Kraken Con is back, and not more than half a year after the previous convention proved a success. It was clear that the organizers took the feedback they received last time to heart, and made the convention bigger and better than before.
Kraken Con was held in the Oakland Convention Center, taking up the bottom floor, with some space on the second floor for additional panels. Inside the main hall, the game area and panel rooms led to the dealer’s room and artist alley.
The panel rooms weren’t walled off, with the exception of main events, which made it easier for people passing by to pop in, but also occasionally resulted in noise issues from the hall or game area; a fair trade-off. While last year, there were no signs indicating what panel was going on when, this time around they had signs in front of each one, which made it much more convenient.
In addition to the normal vendors and artists in the hall, the main room had a Maid Cafe, where one could get snacks, watch some performances, play board games, and enjoy the company of a maid or butler. On the other side of the room, a screen was set up for showing anime such as the new dub of Sailor Moon, and did a remarkable job of having good audio without drowning out anyone trying to talk nearby.
This Kraken Con was significantly more crowded than the last, due in large part to two things: first, word of mouth after the previous convention gave it enough positive press to make more people interested, and secondly, there were some big-name guests coming in. Of course, the convention staff did a fine job advertising for it at other cons, where they’d set up a table with a large stuffed squid people could get a photo with to try winning a free badge.
Regardless, there’s no denying the effectiveness of the guests. The three main guests of honor were Caitlin Glass (known for roles such as Winry in Fullmetal Alchemist and Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club), Matthew Mercer (known for parts such as Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil and Levi in Attack on Titan), and Eric Stuart (known for Brock and James in Pokemon, Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh, and Gourry in Slayers). Additionally, they had tables set up for guests like the author Davidson L Haworth, comic artist Chris Marrinan, and voice actor Nicki Rapp.
I took a minute to speak with Nicki Rapp for a quick three-question interview. In those few minutes of interviewing, it was clear how much she enjoyed her work, meeting fans, and just being there at Kraken Con.
The guests of honor had rather busy schedules, but could be met briefly during their individual autograph sessions. Eric Stuart had a table in the dealer’s hall, where he sold autographed pictures and CDs. I was unable to get a full interview with him, due to time and his video policy, but there was time for a few brief questions.
Although 4Kids, the company responsible for the English dubs of Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon, is often derided by anime fans for its edits and censorship, Eric Stuart was quick to defend them. The censorship was done in order to meet the broadcast standards; if they didn’t, then the shows wouldn’t have been able to air, so generations of possible anime fans would have never watched Pokemon. (Although they probably could have gotten away without calling rice balls “jelly-filled donuts,” but that’s another issue altogether.) However, he does admit that One Piece failed because it was not a show that could be properly edited and censored to the degree they needed while still remaining coherent.
In addition to his voice acting career, Stuart also has a very respectable musical career. He had several CDs from his band to sell, and even lives in Nashville, where he can be at the heart of rock and roll. Both careers let him make good use of his voice, which he considers his best instrument, though he no longer does songs for anime anymore (and he wouldn’t sing along with me either).
This was Kraken Con’s first time running for two days, and both were pretty well packed. Though the guests and vendors remained the same each day, that provided a wider variety of panels, such as the “Makeup Tips & Tricks for Bodypaint & Photos” panel, hosted by Dynamic Cosplay Couple, and Crunchyroll Industry Panel.
Additionally, that meant that there were two contests. On Saturday was the Cosplay Contest, which was judged on a craftsmanship-only basis. On Sunday was the Talent Show, which had nothing to do with cosplay, and consisted of 49% singing, 49% dancing, and then one person who performed an original violin piece, and one skit. However, due to the formats of both, there was no chance for cosplayers to properly do a masquerade skit performance, which is one thing I’d like to see amended next time.
For those just wandering around, the convention offered a “scavenger hunt,” where one would decipher clues, go to the right vendor or artist, and get a stamp. Those who came back with full stamps would win a bag of candy. This was not only a good way to kill some time, but brought guests to artists and vendors they wouldn’t normally think to visit.
Kraken Con continues to grow, and while there may be some growing pains, and always something to iron out for next time, it still remains a solid convention. It’ll return to the same place in April, with more improvements and new guests to see.
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