Lessons From Kawaii Kon 2006

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I attended Kawaii Kon on April 15th with a friend, someone who attended the con last year when it debuted. Unfortunately, I’m no longer all that interested in anime anymore, having become a Jpop otaku more than an anime otaku in recent years. So my goals were simple: look for any Jpop stuff at the dealer’s room, photograph the cosplay eyecandy, and attend both the Ishida Yoko concert and the cosplay contest.

I only took photos of the Ishida Yoko concert and of the cosplayers as they waited for the contest to begin. I ended up not going to the contest for reasons stated below.

Anyway, a bunch of things struck me over the course of the day, none of it very deep but much of it enriching my Kawaii Kon experience. So without further ado, here’s what I learned…

Hawaiian otaku are nice. Several of the con guests commented on how nice the audience was, compared to the attendees of the mainland anime conventions. I’m not sure if it’s simple Aloha spirit or gratefulness for having a Hawaiian con in the first place.

The professionalism of the guests was impressive. The voice actors and American anime company representatives whose panels I attended were very entertaining, not because I cared all that much about their specific products, but because they had great insights on the economics of their industry. The scale of the American market was noted in ways both subtle and obvious, particularly in discussions of how the cost of buying rights to a Japanese anime show has skyrocketed in recent years as the interest in anime increases.

The otaku quality of the guests was even more impressive. With considerations of finances and markets and business deals aside, all the professionals I saw on the panels were also die-hard anime fans. You can tell from how they talked about a favorite series or an assignment, and from the repeated point that none of them are getting rich by working in this field. (None? Surely, someone’s making a little hand-over-fist profit…) There’s something gratifying about an industry built out of love for a foreign medium that fills me with hope.

Hyde and Kuriyama Chiaki have a movie coming out. Geneon showed a trailer for one of their releases for this summer, Last Quarter, a live action movie that looked pretty cool.

Anime convention dealer rooms are more special when they offer stuff you can’t find easily. Let me fine-tune that statement some… The dealer room was small but quite healthy for a second-year anime convention. Considering that it’s Hawaii and you need to load your goods on a plane if you’re not local made me more forgiving of the lack of breadth or depth. Of course most dealers would focus on what they think will sell best for them, even if it means a certain same-ness of product with other dealers. (That’s always a risk at any geek culture convention, at any rate.)

However, as the con was located at the Ala Moana hotel right next to the biggest shopping center on Oahu, I knew we were within five minutes’ walking distance of three different places that also carried Jpop and anime goods of various sorts: Shirokiya in the mall, Hakubundo on Kapiolani, and Nippon Video across from the Daiei supermarket (now renamed Don Quijote, but still carrying Japanese goods, not Spanish ones – but that’s a whole other story). Further, I knew that much of the various anime-related toys and tchotchkes and knick-knacks could be bought from Toys & Joys, who had a dealer’s table at the con but whose store in Kaimuki (which I visit on occasion) rivals the offerings of the entire dealer’s room combined. If you’re into J-culture in Hawaii, you don’t need a convention to blow all your money on goodies – you just need to know where the good shops are.

For some reason, I grew nostalgic of my own anime otaku days, when I’d see too much that I wanted and that I had to get something at a convention because there was no way I’d be able to get it otherwise. At Anime Expo 2000 I paid a hundred dollars for a Marmalade Boy Miki doll – and was berated by a girl dressed up in a Card Captor Sakura outfit to fork over the money already, because I kept returning to that dealer table like a crack addict working up the nerve to buy another hit. When I got it, though, it was Pure. Fucking. Bliss. It was the best thing I ever bought in the whole world and I’d always treasure it and I loved Marmalade Boy so much, even more than Eva, and that doll rocked my world.

Now it’s collecting dust in the closet.

Look hard enough and you’ll find what you’re looking for. One good sign of the health of the dealer’s room was that there was some range to the offerings, that not everyone had the same goods. One dealer was selling corsets and bustiers, I think. Within a minute of entering the dealer’s room I found the table that was selling hardcore AV. It was just a small cardboard box’s worth, and it wasn’t a great selection or featured any stars I knew, but it was gratifying to know I could smell these things out. The same table also sold hentai CD-ROM games and stuff like that, and I found another table that was selling dojinshi.

And yes, there was some Jpop for sale – mixed in with soundtracks for anime shows would be recognizable Jpop such as Gackt or Ayumi. Much more impressive, Jpophouse had a selection of visual kei music and memorabilia for groups such as Psycho Le Cemu and D’espairs Ray (you’d think with a name like that I’d be more inclined to give them a try). Unfortunately, I’ve yet to have much interest in VK. However, they also had a Morning Musume CD – Ikimasshoi – and the CD-DVD edition of Otsuka Ai’s first album. I had my eye on the Otsuka Ai, but ended up buying something else.

Ishida Yoko was great! The concert was supposed to begin at seven, my friend and I waited on line for a long while, and it actually began around eight. I’m old and cranky, but I didn’t care – this was definitely the most exciting part of the con for me, and it was definitely worth the wait. It was broken down into two sets, the second set being for para para performances – they had a para para workshop the day before, so there were members of the audience who danced along with their hands during that second half. (I actually wished I attended that workshop, though perhaps it’s best I didn’t.) Ishida changed her outfit between sets – the photo at the top of the blog entry was from the first set, the photos of her in the cowboy hat are from the second set.

Among other things, Ishida did the opening theme from Neon Genesis Evangelion. I still kinda knew the words to that, which surprised me. The one song that blew me away, and I don’t even know the name, was from Chobits – an anime I’d never seen, but Ishida was just fantastic on it, and it was a fantastic song. I remember thinking I’d actually buy that if it was a single CD-DVD.

However, the context of Ishida’s idol persona didn’t grab me. While I was watching the concert and enjoying it a great deal, I also found that I wasn’t interested in picking up Ishida’s concert DVD or para para instructional DVD, both of which were on sale at the con. A voice in the back of my head pointed out that I wouldn’t watch those DVDs more than once and so it wasn’t worth it for me as a consumer. The fact that there was a voice of reason at all was enough to let me know that I’d be a casual fan of Ishida’s at best.

I like Ishida a great deal and would definitely see her again in concert if I ever get a chance. However, I didn’t feel like I could be a hardcore fan of hers, the way I am for other idols, despite this concert experience. And I realized it’s because of the niche she’s carved for herself – she’s an Anime Pop Star, it even says so on her DVD, and I’m just not enough into anime to feel all that attached to her and her idol persona.

Which isn’t meant as a slam against anime fans – it’s not like I’m into visual kei either, or other subgenres of Jpop. Rather, it showed to me how important the persona of an idol is for engaging with fans and building a fan base. Ishida is very smart for appealing to the American anime community as she does, and I know she’s got a loyal following as a result of her concert series – this was apparently the last of her shows in that series. I’m just not part of that target market, at least not enough a part of that target market to be sucked in completely. If she had photobooks and a non-anime PV collection and so on, maybe I’d have been more interested…

And yeah, maybe if she had been under fifteen and drop-dead kawaii, I’d probably not have these qualms. But that wasn’t the case, now was it?

I’m getting tired of “Fly Me to the Moon”. Ishida ended her concert with a para para version of the song, and that was as fantastic as everything else she did. It did make me think of hiro and her Coco d’Or Parfait DVD extra, where she is seen performing the same song at a Seattle anime convention and getting a huge crowd reaction. And I recall having an Eva soundtrack which had over a dozen versions of the song, since variations of it were used for the closing theme of the series.

The amateur anthropologist in me is amused by this cultural appropriation. A whole generation is growing up associating the song, not with Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, but with giant robots and Tokyo III. But in all fairness, I must admit I tend to think of A Clockwork Orange whenever I hear “Singin’ in the Rain”.

Cosplay and eyecandy should never be confused with each other. There was a good deal of interesting cosplay and a good deal of eyecandy, and a healthy combination of both, but I just didn’t have much of an urge to photograph much. What the heck, these photos of people waiting for the cosplay contest to start were taken out of boredom because I was waiting on a separate line with my friend, who bought the Ishida Yoko DVDs after the concert and wanted to get them autographed.

The main reason I didn’t feel like taking photos…?

I don’t know crap about today’s anime. Who are these people dressed as? I saw lots of Naruto, I think, and guys with huge white manes of hair which I think was Inu Yasha, but that was about as far as I recognized. There were a couple of very cool young ladies who had a Gothic Lolita / Kamikaze Girls look, and while waiting for the Ishida concert there were two preteens in front of me dressed up as Battle Royale students. Parents were there so I didn’t try to chat them up or take photos – I’m not stupid.

Even if I did know about today’s anime, I’d probably not like what’s popular. Only after the con did I realize there were a couple of anime I am interested in, but there was little around to remind me of that. First is Monster, which I saw a fansub of the first episode years ago and vaguely wanted to see more of since. (Amazingly, my friend told me it hadn’t been licensed in the States yet.) Second is the Genshiken anime, since it’s the only manga I read at the moment.

Oh, wait! I also want to see the Nana anime TV show, and they actually showed the Nana live action movie in a room that played various live action programs. But of course, there wasn’t any Nana around… though now that I think of it, maybe there was Nana cosplay and I just didn’t get it?

I’m sure the Nana anime will be popular next year and there’ll be lots of Nana anime. That’s something to look forward to.

The events could have been better co-ordinated. The folks running the show did a solid job for a second-year anime convention, but it could have run considerably smoother. The big thing was the hour-long wait for the Ishida Yoko concert and a similarly long wait for the cosplay contest to begin. Most of the volunteers I saw were for the most part good-natured, despite frustrating situations. That was pretty damn admirable, it’d be so easy to be snippy or overly bossy – which also happened, but sparingly. (I guess we Hawaiians are nice people!) To me, the event coordination seemed to be anarchy gesturing towards fascism: there would be sudden bursts of brusque commands by volunteers to the crowds and lines, then milling confusion as the volunteers would receive further news or directives that seemed to puzzle them.

The Ishida concert was supposed to begin in the main room at 7 PM and began around 8 PM; the cosplay contest was supposed to begin in the same room at 9 PM… but had to wait as Ishida Yoko was having her autograph session in that room. There were other rooms available; the autograph session could have been moved to one of those spare rooms so that the cosplay contest could run on time. Why that didn’t happen, I don’t know. It was obvious enough that my friend and I talked about it two or three times while waiting for Ishida’s autograph; then again as we passed empty room after empty room, post-autograph.

That said, I do believe that event coordination will run smoother next year, this just seemed the painful part of a learning curve.

Good cosplay takes dedication. Even if I didn’t recognize most of the costumes, it was fun to see the cosplayers. I think if I hung around the convention for more than a day, I could have gotten into it more, found more opportunities to take photos… what the heck, maybe watch an anime show or two. The only thing I really sat down and watched besides the previews shown on panels was an episode of the live action You’re Under Arrest.

Ishida Yoko and her dancers are very nice, very patient people. The three would photograph, then the person getting the autograph would often run behind them for a group photograph. Throughout, they were in high spirits and quite charming.

Really, they could have held this autograph signing in another room. Not meaning to flog a dead horse, but… yeah.

After waiting in line for the autographs, my friend and I saw the long line of people waiting to attend the cosplay contest – I was too tired to feel guilt for being partially responsible for their longer than necessary wait – and decided it wasn’t worth it. Especially since we knew there’d be more waiting before they let people in, and that we’d be way in the back of the room if we did stick around for it. We briefly considered going to the Nana movie, then instead decided to grab a bite to eat – during which we had a great conversation going over the day and the state of anime in general – then home.

Whatever makes you happy has great value. I personally don’t understand the appeal of autographs, but I certainly know how the right fan acquisition can bring a great deal of happiness. My friend saw me positively giddy about my eventual purchase that day, and he couldn’t believe what brought me such joy. Ishida Yoko taking the time to make her fans even happier with autographs and photographs is deeply appreciated – not just for the momentos, but for the effort involved.

The “cowboy plus idols equals hot” equation still holds. Ishida Yoko had a very cute cowboy hat, yellow with flowers printed on it.

As I said, I was drained from waiting on line for the concert, watching the concert, then waiting on line for the autograph. The nice thing about conventions, though, is that even when you’re drained and feeling a bit out of it, the buzz and activity can help keep you buoyed and in good spirits. I left the convention feeling pretty damn happy – I was able to buy some goodies for myself, saw a great idol concert, saw some cosplay, enjoyed some interesting industry talk…

If I was still into anime, I probably would have enjoyed it more. And maybe I’ll get into anime again in the coming months. But I was still enough of a fan that I enjoyed what I could and appreciated the event on its own terms. There were some flaws – re: the autograph session should have really been moved to another room – but that didn’t diminish the enjoyment I felt. Much.

And I’m definitely going again next year! Since there were interesting panels on all three days this year – the Para Para workshop was on Friday, and there was an Ishida Yoko Q&A and a State of the Industry panel on Sunday – I may attend all three days next time.

And maybe even cosplay.

As one of the Nanas.

While para para dancing.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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6 Responses to “Lessons From Kawaii Kon 2006”
  1. Alice says:

    An hour for the concert isn’t bad. At the past few cons I’ve been to with concerts, it was usually two hours or more behind schedule.

  2. Sami says:

    Reminds me a LOT of Anime Boston ’05…minus all the Asian attendees, this being Massachusetts after all. (And I do envy that you live in Hawaii, for a number of reasons that I’m not going to get into right here.) Even Yoko’s set list sounds mostly unchanged since a year ago, Chobits intro and makeshift Para Para troup and all. And were they selling Yoko fabric fans by any chance? They were selling those here, and I recall a friend buying one and having her sign that instead of a CD or anything remotely normal. And I even cosplayed, gasp gasp. Fun times, that weekend.

  3. Sabaku Ika says:

    I would like to hear the story of Don Quijote.

  4. kk says:

    I was at ala moana that day just hanging out with some friends when we saw some very strangely dressed people, and decided to make fun of them to their faces. Not because they were walking around ala moana dressed in costume, but because they were very geeky and scary looking and walking around ala moana and unlike the goth kids who hang out there every day, looked to meek to really do anything when if I did. Also when you have the balls to dress like that you should expect reprecussions. Though somehow it was just less funny than when a bunch of mo-wota cross dressed as busu-ga-kurumade skit characters outside of the old Hello-Pro store.

  5. niji says:

    Naruto is SOOOO overrated. I mean, I like it (at times) because it’s shounen and Sakura is cute when the right artist draws her. But other than that, there’s nothing special about it. The subplots are overly cliché (and annoying), the characters are extremely stereotypical (and annoying), and nothing ever turns out the way you want it to — in a bad way (and it’s annoying). The outfits aren’t even too good to begin with; the goofiness is such a blatant attempt to look unique. Seriously, cosplayers can find much better characters to go as. I can’t think of anyone in particular at the moment but I stand by my argument.

  6. Alice:

    Two hours? Jeez!

    Sabaku Ika:

    The story is here:

    http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2006/Feb/24/bz/FP602240328.html/?print=on

    Why a Japanese food chain would have a name taken from Spanish literature, I have no idea. The funny part is, everyone still refers to it as Daiei, even the bus announcements. Well, to me it’s funny – to non-Hawaiians it’s probably just irrelevant.