Due to rising popularity and corresponding attendance levels, Zenkaikon has never been lucky in terms of venue. That is until last year, when there was even space enough to account for future growth. Unfortunately, the hotel decided to put in a casino and thereby displaced Zenkaikon. All things considered (all things being the last-minute rush to find a new venue and all the prep work involved thereafter), the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center served as a lovely temporary home for this con, especially on the short notice in which it was procured. There was definitely enough space to accommodate the 2,743 attendees without feeling packed, and the single-level, open layout negated cramped hall navigation. And while attendance was down slightly from last year, enthusiasm was not.
As the good so often comes with the bad, I’ll be the first to acknowledge the sound issue. As the Main Stage was located in a hangar-like room shared by the Gaming "Room” (a partitioned corner), Autograph Area, Photo Booth, and Demos areas, it was pretty much guaranteed that whatever was being featured was being heard throughout for better and worse. In terms of the better, the lack of walls meant you could take in multiple events simultaneously ... a con-goer’s dream! Unfortunately, this arrangement also meant that regardless of what was going on, con goers were experiencing it all. This wouldn’t have been all bad, actually. Imagine playing in the Halo Reach or Modern Warfare tournaments to the sound of the taiko performance! That would have been awesome, but the taiko was actually scheduled opposite the Dance Central tournament to pose a rhythm vs. rhythm battle. Still, most gaming/main stage pairings seemed to work, with raves supplying energetic background music for retro gaming and sports tournaments, while other main stage events — masquerade, comedy, weaponry demos — were relatively unobtrusive.
Panels were strong this year, with presenting talent such as Geek Nights, Uncle Yo, and Charles Dunbar as well as myriad fans tackling some genuinely interesting topics. The location of the panel rooms, relative to the rest of the con, made them both easy to find and accessible. The only problem was the location of the panel rooms in relation to each other: back to back ... with only a flimsy divider betwixt them. Depending on the presenter’s lung power and adeptness for mic volume adjustment, the rooms were often fighting for the attention of their respective audiences.
Aside from the aforementioned issue of sound bleed, the gaming corner looked cozy. It was stuffed with a good variety of systems and featured a few large screen monitors for select systems and games. Whenever I peeked my head in, I never saw an empty chair (or at least one that didn’t fill quickly after being vacated), and yet the area never seemed overly crowded. Tournaments were scheduled every two hours, and other games were constantly in play.
The Dealer's Room/Artist's Alley, which was perfectly sized and well organized, was even able to accommodate the ever-annoying mid-aisle cosplay shoot without much disturbance to flow from vendor to vendor. Artists seemed a little under-represented, but all the consumable usuals seemed present (with only a notable shortage of figures). I ended up getting an excellent vintage kimono from Yokodana Kimono, a few Portal 2 buttons with which to adorn my bag in honor of the con’s theme, and a few other gifts for friends who couldn’t be there.
There was some great cosplay during the two-day con (which ran on both days to a lovely 1:30 AM in a very sleepy town), though I saw very few costumes that coincided with Zenkaikon’s Retro Sci-Fi theme. Madokas were omnipresent, but my favorite, for what will be an obvious reason if you’ve seen the show, is the one who attended with her friend who came as Medusa, the witch from Soul Eater. My other favourite bit of cosplay was this wonderful Count from Gankutsuou!
Friends made this con. The programming, purchasing, and learning were great, but hanging at the bar and talking over a meal or drinks, lounging the off-time away in a hotel room tradin’ memes, and after-parties discussing everything that had soaked in during the experience was priceless. Zenkaikon’s website mentions a 3-day event next year, and shortly after this con ended, some guests for 2013 were already announced! As confirmed via email and video, Zenkaikon will be moving once again, a little further west, to the Lancaster County Convention Center, which looks to be very spacious. Will it be worth the trip? Come and find out! Here’s looking forward to next year; I hope you can make it.
Click here for more coverage of Zenkaikon 2012.