A-Kon is the largest and oldest anime convention in Texas, and this year celebrates its 25th show. As we all know, bigger isn’t necessarily better and older not necessarily higher quality, so how does this year’s A-Kon rank?
For many years, A-Kon called the Sheraton in downtown Dallas its home. Last year, they made the bold move to upgrade to a larger venue at the Hilton Anatole, the same venue Quakecon occupies. With this move came some growing pains, namely getting the layout adjusted to suit everyone’s needs. Last year’s show saw half hour waits to get in to the dealer’s room, confusingly roped off sections and seemingly nonsensical placing of panels, main halls, and gaming sections.
This year was slightly better. I only had to wait to get in to the dealer’s room once and though the line was considerably long, I was in the doors in ten minutes, a third of my typical wait from last year. The layout is still quite strange. The con consists of two towers and a large pavilion area connected by a hallway that also leads to a large courtyard. You’d think so much space would allow an organized flow of rooms, but panels were split between two different floors and two buildings and console gaming was the only event on the third floor of the tower, which had limited access.
The other thing that bugged the hell out of me was that you needed a badge to get in to Artists’ Alley. At other conventions, and even at past A-Kons, this area was left free to the public. Err, as free as you can get. See, though the area usually requires a badge, it’s also generally in a wide open area in which most con staff won’t check for badges. A-Kon’s decision to make Artists’ Alley more closed off could be caused by the space availability of the venue (you had to go through Artists’ Alley to get to the Dealers’ Room), or to try and increase badge sales by devaluing the con from the perspective of a non-badge holder. Either way, it was annoying to not be able to get in to Artists’ Alley with my badgeless friends, something I can do at most every other con.
We all know food is weird at a con. You’re either eating coffee pot ramen, cold, crumbly poptarts, or trying to fill up on pocky. Precious few cons offer food choices, but A-Kon is one of them. Since moving to the Anatole, A-Kon has changed its pre-made Ghengis Grill and Pizza Hut/Food Truck combo for something I loathe — a ticket-style food court. If you’re unfamiliar with this paragon of nonsense, you’re presented with a bevy of mediocre to unattractive food of a wide variety. From greasy, tiny pizza to wee tacos and oops-al dente pasta, you can select from a cornucopia of meh. So you pick the tiny pizza because how can you screw up cheese, right? You wait in the line and after getting the pizza, instead of asking you for six bucks, they ask for two food tickets. And before you check Google Maps to make sure you’re still in America, you look toward the entrance and notice a small booth selling these magical food tickets.
Here’s the thing, only the dessert food trucks are present during the day. So you can get all the snowcones you want, but nary a bahn mi taco can be found. That is until 9PM. At 9PM, the food court is no longer open and it’s time for late night snacker’s paradise of greasy calzones and noodles. Just lovely.
So you’re now craving cheese and since that tiger’s blood snowcone you had didn’t fill you up, you decide to hit up the restaurants in the hotel for food. You try Media Grill, the legit restaurant, only to find everything is full including the bar. The bar isn’t actually full, it’s just full of people with their cosplay across three seats claiming their friends are upstairs and will be down in a second. But I’m on to you, Sailor Jupiter. I’ve got my eye on you. So you go to the only obstinate asshole joint left to plumb for food. This son of a bitch right here:
And let me tell you, now you’re desperate. You see the pizza and it looks okay. Cheese is sliding off the crust, but whatever, pizza is pizza. You look desperately for a price and find absolutely nothing. Fine. Two slices of cheese. Your vegan friend wants something too and sees a veggie roll hanging out with the sandwiches that are marked $6. When you get to the counter, surprise, you’re paying $12 for your two slices of pizza. And double surprise, your vegan friend is paying $12 for their one rock-hard, grocery store-quality sushi roll, which is actually nothing more than rice, a sliced carrot, nori, and seaweed salad. Gotta love being gouged. And good luck finding any seating at their open seating area. Since it’s open to everyone, there are many groups of cosplayers resting with their props, friends just playing Mario Kart with each other, or tables with no chairs because 12 people wanted to hang out together.
In short, there are options, but they’re all turd sandwiches compared to bringing your own stuff.
Holy crap, A-Kon stepped up their game this year. Or should I say the artists in Artists’ Alley stepped up their game. From surprisingly large amounts of fan art from the latest series like Kill la Kill to amazingly high quality prints, this year’s Artists’ Alley was a significant step up in quality not only from other cons, but from last year’s A-Kon as well. Though this abrupt surge in quality is fantastic, I’m only sad that the badgeless couldn’t enjoy it.
Tabletop gaming also had a step up in quality, offering a wider selection, more live demos of games, and excellent deals.
But here’s the kicker, how was the Dealers’ Room?
The answer: a monumental “eeeeeh, maybe good?”
It felt like all the other Dealers’ Rooms at every other con. Giant booth of wall scrolls, a few sword booths, many shirt booths and knick knack corners. Also Funimation, because why wouldn’t you go to a gigantic convention in Dallas when your headquarters is half an hour away?
That’s not to say all the booths were a bust. I saw a model booth selling all manner of minatures from Gundam kits to Godzilla. The most impressive builds were displayed in glass cases in the front, with the actual products on tables behind them. I’m not ashamed to admit I stared at small plastic robots for fifteen minutes saying “oh wooooow” at least as many times. Shark Robot had their nerd shirts out in at maximum power, pandering to the masses with Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and yes, even Kill La Kill shirts. And at one booth, I found not only an adorable FFVI-era moogle plush, but a gigantic moogle pillow pal. Excellent choice, nameless business man.
I’d go to A-Kon again. The dealer’s room isn’t really spectacular and their food situation make me want to wear shoes made of nail bats, but the cosplay was top tier, the Artists’ Alley was phenomenal, and I spent more than five minutes in tabletop gaming, which is a feat in and of itself. If they could only work on getting some more unique vendors and having a food plan that made the least bit of god damned sense, A-Kon would be a must-go instead of a probably-go.