San Japan 2.x

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Texas is known for its size, cowboys, oil, big belt buckles, the heat, the Alamo, Big Tex and so on. But for anime fans, Texas also has its conventions and lots of them. At the invitation of a friend, I was invited to come down and attend San Japan 2.x in San Antonio to get a feel of what it’s like to be in the heart of convention country. Pictures are available on Gallery.

For those in the Texan convention scene, many already know of my friend, Tony, who is recognized for his detailed cosplay and involvement in behind the scenes of a number of area events.

A little history on San Japan first, though. Formed back in 2005, the idea was to host a three day convention focusing on bringing Japanese culture and animation to San Antonio. The debut was held from August 8th to 10th in 2008 and was a deemed huge hit, so a second year was planned and named San Japan 2.x.

Kyle Hebert and Tony show off their custom jeans
Kyle Hebert and Tony show off their custom jeans

San Japan 2.x was hosted at the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium and El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel between August 14th and 16th and featured many guests including Travis Willingham, Chris Ayres, Kyle Hebert, LeetStreet Boys, Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Wendy Powell, Carrie Savage, just to name a few.

On Thursday evening, Tony was able to take me and a few friends down to the El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel to pick up their pre-registration badges. Unfortunately, I had not pre-registered myself since I wasn’t 100% sure I would be able to attend, so I had to wait until Friday morning to sign up. However, the pre-registration badges had not arrived since they were being brought in from Dallas, which is almost a four hour drive away, our group decided to roam the hotel and along the riverwalk meeting up with others.

Friday morning, we left early for the hotel and drove down the I-10 into San Antonio. During most conventions, I’ve usually dressed up, at least in some form. Seeing as I was in Texas in the middle of summer, wearing a Naruto jacket, wig, and pants didn’t seem to be a good combination since being from an area where this type of heat is abnormal — it would’ve had an adverse affect on me. I’m not used to this type of climate and even wearing shorts and a t-shirt was still too hot for me. I don’t know how everyone else coped with it — so I give my regards to the brave souls walking around in Organization XIII cloaks, Ouran Host Club jackets, the full suits of Eek the Cat and Pedobear.

Registration was pretty easy; just a short line and an even shorter form to fill out. I had my badge up and ready in less than 15 minutes.

With the hotel starting to become crowded, I made my way over to the Municipal Auditorium, which is just down the block from the hotel. Easier said than done, because once outside of the air conditioned hotel, the heat slammed into me like the Megaton Hammer. After dodging the sun and making it into the cool sanctuary of the auditorium, I hung out at the table where Tony was hosting the sign up form for the Otaku-lympics.

The Otaku-lympics is a panel where fans participate in events as a selected country and progress through elimination rounds to reach the final round and receive a gold, silver or bronze medal. It’s like the real Olympics, but with a fun twist to it. This year’s Otaku-lympics featured 16 competitors and three varying events. I’ll get to that in a bit.

As 12 noon rolled around, I made my way downstairs where the dealers room, artists alley and autograph sessions were situated. As like other conventions, there’s always a line up to get into the dealers room when it first opens, so I checked out the artists alley instead. There were a lot of great artists, and I ended up buying some badges and drawings for myself and a friend.

My patience and wandering through the artists alley paid off and the line disappeared for the dealers room. There were lots of figures, keychains, plushes, manga, shirts and bags, but I didn’t see any DVDs. Ah well, but I managed to get a few shirts, a Simon plushie and Black Star figure for my friend. Luckily, the Black Star figure was the last one, so I snapped that up.

Later on in the evening, I stopped in the Ani-Idol audition room and listened to a few of the entries to see if they qualified for the second round. There were some really good participants, and some of them had really amusing theatrics.

Saturday morning was a bit more rushed since we had to get the room next to the hotel prepared for the Otaku-lympics. Once everything was setup, the competitors for the events had arrived and were briefed during a dress rehearsal complete with their country’s flag and national anthem. I was marked as a guest judge along with Katsuhiko Jinnai, one of the event host’s mother and a member of the audience.

Final Fantasy IXs Kuja
Final Fantasy IX's Kuja

The first event was take a pose and perform it with a creative twist. The second event was costume creation, where the competitors were given cardboard, two rolls of duct tape, rags and had 15 minutes to create a costume. There was only one rule: no Domo (obvious). The last event was the most challenging: the hot dog eating contest. Basically, only three people could come out victorious from this winning a gold, silver or bronze medal.

After the Otaku-lympics, we cleaned up so that the Ani-Idol group could prepare and get ready for the finals. However, I didn’t stick around for the rest of Ani-Idol.

Later on in the afternoon, I made my way back to the auditorium to see when they’d start letting people in for the Cosplay Competition. At 5 o’clock, staff directed everyone to line up outside against a barricade and would let us in around 30 minutes. Normally, I don’t mind lining up for something (airport security, fast food or convention registration), but I guess it was because I’m standing outside in 100° F weather, I got a little antsy about the delays. Now, I have to really commend the convention staff for the two to three guys going back and forth handing out paper cups with water to those who patiently waited to get inside. A small relief in the dry heat. After a couple of short delays, everyone was able to escape the glaring sun and into the cool cavernous theatre.

This is the first convention that I’ve been to where they’ve used an actual stage to host the walk-offs and skits. The Municipal Auditorium is huge — so the audience had to be ushered down to fill up all the rows and I ended up in the fifth row, pretty close to the stage.

There were some really good costumes that strolled across the stage along with some really cute ones too. Unfortunately, I don’t own a better camera so a large number of my pictures didn’t turn out very well. And I’m still kicking myself for leaving the extra DV tape at my friend’s house. Whoops.

Sunday morning was a little less hectic and as it was the last day of the convention, everything is a little more laid back as everyone gets ready to finish off the last day. Prices go down in the dealers room, artists try and sell what they can so they don’t need to take it home with them and the panels all wrap up.

Truffle Shuffle
Truffle Shuffle

I attended the closing ceremonies for San Japan, which was the first time I’ve sat in on one of those — I’ve either missed or totally forgotten about ones for the previous conventions. The chairman, Dave Henkin, went over how well everything was done, and presented the staff before getting a parting gift from his peers — a truffle shuffle. Apparently, last time around, he had peanut butter plopped on his head. Poor guy gets pranked for a job well done. Dave announced this year’s attendance: 4,003. An overall improvement after San Japan 1.5. Once the speeches concluded, staff handed out free t-shirts, magazines and leftover posters to those who stayed behind.

Overall, I really enjoyed this convention. I had a great time, and met a lot of new people and saw a lot of great costumes. I want to return next year and take more pictures and help out again with the Otaku-lympics, which was really fun. Lots of awesome artists, a good selection in the dealers room and just overall well planned. However, I would’ve preferred to get a little schedule booklet instead of separate sheets for each day, but I guess too many people lost theirs in the past, so it does make sense in a way. I look forward to returning next year!


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