Zenkaikon 2023: Huh? The Convention is Evolving!

 Zenkaikon 2023  returned to the Lancaster County Convention Center on Friday, March 24th through Sunday, March 26th. 

I  arrived on Thursday in the tradition of past Zenkaikons and was ready to start my convention season off with a bang. 

The car ride to Zenkaikon was scenic and bright as always despite the gloomy weather. I found myself gazing out the window to enjoy green pastures, wide fields. As we approached Lancaster, nature gave way to the main hotel, cosplayers, attendees, and vendors in vans filing in and anticipating the weekend

Approximately  7,000 attendees attended this year’s event, according to the Lancaster Central Market’s social media and figures I received in person from a Zenkaikon Safety Department staffer.

This year, Zenkaikon expanded its offerings on Thursday with a test run for this year aptly titled Zenkaikon Evolution.  The arcade room and tabletop gaming opened up for a few hours that evening. Both options  were close by and convenient to access. I liked the arcade and in a typical fashion, found myself sticking to rhythm games. 

 I attended as a member of the press and had significant difficulties this year with getting concrete information on press passes. The confusion did admittedly peak into full-fledged jitters. I tried looking for signs for press such as room banners and asked for directions from any staffer I could reach. 

 I  found out the reasoning behind press differences from prior years:  there were severe shortages in staffing in the press department. The staffer who ran press was a one-person show and helped me get my press badge. I wanted to thank them for their help! 

 The shortages are common in recent years for conventions, as we are slowly shifting into this transitional time of events.  I  encourage anyone to volunteer at conventions, whether it be a few hours of time, or being a full-on member of staff throughout the weekend Many cons in the area are struggling with shortages–and are often run by fellow fans. Your time can, in turn, help cons!

On Friday, I woke up at 6 a.m. for the (in)famous maple bacon donuts many Zenkaikon attendees and staffers purchased by the dozens from the Shady Maple’s stand over by the Central Market. Even as someone with a few allergies, I had plenty of foods to try! I loved browsing the stands during my visit to Lancaster–having at least one meal or snack there is a must. 

After my trip to the market, I put on my Meta Knight gijinka cosplay. This cosplay means a lot to me. I bond with my Grandfather, a retired mechanic, and avid woodsmith,  over the craftsmanship aspect of prop-making.. He made Meta Knight’s sword over several months and listened to me talk about the character while we got ready for the con. Carrying this sword was much like bringing a part of him to the event. (He also thinks knights are really cool)!

I also went to the NJ Anime Fans Meetup.  This is a group I help run that recently expanded its reach beyond NJ. People went in cosplay, took solo and group pictures, and shared casual conversations about their weekend and future plans for the Meetup.

Wearing cosplay was literally and figuratively, like putting on armor, and a conversation starter in itself.  

The Meetup ended early, and I had time to check out the panel by group Children’s Driving Robots. Their panel, Older Than VHS, chronicles the start of anime fandom in America.

The three hosts detailed their experiences in a world before streaming was even conceptualized. I listened intently to their stories of learning about unreleased anime through word of mouth rather than through online.  Discoveries of ‘new’ media led to curiosity among fans, who connected with each other in person. 

The panelists shared newspaper clippings from early conventions, photos of cosplayers that took us back through time, and the struggles of getting anime with limited technology. 

Friday concluded with the Idol Fest, a new showcase that gives idol cosplays a stage to perform! Idol Fests were made to give this popular fandom a chance to shine. The winner of the contest performed in a half-time show at the masquerade. The cosplayers danced and sang while facing off in an elimination-style contest.

The elimination aspect of Idol Fest added a unique spin to the performances and suspense. This was the inaugural year of Zenkaikon’s Idol Fest. For future years, I’d love to see more visuals on a screen, maybe even tournament brackets to add to the overall theme. 

On Saturday morning, I put on my Anya Forger cosplay and volunteered for the first time at the Carolina Manga Library provided at the event. I greeted patrons and told them about the library. Many conventions offer manga libraries as a means of promoting literacy and giving attendees  a quiet and relaxed space; a break from the excitement of the main convention floor.  Although I put in just a few hours on Saturday, I had a front-row view of the positive impact manga libraries have. People were curious, and engaged in the materials, and left the library feeling relaxed and reinvigorated. 

Most of my Saturday afternoon was spent resting in the hotel room. By then, I felt very tired! This is when I looked at content from Zenkaikon online, a streaming site the con provides with convention panels and additional content. It’s $15 for a year’s worth of panels—and worth it! I particularly enjoyed live streams of the event halls, which Zenkaikon called ‘con ambiance.’ I really have a tough time with crowds, but could enjoy the event even during peak times at the comfort of the hotel. 

This was one of my best experiences at a con in terms of an offering.

Saturday also was a chance to make more rounds in the Dealer’s Hall and Artist’s Alley. One of my favorite items from the weekend was a Kirby plush backpack I plan on using for a future cosplay. 

I spurred up more energy after recouping and got ready to review the masquerade. Zenkaikon’s masquerade was fantastic. Skits were from various fandoms. 

Jojo’s Adventure, Doki Doki Literature Club, Precure, and Vocaloid are just a few fandoms represented in the well-rounded masquerade.  Hatsune Miku cosplayers especially rose to the occasion. The masquerade showcased over 30 entries and I’ll remember the delightful performances for many years to come!  Seeing other fans interact and especially be brave to perform on stage, is really inspiring

On Sunday, I reflected on the weekend and made my trip to a local Starbucks before tackling the last day. The Starbucks had a great view of Lancaster.; cherry blossoms had just begun to bloom, too! 

After enjoying breakfast and coffee, I walked around the con floor as 2023’s event came to a close. I packed up some final belongings and although I was even more tired. Yet,  I come home after attending conventions with a unique type of energy. A motivation and drive to enjoy different aspects of events, including interacting with other fans. 

People continued to cosplay even as the final day went on and gathered in the hotel lobby to chat. I sat down and enjoyed the con atmosphere while listening to nerdy music.  As we left Lancaster and enjoyed one last (delicious) Pennsylvania meal, I was satisfied and already looked forward to the next year.

The event is evolving. Likewise, fandom and conventions can help their fans evolve and grow, too. 


A grad school student and librarian who seems to run solely on espresso and sweets, Cinnaknight has been going to conventions for about eight years. In her free time, she loves to bake, cook, as well as write!

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