Ari Rockefeller presents Zenkaikon 2012 — You’ll Find Con Ops Right Next to the Ark of the Covenant

If you’re reading the subtitle of this article and assuming this convention is gonna have Indiana Jones-esque adventuring throughout the whole weekend—as awesome as that sounds—that sadly is not the case. The reference, though, will be made quite clear later on in the review.

                This was another glorious return to Philadelphia’s local anime convention, although the glory would soon wear off very quickly throughout the weekend. For starters, Zenkaikon was treated to a change of venue—and by that I mean they were scrambling to find a new location when the prior venue, the Valley Forge Convention Center, was being repurposed into a casino. Spectacular. So they found a new venue in the Greater Philadelphia Convention Center complex in a little town called Oaks. It wasn’t quite the Liberty boonies, yet, but it did have a few small town charms that worked in its favor. Whether or not my inattention to detail or occupation with more pressing issues at the time, I didn’t learn about any of this until we arrived at the convention area itself.
                I was charged with picking up members of our adventuring party at the 30thSt. Station in Philadelphia—nothing new here. I then escorted the lot of them up to the convention, while getting very familiar with the Schuylkill Expressway, one of the busiest roads out of Philly to the outlying towns on the other side of the Pennsylvania state line. If you’ve never been stuck in traffic on the Schuylkill during rush hour…well, good for you; as much as I want to drop a sarcasm bomb and say how joyous an experience is, I can’t, because it’s so much of a pain in the ass that I can’t sarcasm straight. We wound up staying at the Hampton in nearby Phoenixville, PA, which, despite being roughly a mile away from the convention center itself, was the closest hotel to the con. The first time over to pick up our badges, we decided to walk over—and after doing that once we immediately decided we’ll be doing that as little as possible.
                Once the crowd started filing in and we set about enjoying the convention in our own ways, I took to exploring the convention building itself. For a mid-sized convention like Zenkaikon, this is easily the smallest venue I’ve ever seen. The main events were held in one very large warehouse-like room, and the autographs, game room, registration and photo booth were all pushed off to the sides and corners. A smaller room in the one main hallway contained the Artists’ Alley, Dealers’ Room and tabletop gaming…which closed incredibly early, meaning the tabletop gaming had to take one of the panel rooms once it was closed. Obviously, Zenkaikon would be given a lot of leeway in terms of logistics for this review; otherwise I’d be bashing it so badly you’d think it’d drift into personal abuse.
                Our adventuring party was pretty lax once we checked in to the hotel. The Hampton Inn itself was very nice—the rooms were spacious, the bathroom adequate, and there was plenty of storage space for all. Even though there were three days of nice weather, the fact that there was only one pool—outside—made me bringing my bathing suit completely pointless. Oh, and DJ asked for a mini-fridge for our room. We never got it. We got charged for it anyway. I noticed the discrepancy as we were leaving for the weekend, and the lady said the account would be credited…but the way the receipt she handed me looked, it came off as they’d credit him the entire cost of the room. I’m not sure if that was truly the case or not.
                Anyway, on to the convention itself. The first panel I checked out was “A Look at Women in Anime.” This was something right up my alley—women who can kick people’s asses and look beautiful/remain somewhat feminine while doing so. The only problem with the panel was the panelists themselves. That is to say, they didn’t show up. I didn’t have the whole story behind their absence; maybe their travel plans shat the bed on them, maybe they were incorrectly told their panel’s time/location had been changed. So, without the whole story, I only had one thought on my mind: if these people can’t be arsed to show up to their panel, why should I? So I and everyone else just up and left after fifteen minutes. I’d feel really stupid if they simply showed up late and had their panel anyway…
                It was after this panel that I made the mistake of eating at the little café run by the convention center itself. Par for the course with this sort of thing, the food was overpriced and passable at best. Even worse, the one time I decide to eat there, the woman running the place was insanely rude—not just to me, but other customers, I would find out. The grievous offense of me not putting my change back into my wallet fast enough was met with multiple “Next!” calls, one after another, with the woman’s bile increasing with each utterance. Now granted, I can understand that such a level of contempt for existence can only be cultivated by working in food service (or retail), but Jesus moonsaulting Christ, lady, I don’t put up with that kind of shitty attitude from my own kin; what makes you think you’re worthy of the tax on my patience?! At least other customers waiting in line after me were sympathetic towards me. There was also a tip jar at the register. We were stunned that there was any money in it at all.
                The Artists’ Alley/Dealers’ Room amalgamation was your typical setup; the artists and dealers, though, were easier to spot from one another, with the artists having two rows to themselves, while the dealers had the rest. If you’ve been to one Dealers’ Room, you know what to expect in terms of wares. I was fortunate enough to bump into DJ at an opportune time and jokingly pointed out a body pillow with Sailor Venus on it. We had a good laugh about it.
                After checking out the game “room/s,” I made my way to the second panel of the evening, “Webcomics: Behind the Panel.” The panelists, appropriately enough, ran their own webcomic called “Friday Knights” and went over the many dos and don’ts of what to do should you want to start one of your own. They pointed out numerous resources available, not just for hosting, but for writers looking for artists to draw for them and vice versa. They were critical about a lot of common mistakes made by other people who think that being their own boss means being able to do absolutely anything you want—including the mindset that “cursing = funny” is a given; this is not the case. They were also not too thrilled with the tendency to use webcomic space to demean or defame other creators of webcomics, feeling it does a disservice to not only themselves, but the medium as a whole. That’s a pretty good stance to have.
                After that, there was essentially fuck-all left for me to do that night, and I decided to head back to my hotel. The only problem was that my car was still at the hotel (in a prime parking space, nonetheless) meaning I had to walk back, and I wasn’t entirely sure how to get back to the hotel. So, by random chance, I asked a few other con goers if they knew how to get to the Hampton. These three ladies, in a fit of utmost generosity, allowed me to ride with them, so long as I waited while they dropped off a friend who was at a different hotel roughly 2-3 miles away. We did, which resulted in us schlepping around Oaks and the surrounding area. They got lost on their way to the hotel because the hotel staff couldn’t give them proper directions to their own hotel. They were incredulous, to say the least, and our scrounging for explanations led us to one of two conclusions—a) they really are that stupid, or b) they were hoping the girl wouldn’t turn up so they could rent the room out to someone else instead. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. We found their hotel, mostly due to the help of Barb from Rite-Aid, who got us there in about five minutes. I thanked the three for the ride, and I made a note to stop back at their booth in the Dealers’ Room the next day.
                Saturday wasn’t as panel-heavy for me, as I still had to go to work that day. No big deal, I thought; I’d go out, fill my shift, come back, and enjoy the rest of the con. First of all…there was a big deal when the temperature in my engine of my car, the Glorious Crimson Bullet, decided to spend that Friday dancing towards the red section of the gauge. Second of all, one look under the hood told me my problem—the plastic bin that housed all the engine coolant was bone fucking dry. At this point I’m not as much worried about getting to work as I am worried that my car might turn into a Glorious Crimson Fireball. Thankfully there was a Wal-Mart within a couple miles that I could get to, get the engine coolant I need and pour it in, all without my engine bursting into flames. Six hours later (it would’ve been five, but I overestimated my travel time to work), I was back in con mode like the switch had never been flicked.
                I had some fun bouncing around the game rooms, playing some Magic with a few other players, while sitting down at the video game section for some more “typical” con gaming. All in all, pretty fun. The only panel I covered was “Ninja Weapons of Death,” presented by Samurai Dan and Jillian, who have a history of doing this sort of thing. They discussed the various ninja weaponry used throughout ninja history, the grand majority of it originating from the government forbidding the peasantry from owning any weapons…and then stretching the definition of “weapon” to include things such as knives to clean fish or cut up your food at the dinner table. So things like kamas (sickles for threshing grain), sai (three-pronged tools that plunged rice seeds into the ground) and bos (sticks used to carry buckets of water) became indispensable for them. They were very knowledgeable about what they were and how they worked, and made the whole production very entertaining.
                Saturday night ended without incident, which is when I learned that the con was only two days. Two days, you say? That’s…very peculiar. I’m guessing it had to do with the sudden shift of venue that was dropped on them.
                Sunday was rather slow, especially since there wasn’t any real con activity to speak of. Our group ate lunch at a nearby Bob Evans—and by nearby, I mean in the same parking lot as the hotel. Once that was finished and we had checked out of the hotel, we loaded up the car and headed back to the 30th St. Station in Philly, and we parted ways.
                Zenkaikon is a good convention bogged down with problems. It did have its share of difficulties, but most of them weren’t the staff’s fault. They were optimistic and wanted to put on the best convention they could, given the circumstances, and for the most part, they did. But the slapdash, disorganized feel the place did take away from the experience just a little bit. Next year, as we have mentioned already, they will have a fresh new venue in Lancaster County. In the heart of Amish country. The natives have a severe mistrust of outsiders is it is; we can’t imagine how they’ll feel seeing thousands of people in strange costumes wandering around…if they’ll even get who or what the costumes even are…

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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