Neko “Oh, Saturday was good” Con Review
TL;DR 5.2/10 An impressive Saturday and a two-liter bottle of lemonade couldn’t save this con from being pretty disastrous overall. It felt that I was perpetually busy, even though booking was much more lax than previous years. Thursday badge pickup didn’t feel like getting anything in advance at all, with no prepped bags or schedules, which seemed to be sporadically placed around the con center with the photo shoot schedules instead. Artist’s alley was tragically small, while the dealer’s room suffered from a dramatically crippled variety (like the panels too?). While a few personal issues influenced my con experience as a whole as well, I just wasn’t feeling it this year, and compared to the last four years, it was disappointing to me overall
Let me begin by listing the pros this time, because this wasn’t a convention completely devoid of fun by far, despite my low scoring.
Convention Staff: Well informed and generally kind. Early badge pick up was rather swift, whether you arrived at peak times or not. The actual pre-reg and reg lines were well handled, and those who were placed to check badges were quick and precise, able to effectively route and direct people.
The Photos: I enjoyed finding creative ways to use the same locale as previous years, and the photos that came from it tell it all. With a final photo count of X, I cannot attribute any negative aspect to the shoots that I had booked. (TO BE CHANGED)
Saturday’s Rave: You knew that I was going to mention it. True to form, from the very beginning Saturday, the quality of both the DJ’s and the amount of people actually engaged with them and dancing improved dramatically for Saturday night. I felt that the dancers had a particularly stronger energy about them too, which is great for hyping the crowd.
Photo Locations (Outdoors): I was surprised this year, despite the venue being the same, by a few hidden gem photo locations that my group and I collectively discovered simply by looking at the space that we had with different sets of eyes. So even though there are the iconic recognizable slate gray walls, there were new, creative ways to use some of the same locations that everyone knows in a completely different way. I think most of the veteran photographers at Neko realized this as well. Creativity was everywhere!
Party/Alcohol Availability: I don’t usually list this on my con reviews, but if you were looking for people to drink or party with during Neko and didn’t find any, I feel a little sorry for you. Whether it’s taking advantage of the Embassy’s free drinks or hanging out with a group of party people, it seemed almost impossible to not know somebody, somewhere, who was getting lit and was down to share the wealth. I stayed in Red Roof and half of the hotel was turnt every night lol
The People: This almost seems like a given, but one of the reasons I have been consistently attending Neko has been the fact that it is great for bonding with friends. I was able to chill quite extensively with some new people for the nights of this con, and whether it was playing Tentacle Bento, heading out to Taco Bell at 3AM or having dinner at Cracker Barrel, food, lots of laughs, and friends are an unbeatable combo. Group outings were always fun and adventurous whether with one person or 4+. It definitely helped getting a bit of time to chill at the two respective hotels I was at over the course of the weekend, and having supportive people around at a moment’s notice.
So why am I really giving this con an 5.2/10?? Read on!!
Restricted Accessibility: Thursday’s event aside (Surprise, there are now ‘no weapons beyond this point’ signs everywhere!), the fact that the front doors were essentially ‘one way’ was an extremely annoying caveat that was introduced last year as well. Even if a single extra volunteer was needed to monitor incoming traffic, then this would have been much more convenient and much less annoying. For people getting dropped off at the center, or coming in from the chilly winds, there was no other choice than to enter from the side of the building, even though the majority of outdoor photo meetups take place directly in front of the main entrance to the con. In addition, for those coming from the embassy looking to purchase badges both Friday and Saturday, instead of being able to enter the side doors closest to the embassy, they were forced to walk around the entire building to the other side. There are no signs indicating which doors are able to be entered on both sides, so if you didn’t have your badge, you would have to enter from the right side of the building no matter what, even if you had booked the entire weekend at the embassy. If badges are checked outside of con-specific events and rooms, then what would the harm be in allowing people to enter from the Embassy side who were looking to purchase badges?
Small Artist Alley/Game Room: Not physically small, the rooms were large enough, but there was a lack of content in both to fill them appropriately. In the case of the game room, there could have been much more space for console gaming, with tabletop still having plenty of room to function. There was a huge divider in the middle that separated these sides, but I didn’t see much point to that at all. One side has a bunch of tables, the other has arcade games, televisions and projector screens. It is easy to identify which is which. For the artist alley, I felt that positioning for certain booths could have been done better, especially those in the back, because there was unutilized space that could have made business better for everyone in general
Friday’s Rave: Welp. What can I say? I came at the start and I left after the first three sets. I returned at the end and the last set (technically early morning Saturday) filled me with hope for a better Saturday night. The early mixes didn’t really impress me, and with certain DJ’s and their transitions, the entire crowd simply stopped moving. I steered clear of most dance circles this convention, but I can at least say that the T-Rex that joined the party made the party lol
Panels/Group Shoots?: When hunting around for one of those wall posters (because as far as I know, no one Thursday got a schedule, or even a tiny swag bag filled with convention coupons and booklets) I came to the realization that not only were some of the group shoots completely moved (location and time), but that the panel selection was…pretty lackluster? Everyone knows that I don’t attend cons for the panels, but I don’t think I was the only one who was a bit disappointed at this year’s offerings compared to years prior.
My Shooting Schedule: I don’t know what it was about this year, but lots of people who didn’t originally book me would message me at con trying to meet up. Not only that, but every time I did run into someone, they were asking me if I was going to ‘X group shoot’ which left me feeling disoriented and confused. There were many Overwatch and BNHA cosplayers this con, and a good-sized Fast Food meetup that I had wanted to attend, but I felt like I was being pulled in so many directions. I hardly got time to chill without taking photos, and when I did, there was always someone on my case about not being somewhere else. It was very frustrating.
Food Availability: Get ready to move your car, because without driving or walking a good distance, you only have about 2 options for eating food you didn’t bring to con, and both of those are conveniently priced higher for your ‘convenience’.
Dealer’s Room Variety?: There may have been something here for everyone, but it was a very difficult search for me to find that ‘thing’ to spend money on. Had I given more time to the Artist’s Alley, I would have probably left there with significantly more merch than the dealer’s room
Personal Issues: Thursday was unpleasant (most of you know why), Friday was a fight, Saturday was stressful (in the daytime), and Sunday was pretty neutral. All in all, it’s slowly getting more and more tiring dealing with the cosplay community, where there’s always drama and hatred simply because rather than appreciate skill and hard work, people get jealous, or decide to demean others instead. Spending a significant amount of time with other photographers this weekend taught me more about myself than anything else. Certain people appreciate and truly support you, while others only see you as a means to get fame, prowess, or more likes. It’s a disgusting trend that unfortunately is becoming the norm.
In the end, I’m really debating whether Neko 2018 will be worth the trip, even though the photos are always great. Most people are already surprised that I live over two hours away, and while this year was a draining experience that completely deviated from the last four years, it did so in a significant way that makes me really wonder if I want to come back. I can see the same people at other events just fine and won’t have to worry about getting constantly badgered by people for photos that they clearly aren’t interested in paying for. To my photog family, I love you guys, same as the cosplayers that truly came to show love and support for crafting, the arts, and Japanese culture, but it was just a really rough con for me. Somehow still better than Katsu this year, I’m hoping this isn’t a trend of negativity involving only the conventions I enjoy going to most. Here’s hoping many of you will be at AUSA, 5.2/10
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