There’s something about taking 12 people to the largest Japanese animation, music, gaming and culture convention in the Pacific Northwest that made the trip more of an exercise in logistics and cat herding than just a pure enjoyment and exploration of the event.

Sakura-Con, the fourth largest Japanese Animation specific convention in North America, was April 22-24, 2011 in Seattle, Washington and provided a full-service gathering with several tracks of video programming (both subtitled and dubbed), panels full of fan-run activities and professional presentations, an exhibition hall and gaming in every category outside of casino. But there was much to see outside of the organized events. The most interesting things wandered around the halls of the convention as many participants were cosplaying a favorite character from some animation or game.

Preparations for cosplay, short for costume play, began months before the convention as people debated which character they would portray and how hard it would be to make the costume. On the last night before the convention, the costume preparation frenzy reached its peak as most of the costumes were only half finished. Luckily time, a sewing machine and a glue gun enabled the conventioneers to sally-forth properly attired. In attendance in our group were Undertaker from “Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler),” Rapunzel from “Tangled,” Grell from “Kuroshitsuji,” Amu from “Shugo Chara!,” Kiba from “Naruto,” Chibitalia from “Hetalia,” Ash Ketchum from “Pokemon,” Ben Tennyson from “Ben 10,” Kenta from “Beyblade: Metal Fusion” and an uncostumed teenager from the show “I’d rather be playing on XBOX Live.”

Our group divided into three adults, five teenagers and four children. I ended up with four children and one teen that were more interested in the video and card gaming aspects of the exhibition. The other teens and adults primarily went to fan and pro panels.

Most of my time at the convention was spent herding and watching as the kids I was with entered various video game and collectible card tournaments. The best tournaments were run in the Microsoft Game Testing Lab. We participated in, but didn’t win, the “Halo: Reach” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops” tournaments. We tried to enter the Yugioh Collectible Card Game tournament but after waiting 45 mintues for the first round to start, we bailed and went back to the video game areas. This didn’t stop the kids from dueling as informal Yugioh matches happened when any two players with decks had to wait for something to start.

Curiously the only video that anyone wanted to see were the AMVs (Anime Music Videos) that filled one of the video rooms for the entire run of the convention. The AMVs showed considerable talent as fans combined video from some Japanese animation movie or television show with a song or medley of songs. The best AMVs were about reediting existing video to tell a specific story during the song. Some serious time and effort went into making these and it wouldn’t surprise me if future filmmakers cite making these in the same way an author like Stephen King will cite writing for fanzines as one of his earliest creative outlets.

After putting the younger children to bed with a babysitting teenager, I was able to go and enjoy some AMVs and other fan panels open to people 18 and over. On Friday night I was treated to a round of the “Hetalia” dating game. In “Hetalia” each character has been named after a country like England, France, Germany or Lithuania. Fans that portrayed these characters were invited from the audience and played a version of “The Dating Game.” It was funny when a woman playing Lithuania proudly exclaimed independence and yet still chose the woman playing Russia as her date. On Saturday night I witnessed the very adult oriented anime version of “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” My loving wife contributed the topic “Inappropriate things to say when making a porn movie” which the improv players jumped at with gusto.

The only other panel I saw was an audience participation event on Sunday called “Cosplay Chess.” Costumed characters were chosen to portray the 32 pieces on a chessboard and then told where to move by two people who played an actual game of chess on the sidelines. When pieces were called on to take one another, all others cleared the board and a “battle” ensued while each cosplayer stayed in character for the combat. There was much cheering with each well performed death but the largest cheers came when Mewtwo from “Pokemon” defeated and then started to eat a person whose costume was a large piece of toast.

In the end there was much fun had by all and much exhaustion on my part. Everyone has started planning next year’s Cosplay and scanned the internet for more conventions to attend. The website had an extensive list of conventions happening across the world.

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