I can easily sum up this year’s Sangawa with the words “Drastic Improvement.”
With last week’s post, you’d notice that I wasn’t certain how I felt about attending the con. I was dreading dead game sessions, drunks in the hallways, and not enough people to really do anything. Within the first few hours, I was pleasantly surprised.
Sangawa this year included a slightly understaffed RPG department (three GMs instead of our usual four) in a slightly larger room to accommodate CCG, the obligatory video game rooms (yes, plural), a tiny (but functional) Dealer’s Room, Charles Dunbar’s educational but awesome panels, two panel rooms and a video room for general events, some musical events with singer/songwriter Nancy Kepner, the return of “Taste of Japan” and social mixers, and not one but TWO voice actors: Sonny Straight and Vic Mignogna.
Already there’s an improvement from last year, as there was only a single guest (Monica Rial), one small room for RPG/CCG, one tiny room for video games, and a rather secluded Dealer’s Room (which was literally at the opposite end from Main Events with nothing to draw people down there).
Curious about what made this year great? We’ll approach it in my usual way and see if we can help!
Compared to last year, there were vast improvements. We saw an increase in attendees (401 compared to the 200~ish from last year), which meant more cosplayers to hang out with. Granted, it was a slow con for The NPC, but it was a good turnout.
One major complaint from last year was the lack of events outside of drinking. Last year, events consisted of attendee-run panels, anime viewing, the RPG/CCG room, the video game room, a small room dedicated to the “Taste of Japan” event, the aforementioned poorly located dealer’s room, and whatever was happening in Main Events, which included the “mixer,” an all-you-can-drink party as long as you were over 21 and paid the additional $7 for a tumbler. Unless you were drinking, you were going to be hard pressed to find something to do outside of RPG and video games (which were empty due to the mixer).
This year, with the number of guests, there was ALWAYS something going on. For example, during the mixer, Vic had a panel at the other end of the event space. While some were waiting in line to get autographs from Sonny, there was a panel with Vic starting up. No matter what time it was, if the con was running, there were multiple options to pass the time, and not all of them were drinking!
RPG-wise, it was a huge success. Eight of ten games ended up running, with an estimated 60-80 people joining in games of some nature over the course of the three days. My three games ran with 5 players each (with only two players being in every one), with two other players wanting to join but came too late so they just hung out and watched. That’s almost as good as my Tekko turnouts, which is HUGE for me at such a small con.
The layout this year was much better than before. Last year, we had Main Events by registration (which is where just about every meeting with the guest and the mixers were located), and at the first intersection, turning right brought you to RPG/CCG and video games, while turning left brought you to the panel and viewing rooms as well as the one room for Taste of Japan. If you didn’t turn and kept walking, you made it to the other end of the event, which only had the dealer’s room.
This year, they realized their problems and changed things up. Main Events was still the big place to meet guests with a few other larger panels. That first intersection was tweaked slightly, as turning to the right only brought you to the VIP room, while left brought you to the panel and anime viewing rooms. If you continued straight on to pass the intersection, you would find the dealer’s room. Unlike last year, it wasn’t alone, as there was another meeting room next to the Dealer’s Room that was used for the mixer (among other events) this year. Down the hall next to Dealer’s was RPG/CCG as well as the TWO video game rooms. This time around, if you didn’t want to drink, you could go to another part of the event and be nowhere near the drinking.
While some complained that the scheduling “wasn’t fair” (like a panel with Vic being at the same time as the social), they countered that they wanted something for everyone, as the event is 18+, not 21+. My hat is off to the Tekko higher-ups for that!
Having Sonny Straight as a guest was by far one of the best things they could have done, hands down. He was a great guy to listen to, offering great advice to attendees that asked input from him. He was also very personable, willing to talk to just about anyone, even if it was a simple “Thank you” when wishing him a safe trip. During his panels, he would get a sketchbook an start sketching, on request, and give an autographed sketch to each member of the audience (I missed my chances due to staffing and his leaving early, but awesome all the same).
When Sonny was offering autographs, he offered four autographs for free, and each one afterward was a donation of $5. He would also do selfie videos, pose in photos, and make sketches during this time.
Tim and I were luckily just a few people apart in line, and we were able to get photos of Sonny with each of us and together.
Tim not only got a sketch, but apparently had a conversation with Sonny with a number of useful words of advice. I seldom hear about a guest willing to put such work into helping a regular attendee, and that makes me like the guy even more.
When I got my autographs, I didn’t have anything for him to sign. I seldom ask for autographs, and I didn’t have an unpacked journal (moving, yay) to consider bringing for autograph/sketch purposes for this event. Instead of selling me an autographed picture like other voice actors have done in the past, he offered to sign a flier and my badge.
While there were a few major improvements, there’s still a bit to be desired at this event.
While growing, I feel the convention is still rather small. I don’t expect this to be as big or as crazy as Tekko, I wouldn’t mind seeing it get to something closer to four digits. I also wouldn’t mind seeing more cosplayers.
See, Sangawa is a “laid back” con. Instead of a T-shirt, they sell bathrobes to attendees and staff. It’s advertised as a mullet: business during the day, party at night. With that in mind, most attendees don’t dress in costume. In fact, a large majority of people are in normal street clothing or even pajamas (the most interesting of them being kigurumi, essentially animal- and anime-inspired onesies).
For someone who loves to snap photos of people in costume, it’s a bit of a waste as no one is really showing off, and the halls are a bit too narrow for some of the better costumes. This isn’t something that can be changed without changing the premise of the event, but it may detract from people wanting to attend.
While there was an increase in non-drinking events, it still felt as though I was missing something by not being able to drink. The sheer number of drunk attendees made things both difficult and interesting, as you’d get the friendly drunks (a little too friendly from what I saw), the staggering drunks (like the guy that had to be walked to his hotel because he couldn’t walk on his own), and the silly drunks (like the guy who would randomly record everything and scream the whole time). I didn’t run into many angry drunks this round, thankfully, and I hope no one did.
Again, hard to fix this one without changing the con, but having some way to ensure people aren’t getting horribly wasted might be a good idea. Not sure on the best way to handle that without getting a mess of people to be bartenders and more emphasis on the breathalyzers beyond playing a “game” of either getting the “high score” or guessing what your BAC is. This is an issue that would have to be faced regardless of the event, as any event with “free” alcohol is going to have at least a few jerks that will go over the top.
Another point of personal preference was the small dealer’s room. While they seem to keep the “usual” stuff (and a usual vendor that sells the same merch year to year with some new additions), and they bring in non-anime related merchandise (a tarot reader and a corset maker last year, a leather shop this year), it is tiny. This year, there were four vendors (leather, swords, and two of various anime-related merchandise) and a table for autographs; that’s it. One of the fun elements of a con, for me, is an artist alley and a dealer’s room to check out the merch and hope to find a few things I’m seeking (like a Saber figma) or gawk at the work of artists. Hell, there are some cons I’ve spent nearly 50% of my time in the Artist Alley just talking to people (Tekko 2009 had a LOT of that due to a leg injury that made walking difficult). Sangawa is not the con for that, sadly.
The final negative, at least for this year, was Vic Mignogna. I’ll be upfront and say that I’m not a fan of Vic. I find his voice acting sub-par and without the necessary range of emotion needed for a voice actor (nor major vocal differences between most of his roles), there’s a number of not-so-pleasant rumours from various staffers that work with him, and I get the diva vibe from him every time I run into him at a con (I believe this is my fourth time running into him since 2009). With these factors, I always wonder why people keep bringing him to cons.
With Sangawa this year, I was hearing a lot of the same stuff as before. Some people complained he was too much like a diva and trying hard to be a rock star. During a panel, he cast himself as Captain Kirk, which some fans stated to me was a bit “too far” and “too egotistical.” As someone raised on Star Trek, I can’t trust anyone who’d cast themselves at Kirk without a solid reason as to why.
Some were not a fan of his autograph policy: two free signatures if you had your own things to sign, or “unlimited” signatures if you were paying him for the items he sells. I understand why people put a cap on signatures (they’d be doing it all day otherwise), but I know of a few people, including Tim (who was in a good spot), that left his autograph line because of this and his earlier antics.
I was informed by some attendees that he’s not great at conversations with fans. Outside of panels, some complained that he maintained that “holier-than-thou” attitude, a rock star persona, or just being egotistical, which irked them.
In fact, Tim had the opportunity to speak to him briefly, and in his own words: “I had a better time talking to his handler.” You know it’s bad when the guy who is the sole reason people attend is one-upped by the person scheduling him.
The last complaint I heard (hey, I’m the NPC at these events, I hear a lot) had to do with his panels. If he was doing a panel with more than one person, such as the Sing Along panel he did with Nancy Kepner, he’d “give up” entertaining if distracted or if the spotlight wasn’t on him.
For being a guest that is known to be a “big draw,” it was sounding like he was a bit of an annoyance to the fans who came to see him.
To use our brand new rating system: I’d give Sangawa 4 buns.
They’ve made massive improvements since last year, and are promising more improvements and possible expansions next year, which means there’s promise for future events. Last year would have been a 2.5 bun rating, and while I was debating on the 3.5 for this year, I’ll be generous as they made major improvements. More programming, more voice actors, and more space would make this brilliant and eventually a 5 bun event.
The biggest downers this year were the small dealer’s room without artists, the unchecked drinking, and Vic. Even with these issues, they don’t counter the awesome improvements of increased programming, better space usage and layout, and excellent guest choices with Charles Dunbar and Sonny Straight.
If you are looking for a smaller, laid-back convention with alcohol, plenty of Japanese cultural nods (including alcohol and panels about history), a stocked RPG department, a casual environment to talk in, and an opportunity for a more “intimate” (i.e. about 20-50 people) meeting with the special guests, Sangawa is a good choice for an affordable, end-of-year convention.
If you are going to cons to show off an intricate costume, pick up new artwork, storm a dealer’s room, or get photos of people in costume, give it a pass. You should also give it a pass if alcohol or drunks are bothersome.
While The NPC was invited to a convention in January and requested for another event in the same month, I’ll sadly have to pass due to the new move and the new job starting in a few weeks.
As a bit of good news, the higher-ups at Tekko and I have been talking about what it will take to bring The NPC to Tekko. We’re still in talks, but this may bring The NPC to a whole new level should it succeed.
Other events in 2016 will probably include a few SCA events (like a “raid” between the barony near Charleston and the barony in Pittsburgh), Tekko conventions, and possibly the two local gaming and anime conventions in Charleston, WV.
Sadly, expect a bit of radio silence from me for the time being. I’m moving out of my current apartment by the end of next week (there’s still plenty of packing to do), and won’t have internet in my new apartment until late December or possibly even early January. I’m hoping to be back with some game and book reviews to start off the new year, so stay tuned! Upcoming posts include (hopefully) a discussion on playtesting tabletop RPGs, a possible review of Steamworld Heist (if time permits for a post next week), and January will have reviews of LEGO Marvel Avengers and possibly Final Fantasy Explorers.
If I post next week, I shall see you then. Otherwise, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and will respawn in the new year!