It had been about two years since the last time I hit a convention. I don’t remember which convention I last attended, but I know it was in the before times and long enough ago that I had forgotten how much fun they can be. As soon as I heard Hare Hare Yukai being played at the peace bonding booth outside registration for KumoriCon 2021 on Friday morning, I knew I was home and among my own people again. This would mark the beginning of one of the best weekends that I’ve had in months.
For the most part, the weekend went smoothly, with very few (if any) rumors circulating about any unrest amongst the attendees, panelists, volunteers, or special guests. It wasn’t a perfect weekend by any stretch, but considering what the convention was working with, it went about as well as one could hope.
Before I even arrived at the convention, one thing that really impressed me was how seriously they were taking the health and safety of everyone attending. Before you could even enter the convention, you had to present your COVID vaccine card or a negative test result. If you needed to get a negative test result, there was rapid testing available just a block from the convention center.
The first issue that came up over the weekend was staffing. With day 1 registration running at least 30 minutes behind schedule before opening, it became clear that this convention was running on a skeleton crew and fear started to wash over me as I dreaded the idea of the convention falling apart at some point over the weekend simply because they didn’t have enough volunteers.
This fear grew larger as I presented my first panel on Friday and realized that none of the fan panelists were being monitored by room moderators. Panelists were left entirely on their own to figure out the equipment and get set up with no assistance from the staff. Luckily for KumoriCon, this never became a con-breaking experience. Panels continued on without incident and attendees filed in and out of the rooms in orderly fashions.
Speaking of fan panels, KumoriCon boasted quite a few interesting presentations from fans and guests alike, but the real unsung hero of the convention’s schedule was Dr. Alisa Freedman, a Professor of Japanese Literature, Cultural Studies, and Gender at the University of Oregon. Delivering five different cultural panels that ranged all the way from the story behind emoji to America’s portrayal of Japanese characters on television, Dr. Freedman spoke passionately and expressively at each one of her panels. How she had the energy to present multiple panels on all three days of the convention I’ll never know, but she spoke confidently about fascinating topics that kept me and my girlfriend engaged and discussing what we learned from her for the entire weekend. If anyone who is making these decisions is listening, I urge KumoriCon to bring back Ms. Freedman next year as her panels were a highlight.
That wasn’t to say that I was no slouch myself as I presented three panels to mostly packed rooms on Friday and Saturday: Anime for Beginners, Positive Polyamorous Representation in Anime and Manga, and The History of Saimoe. One of the first panels of the weekend, I was anxious before presenting Anime for Beginners but once I got rolling and the crowd showed me that they were genuinely interested in hearing what I had to say, it was all smooth sailing and I had a marvelous time presenting at KumoriCon.
While the first and last panels listed were something that I enjoyed doing, it was the late Friday night panel Positive Polyamorous Representation in Anime and Manga that I was most proud of as I had people coming up to me all weekend to talk to me about that panel and ask questions regarding the material that I presented. If you’re interested in hearing these lectures for yourself, I plan to present them both at SakuraCon in April 2022.
In closing, however, I would like to leave this feature with some suggestions. As someone who has attended dozens of conventions over the years, I know how terribly hard it is to make one go smoothly. While this year was mostly without incident, there is still room for this convention to grow into one of the top conventions of the entire Pacific Northwest region.
The understaffing of this convention was obvious from the start. Not having panel moderators available to help panelists keep track of their time and take notes on how well attended various panels were was a mistake. While I never heard of anyone having any genuine issues over the weekend, having a volunteer sitting in the back of the room keeping track of what’s happening during the panel would be a welcome improvement next year.
Invite the Industry to Return
In the early years of KumoriCon (back when it was still held in Vancouver, Washington), the industry actually made an effort to attend this convention. While it wasn’t a hotbed of industry activity, it was still usually good for tidbits of information that you couldn’t get at a larger convention. Over the years, however, the industry stopped caring about this con and stopped attending, which is fair since the convention was still in its fragile growing stages.
Now, however, the convention has grown up and is filling the Portland convention center, which means it’s the perfect time for members of the industry to pay attention again. Now that the attendee numbers are regularly in the low five-digit range, this is a fantastic time for local companies like Dark Horse and bigger companies in California like Crunchyroll to make their grand return.
This is a big one for the convention and is pretty much non-negotiable. If this con expects to succeed in this new location of downtown Portland, there have to be more food options. With only a handful of restaurants and cafes within walking distance, it was almost impossible to find a decently priced meal, and even if you were lucky enough to get a table somewhere, you would wait a ridiculous amount of time for it to arrive.
Unless KumoriCon wants to see their attendees passing out from hunger next year, this convention needs to find a way to provide affordable food within walking distance of the convention. Period.
Vary the Special Guests
This statement might ruffle a few feathers but I need to say this: the special guests at this year’s convention were easily the lowest on my list of reasons to attend this convention. Perhaps this is just because I’m an old curmudgeon. But the guest list at this year’s convention was lacking, which brings me around to my previous point. This con should be big enough now to host some Japanese guests such as manga creators, directors, or even a voice actor or two. While I’m not saying that KumoriCon needs to push towards hosting a world premiere, a couple of foreign guests would go a long way towards increasing my excitement for next year.
More 18+ Panels
I know for a fact that there were multiple 18+ panels held throughout the weekend (I hosted one of them myself) but there definitely needs to be more panels aimed squarely at the adults. At the risk of repeating myself, I’m not saying that we need to return to the days where there are dedicated hentai panels, but more adult topics would be an amazing thing to see added to next year’s schedule.
Overall, KumoriCon made a triumphant return this year and we had an absolute blast. While I hope that KumoriCon will take my suggestions for improvement into consideration, the odds are good that I will be returning to this convention again and again in the future.