH 2013 and the “new kid on the block”, I reached out to try to make this happen, but ultimately, my efforts were fruitless. My philosophy, from the beginning, was for conventions here to work together for the common good of all. First and foremost, these events should be for the benefit of Hawaii’s fans; the fans shouldn’t be used for the benefit of the event.

We deserve better and shouldn’t always have to go to the mainland to get it. It can be a total win-win situation, if you have leadership that has the clarity of vision to see it and understand it. I am hopeful an established mainland convention with local name recognition that gets it, one with commitment and integrity to make this happen, will emerge and bring Hawaii what it deserves. I know our fans will support any event done right. Hawaii is the perfect place for better such events and I can totally see us having conventions that offer our local fans, as well as those from our Asian, Pacific, and mainland neighbors, exactly that.

I look optimistically towards a better and brighter future. See you out there!

“Mahalo gozaimasu”,
Steve.

This would normally be the part where I say “I’ve reached out to OniCon for a response,” but seeing as how they never responded to my prior inquiries, I feel any further outreach from me would be moot. But if I see any formal response comes from OniCon in coming days, I’ll post it in this blog.

Oni-Con Hawaii: The discussion continues

Imagine, if you will, EVERYTHING you see on this table, PLUS a good stack of Final Fantasy 14 posters and Tak Sakaguchi autographed photos, raffled off one at a time. That was 90% of closing ceremonies, folks.I’m amazed by and pleased with how much discussion my last post on the vague future of Oni-Con Hawaii generated, particularly on Facebook. It’s not often that I get feedback on what I’ve written other than Facebook “likes” and that little widget below the post headline that shows how many times it’s been shared, so it’s nice knowing that there are people out there who are still checking out this humble corner of the Star-Advertiser online network.

I can’t help but think that it also inspired this official statement, posted to the OCH Facebook page around 10:30 p.m. Friday:

We’re glad to see, from recent Facebook and media posts, that you’re so anxious to see what Oni Con Hawaii II has in store for y’all and that you’re eagerly awaiting the date and venue to be announced. And, while we are honored that so many of you have expectations of us that one would usually expect of a 10+ year convention, please remember that this is still only our second year. Nonetheless, we will always strive to bring you the best convention with “A” List guests, more vendors and artists, and entertaining events. Our goal is to keep growing and improving, each year. We’re learning how things work in Hawaii and hope you’ll be there with us, for the journey.

We did suffer some unexpected changes, early on and that set us back a bit, so we are having make up some ground, but we should have some very interesting announcements, soon. We know you all deserve better, so although we could cut corners and get some things out faster, we’d rather take the time and do things right. We owe you that. Among the changes we’re excited about is a brand new website with a much better registration system. It’s still under construction, so please follow us for updates on Facebook and Twitter. The activity will be picking up, fairly soon.

We truly appreciate your patience and hope you’ll agree it was worth the wait!

A few thoughts:

  • Okay, so let’s keep our expectations in check. It’s a valid point: OCH in year two shouldn’t be compared with present-day Kawaii Kon, with the latter having recently held its 10th annual show. But consider this: Kawaii Kon in year two was much further along than OCH is now, given the same six-month time frame. The first Kawaii Kon was held on April 22-24, 2005. I reported specifics on the second Kawaii Kon in Cel Shaded six months later, including the venue (the Ala Moana Hotel, and more of it!) and some guests (Robert and Emily DeJesus! Vic Mignogna! Stan Sakai! Jennifer Sekiguchi! David Williams!). And that event was held on April 14-16, 2006.
  • Last week’s statement noted that the venue and date would be narrowed down “by the end of next week.” This week’s statement went back to using the term “soon.”
  • I still have yet to be contacted directly by whoever has been posting these statements. I don’t think I’m that hard to get a hold of; anyone can comment on these posts, and you don’t even have to be a Star-Advertiser subscriber to do so. (Believe me, I have to clean the spam filter regularly to purge dozens of bot comments offering cheap designer-label apparel and health “supplements.”) I’m on Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram, too. Swing by sometime. Let’s chat. I won’t bite.

The statement’s already generated its fair share of comments, but I think the one that nailed some of the sentiment out there was posted by user Ming Chi, who … well, here’s the post:

If we want to be more involved, with some of the initial planning, volunteer recruitment and training, and helping Onicon move forward, what exactly would we need to do? I attended as an Artist Alley vendor last year and thought, over all, it was a good experience for my crew and I. However, there did seem to be some miscommunication initially (e.g. I was e-mailed information that became outdated and was updated on Facebook, which I did not know existed at the time), and the conference staff seemed very confused at points with little or no answers as to the overall leadership of the con.

Amanda Maguire brings up a good point, who was running the convention? Folks from Hawaii or folks from Texas? What happened to some of the Hawaii leadership last year? Some of the volunteers seemed very miffed by the whole experience and thought Onicon was not coming back.

Likewise, at least one local gaming/comic store was really put off by their experience at Onicon last year. Instead of staying all three days, they packed up Saturday night and called it quits. Damaging the relationship with a local store probably did not do well for Onicon’s reputation here in Hawaii.

It was unfortunate that Hexx-Con disbanded. There were issues there that were not handled in time, and it was starting to bud as a promising con. I do know folks are planning Hawaii Con around the same time, but unfortunately, it’s held on the Big Island (Hawaii, not Oahu), and seems to be geared more for mainland/continental attendees as opposed to locals. It is quite cost prohibitive, especially for the younger folks here locally.

I’m commenting here because I do believe that folks in Hawaii would love to have another anime/sci-fi/nerdy/geeky con run tandem of Kawaii Kon annually. Where as Hexx-Con once existed, and Hawaii Con is probably too cost prohibitive for folks on Oahu, Onicon had a good fit when it was hosted last year (although Halloween might not have been the best weekend for it). I want something better, as with many others that are posting. We are concerned based on what we experienced and heard. And we would like to improve on that.

And thus, I am wondering in what ways can we help, and have possible input into Onicon here in Hawaii.

I’m interested in seeing if any of this generates another official response. Let’s keep the conversation going, folks.

The search for clarity amid Oni-Confusion

The last time I wrote anything about Oni-Con Hawaii (OCH) in this space, I was stressing the importance of communication for the fledgling anime convention, particularly for the people who believed in it enough to buy into this.

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That was more than six months ago. The fact that I’m addressing this here for the first time since then ought to say a fair amount about how much the story has advanced: not much at all.

onicon screenshotSee, after the end of last year’s event, OCH just kind of … disappeared. The website became a single placeholder page (seen at right) that has offered the same message: “A very heartfelt ‘Mahalo gozaimasu, y’all!’ to everyone who attended and participated in Oni-Con Hawaii 2013 and to our awesome volunteer, staff, and friends who made our first year a big success!! We’ll see you all next year, at Oni-Con Hawaii 2014!” Several opportunities to promote OCH at other events — the New Year’s Ohana Festival and Kodomo no Hi at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, the Honolulu Festival and Kawaii Kon immediately come to mind — have passed without a peep. We know more about Taku Taku Matsuri 2 (Aug. 9, Manoa Grand Ballroom at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii; voice actor Kyle Hebert attending, monthlong Kickstarter preregistration campaign underway) and Kawaii Kon 2015 (March 27-29; first announced guest: voice actor Bryce Papenbrook) than we do about OCH 2014.

Only two official statements have emerged from the OCH camp, both posted within the past few weeks. This statement went up on the OCH Facebook page on April 20:

Sorry all for the long wait. Unfortunately the venue and time frame we wanted is not available. However we are currently looking at different venues and time frames. Which now comes to you. Where would you like to see OCH be next? We look forward to hearing from you! Also updates to the website will be done shortly! Thanks for all your patience!

And this on May 1:

Had some great meetings all this week, and should have narrowed down to a venue and date by the end of next week. Thanks again for all your patience! We are currently already getting our guest all lined up and once the date and venue are secured, announcements will be made!

There was already some buzz on social media about the fate of OCH soon after Kawaii Kon ended early last month, before that first statement was posted. I emailed inquiries to info@oniconhawaii.com and the “parent” convention, Oni-Con in Galveston, Texas, around then; neither have responded as of this posting. Whoever’s running the Facebook page has been sporadic in responding to posted comments as well; responding only to say that yes, it won’t be long before a date is posted, and no, there’s no truth to the rumor that someone ran off with the preregistration money.

There were, as far as I know, three men involved locally in putting together OCH 2013. On Jan. 7, Kell Komatsubara announced on his Facebook page that he would be stepping away from OCH and Babel Entertainment, wishing the volunteer Babel staff well in their future endeavors. Shion Francois, head of Babel Entertainment, told me via email that Oni-Con has been booking guests through his company but couldn’t tell me more than that.

It was the third person and one of the most public faces of last year’s convention, Steve Okubo, who shed the most light on the matter. Steve told me via email last week that he hasn’t had access to the convention’s social media accounts and email since December, “so I assume that my services are no longer required with OCH.” He believes the Oni-Con Texas board is running those communication channels now and has expressed his concerns to Shion that someone take charge in answering inquiries.

A few other answers from Steve follow. On the matter of why the Facebook page sprung to life only now, and in general, why the information coming from it since last year’s event ended has been so vague:

I do not know. I tend to be the naturally trusting type, so my initial thought would be that it is as they said, that they are having trouble finding a venue the right size to accommodate the dates they need for whatever guests they might have lined up, as I understand.

In regards to what happened to the preregistration money:

All the pre-reg money taken in at OCH was collected by JSHOXX/Babel Entertainment, because they had staff available to take care of this at their table and they had the means to take credit card payments. Babel will still be working with OC Texas, booking guests for both Texas and Hawaii. In a conversation I had with Babel, they said that OC Texas told them they will be honoring all the pre-reg sales made at OCH 2013.

And as for whether OCH 2014 will go off as intended:

Again, since I’ve have no access and have had no communication with whomever is calling the shots, I can’t say, for sure, but it is my understanding that they plan to hold the event in the later part of the year.

So that’s the story as best I know it at this point.Will any new news show up as promised toward the end of this week? We are in that time frame right now, so we shall see, I suppose.

Truth be told, I’m not sure how this post will be taken by whoever is running OCH. If it gets me blacklisted from attending their future shows, I can live with that. I just think I, as well as anyone who has a stake in whatever they have planned, deserve better treatment, as well as more concrete information, than what’s been demonstrated in these past six months.

13 for ’13: Otaku Ohana’s year in pictures

Happy three-days-in-but-still-relatively-newish year! It’s hard to believe that June will mark five years since this blog gained a home on starbulletin.com as an online complement to Cel Shaded. Five years, coincidentally, is also the amount of time it would probably take for me to catch up on all the anime that I’ve been meaning to review in this space if (a) every single anime producer, both in the U.S. and Japan, were to stop releasing anime at this very second, and (b) I watched anime 24/7/365. (And let’s not even think about the manga.)

I’m hoping that review situation improves this year. But before we move forward, let’s take a quick look back at some of the highlights from last year, captured by my trusty camera (and in some cases, my equally trusty smartphone). Some of these pictures have appeared in this space before. Others, I never got around to posting (curse you, real work getting in the way of fun work!). For remembering the year that was 2013, though, they’re fun jumping-off points.

Congratulation! A winner is you! (Jan. 12)

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The final edition of the Liliha Library Anime Art Contest culminated in an awards ceremony at the beginning of the year. Rachel Ruiz placed second in the grades 6-8 category with this piece, for which she won a lovely bag of prizes.

Meanwhile, at the back of the room where the awards ceremony was held, young adult librarian Linda Mediati set up a table with a pile of donated Shonen Jump issues, English and Japanese editions, free for the taking for anyone who wanted them.

Judging by how many Rachel carted off, you wouldn’t be too far off in saying she won twice that day.

The surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya (March 17)

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I’ve mentioned before in this space that I have an affinity for anything and everything related to the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise. So when Haruhi character designer Noizi Ito was announced as a guest for Kawaii Kon, I was ready to go to pretty much anything and everything at which she made an appearance. Hour-long live-drawing panel? Yes, please. Hour-long live-drawing panel where she draws Kawaii Kon mascots Ai-chan and Nami? Oh, yes, thank you very much. Hour-long live-drawing panel where she casually unveils the final cover for her newest Haruhi artbook for the first time anywhere? Oh, baby, yes.

And in case you’re wondering whether the book made it out to Japanese audiences: Yup.

Spartan assault on our hearts (March 17)

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This is the only shot in this collection that wasn’t taken by me, but by one of Kawaii Kon’s staff photographers, Zarli Win. (We’ll see more of him in the next picture.) From where I was standing during the Kawaii Kon Masquerade, my trusty-yet-lacking-in-low-light-situations camera couldn’t have gotten anything as good as this. Being there to soak up the mood was awesome, though: the announcement of the contestant, this little girl in her “Halo Kitty” outfit — a Halo Spartan suit embellished with Hello Kitty accessories — walking out on stage, the collective gasp in the audience giving way to squeals and applause and a barrage of flashbulbs going off around the room.

Wedded bliss (June 2)

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Tag-team partner in fandom Wilma Jandoc married longtime boyfriend Zarli Win in early June. It was a pretty big deal ’round these parts. Was it a ceremony that was full of Win? But of course.

Cait Sith, art guardian (June 18)

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As it has for the past few years, the Honolulu Museum of Art School’s second-floor gallery hosted MangaBento’s annual exhibit. The 2013 edition, “Tomo-E-Ame: Friends-Drawings-Candy,” featured anime-inspired art in a wide variety of media. Among the pieces was this doll of Cait Sith hand-sewn by Heidi Shimada that, when viewed at a certain angle, looked like it was gazing over the gallery.

A master immortalized (July 27)

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Cartoonist Dave Thorne — best known around these parts for his Sunday comic strip “Thorney’s Zoo” — may have died in 2012, but he left behind a body of work that remains beloved to this day. In July, several hundred people showed up for a celebration of life at Bay View Golf Park, with samples of his cartoons posted all over the clubhouse auditorium. One of the highlights was a “chalk talk,” with Alan Low narrating scenes from Dave’s life as Jon Murakami sketched on a giant pad of paper. The last drawing, done in advance: this. A fitting tribute to someone known as “the Yoda of Hawaii cartooning.”

Taku Taku dancing dancing (Aug. 25)

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Taku Taku Matsuri, spearheaded by Yuka C. Nagaoka, debuted in August with a summer festival at Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha-Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangu. Games were played, art was drawn, food and other collectibles were sold, cosplayers roamed the grounds and played a round of Cosplay Chess, and everyone had a good time.

True to her word in my interview with her, Yuka showed up in a bright red kimono. She even jumped on stage with some of the other cosplayers and danced to Psy’s “Gentleman.”

Crossing cosplay (Sept. 15)

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In September, Gallery Iolani on the Windward Community College campus hosted “Crossing Cultures: The Art of Manga in Hawaii,” an exhibit tracing the history of manga and its influence on artists in the local community that was curated by Pen & Ink Works founder/Hachi Maru Hachi contributing artist Brady Evans. Brady also led a series of curator’s tours for four straight Sundays, where he’d talk about various exhibits … like these costumes of Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist and Teddie from Persona 4, part of the section talking about Kawaii Kon.

Oh yes, if you missed the exhibit, don’t worry: Brady’s already told me it’ll be returning in 2014. Details to come.

When “aloha” means goodbye (Sept. 17)

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Toys N Joys, known for years to a certain generation as the go-to place for anime merchandise, domestic and imported video games, closed its doors for the last time on Sept. 23 after a 30-year run in Kaimuki and a 25-year run at the Westridge Shopping Center in Aiea. This whiteboard, sitting in the same display window where toys, replica swords and Airsoft guns once sat in the Kaimuki store, served as a sounding board for some customers to pay their respects.

Angelic consultation (Oct. 2)

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The time between Oct. 1 and Nov. 3 was one of the busiest I’ve seen for the local fan community in quite some time. The month got off to a hot start with two events taking place on the same day: Mini Con at McCully-Moiliili Library, and Kawaii Kon’s Anime Day at Windward Mall. I thought I’d be the only one crazy dedicated enough to make the drive over the Koolaus and attend both events, but it turned out there was another trio: Guardian Angels Dana Aton and Susana Choy of Cosmic Koi, makers of black and white hand-detailed angels’ wings and plasma ear pieces like these, and their adorably adorable lolita-clad daughter, Bella. Here, Bella and Susana shared a moment together at Mini Con.

The Macross miracle (Nov. 2)

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Local anime convention Oni-Con Hawaii debuted this year, and while it had its share of problems, there were some fun times to be had as well. One of those fun times was at the “Filmmaking in Hawaii” panel, where Blood of the Samurai director Aaron Yamasato and Doko Ga TV host/“Japanmania — Sugoi!” blogger Pali Kaaihue talked about some of their projects.

But then came their Fabulous Swag Giveaway. Now, you have to realize that in the upcoming season of Doko Ga TV, Pali talked to some really cool people, including Masako Nozawa, the Japanese voice of Goku in Dragon Ball Z, and Yoko Kanno, composer of anime soundtracks that fill me with warm fuzzies like Cowboy Bebop, Kids on the Slope, Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex, Wolf’s Rain and some of the newer series in the Macross franchise. Accordingly, one of the items Pali gave away was something from Macross Frontier. The winner? Milton Streeter, former leader of the Japanese Animation Society of Hawaii and co-host of the “Anime Clubs in Hawaii” panel that took place immediately preceding this particular panel.

As you can see, he was a tad bit enthused.

The art of library talks (Nov. 6)

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I’m not sure how many times over the years that I’ve attended talks by nemu*nemu artist Audra Furuichi about the creative process that goes into her thrice-weekly online comic strip, but one thing’s remained constant: Those talks are always fascinating, and fledgling artists could learn quite a bit from them. These two girls certainly took advantage of the opportunity, practicing sketching on Audra’s tablet after an evening talk at Kapolei Library.

The Journey continues (Dec. 22)

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Journey of Heroes, the graphic novel recounting the story of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, went into a second printing toward the end of the year, with the first public sale of those new books at the Honolulu Gift Fair in mid-December. That’s author Stacey Hayashi in the background … and behind the table in the foreground, helping her sell books and other merchandise chock full of chibi soldier goodness, was MidWeek cartoonist/Cacy and Kiara author Roy Chang.

And that was 2013 in a nutshell! 2014’s already getting off to a busy start with Comic Jam Hawaii returning to Pearlridge on Sunday (1-4 p.m.!) and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii’s Ohana Festival on Jan. 19. Is another fun year loaded with plenty of pictures in store? You betcha.

Pros and Oni-Cons

Oni-Con Hawaii logoIt’s been two days since the inaugural edition of Oni-Con Hawaii went into the history books, enough time spent here at my unofficial Otaku Ohana anime convention bureau at the Ala Moana Hotel for me to digest what happened, read assorted blog entries, friends’ Facebook posts, and comments left on Oni-Con’s Facebook page for their takes on the event, and skim through about a bazillion cosplay and event photos taken by a bunch of talented photographers.

And now, it’s my turn. I’ll have some of my own photo highlights in an future post, but I’m sure many of you are curious about what I thought of the event first, so here goes.

It’s difficult to talk about Oni-Con without first acknowledging an elephant and a ghost of an elephant in the room: Kawaii Kon and HEXXP, the Hawaii Entertainment Expo. The former has managed to grow in its nine-year existence into being the dominant local anime con experience; the latter was a pop-culture convention that had a few bright spots but ultimately struggled with finding a clear identity before folding after a three-year run.

As I mentioned in my post introducing Oni-Con Hawaii in February, this venture was supposed to be a collaboration between the original Oni-Con in Texas and Babel Entertainment, part of the brain trust behind HEXXP. On paper, that arrangement looked promising enough to produce a viable Kawaii Kon alternative — Babel had connections for good Japanese guests; Oni-Con had roots in the U.S. anime industry hotbed of Texas (home of Sentai Filmworks and Funimation) and about a decade’s worth of con-presenting experience.

In practice? Not so much. For reasons known only to the innermost of inner circles, it seems things went south on that alliance. One sign was the Ayres brothers situation, which I alluded to in an earlier post (and expanded upon in comments). Another sign came with the Marketplace, which started off as a separate Artist Alley (promoted in con documentation as “The Alley”) and dealers room but ended up as a combination of the two, with no evidence of any mainland vendors in attendance. (All the better for local vendors, though.) In fact, the only mainland industry representation would end up being voice actor J. Michael Tatum … and a Funimation logo, seen here on a banner at the closing raffle for people who preregistered for 2014 that went on foreeeeeverrrrrr ceremony.

Imagine, if you will, EVERYTHING you see on this table, PLUS a good stack of Final Fantasy 14 posters and Tak Sakaguchi autographed photos, raffled off one at a time. That was 90% of closing ceremonies, folks.

So the burden fell on the local staff to make things good. They certainly made the most of what they were given, to the point where I heard several comments about how the show ended up better than they expected. To its credit, Oni-Con had more to hold my attention than three years of HEXXP ever did, and if you were a fan of:

  • The work of J. Michael Tatum, Hiroki Takahashi, SANA, Nobuo Uematsu and/or the Earthbound Papas
  • Cosplay
  • The fashions of Atelier Pierrot
  • Local filmmaking
  • Video games, particularly of the fighting/shooting/dance-flailing variety
  • Anime/manga-inspired artsy things
  • Tabletop gaming

… then you probably felt the same way. If not, well … there wasn’t much of anything going on outside of the two panel rooms, the main events room, a video game room, the Marketplace, the Yu x Me Maid Cafe & Host Club and, for two days, the rather sprawling setup of Other Realms. It also seemed odd for them not to be screening any actual anime at what’s supposed to be an anime convention, but anime screenings at conventions take much more than “set up DVD player and projector, pop in disc, welcome people in,” so I can understand how that might fall by the wayside. I was content with going back to my hotel room for a spell; others, of course, may not have had the same luxury.

For me, the fact that there actually was an option for something interesting happening around the corner was a major improvement over something like HEXXP, where there would be one event and then an hours-long gap until the next event. To be sure, Friday and Sunday had their share of programming gaps, but they didn’t seem quite as pronounced. Saturday was probably the closest any Kawaii Kon alternative has come to replicating that convention’s experience to date. After Friday, I was ready to peg attendance around Kawaii Kon year 1 levels; after seeing how busy the main concourse and main events room were on Saturday, it felt more comparable to Kawaii Kon year 3, the first year that con moved to the convention center. Saturday was when I could feel that certain, indescribable energy that I’ve felt at other anime cons, and it was great.

But when things went wrong … oh boy. One of the main reasons why the show exceeded some people’s expectations was because the lead-up to it was rather chaotic, raising concerns about whether it could be pulled off without a hitch. Marketplace vendors didn’t hear about room maps and set-up times until Wednesday of con week, despite several requests. Early pre-registration on Thursday was set up only from noon to 5 p.m., and even those who wanted to do so found themselves faced with locked doors at street-level and convention center staffers who weren’t informed of what was going on. Those same vendors would end up being confused over a discrepancy between the official program and their contracts — the program listed closing time for the Marketplace at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; their contracts, 9 p.m. After some back and forth, the time was finally set at 9 p.m. (quite possibly ruining a fair share of evening plans in the process).

Over on the registration front, some preregistration names somehow didn’t make it to the check-in desks, making it that much more important for those attendees to bring their receipts proving that they did pay for certain passes. Plastic holders for con passes ran out on Saturday, followed in short order by lanyards and clips; at one point, registration staff simply punched a hole in the pass and handed it to the waiting attendee. That is, of course, if registration staff was willing to help them; I learned of several stories of grouchy, unhelpful and/or indifferent staffers over the weekend and into Monday. One person checking in was even assisted by a staffer who refused to let go of a partially eaten donut throughout the check-in process. (I take it that was a delicious donut.)

And then there was the case of the skewed Sunday schedule … one that tag-team partner Wilma J. and I got tangled up in. Here’s that schedule as seen in the official program.

Oni-Con Sunday schedule

A little background: As you know if you’re a regular reader, Wilma got married this year. Most of her vacation days this year have been taken up by Kawaii Kon, wedding planning, post-wedding planning and other domestic duties and social obligations. She waited until the schedule was released to decide that she would attend on Sunday only, because (a) she had seen the Earthbound Papas perform at HEXXP last year and sorely wanted some time for herself on Saturday; (b) she had never heard Nobuo Uematsu speak at a panel, so she was looking forward to his Q&A session; and (c) she could get something else signed by him in the autograph session to follow. I, on the other hand, had some prior commitments at church to tend to, so I arrived at the convention center around 1 p.m., tweeted something, and met up with her. We did a circuit around the Marketplace, then headed to what was developing into a long line outside Panel Room 1 around 2:45 p.m. While we waited, I checked my Twitter feed … at which point the following exchange ensued:

//storify.com/jsyadao/oni-con-hi-schedule-chatter.js?header=false[<a href=”//storify.com/jsyadao/oni-con-hi-schedule-chatter” mce_href=”//storify.com/jsyadao/oni-con-hi-schedule-chatter” target=”_blank”>View the story “Oni-Con HI Sunday schedule chatter” on Storify</a>]

Note that when we sent our tweets at 3:15 p.m. we were still going by that schedule above, thinking we were still in line for the Uematsu panel. We never got any word through official channels — just a staff member going up and down the line asking if anyone was interested in ordering “Dancing Dad,” the Earthbound Papas’ new CD that had sold out on Friday.

Upon entering the room, we also learned that the Uematsu signing had been converted into a signing by all of the Earthbound Papas. Thinking fast, I took apart my program, handing her one page, keeping another so that we didn’t look too awkward up there. The band, of course, was quite polite, and we did get the items we wanted signed by Uematsu signed by him, but still, it wasn’t quite the experience we were expecting. Several comments on the Oni-Con Facebook page share our sentiments; Geoff, our original tipster above, mentioned on Facebook that he drove in from Kaneohe exclusively for the music industry and Uematsu panels and was disappointed when he learned they were canceled.

So what happened? As of this writing, I’ve yet to hear any official explanation. Over at the “Tea and Thoughts” blog, though, blogger Kelly offered this observation: Three panels — “Ramblings About Something, Close to Nothing” at 10 a.m., “Japanese Music Industry” at 2 p.m. and the Uematsu panel — were all canceled without any official word posted anywhere on the property. I’ve since been told via Facebook that the “Ramblings” panel was moved to another room, with someone stationed at the door to bring in people. I’m not sure where the discrepancy lies, but the fact that she couldn’t find what was going on is a concern nonetheless.

As I’ve been writing this part of the post, I’ve noticed there’s a theme developing, one that may be the biggest key in determining where this show goes from here: communication, communication, communication. It’s nice to promote the #OniConHI hashtag all over the place and have a Facebook presence, but what good is it if there aren’t enough people monitoring either one to respond to attendee concerns in a timely manner? How can official con accounts have enough time to promote another media outlet’s exclusive Uematsu interview, yet not have enough time to fix a schedule grid that was posted once to the Facebook page? There’s a time to promote and a time for damage control, and it seemed that in the days leading up to and including Oni-Con, there was too much of the former, not enough of the latter. If the people feel you aren’t listening to them, it’s a fair bet that they eventually won’t listen to you.

All things considered, though? There was much to enjoy from the weekend. The 500+ pictures that I’m going to have to sort through eventually to come up with a “Best of Oni-Con” gallery certainly attest to that. It should also be noted that Oni-Con had 8.5 months between when it was first announced and opening day. Kawaii Kon? Announced March 31, 2004; opening day April 22, 2005; time to prepare was a little over a year. There’s certainly quite a bit of room for improvement, but for there to be a show comparable to Kawaii Kon with less time to prepare is a rather laudable feat.

I do hope convention staff take these compliments and criticisms to heart. There’s already quite a bit riding on there being a show next year, considering this was up throughout the weekend:

Wilma was quite torn about whether to take advantage of this, too. $20 is how much she paid for her Sunday-only pass.

And if the closing raffle for people who preregistered for 2014 that went on foreeeeeverrrrrr ceremony was any indication, quite a few people are already signed up and looking forward to next year. I have to admit I’m not one of those who preregistered — I really have to know when events are held far in advance to accommodate a tight vacation schedule at work — but I’m just as curious to see what happens next.

Oni-Con scheduling and Ingress panel clarifying

Oni-Con Hawaii logoWe’re about 24 hours or so away from the beginning of Oni-Con Hawaii, close enough for my preview article — the same one that appeared in our print edition yesterday — to appear on Honolulu Pulse (and the Pulse version is free to read!). Over on Oni-Con’s Facebook page, the updates have been coming fast and furious for the past few days … so fast, in fact, that I can only assume it’s difficult for them to keep up. The scheduling grids posted there and on their website haven’t been updated with revised info since they were published on Saturday, and navigating through all of the updates to figure out what’s what may be a daunting task.

So for your planning convenience, here’s my version of the schedule, incorporating those changes and adding in columns for cosplay meet-ups and Marketplace hours. The URL is http://ow.ly/qnmT7, for those of you who want to store that in your smartphones.

Also for your reference, here’s Oni-Con’s most current panel description listing. It serves its purpose for the most part, save for one panel: the Ingress panel, scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, which has the following description:

Ingress ◊ Friday at 3:00pm, Panel Room 1 ◊ Jordan Silva and John Hyrne discuss about the android app game Ingress.

… which may be underselling the panel juuuuust a tad. Yes, it technically is an Android app game, but … well, here, have a Wikipedia blurb:

Ingress is a near-real time augmented reality massively multiplayer online video game created by Niantic Labs, a start up within Google, currently for Android devices [2] but expected to be available for Apple’s iOS in 2014. The game has a complex science fiction back story which Niantic is revealing in segments.

The gameplay consists of establishing “portals” at places of public art, landmarks, cenotaphs, etc., and linking them to create virtual triangular fields over geographic areas. Progress in the game is measured by the number of Mind Units, i.e. people, nominally controlled by each faction.

Leading the panel will be four of its local players. Yes, Jordan and John will be there. But so will Joyleen Kaiwi … and a certain friendly neighborhood anime/manga blogger. Yes, this technically makes it the first con panel I’ve ever done from the presenter’s side of the room. Be nice, and ask really nicely, and maaaaaybe I’ll consider serving on another panel. Maaaaaaybe.