Zenkaikon 2024: A Gothic Academia Theme… with a Side of EDM?

Zenkaikon is an anime convention founded back in 2006, when two events Kosaikon and Zenthracon merged into what it is today. The convention has almost a twenty-year history and now is known primarily for its location in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

I have mentioned the great food options in past years, and I’d be remiss to not bring this again! 

There are many food options to partake in, from the farmer’s market just across the street offering fresh produce and sweets, to a variety of restaurants satisfying a wide range of preferences. I assure you that you’ll be leaving this event with a full stomach. (Or in my case, that and a bag full of desserts for later).

DJ, Ranma, Mako, and I arrived at the Lancaster Marriott on Thursday. Ari was at the hotel early, but we joined him and got settled! 

Additional friends also arrived soon after, and I was happy to see them again this year: a lovely group of folks I also got to catch up with.

The Hotel Staff were accommodating as we checked in, and let us connect our two hotel rooms. We were all able to catch up and discuss convention plans as YouTube documentaries and Food Network contests played in the background. 

Pre-registration was streamlined this year. I received a regular badge but with a press ribbon, and did hear from fellow attendees that the badges did share the same design. 

The theme of the convention was Gothic Academia, and the badges looked a little like student IDs. The main artwork for the convention, activities, and 21+ events also gave nods to the theme. 

Along with the streamlined pre-registration, signage was greatly improved. I personally liked the prominent ‘badge-check’ banners that reminded attendees to show their badges to staff while in important areas, such as the dealer’s room or main areas of the convention. 

Ranma and I did have a surprise brewing for Mako-Chan, with the last part arriving at the hotel around Day 0. 

Friday began quite early for me, as always. I woke up and waited in the lobby for the Lancaster Central Market to open. This is a convenient farmer’s market that offers the maple bacon donuts that attendees love! 

I put on my updated Meta Knight cosplay. The armor made me feel a little stronger while walking through the halls. I even met a Kirby cosplayer, leading to a chance to get a selfie. 

I tried to attend some panels on Friday and throughout the convention but had trouble staying engaged in them. 

Many panels I attempted to see ended up being direct read-throughs of content on slide shows and lacked interaction with the audience. The interactive element is often what I tend to enjoy most in panels. At the same time, hosting a panel is no easy feat, and I did see the panelists either give their talks solo or in the case of group panelists,  lend each other words of encouragement and support.

While writing this review, I recognized a noticeable decrease in lecture-style panels and a steady increase in attendance for workshop panels… This decrease seems to be happening to conventions I’ve been attending post-pandemic, and could possibly be an indicator of a change in convention culture within the area. 

 Although the panels did not catch my interest at this year’s Zenkaikon, I liked seeing the performances.  Friday’s Idol Showcase was vibrant and fun! Outfits sparkled on stage and folks danced and sang under bright spotlights. 

Last year’s Idol Showcase was organized in a tournament style during 2023’s inaugural run, but this year was a chance to see great performances, ranging from cheerful solos, to cool and cute group acts. 

I did feel tired after the show from taking in the very bright lights,  and music that did seem a lot louder than I was accustomed to. I spent the evening in the hotel, watching documentary videos and unwinding.

I even spent some time in the gaming room, racking up points on my arcade cards to earn a new character on Chunithm. The arcade was very open in comparison to other arcades I’ve come across, with many machines being unoccupied even at peak Friday hours. 

We also got to reveal a surprise for Mako-Chan, revealing a Makoto Kino cosplay from Sailor Moon! Mako is a fellow staffer, a strong person who I look up to. I was a version of the character from the first few arcs of the series.  Mako-Chan wore the version of Makoto later on in the series. I liked seeing Mako light up as the plan all fell into place. 

Friday evening came along and meant turning on the hotel television and watching Food Network:  Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives is a show that is a tradition, and I even watch it outside of conventions to remind myself of my friends. 

Saturday came along, and I changed into my Kirby cosplay, took the shuttle, and went to the arcade at the Holiday Inn. 

The entire Holiday Inn was suddenly evacuated, and our group later found out the evacuation was due to a threat regarding a Drag Queen Story Time at the nearby library. 

Although a threat was not found, it was taken seriously to ensure the safety of the public. Lancaster authorities and convention staff handled the scare swiftly, calmly, and professionally.  

Attendees were really supportive and caring, walking in big groups in the rainy weather and looking out for one another.

I was shaken about the issue regardless and stayed in the hotel for several hours until the announcement of an ‘all clear’, going down for the masquerade. 

The masquerade had fantastic performances, many of which had props and gave a big theater atmosphere to the overall evening. Uncle Yo gave a unique opening, which not only related to the rainy weather outside but took a unique approach to a day that began gloomy for many of us attendees. He brought optimism and excitement to the performances the audience eagerly waited for and showcased the community aspects of the con scene. 

Key takeaways from the masquerade were a variety of dynamic looks, great expressions, and most of all, dedication to cosplay. This dedication is near and dear to me, and tangible as I viewed the stage. 

Our group packed up much of the luggage we brought into Mako-Chan’s car that night. I was rather tired, the adrenaline from the boisterous show settling to a surprise: the weekend flew by!

We still had Sunday left to go. I went to the karaoke room shortly after it opened for the day, hearing unfamiliar but beautiful covers of songs by talented folks! The room was offered in the Tellus 360, a location across from the con center, not too far from the connecting hotel parking area. 

I liked the hours in the karaoke room! The Tellus 360 is a bar,  and I hesitated at first to enter due to bars not being my type of place, (they tend to be noisy spots!) 

I relaxed a bit, listening to people singing covers in a chill space. 

I also got in more rounds at the arcade and nibbled on some desserts from previous Farmer’s Market outings here and there. 

Zenkaikon is an overall solid convention, the experience of its long run, careful consideration of attendees and press feedback, and professionalism are what make it stand out as a great event! 

My main suggestion for Zenkaikon would be a quiet room. The convention is getting increasingly popular and I’m really happy to see it expand! On the other hand, the stimulation of a convention space, whether it be crowds or noise, can be a lot to take in. 

Conventions both big and small are offering quiet rooms, and I feel that offering this next year can only enhance the con experience for many attendees. 

I look forward to Zenkaikon every year, and thank everyone who made this con a great one! 


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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