Kansas City hosts anime gathering Naka-Kon

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Held at the Overland Park Convention Center and the connected Sheridan Hotel in Kansas City, Kansas, the city’s premiere anime/manga convention proved to be another smashing success.

Spanning the afternoon of March 10 to the evening of March 12, Naka-Kon drew a massive crowd of over 10,000 guests and featured many big names in the anime/manga scene such as voice actors Robbie Daymond, Max Mittelman and David Vincent, as well as artists such as Amelie Belcher, and Go enthusiasts Daniel Gentry, John Bonfolio and Michael Cooley. Japanese manga artist Showshow Kurihara also made an appearance, hosting a panel for manga drawing.

Cosplay is sometimes better in groups, as with this set of Akame Ga Kill! characters. Photo by Louis Kemner

Costumes can bring a convention to life, and Naka-Kon’s visitors showed off cosplay for every imaginable character. Popular characters from anime such as Naruto, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist and Bleach made an apperance among the crowds, as well as characters from games, such as the Final Fantasy series. Even characters from Western pop culture appeared, ranging from Doctor Who to Avatar: the Last Airbender to the Batman comics. This intermingling of cosplay demonstrates the convention’s spirit of expression and creativity and the universality of pop culture and escapism.

The Japanese punk rock band Rondonrats performed live for the first time in the United States at Naka-Kon. On the evening of the Kon’s first day, the five Rondonrats performers put on a colorful live show in the convention center, and their crowd interaction, vivid use of blue, green, and purple lights and short skits all drew in big crowds. The performers’ outfits, typically yukatas or kimonos over casual Western clothes, rooted them in their home country but also gave them a universal appeal. Later, on Saturday evening, the five Rondonrats appeared at a live Q&A panel with their interpreter.

Fighting games such as Super Smash Bros. Melee provided fierce competition. Photo by Louis Kemner

Party games and video games were available from start to finish throughout the Convention Center. One room was dedicated to Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. on the Wii-U, with tournaments held on Friday and Saturday for competitive gamers. Gamers could also enjoy the huge room next door with setups for Rock Band, original NES titles, Dance Dance Revolution, Soul Calibur games and Mario Party games for gamers of all ages and skill. Another room, and any spare table throughout the convention center, hosted card games such as Yu-Gi-Oh!, Magic: the Gathering and Cards Against Humanity. Tournaments for these cards games were held as well.

Setting up all this is nearly a year-long undertaking, and the Director of Guest Relations, Katrina Schulze, says months of planning, communication, and organization are needed to bring Naka-Kon together. Starting as a volunteer worker around 2009-2010, Schulze became full-time staff after realizing how rewarding the work is. “You can volunteer to get a taste of what it’s like,” she said. Working as Naka-Kon staff also allows staff members to meet many of the guests and see everything that the convention has to offer.

Schulze sees a bright future for Naka-Kon. The convention has gotten so big, the staff is considering moving to a larger venue, primarily Bartle Hall, currently the home of Planet Comic Con. The Kon’s huge attendance also puts a strain on the current staff. “Because we’re growing so rapidly, it’s difficult to keep up with the number of staff we have,” Schulze said. She hopes for more volunteers and staff members at future Naka-Kon events to keep up with attendance. “I recommend that everyone try staffing at least once,” she said.

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