Sakura-Con 2011 Report and Photography by Michelle Tymon
Sakura Con 2011 proved that the popularity of anime and Japanese culture are still very strong in the US and especially in Seattle. The attendance at the yearly convention grows every year and this year, it was no exception bringing in an amazing 19,040, over 1,000 more than last year’s number of 18,002. The weather also proved to be nice for most of the weekend, but because it is taking place in Seattle, there was still some rain.
However, that definitely didn’t stop anyone from going to the con. Anime fans could be seen walking up and down the streets of Seattle that weekend, rain or shine.
The guest lineup at this year’s Sakura Con was impressive as ever as they brought big names from both Japan and America. Guests this year included: Kotono Mitsuishi, Berryz Kobo, exist+trace, Daisuke Moriyama, Tony Oliver, Clarine Harp, Christopher Bevins, Tiffany Grant, Cynthia Cranz, Wendy Powell, Stephanie Sheh, and 6%DOKIDOKI.
For a complete listing for the 2011 guest lineup, http://www.sakuracon.org/programming/guests.php
Fans can come to Sakura Con to enjoy many activities involving manga/anime, video games, Japanese music, and Japanese tradition and culture.
For those interested in manga/anime, the convention offers panels, Q&A’s, autograph signings with industry guests, a huge exhibition hall where fans can buy all sorts of merchandise, Artist Alley where artists can show off their own art, and cosplay photoshoots.
Video game fans can enjoy 24 hour gaming rooms, video game tournaments, retro gaming, DDR and other arcade games, Microsoft playtest, and the Rock Band stage.
For fans of Japanese music, there are a few concerts during the weekend they can go to (this year it was the JRock band exist+trace and the JPop group Berryz Kobo) and people can enjoy open mic karaoke, karaoke contests, and various dances. As for those interested in Japanese culture, people can go play the game “Go”, watch various cultural and traditional demonstrations or get information through various organizations like the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle, the Japan America Society of the State of Washington, and the Hyogo Business and Cultural Center.
There are also various theaters at Sakura-Con including the AMV theater, anime theaters, and live-action theaters. They are not only a great way to watch great anime and movies, but also a great place to relax if you ever had free time in between events you wanted to go to and they are also open 24 hours.
For the past few years, Sakura-Con has been known to bring some amazing musical guests from Japan.
On Friday night, the JRock band exist+trace held a concert. exist+trace is a visual rock band consisting of all female members. At their concert, they showed that they could definitely hold their own and rock out even harder than their male colleagues. Despite some technical problems in the beginning, they still managed to rock the house and the crowd had a great time.
On Saturday night, the JPop group Berryz Kobo performed to a packed house and even brought some of their hardcore fans from Japan with them. They started out the concert talking about the earthquake and tsunami that had just devastated Northeastern Japan and kicked off the concert with a cover of the popular 1992 song “Ai wa Katsu” by Kan.
I happened to be sitting next to four fans from Japan who were jumping, cheering, shouting, and dancing through the whole show. While looking around the audience, I also spotted another older fan from Japan who was in one of the aisles dancing the choreography to each and every song they sang perfectly. The fans from Japan definitely made themselves known among the crowed but the American fans were also full of energy and enjoyed the show.
Every year at Sakura-Con they hold a charity auction. This year was no different, except this year the charity auction was for both the Make-A-Wish Foundation as well as Peace Winds America, the latter to help out the relief efforts in Japan for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami that occurred in March of this year. Things that were auctioned off at both auctions were quite impressive this year.
Items included shikishi drawings done by artists attending Sakura-Con as well as other famous artists, huge Sakura-Con 2011 posters that were displayed at the various hotels, signed anime goods, anime cels, and many other items. The first two badges for next year’s convention were also auctioned off and went for about $2,000.
The package included badge #’s 1 & 2, a free hotel room for the whole weekend as well as advanced VIP seating for all the events.
During the Peace Winds America auction, very rare and amazing things were offered with the help of Kotono Mitsuishi and Run Sasaki.
Kotono Mitsuishi offered items from her own merchandise from her website; she had three bundles available which included a signed original t-shirt, cellphone charms and a handkerchief. Mitsuishi-san also managed to get other items signed by other cast members on shows she’s currently working on and auctioned them off.
One of the most amazing things that Run Sasaki auctioned off was a replica of the coat Luffy wore in the movie, “One Piece: Strong World”. Not only was the coat a one of a kind, Mayumi Tanaka (the seiyuu who does Luffy’s voice) wore it at last year’s Sakura-Con during her performance with Team Dreamcatchers and signed it as well.
One of the items that I highly regret not getting was a one of a kind “Anpanman” handkerchief. I am not the biggest “Anpanman” fan, but this handkerchief was not sold in stores and it was signed by the cast members. It being signed by Keiko Toda (the seiyuu who does “Anpanman” is also a famous actress in Japan who has done many dramas and movies) alone would make it worth quite a bit, but since it includes so many other signatures including Koichi Yamadera (another famous seiyuu whose credits include Ryoga from “Ranma 1/2”), it was priceless.
Other items included shirts signed by Ikue Ohtani (who does Pikachu’s voice in “Pokemon” and Chopper’s voice in “One Piece”) and other amazing goodies. Both charities raised thousands of dollars for wonderful causes.
As someone who has been going to the convention since 2004, I’ve seen this convention grow quite a bit.
Every year the convention would grow in attendance and bring in even more guests and the names got bigger every year. And because of the convention’s growth each year, there have been a few minor bumps in the road along the way but this year the staff did an outstanding job keeping everything running smoothly and their hard work was very apparent.
The staff members and volunteers put in countless amount of hours every year to bring such a big event to the growing number of fans every single year. One of the biggest improvements that I saw was in dealing with the lines for the autograph signings.
In past years of Sakura-Con, the autograph signings sometimes caused frustration because there would be only an hour and some guests were so big that the line of people that would show up would be too long and not everyone would be able to get an autograph because of the time constraints.
This year the lines were still insanely long for some guests but they were better organized and the lines moved smoothly. They also held two autograph sessions at once (the room that the signings were in as huge) most of the time and also held more than one autograph signing for a number of the big guests to help everyone who wanted an autograph to get one.
One of the biggest lines that I personally witnessed for Sakura-Con was the line for Kotono Mitsuishi on Saturday. There was a slight confusion with people lining up early for the session who were given bracelets to come back later (this year the convention made a rule where people were not supposed to line up earlier than 30 minutes before the signing) but even with that, everyone there was able to get an autograph.
Another bump in the road they managed to fix this year was the wait time for registration. Last year, registration took hours for some con goers but this year, registration was speedy.
The con goers I talked to mentioned that the time to get their badges this year only took minutes and every time I passed by the registration room, the lines were very short. That is an incredible feat considering the 19,040 con goers this year. Despite some frustration that may be caused, this convention really wouldn’t be possible without the staff and the volunteers.
This year they were able to show that past problems can be resolved so it really will be exciting to see what kinds of guests and events they bring us next year.
Big guests, amazing concerts, cosplaying and tons of fun events: Sakura-Con 2011 was amazing and anime fans can definitely look forward to Sakura-Con 2012.
For more pictures check out my flickr here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28410146@N06/sets/72157626884064456/
Sakura-Con 2011 Kotono Mitsuishi Report and Photos by Michelle Tymon
Kotono Mitsuishi is a name known by most anime fans and at this year’s Sakura-Con, attendees had the chance to meet the anime icon. A talented voice actress with a very wide range, a few of her notable roles include Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon from “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon”, Misato Katsuragi from “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, and Excel from “Excel Saga”.
Kotono Mitsuishi was born in Tokyo in 1967. After she graduated high school, she entered the Katsuta Voice Actor’s Academy. In 1988, she debuted as a seiyuu as Tomoyo in “Ace wo Nerae! 2”. A few year later, her popularity will sky rocket because of a certain role in a show about super hero sailor scouts. Mitsuishi-san’s most famous role would probably have to be Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon from the “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon” series. That role propelled her into stardom. The role of Usagi/Sailor Moon called for her to be silly as well as serious (mostly silly). Usagi was usually very ditsy, happy and silly which would also carry over when she turned into Sailor Moon, however there are some very serious and dark moments in where Sailor Moon would showed her serious side and Mitsuishi-san pulled this off flawlessly.
The next notable role she played was Misato Katsuragi from “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. Though Misato does have a silly side to her, it was very much a contrast from Usagi’s character. With this role, Mitsuishi-san was able to show off her range even more since this character was much older, and there was many more serious scenes in this series than in “Sailor Moon”.
Since then, she has an impressive resume of roles including Mink from “Dragon Half”, Kagura Sohma from “Fruits Basket”, Murrue Ramias from “Gundam SEED/Gundam SEED Destiny”, Mireille Bouquet from “Noir”, Ebichu from “Oruchuban Ebichu” and most recently Boa Hancock from “One Piece”. Another role that stands out when your hear Mitsuishi-san’s name is the role of Excel from “Excel Saga”. Playing that role, Mitsuishi-san would have ridiculously long lines that she would have to say really fast and at the end of every episode for the preview of the next episode, she would have to speak even faster as if she was saying a tongue twister. The role is so hard that the first American voice actress to voice Excel had to step down because of the strain it put on her voice. With such a range of characters from super cute to serious, it’s not wonder that she has so many fans all over the world.
At this year’s Sakura-Con, her schedule of events included two Q&A sessions, two autograph signings, a live performance with Team Dreamcatchers, and an appearance at the Charity Auction. Fans lined up to go to each of her events and were eager at the chance of meeting her. At both of her autograph signings, the lines were very long but she stayed and signed everyone’s items were signed even though it meant she had to stay a little after the allotted time.
At her Q&A sessions, she answered various questions from fans and at the end of the sessions, she held an anime quiz and gave prizes to the winners. All of the prizes were items she personally brought from Japan. At her autograph signings, she was very kind to every fan in line both times and thanked everyone individually. At the second signing, despite going over the allotted time, she stayed until everyone got their autograph. Also at her signings, she had a container out to collect donations to help with relief efforts for those affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. At her Q&A’s she answered various questions that people had about her roles and even acted out Boa Hancock’s voice live. At the Team Dreamcatchers’ performance, she performed the song “Moonlight Densetsu” with Team Dreamcatchers and did some live voice acting to show how voice acting is done in Japan.
With such talent and kindness, fans were definitely very grateful that Mitsuishi-san came to the convention and we’re all looking forward to her future endeavors.