Nekocon 2018 Review

TL;DR—4.7/10 The thing about an anime convention is that it has to project a sense of welcome and belonging, offer a substantial amount of things to do for its guests, and offer a quality experience that showcases a love for the culture and positive background of anime, at a matching cost to complete it—and I really didn’t find much of that here. With the change in management, there came a slew of smaller changes that turned into some major pain points that dampened the overall experience of the con for me. Saturday night was nice, as well as the shoots that I completed, but those things would have been possible if I didn’t attend the convention at all making the extra premium of staying multiple nights and getting a con badge worthless


Despite that, let's roll through some of the important positives at the convention:


· Photographer Culture: My number one positive for this convention was the photographer culture. There were so many diverse, positive, and professional photographers there, from all skill levels that would happily work together, talk about the trade, and more, the MOST immersive I’ve ever seen at a convention. I didn’t see a hint of drama between any of them. It felt good to talk with newer photographers about developing their acumen and with seasoned warriors about the challenges and successes that 2018 has brought. It was a monumental plus. Likewise, the photos that came from this convention were gorgeous


· Saturday’s Rave: It was no secret that Nekocon’s star DJ lineup was for Saturday’s rave and it really showed. Even though I was hanging out with friends for the beginning of it, the last acts were stellar. When everyone is dancing and the music is thumping, it's hard to argue a bad experience for Saturday’s dances at this convention, especially in comparison to Friday


· Registration Staff: It was good to see a full line of workers for convention registration, and while my observations were for Saturday only, they seemed more than capable of moving the line at a swift, consistent pace. The members that I interacted with were courteous and fun, and also personable and understanding, making smooth transitions between transactions with smiles on their faces


· Increased Security: Having the additional presence of extra security is comforting in the way that it shows about the convention’s concern for its attendees, but despite listing it here, there is a flip side to the coin that I will mention later on


· Tabletop and DOA: Something that surprised me with this convention was the tabletop gaming presence. Throughout the weekend, whenever I visited the game room, there was always a strong presence there and many people were enjoying what the con had to offer. Personally, seeing a Dead or Alive 5 tournament was nice, and a luxury that few conventions offer anymore. Getting on the sticks again Friday night was definitely an enjoyable time


· The People: A staple of many of my convention reviews, this year proved no different when it came to the attendees present. When it seems like the con is going to be average at best, the people that are there show up, and surprise you. It was wonderful connecting with friends this con, and especially on Saturday, that meant a lot to me

So why the 4.7/10? Read on!!


· Limited/Restricted Access: This is nothing new, but the structure for this is pitiable to say the least. To sum it up, the main entry doors for the convention center (and all subsequent doors on the front of the building) are exit only. Exiting the con requires a commitment to reentry on one of the far ends of the building, and if you didn’t have a badge, there was essentially only one possible entry point for you into the convention. I understand the mentality in place to cut down on ghosting, but to have to walk all the way around the building (especially if disabled, or if staying/parking at the Embassy) for first time attendees is a poor setup. I was informed that staff were instructed to let those that were disabled into most any door without problems, but I am also aware that this was not uniform in its enforcement, and denying access to those individuals or forcing them to take a longer route is highly illegal


· Con Premium/Pricing: You don’t get what you pay for at the door, and this wasn’t the increased premium that many people expected. The value in $70 at the door for three days at Nekocon simply isn’t worth it, especially when compared to the other east coast conventions at the same price-point or lower. Many have compared this con to Katsucon, which offers much greater amenities, a better venue, top-notch guests, and more for the same premium. However, you will not get that level of experience here, even if you do have an enjoyable time. There is also no ‘one day badge’ option


· Artist Alley: Terribly small. It seemed to me more like most of the booths were simply shoved to the left side of the room, and then squished together without much space. On the right side, I never saw the photo booth with any patrons, and there was an extremely wide area in the center for walking that could have been much better utilized


· Game Room (Consoles): Extremely limited selection and setups. No DDR, no cabinet or classic style arcade systems, and the pachinko machines that were originally advertised were nowhere to be found. If it wasn’t Smash, Naruto, Soul Calibur or the current gen of a popular fighting game, then nothing else was being played, and definitely not on more than one television. There seemed to be the hazard of the water stations being positioned extremely close to the major electrical outlets as well, with only one trash can at the opening of the room to accommodate them. As an aside, it was nice to see a few rhythm based games, but it was not impressive


· Theme/Signage?: I may be nitpicking here, but outside of the main Embassy doors, I didn’t see too much signage for Nekocon 2018 to tell people that it was happening, or that they were in the right place, or where to go to register. While this information is available online, it would be a welcome benefit to not be redirected upon trying to enter anywhere other than the set of convention center doors attributed for registration if it was your first time in attendance. Additionally, I didn’t see any of the con mascots this year, and if there was a theme based on the badge design, then nothing in the actual convention center let me know they were adhering to it


· Early closing(s)/Scheduling: The largest draw in making the convention money and attracting attendees, the dealer’s room, closed two hours early on the busiest convention day. I don’t know the details behind this, but closing at 6pm rather than 8pm makes a large difference in revenue gathering potential, not just for the con, but for the vendors as well. Given that the masquerade started at 6 and went to 9pm, no one that decided to watch could make any purchases later in the day. I was also aware that there were lots of panels/videos placed on the online schedule that were either canceled outright (in the majority of cases) or rescheduled without any kind of notice. There were over 20 cancelations listed directly on the schedule


· Increased Security: There are mixed reports of the level of amiability displayed by the posted guards. In my opinion, they did a good job of making their presence clear without interrupting or interfering with the convention, but the problems arose with the levels of consistency being variable throughout the weekend on what was enforced both inside and outside of the building. Rules were added and taken away on the fly, and needless to say any improper conduct by armed security is perceived as much more threatening and serious than by a Nekocon volunteer or gopher


· Food Availability: Unfortunately, you’re probably going to have to move your car, or suffer a significant walking distance to get food outside of the overpriced concessions style booths at con. While it would be a great place for local food trucks to garner business, sadly you won’t find that or any diverse options here


· Alcohol/Party Availability: It might have only been me, but not only did the con bar seem short of patrons this year (any time after the Embassy’s happy hour), but there also didn’t seem to be too big of a party environment this con. Saturday I created my own event with my circle of close friends and had a blast, but it didn’t seem that too many people were doing said same anywhere else


· Dealer’s Room: Personally, I wasn’t impressed. There just didn’t seem too big of a purchase variety. Plenty of places carried ‘Figmas’ but not many had full sized figurines. Nevertheless, I did manage to buy a new Eva figure, which is a slight plus to the madness


· Map/Schedules: I didn’t see any paper schedules or maps available outside of the information desk. Granted, most cons don’t have paper schedules anymore, but it was just a little disappointing not to see any maps anywhere, since there wasn’t much in the way of signage to direct you to specific rooms/events


In summation, if you look at my review for Nekocon 2017 and this one, you won’t find much of a difference, which is where one of the major issues lies. With the increased badge price, and security patrolling in greater numbers throughout the event, it doesn’t feel like a fun, accessible event to let loose and relax in. You’re going to want things to do, especially with friends, but the offerings just aren’t the same as other conventions at the newer price point. Even if you pre-registered to mitigate some of that expense, you’re still paying significantly to do the same things you could do by booking a suite for a different day at the embassy with your friends and having a fun filled weekend. I think most people will agree that the convention itself contributed little to the overall experience, and if you take away the fact that it’s a convenient way to meet up with friends you already have, most will have to thing hard to find reasons to recommend this convention, especially over any others of similar size or price. Nekocon used to be one of my favorite conventions to attend, but for the second year in a row, it just hasn’t shown any improvement to me, and in an environment where growth is important (especially if you’re going to charge more for it), it just doesn’t check many of the boxes required to be a truly successful convention. I’m not quite ready to axe Nekocon just yet, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t turn into a day trip con for me either 4.7/10


What are your thoughts??? Sound off below!!!


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