A cheap convention deal, and Batou for real

May 4th, 2015
By

As the competition for local otaku hearts and wallets heats up on the convention/special events circuit, there's bound to be a fair amount of talk about preregistration deals and guest announcements in the coming months. It'll certainly be busier than when I had to focus on one, maaaaaaaaybe two major shows and a handful of minor shows in a year. Which is okay with me; busy is always better than being bored and lazing around in bed playing Candy Crush Soda Saga (curse you, level 228!).

Take Sunday, for instance. It's normally a day of rest for those of you religious enough to observe it as such. But there certainly wasn't any rest around Otaku Ohana Central, where two news tidbits arrived, courtesy of HawaiiCon and Taku Taku Matsuri.

HawaiiCon logoNow, there's no denying that HawaiiCon has the highest entry cost of the state's six conventions -- $165 for a four-day pass, plus additional travel costs if you're not already on Hawaii island. It's understandable; the science/sci-fi/fantasy convention has positioned itself as a vacation destination at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel with premier guests and experiences. But those costs can add up, particularly for the cash-strapped among us (hey, those Nendoroids and Amiibos aren't going to buy themselves!).

To that end, HawaiiCon has unveiled its Kamaaina Day Pass. These $20 passes -- $10 for children ages 6-12 -- will let you in the door for the con's preview day, with events mostly running between 3 and 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10. With 21 guests announced to date, "that's less than $1 per celebrity," HawaiiCon chairman/CEO GB Hajim told me via online chat.

"Lots of locals have never been to a con," GB added. "Don't even know what it is like. We want them to see how awesome it is."

You can get those passes -- as well as single-day passes for Sept. 11-13, which weigh in at $65 general, $45 children -- at www.eventbrite.com/e/hawaiicon-2015-kamaaina-day-passes-tickets-16823407264. To recap, guests include Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry; actors Christopher Judge, Teryl Rothery, Tony Amendola, Aaron Douglas and Patricia Tallman; writers Brad Bell and Jane Espenson; voice actors Janet Varney, Steve Blum, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Cree Summer and Melissa Fahn; and artists Bill Morrison, Trina Robbins, Steve Leialoha and Sam Campos. Find out more about the convention itself at www.hawaiicon.com.

GitS 2 coverMeanwhile, over at Taku Taku Matsuri, founder/organizer Yuka Nagaoka may be in Japan at the moment, but planning for the third annual single-day fall festival continues in earnest. News emerged Sunday of this year's special guests: voice actor Richard Epcar and his wife, voice actor/director Ellyn Stern. Epcar is best known as the voice of Batou in Ghost in the Shell, GitS 2: Innocence and GitS: Stand-Alone Complex; Xehanort in various Kingdom Hearts games; Joseph Joestar in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders; and Raiden in the last two Mortal Kombat games. Stern is best known as the voice of Miyuki Goto in Noein and a number of moms -- Ichigo's in Bleach, Jack's in MAR, Hiroshi's in Zenki, and Jiro's and Marumaro's in Blue Dragon. 

Taku Taku Matsuri is happening Oct. 3 at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii's Manoa Grand Ballroom; tickets -- $20 for straight admission, packages including T-shirts and special guest experiences going all the way up to $200 -- are available at www.gofundme.com/bunbun-funfun.

Hoku Kon rebrands (and other convention news)

April 29th, 2015
By

It may not have seemed like it's been busy around Otaku Ohana Central, what with my general radio silence here for a little over two weeks now, but the truth is that there's a lot of stuff going on. I've just been too busy dealing with a good number of outside-of-work things that have left me too exhausted to do much of anything else. (Nothing too weighty, mind. Unless you consider tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. and I trading Tsum Tsum hearts back and forth a problem.)

CCH logoOne of the things I did during this recent hiatus, though, actually had something to do with this blog: On Friday, I had a chance to sit down and chat with Faisal Ahmed, co-chairman of Kawaii Kon and Hoku Kon with Marlon Stodghill, about a number of things related to the two conventions. I'll have more of that conversation posted ... umm ... eventually (the resolution of that outside-of-work stuff is still very much up in the air), but the biggest thing to emerge from it came at the very end. In a move confirmed on Hoku Kon's Facebook page last night, the convention has rebranded itself and is now going by the name Comic Con Honolulu.

There's been a fair amount of discussion following the announcement, much of it centered around possible confusion between this event (happening July 24-26; key guest so far is actress Kelly Hu) and Amazing Hawaii Comic Con (Sept. 18-20; key guest so far is Stan Lee). Here's what Faisal said about the name change and why they decided to go this route:

People just don't know what Hoku Kon is, and they're just like, "Is there any way you can add in the words 'comic con?'" It's just one of those things of getting the word out there and getting the people to understand what the show is about. Like, "comic con," people think of San Diego Comic Con. And as somebody who actually studies trademark law, I think they have a very strong right to the word "comic con," but unfortunately they don't. People basically know what it means. It's become a generic term that everyone goes, "Oh, you're gonna have comics, sci-fi, fantasy, you're going to have this giant thing, people dress up." Everyone knows instantly what it is. And a lot of the radio stations and TV stations I talked to are just like, "If you're able to add the word 'comic con' into your name, I can actually get coverage for it, I can let people know that it's happening, we can actually make it a bigger deal."

Which then ... with dealing with sci-fi guests, is what they care about. Even if you're willing to pay a lot of sci-fi guests, they're not willing to come out unless the show has 7,000 people, 10,000 people, 20,000 people. Because it's just not worth it to them. And ultimately ... my dream for Hoku Kon or Comic Con Honolulu would be to have studios come out, to have Marvel come out and have a presence, have HBO, have Cartoon Network, have all these people come out and basically give people the opportunity to have this interactive experience without having to spend the $10,000 to actually go  to San Diego Comic-Con or go to another show on the mainland, or buy a ticket that's $300.

The goal is to keep prices low. I'm sure as time goes on they'll inch up slightly, just as everything in the world does. I really don't want it to be a show where we have to charge $250 for the opportunity to even show up and then pay more money to do stuff. Everyone I talked to who isn't a nerd basically is just like, "You need to add the word 'comic con' in there and we'll understand."

This is actually the first time we're actually talking about it or announcing it. We're working on kind of finalizing how it's gonna happen, just because rebranding is always an arduous task. So we're going to start having it called Comic Con Honolulu, just so people (a) know where it is and (b) know what it is. We'll keep the name Hoku Kon as a byline, just because … we have to remember that "hoku" means "star" in Hawaiian, it is a local show. It's gonna be run by locals, the events are gonna be done all by locals, and again the only mainlanders to do anything are Marlon and I, and our job is support, is to make sure that we can provide all the tools necessary for the show to happen.

... We have to get people kind of used to the name, and used to understanding that Hoku Kon is the exact same thing, it's run by the same people. It's just going under this new name to make sure people know what the event is. And the reason we didn't call it "Hawaii Comic Con" or "Comic Con Hawaii" was just because there's already HawaiiCon, there's Amazing Hawaii Comic Con. And we wanted to show that we're doing something, again, more local. And so that's why we picked the city.

Three-day passes for Comic Con Honolulu ($45) are now available; applications are also being accepted for Artist Alley tables. For more information, visit www.comicconhonolulu.com. (Or you could plug in hokukon.com for old time's sake; both addresses will get you to the same destination.)

Meanwhile, at the other conventions:

  • Amazing Hawaii Comic Con is sending down several staff members for an informal meet-and-greet starting at 7:30 p.m. today at Dave & Busters (1030 Auahi St., in the Ward Entertainment Complex). Come down and chat with them; they'll even buy you your first drink.
  • Anime Matsuri Hawaii's Artist Alley table registrations are now live; cost is $170 (plus a $5.24 Eventbrite processing fee) and includes a 6-by-2-foot table, one three-day pass and limited electrical power. Read up on all the rules and sign up at ow.ly/MiE7s. The convention also recently announced its first anime industry guest: Maile Flanagan, the English voice of Naruto Uzumaki (who now follows me on Twitter, *squee*). Three-day passes are $45 through June 15; visit ow.ly/MiGCt to get that set up.
  • Anime Ohana still has their three-day pass for $25, but you'll have to act fast; that special ends tomorrow. Visit animeohana.ticketbud.com/anime-ohana.
  • And for those of you who really want to plan ahead, Kawaii Kon has opened online preregistration for 2016 -- three-day passes are $45 general, $40 ages 5-12. Get started at ow.ly/MiJds.

Anime Ohana means a growing convention family

April 11th, 2015
By

It was 10 years ago April 21 when I wrote the following for what was then the Star-Bulletin:

(Anime/manga fans') passion will be on display throughout the weekend as Kawaii Kon, the first anime convention to be held in Hawaii, starts tomorrow at the Ala Moana Hotel. … All of this comes courtesy of a team led by convention director Stan Dahlin. Kawaii Kon is a homecoming of sorts for Dahlin, a 1983 Radford graduate who has helped stage a similar convention, Anime Weekend Atlanta, for the past 10 years.

"It all started with a conversation with my friend David Williams of ADV Films," Dahlin said. "He knew I was originally from Hawaii and suggested that maybe there should be a show there. I dismissed his suggestion at first, but then I really gave it serious thought."

Since then, Kawaii Kon has grown into the first name people have thought about when considering local anime conventions. Heck, the show drew more than 10,000 people this year. While there's been a competing event here and there these past few years, it's a reign that's gone pretty much unchallenged.

And then came this year.

If you've been reading this blog for a considerable amount of time, you already know that this year has been the most remarkable one I've ever seen in terms of incoming conventions. Kawaii Kon's in the books, but to recap, there's still Hoku Kon in July, HawaiiCon (on Hawaii island) and Amazing Hawaii Comic Con in September, and Anime Matsuri Hawaii in November. That's five conventions that we knew about before Kawaii Kon kicked off in late March.

Soon after Kawaii Kon ended, though, tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. alerted me to some buzz making the rounds during con weekend. A sixth major convention -- and the third anime-related one, to boot -- had emerged as a new challenger on the local scene. And after a few weeks of looking at the website, monitoring some of the social media chatter about it and securing a contact from within the organization, I finally have enough confirmed information to pass along to you, dear Otaku Ohana readers.

Anime Ohana logoMeet Anime Ohana, a convention that's happening Oct. 9-11 at the Pagoda Hotel. As someone who posted a confirmed registration receipt noted, the event is being presented by Hawaii Anime Fairs LLC, a business partnership that formed in Texas in December with two names on the paperwork: Stan Dahlin and David Williams. That's right: The founder of Kawaii Kon, who left that con's leadership team in 2013, has created a new convention for local fans, and will be running and managing it with help from the longtime ADV/Sentai Filmworks producer.

"It is amazing how great things can grow out of something as simple as a phone call." Williams told me via email. "I was very happy to see what has become of my small comment to Stan. We have long felt Hawaii deserved a good second convention later in the year and had hoped one would come along, but finally decided to start our own. We have some exciting plans to cover what we think are some neglected areas in the future that will make Anime Ohana stand apart but for now are focused on a general first-year convention to get ourselves established and the ball rolling."

Along for the ride are Anime Ohana's first confirmed guests, voice actresses Jessica Calvello and Monica Rial. This will be the first isle convention visit for Calvello, known for her roles as Hange Zoe in Attack on Titan, Yuri in Dirty Pair, and the voice of Excel for 13 episodes of Excel Saga before she had to withdraw due to vocal chord damage. Rial, best known as Kaede Kayano in Assassination Classroom, Bulma in Dragon Ball Z Kai, Hyatt in Excel Saga and about a bazillion other roles (seriously, look at her Anime News Network encyclopedia page) was a guest at the first five Kawaii Kons but has not been back since 2009.

"Our guest list, both currently announced and possible announcements, is focused on people who haven’t been to Hawaii before or haven’t been back in many years," Williams said.

There's also been a bit of discussion on social media on whether the event is, indeed, legitimate, with conflicting reports on whether the Pagoda had even been locked up as a venue in the first place. Williams reassured me on that front as well.

"The Pagoda Hotel is indeed the confirmed venue for Anime Ohana," Williams said. "We are looking forward to working with the people there, and they are excited to have our event at their facilities. As we are starting off with a smaller first-year convention, it doesn't make sense to jump into as large a space as, say, the (Hawai'i Convention Center). Thus we looked around for a location that would have the space we needed and was available during the times we wanted as well. The Pagoda Hotel fit both needs wonderfully."

Interested? If you preregister before May 1, you can get a three-day pass for $25. VIP passes -- which include a free T-shirt, head-of-the-line autograph privileges, early entry/seating to all con events and the dealers room, and special one-on-one events with con guests -- are also available for $150. And you can order a T-shirt for $25. All of that is available at animeohana.ticketbud.com/anime-ohana.

"We are working hard to put on a good show for the fans, and we hope they enjoy our events and meeting our guests and just have a good time," Williams said.

To keep up with the latest Anime Ohana happenings, visit the website at animeohana.com, "like" their Facebook page, and/or follow their Twitter feed.

HIFF's otaku highlights: "Marnie," "Unsung Hero"

April 9th, 2015
By

This year's Kawaii Kon was huge. An announced 10,450 people passed through the tightened-security halls of the convention center. I Instagrammed and tweeted whatever I felt like Instagramming and tweeting, took all three days to track down friends in Artist Alley (a task that used to take just a handful of hours to do on the first day), even helped the Otaku Ohana Anonymous Director of Forced Social Interaction deal with a thing or two. When it was all over and I filed my annual Kawaii Kon memorable moments post for Honolulu Pulse, I resolved to take some time off to recharge some seriously drained blogger batteries.

I just didn't think it would take a good chunk of two weeks for me to feel like those batteries had finally reached "ready to write again!" status. Heck, an entire wave of Nintendo's Amiibos was announced, then promptly sold out, in less time than that. (I'm sad, too. I really wanted Ness.) Which means that a backlog of blog posts that I have yet to write, including interviews with manga artists Erica Sakurazawa and Moyoco Anno, has grown even larger in the meantime. Apologies for that.

So I'll start off a little small and work my way up to the bigger posts I had in mind. Our starting point: the upcoming Hawaii International Film Festival Spring Showcase at the Regal Dole Cannery Stadium theaters. It kicks off Friday and runs through April 19, and Anderson Le, festival programming director, emailed me during my recharging period to give me a heads-up about two movies that might be of interest to you, dear Otaku Ohana readers.

marnieThe must-see film that lit up pretty much everyone's radars locally when it was announced is, of course, When Marnie Was There, notable for being not only the last Studio Ghibli firm for director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who also directed the studio's Secret World of Arrietty; he left the studio at the end of 2014) but also the last film for Studio Ghibli for the foreseeable future. It's based on a novel by Joan G. Robinson; here's the synopsis HIFF provided:

Sent from her foster home in the city one summer to a sleepy town by the sea in Hokkaido, Anna dreams her days away among the marshes. She believes she’s outside the invisible magic circle to which most people belong – and shuts herself off from everyone around her, wearing her "ordinary face." Anna never expected to meet a friend like Marnie, who does not judge her for being just what she is. But no sooner has Anna learned the loveliness of friendship than she begins to wonder about her new found friend.

When Marnie Was There screens April 18 at 6 p.m. and April 19 at 4:45 p.m.

unsungAnderson also highlighted another movie that may be of interest to those of you who love seeing the costumed stunt acrobatics in shows like Power Rangers, Kikaida and Kamen Rider: Unsung Hero. The synopsis:

Forty-eight-year-old Wataru Honjo is a big fan of Bruce Lee and works as a suit actor (costume wearing stunt performer). He is also president of "Shimoachiai Hero Action Club.” Even though he doesn't have the typical body for his profession, he has worked in the business for 25 years. When Ryo Ichinose, a cocky rookie actor appears on the scene, they don’t get along at all. However, when Ryo cast in a Hollywood movie and then suddenly quits because its too dangerous, the producers approach Wataru to fill the role...Will he go for it?

Unsung Hero screens Saturday at 1:15 p.m. and Sunday at 3:15 p.m.

If you still need tickets for either of those films' screenings, you'll definitely want to use the discount code SPRING17 at checkout when you buy your tickets online; that will allow you to take $4 off the cost of what's usually a $12 general admission ticket. Quite the deal! For more information or to check out the other films at the Spring Showcase (33 films from 12 countries!), visit hiff.org.

[Kawaii Kon 2015] Dawn of a new con era

March 26th, 2015
By

Day 0 program and badgeWell, folks, we made it to the fireworks factory. Again. We're standing here on Kawaii Kon Day 0, preregistration and dealer/Artist Alley load-in night, ready for another three-day weekend packed full of cosplay, entertainment, special guests from the animation industry and music world, panels, games and pretty much what you'd imagine otaku heaven to be like without actually moving to Japan itself. And there's your annual look at the convention guide and your friendly neighborhood anime/manga blogger's press credentials at right.

There's a bit of a different feel to this year, though ... and not just because registration ops has moved to the ground floor, next to the hall with the dealers room and Artist Alley. It's because this year, Kawaii Kon isn't just the big event on the local otaku community calendar, but the first event in a string of big events. As I mentioned in my post introducing Anime Matsuri Hawaii, it's a remarkable time to be a local fan of anime, manga, science fiction and/or comics, with Hoku Kon (July), Amazing Hawaii Comic-Con (September) and Anime Matsuri Hawaii (November) all on deck on Oahu, and HawaiiCon (September) on Hawaii island. I mean, heck, Amazing Hawaii Comic-Con unveiled its first four guests -- living legend Stan Lee and artists George Perez, Mark Kubert and Adam Bagley -- on Wednesday, and the shares pretty much lit up my Facebook feed all day.

But the people still show up at Kawaii Kon. Ohhhhhh, do they ever show up. Here's the sea of otakuness that descended on the convention for preregistration tonight, as seen from the escalators leading to/from the second-floor parking garage.

Day 0 lines

A final number will probably come at closing ceremonies as it has in previous years. By my estimates, though, there are about a bazillion people attending this year. Some of whom are even carting around replica basketball backboards.

Some last-minute notes as we head into this year's event:

  • The policy change that's generated the most social media discussion: For the first time, convention center staff will be checking for con badges on the ground floor, near the escalators to the third floor. That effectively ends the practice of nonpaying attendees lounging around the public areas outside the panel rooms, soaking up the atmosphere and taking pictures of their favorite cosplayers. It also makes complete sense from a security standpoint; as much as we'd like to think that the convention environment is a bubble world that protects us from all the bad things that go on outside, there are trolls out there who just want to come in and disrupt things for their own amusement, Besides, if you really wanted to socialize with your non-con-going friends, there's always Ala Moana Center down the street.
  • The Great Hawaiian Rubber Duckie Race, the annual fundraiser for United Cerebral Palsy of Hawaii that sends a swarm of yellow ducks down the Ala Wai Canal, is happening Saturday. (The ducks launch at 1:28 p.m. from the Kalakaua Avenue bridge, if any of you want to head down from the convention center and watch.) So is the Prince Kuhio Day Parade in Waikiki, traveling down Kalakaua Avenue between Saratoga Road and Kapiolani Park between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Expect heavy traffic congestion if you're aren't already at an area hotel and are going to be driving.
  • Kawaii Kon flyerI'm pleased to note that despite a vehicle plowing into the 7-Eleven at the corner of Atkinson Drive and Kapiolani Boulevard Wednesday evening, the store remains open (albeit a bit boarded up) and ready to sell completely out of all their bentos, nori rolls, musubis, hot dogs and whatever other prepared foods you can think of to hungry, budget-conscious con-goers on all three days. (If you go late, hope you like chewing on breath mints for your dinner!) As a bonus, if you have your badge, go to that store starting at 10 a.m. and are one of the first 200 people to do so on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you'll get a free limited-edition Kawaii Kon lanyard. Look for the flyer in-store that looks like the one at right -- psst, look above the hot-foods warmer! -- and scan the QR code for a chance to win a trip for two to Las Vegas. Winner will be announced at closing ceremonies on Sunday. (Bonus trivia note: The artwork for this flyer was drawn by none other than Jamie Lano. You might have heard of her.) There is also a large Naruto wallscroll hanging over the ice cream freezer, so you know they're into the mood.
  • Buy all the things in Artist Alley. All. The. Things. To go through and list-link everything I've seen crossing my Facebook news feed over the past few days would probably last me well past midnight, and I'd kinda like to get some sleep before stopping in at Jamie's drawing panel around 10 a.m.-ish Friday. Also of note: nemu*nemu artist Audra Furuichi's limited-edition 10-card set, the "Modern Kitsuke" series (color drawings of girls in kimono) for $25, which 39 of you must go out and buy immediately. Maybe fewer of you, if some of you buy multiples. But the 40th set must be miiiiiiiine.

Time to rest up. See y'all tomorrow for Day 1. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, too (both @jsyadao) for all my spur-of-the-moment updates over the weekend ahead. It's gonna be crazy. But fun! But crazy.