One of the things I’ve paid close attention to since starting my con project was the number of anime cons in the United States. Every year since 2000, there always seems to be new ones springing up, adding to the already developed community that crisscrosses this great nation. Some are large, some are small, some are crazy, some are understated, but the one factor they all share is their tie in to a common medium, one so powerful that it has been shaping and reshaping the fandom, and mainstream, community for the better part of a decade.
I became aware of Inochicon in one of the strangest places: the internet. Usually I discover my cons through other cons, or through word of mouth. I have never looked on webforums or mailing lists for new conventions, I prefer often to speak with either representatives or other attendees and hear what the con has to offer from them. Usually that gives me a better grasp of the convention and who attends, and I more often than not choose to go because of it.
Inochicon came on my radar after I saw an ad for it on the website Otaku Social Network. I have been a member of that site for almost a year now, and the banner ad caught my eyes. A first year convention near Philadelphia sounded attractive to me. I don’t live all that far away, they were looking for sponsors and I’ve always wanted to attend a brand new con, just to see how they are organized and implemented. So I decided to attend, sponsor and host panels at the event.
I can honestly say that the con wasn’t perfect, but it was clearly on the right path.
Inochicon was held at the Loews Philadelphia on Market Street, a few scant blocks from city hall. The central location of the con, in the bustling city, would prove to be one of its greatest assets. See, unlike some other cons I’ve been to, the Loews is in the absolute best part of the city to be in. It’s right in front of a subway station, so people can find it easily from all parts of the city; it’s within walking distance of food and nightlife areas (particularly the fantastic Reading Terminal Market just a block away); it’s also self contained itself, so an attendee who does not wish to leave the hotel doesn’t need to. I don’t know how the organizers managed to get such a posh hotel for a first year convention, but it was a wonderfully located venue. And about the rooms: they were amazing. I would have to say that the Loews was easily the second nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at in terms of amenities, location, view (I was on the 29th floor) and navigation.
It wasn’t without flaws, however. Since the convention was split up across several floors, the flow felt a bit obstructed. There was never any real crowding going on, and it was extremely easy to move around, but the lack of a centralized meeting hub made the con feel like less of a con. Elevators were necessary to move between floors, and it took a few minutes to find your way around at first. This isn’t a real detraction, but for those who love to just hang around and people watch, there wasn’t a whole lot of that going on. There was also a distinct lack of signs on Friday afternoon, so if you had just arrived at the convention and were looking for where to go, there was a possibility that you would get lost, especially if one was coming in from the valet entrance or down from a room. I walked to the area I thought most logical for registration, and fortunately there was someone there to point me in the right direction. But if there wasn’t, I would have been quite lost. Once one got the hang of the con, it was easy to get exactly where one wanted to go.
This was one area Inochicon shined the brightest. There were two full days of programming, and when I say full, I mean full. The first panels started at 9AM both days and continued until almost 7 (I know this well, because I WAS the first panel both days), and the variety was on par with what one could expect from an established con. There were only the two panel rooms, located on the 3rd and 4th floors of the hotel, but they seated respectable crowds, and were full up for a lot of the weekend. I did a lot of sharing over the weekend with Uncle Yo, who brought with him his usual bevy of game shows and stand up comedy. Friday Knights brought with them the world of webcomics and Critical Failures, Con Horror Stories was there, and a few J-culture panels. All in all, the organizers went with a rich setup that gave the congoers a little taste of everything, and it paid off very well.
In addition to a wonderful selection of panels, Inochicon played host to two Reni Mimura concerts and two L33tStr33t Boys performances. Friday night also served as a mixer and welcome show that had a great turnout, free food and a wonderful chance to meet new people. I wasn’t there for all of it, but I heard it went on for quite a while. I did drop by the dance party on Saturday night, however, only to find it relatively empty. Rather than stay, I hit the game room and found it well stocked, with classic NES games, Rock Band, Wii, and other light fare. The fact it was open for 24 hours didn’t hurt either, and I very nearly gave into the urge to head down there at 4AM and see what was going on.
As usual, I brought my standard fare, and appreciate all who came out. I had a great time with the crowd, Modern Myth was full up, Weekend Nihonjin filled up gradually and turned into something of a warmup for Uncle Yo’s stand up routine (someone actually asked if I was his official warmup act), a dedicated few came by for Miyazaki and another bunch stayed for Dead Like Us. No matter where I give these panels, I always find at least a few people dedicated to the other side of anime, and they never fail to deliver.
I find it somewhat funny, actually, that I spent more time in the Dealer’s Room at Inochicon than I did at Otakon, despite the fact that it was far smaller than any other con I’ve been to of late. Eight vendors, a few less artists. The PA Jedi had taken over a chunk of the room for lightsaber fights, but even with that it still felt empty. I think a good deal of the non-utilized space owes to this being a first year convention, and there was no way it could be predicted how many people would show up, or how many vendors could possibly fit into the ballroom. Even so, there was a lot of space that could have been occupied easily. I hope that next year brings in more artists and more dealers.
This was the one area where I feel Inochicon fell flat. Part of the reason I attend cons in the first place is for the energy that comes off the attendees, and for the chance encounters that can occur during the weekend. Inochicon lacked that. At no point during the convention did I feel the sense of community I look for at other cons. There are many reasons this was the case: the fragmented meeting spaces, the mobile nature of the congoers, the fact that Philly was right outside the doors calling for me, any of these could have attributed to the lack of vibe over the weekend. Despite having panels and attending concerts, I didn’t truly feel like I was at a convention, more that I was on vacation in Philadelphia and the con just happened to be there. More than anything else, I hope this is not the case should the con return next year. I know a lot of people liked being there, and I am sure others did not have the same complaint I did, but for me, it felt like the con vibe was lacking.
The bottom line is this: Inochicon is a first year convention in a large city. The organizers clearly wanted to try out a bit of everything and see what stuck. So in that case there was a good variety of things to do, everything you would expect to find at any other con, with plenty of room for improvement. Organizers cannot cater to the needs of their population when they don’t know what it is yet. So they instead went with the tried and true method of giving a lot of choice and variety, and for the most part it worked. There are always things that can be worked on, and they have an entire year to tweak the formula. I hope there is an Inochicon 2. I will definitely be there.