Kitacon 2017: the good, the bad and the anime

My other-half and I may have had to leave Kitacon a day early due to a cat-related disaster but we were there long enough this past weekend for it to have been an eye-opener. Although we’ve attended a number of gaming expos over the years and have done the MCM Comic Con in London several times, this event was our first ‘proper’ residential convention and so we weren’t entirely sure what to expect.

Did we enjoy ourselves? Yes, and it was great catching up with Tim and Joel from GeekOut South-West and others who we haven’t seen in quite a while. Did we learn anything new? Again yes, because we had the chance to find out more about cosplay and play games we’d never tried before. Would we go again? That’s a more difficult question to answer…

The good

Events like Kitacon provide an opportunity for those with ‘geek culture’ interests to come together for an entire weekend and share their love for hobbies such as cosplay and anime. We got the sense that for attendees who didn’t have a circle of friends back home with similar tastes, it was a chance to meet likeminded people; and it was lovely to see conversations between strangers and new friendships sparking up in queues while waiting for panels and outside the venue.

Kitacon, cosplay, masquerade

We were told that the opening ceremony was a pretty big deal and so made a point of heading to the event on our first day at Kitacon. Unfortunately though, we didn’t make it in as a higher-than-expected attendance saw queues going around the building and people being turned away at the door! Everybody remained in good spirits though and those who did make it into the hall said that it was one of the highlights of the convention.

The following day my other-half and I attended panels on Body Confidence in Cosplay and The Science of Zelda, and it was great to see ‘normal’ people get the chance to do something they wouldn’t usually do and volunteer to run events like this. The lovely Joel from GeekOut South-West hosted one himself called DMing 101 – which we unfortunately missed due to the cat-related disaster but seemed to be rather successful.

Tim from GeekOut South-West had told me to prepare myself for the late-night parties because they’re ‘legendary’; and I’ll admit, we did indeed have fun at the Ravers of the Lost Ark on Friday night! Unfortunately we’re a little older than most of Kitacon’s usual attendees and found it difficult to keep up with the young-things, so we were in bed by 01:00.

The bad

Kitacon, cosplay

That atmosphere described above lent itself perfectly to how the convention was laid out – several panels during the day before the bigger events and parties throughout the evening – and there was plenty of time to simply hang out and chat to other attendees. For myself and my other-half though, this was a bit of a culture-shock; we’re used to going to expos where there’s constantly something to see or try out and we weren’t always sure what to do with ourselves. If we were to go again next year, I think we’d need to be more prepared to ‘make our own fun’.

The opening ceremony described above started over an hour late and none of the other events we attended began on time. Also, the organisers took the decision to fill the auditorium from the back rather than the front during the cosplay masquerade the following evening but this caused several further problems: attendees who had been queuing the longest were seated in the upper levels and a lot of empty seats were left in the centre of the hall when less people than expected showed up. While I appreciate that making arrangements for over 1,500 heads must be incredibly difficult, it seems as though some parts of the convention weren’t planned as well as they could have been.

Relying on volunteers to host panels provides excellent opportunities but does have its downsides. As mentioned above, every event we went to started late and we heard about a particular panel which was cancelled 20 minutes after its scheduled start due to unforeseen circumstances. There was also the host who admitted to writing part of his presentation the previous evening having spent too many hours on his cosplay over the past couple of weeks – his final piece of advice being not to attempt a costume and a presentation at once.

Kitacon, cosplay, party

With any big event attended by so many people, you’re going to get a small proportion of them who get drunk, behave inappropriately and take things too far. We heard stories about rubbish and broken glass being left outside the venue; somebody who was reported for harassment; and a group of girls who were subjected to ‘some random getting their dick out in front of their hotel window’. That’s not a reflection on the Kitacon organisers themselves but it’s a shame that certain people can’t show a little respect for others.

The anime

Kitacon advertises itself as ‘the UK’s largest, residential, non-profit anime and geek culture convention’ and therefore my other-half and I aren’t really its intended audience. While we’ve both watched various bits of anime over the years, it’s not our cup-of-tea and we’d both rather spend our free time playing video games; so it’s probably not an event we’d usually find ourselves attending.

But it was good to try something different and we’re grateful to Tim for inviting us along. Registration for the next event opens at 19:00 on 03 January 2018 and part of me is tempted to sign up again, seeing as I didn’t get the chance to wear my Eleven and Velma cosplays this year due to having to leave early. But Gamescom takes place in the same month and it’s something I’ve always wanted to go to… so Kitacon may have to wait…

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