Friday, December 17, 2021

Jeriko @ Kumoricon 2021

Kumoricon 2021: Shining in the Rain

Prelude to Isolation

It was January 2020. Anime Los Angeles 2020 at the Ontario Convention Center was in full swing. Precarious news of an epidemic sweeping China was on the backburner. Thousands of convention-goers milling about and enjoying themselves. And I was sick in the hotel room with influenza.

I was supposed to be staffing the karaoke room late-night at the DoubleTree Hotel right next to the convention center, a position I’ve enjoyed since 2011. Instead, I spiked a fever, coughed up what I felt like were several lungs, and generally felt miserable as the malaise overtook me. I was only able to staff one night, with the rest of the con stuck in the hotel room trying to care for myself in what felt like my death throes. After the convention and subsequent recovery, I figured, “Hey, it’s one bad convention experience. It’s not like I’ll be out sick for the next one!”. If there ever were a funny aneurysm moment, that’d be it.

A Post-Pandemic Convention?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has since not only affected the anime community but the world over. As such, since the beginning of lockdown and stay-at-home orders in early March 2020, large public gatherings and organized events have been canceled since then. However, thanks to the hard work of scientists worldwide introducing the COVID-19 vaccines, the increased rate of subsequent vaccination, and improved public health safety measures, society and communities have been slowly inching towards normalcy or at least a semblance. After nearly two years and the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, I finally made my way to an anime convention. Kumoricon is Portland’s (sometimes Vancouver’s) premier anime convention from November 5th through 7th. Running annually since 2003, with mini-events held in-between years, Kumoricon has been a go-to destination for Oregon anime fans and throughout the Pacific Northwest. However, for the convention to run this year, Kumoricon had to enforce public health and safety measures to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Before even setting foot into the convention center proper, Kumoricon staff had to validate the attendee’s current COVID-19 vaccination status or negative COVID-19 test within the past three days before marking said status with a waterproof wristband to be worn for the entire weekend. Theoretically, each congoer should have been vaccinated or have not been exposed to COVID-19 before the convention. Regardless of either route of entry, masks were mandatory amongst all guests over two years old. Most, if not all, convention attendees followed this provision to the letter. And some, specifically cosplayers, made it a part of their costume. Despite the necessary inconveniences, attendees were no worse for wear during the duration of the convention. As a registered nurse, I have nothing but appreciation and respect for Kumoricon for ensuring that safety and well-being were the top priorities during the convention.

Kumoricon Staff: Professional Cat Wranglers

Kumoricon posted on their site and social media pages that they were still looking for staffers until the final weeks of the con. Reportedly, the convention was destined to be understaffed over the weekend. However, it never felt that way experiencing the convention and the crowd. Somehow, management and department heads were able to keep a relatively tight ship throughout the convention. General interactions with the staff were both professional and hospitable. Whether through checking vaccination status, maintaining orderly lines for events, operating the information booth, or even answering a question about a department they don’t work for, Kumoricon Staff were steadfast in attending to the needs of the congoer. In some instances, a peek behind the scenes in the press lounge did betray a sense of stress amongst the leadership. Incidents, such as when events went over their time or cancellation of guest of honor appearances at certain events, became an exercise in patience. The lack of staff also lets less than scrupulous attendees exploit certain holes in event queues and spaces.

During an event I lined up for, I recall that I was mistaken for staff for about half an hour. The combination of press credentials and ADA accommodations let me camp before the entrance to the VGR (Video Game Remixes) & James Landino set for Friday night. While waiting for doors to open, the con staff manning the entrance abruptly left without a replacement to manage the line going up the stairs. Unfortunately, this meant that the door was unsupervised. During this time, several attendees asked me if this was the entrance/line to the event. Given my previous experience staffing at conventions, I directed them accordingly to where the line was. The roleplay continued until a group of unscrupulous attendees attempted to walk into the main events hall. Before they could enter, I called them out, citing that the back of the line was further down the hall and that if they wanted to line up where I was, they needed an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) sticker to line up where I was. Other attendees who camped in the front of the line also began to call them out for attempting to jump the queue. It wasn’t until a staffer coming from the main event hall was flagged down, and the situation was explained to them. Afterward, two staffers were placed as line control, with the rest of the night without incident after opening doors for the set.

I cannot fault the convention staff for needing to address specific issues as they appear and reallocating staff as necessary. Especially considering how some attendees are more than willing to break the rules than others. However, I hope that con leadership will continue to grow and develop their staff to provide excellent service and avoid bumps like this in the future.

Events By the Fans, For the Fans

As a regular attendee of Southern California conventions such as Anime Expo, WonderCon, and San Diego Comic-Con, Kumoricon has seemingly stayed true to its fan-driven roots through all of these years. Many of the events held at Kumoricon reflected more into vested fan interests than the corporate panels planned for announcements. Not to say that panels run by significant sponsors, distributors, and merchandise manufactures do not have their place. They help to drive the crowds and develop hype for the medium. Fan-driven panels contrast this by having a more intimate look into certain aspects of the content we enjoy. Two panels stuck out to me when I was at Kumoricon.

Led by some of the leading voice actor cast, “Bloody Brilliance: A Cells at Work Panel” dived into the voice actor’s experience with the show and how anime can be both fun and educational. Fan favorites Billy Kametz (White Blood Cell), Laura Stahl (Child Cancer Cell), and Robbie Daymond (Killer T Cell) discussed how they each got into anime voice acting, argued about their favorite character (other than themselves), and celebrated fans and cosplayers of the show. Considering the state of the world and how relevant the show was to it, each of the actors expressed their appreciation for the show and what it taught to the viewers.

On the last day of the con, Chaotic Neutral Cosplay (IG @chaoticneutralcosplay) shared their struggles in their “Cosplay and Mental Health panel.” They described how cosplay became both a relief and a burden in dealing with mental health issues. They shared how cosplay was a source of comfort and escape from life, and most recently, the pandemic. But that way of coping also became a measure to compare themselves by an unrealistic bar set by their insecurities. They discussed the importance of relying on a support system and how to seek out help. One of the most important aspects was how cosplay became a gateway to being introduced to a community of like-minded individuals and creators who all share the same passions and may share some struggles.

Panels and workshops like these and others that were serious to silly dotted the Kumoricon schedule. Though each one varies in quality and presentation, almost all of them were run by passionate fans. A trend I hope continues into next year.

Dancing All Night: The Main Events

Kumoricon outdid themselves this year when it came to music and performing guests. Youtube star and mic maestro Caleb Hyles performed at the convention and MC for the Cosplay Lip Sync Showdown. Caleb brought the energy in almost every room he came into. Caleb is a showman and knows how to energize a crowd. During his event, Caleb performed some of his more popular covers and ended on an acapella rendition of Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” Caleb was also excited to share his newly announced Twitch Team “Peace, Love, & Gaming” about a month ago as of this writing and hinted at an upcoming collaboration with Vtuber group VShoujo our interview which you can check here.

ACME, a visual kei band from Japan, surprised most of us here on the blog by their energy and attitude going into the convention. As most of us were used to thinking of visual kei bands like X JAPAN and L’Ar-En-Ciel, ACME gave a jolt of rock star energy during their concert and their interview. For further coverage, check out Matt’s write-up about Day 1 with ACME.

VGR and James Landino bear special mention. Day 1 dance was helmed by the two, with VGR performing first. Unfortunately, in the middle of the set, technical issues occurred on the VGR’s end, abruptly ending the flow he was in the middle of mixing. Landino hopped on stage and announced that the show would continue as planned. Interestingly, instead of leaving the stage, Landino stayed on and swapped with VGR frequently, which went against the schedule posted by Kumoricon and how most DJs switch sets. During our interview with Landino, we found out that VGR and Landino had to work around the technical error and performed what’s called a “back-to-back.” describes a “back-to-back” performance when “two (or more) DJs share the decks, and each will play tracks from their own collection.” In Landino’s description, it was an adlibbed, unexpected change in the performance between the two artists that required them to pay careful attention to one another as songs changed and transitioned to another. It tested each other’s skills and abilities as DJs as they had no prior practice or performance with each other beforehand. Given the fantastic reception of the performance and subsequent reveal of the context behind it, VGR and Landino proved themselves amazing artists and producers, both of which I hope to see again shortly.

MEIRLIN and Teddyloid were the headliners as Guests of Honor and DJs for the Saturday night dance. Both MEIRLIN and Teddyloid have performed at other conventions such as Anime Expo and EDM events like Beyond Wonderland. MEIRLIN kicked off the night with her set, most of which were a mix from her first album “Night Forest” and fan favorites like “Gurenge.” MEIRLIN’s set was solid prep work for Teddyloid’s. Teddyloid’s set was enjoyable as he rocked several hits from his anime collaborations and his new remix work with up-and-coming artist ADO. There was an instance in which a technical problem did plague his set. In the middle of the concert, he blew out the speakers of the main event hall, leaving him only the monitors to listen to. Fortunately, the crowd still cheered him on, chanting his name as the tech crew quickly fixed the problem to let him continue the set. In the middle of all that, Teddyloid stayed the consummate professional and still played through his set, never stopping himself or the energy he brought with him in his performance.

The Sum of All of Kumoricon’s Parts

Kumoricon has left a lasting impression on me. Kumoricon reminded me of my early con-going days when I was a teenager: the community was smaller, close-knit, but actively passionate about what it does. Not to say Kumoricon is small by any means. I do not expect it to overshadow the larger conventions in the pacific northwest anytime soon. However, I hope that in retaining its dedication to its attendees, guests, and commitment to running a safe and fun convention, it will continue to grow as the premier event for Oregon anime fans.

Special Thanks

Special Thanks to my friends of the California Conventions Blog. Without you all, I don’t think this trip would have been a reality. I missed you all during the pandemic, and I hope all of us will be together again in person soon.

[Cover Photo Credit: Ryan Silva]

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