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.

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.

2014-prereg-sign

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.