Let me start off with a big shout out and thank you to all of San Japan’s volunteers and staff for keeping us all safe, and the staff of the Hyatt hotel for putting up with our insane shenanigans every year.
My first experience with San Japan was in 2009, and also my first attempt at cosplay, (Spoiler Alert: It was ghetto) after a long adolescent life of admiring this world from afar due to being poor and sheltered, it was finally my time. The rest is history. I was hooked. Its the only convention I wouldn’t miss for the world; I grew up with this con. I have to say that my 5th year was the best, and I’m counting on them continuing to grow and get better in the years to come.
When I said ghetto, I meant it.
San Antonio is a beautiful place, which is another reason I don’t mind taking my yearly vacation to spend it there, at San Japan. The Riverwalk is always magical, serene, and jam packed with restaurants and bars to enjoy. I had pre-registered for two three day passes back in February, and also booked our hotel room at the Hyatt for the nights of Friday and Saturday; that was our first mistake. If it weren’t for driving to SA the night before and staying in a roach motel, getting up and dressed early before driving to the con, we would have been, in a word, screwed.
Lots of water, tons of food
Though I love SA, the traffic is always horrendous, worse even than Houston, where I live. Its just too compact for the amount of cars trying to get around, and a huge anime convention on a weekend makes it all the more horrible. After a long and confusing wait in line to get in the parking garage, I got out of the car so my boyfriend, David, could park and I could check in to our room. Now, I know check-in isn’t until 4pm, but in my email from the Hyatt I was told that you could do a kind of early registration for your room, and the staff would give you a call when it was ready. After about 10 minutes of waiting in line, and getting strange looks (I was in costume) from hotel staff that should have been ready for the amount of weird they were going to see that weekend, a member of the staff approached me and asked me what I needed. I told him I was checking in, and he told me the rooms wouldn’t be ready until 4pm. Already in a crummy mood, In my catty bitch voice, I told him I knew that, but was under the impression we could let them know we were here, and be notified when the room was ready for us. His response was, “Oh, well, yeah, I guess you can do that if you want.” Unprofessional. As I mentioned, this was my fifth year at the con, and I have never been treated as poorly by the Hyatt staff as I was this year. I’m 24, mature, and quite polite to all staff, and for some reason they equate con-goers to a bunch of pushy nerds, and they’re going to get a shock when they realize I’m not, and that I will end them with a very well articulated vengeance.
We had quite a bit of luggage, seeing as it was a con, I’m a habitual over-packer, (I like to keep my options open) and we always attend the con swap meets, so we had tons of stuff we wanted to unload. The con itself starts at around 10am on Friday, so why were they so baffled and unprepared when everyone showed up so early? I believe in the future, there should be some kind of system for setting up the rooms earlier for con-goers. I’ll be the first to say we deserve it, we make the Hyatt, the convention center, the Riverwalk, all hotels around the con, and pretty much SA itself an ungodly amount of money for three-four days a year. I don’t know if this is in any way applicable, and from now on we will definitely be splurging and coming in on Thursday in 2015.
Waiting in line to check if our room was ready again, I stood behind a middle-aged woman who was talking to another couple in front of me. She was saying that her 16 year old daughter was going to be here with her 12 year old son, and she was very nervous because she was actually in SA for a different reason, and would be unable to supervise them. I assured her that the people in the convention and anime community were very supportive and for the most part, actually really good people, who tend to look after the younger folk and make sure they’re not having a hard time. She seemed very relieved, and I was happy to ease her worries. Its important for people to know that cons aren’t full of hethen geek-spawn who want to turn your kids into a D&D, hentai-tentacle worshiping devil child.
Last year, we had the misfortune of losing one of our bags somewhere between the car and the bellboy getting it to our room. So by the time our room was ready, (a very discouraging 2pm, after being told they would be ready by noon, and being forced to carry our necessities on us instead of being able to conveniently store them in the room) we informed one of the nice Hyatt employees that we were told we’d be able to load our own luggage and transport it ourselves, or at least supervise its transportation. She responded that it wasn’t allowed, and I was tapping-my-heel-on-the-pristine-tile angry at this point. We had a bad experience losing very valuable luggage last year, and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again in the frenzy of the hotel lobby on the first day of SJ7. She directed us to her manager, who immediately told us what we had asked was, in fact, allowed and was no problem. We told him to please have a talk with bitchy-mc-too-good-for-nerds, so the mixup didn’t happen again. He was very polite, and our bellboy was a doll, making funny, good conversation with us on the way to our room.
I want to give a shout out to whoever made the GuideBook app for SJ possible. It is a miracle, and nobody has to carry around an awkward paper schedule all day. Plus, you can create your own set-list of events, and even set alarms letting you know when to get your ass down to them.
Friday was amazing, the dealer’s room was sublime, with more swag than you could fit in a TARDIS. I bought more things this year than I ever have, though that may be due to the fact that I actually saved money specifically to spend there.
Pokemon Polly Pockets…SHUT UP!
I was finally able to justify spending $75 on a Kigurimi
Artist’s alley was very well laid out, which is something a lot of cons get so, so wrong, (I’m looking at you, Anime Matsuri) and I give mad props to the organized, well flow of traffic SJ7 provided. Lots of great artists this year as well. There is an amazing couple and their son who take green screen photos of con-goers for very reasonable prices, print them out on site, and also send you a copy. They were also at Comicpalooza this year. I love being able to have professional photo booths accessible, and think every con should have at least one.
I was a bit bummed at the guest list this year, SJ usually has a whole mess of Funimation voice actors, (Chris Sabbat, J. Michael Tatum, Johnny Yong Bosch, etc) but this year the only one I even had interest in or knew about was Chris Ayers, who I love. He’s always professional, hilarious, and blunt. I was most excited about Team Four Star, and really enjoyed their appearances at the Guests Unleashed (18+) panel. (18+) Guest panels are my favorite. They’re amazing, and I wish they would bring back Guest Improv. You feel less like you’re at a panel, and more like you’re listening to your friends tell funny stories over a couple of beers.
We really felt like the craziness of the hotel check-in process and the ever clogged elevators took away from our Friday, which is a shame, because for some reason, SJ7 blew their load with programming on Friday. There was a lot of amazing stuff going on, which is usually reserved for Saturdays, with good reason.
We usually go to the Masquerade dance, but passed this year due to not wanting to have to get dressy with masks, because I have glasses, and also because we’ve been continually disappointed with it. Its fun for about 2 minutes, then you get tired of stepping on toes and bumping into everyone on the dance floor, and all the folks perched on the walls like a bunch of awkward seals.
Only in Texas
A few things that had changed this year were the line system, and the fact that we weren’t allowed to sit down on the floor. Look, you don’t have to explain safety/fire hazards to me, I get it, but we’ve sat down on the floor before and the world didn’t end. We keep our feet tucked in, don’t block entryways, and keep walking spaces clear. We were rewarded this year by being yelled at for sitting in sometimes hour and a half long lines. I got dirty looks for haunching it, but volunteer be damned if you’re going to tell me I can’t sit on my own gotdamned haunches. Another rule was that lines were only to be formed officially one hour before each event. Obtuse. Arbitrary. Nonsensical. These are all words that spring to mind. What did they want to happen, for everyone to just stand en-masse for the hour mark line to officially form, then make a mad dash for the line and maybe trample each other in the process of trying to get a good seat? I’m a tiny human being at 4’11. A few rows back can be super damning for me depending on the size of the room in question, and I will cut a bronie that doesn’t understand that me sitting in front of them isn’t going to stop them from seeing literally anything. Them sitting in front of me will. Because of my tiny-person syndrome, we like to get to panel lines early so I’m not in a piss poor mood for the entirety of it because I can’t see shit. On one occasion, we formed our own unofficial line, and “hung out” in front of the panel room, in a coincidental line shape. The volunteer was understanding and let us do it, provided that we again, did not sit down.
Renegades for life sit down when they damn well please
The Team Four Star (18+) panel was a whole different bag of rupees. The volunteer was a woman who I can only describe as a self-important evil dictator, who told the people “hanging out” in our very well placed an organized line that we were doing it wrong, wouldn’t be admitted into the panel if we didn’t listen, and were “not anywhere near the official line’s starting point.” She also seemed to enjoy being a bitch to paying con-attendees; almost gleefully toying with us. I’m again, getting pissed, because even at the 2 hour before the panel mark there were well over 300 people waiting. They should start the lines earlier for bigger panels. Period. End of story. As the count down to the official line began, we were told to meander towards her, and when the flags fell, exactly what I thought would happen happened. Lots of pushing and ugliness, lots of pissed off people, and lots of people who had been waiting being forced further back in the line than they deserved. We were rewarded later by my favorite volunteer; I wish I knew his name because though he’s loud and angry he’s always a doll, has been a volunteer as long as I’ve been in attendance, and can only remember him as pokeball-plugs-cool-hair guy. Pokeball-plugs-cool-hair guy told us that in all of his five years at SJ, he’d never had a better experience with a line being formed and organized, which I found funny but was happy to hear after all the arbitrary hullabaloo I’d just been subjected to.
What’s there to say about an SJ Saturday that hasn’t already been said? Saturdays are by far the best day for events and programming, though as I mentioned there was startlingly more on Friday than there usually is. There are tons of con-goers an onlookers alike begging for photos and asking tons of questions. Its a fun, one-of-a-kind experience.
I was excited about the AMV contest, as I am every year, but this year was a terrible disappointment. It started nearly an hour late, and technical difficulties made it impossible to watch, which is sad, because what we did see promised to be really funny clips. When there was video there was no audio, and vice-versa. David and I had to leave disappointingly early, because we had another panel to get to for fear of being late.
We went to eat at Chili’s near the Rivercenter Mall, which I do not recommend to anyone ever, because the service was awful and I unleashed on a host, who proceeded to ignore me and walk away. Rest assured, It was a justified unleashing, because I may be a heinous bitchface when annoyed, but I can put up with a whole mess of bullshit before being driven to that point. It seems like every year the Rivercenter Mall puts more restrictions on con-goers in costume that want to go there, which is a shame, because again, mad money to be had. This year they added face paint to the no no list, and since I had realistic painted facial scars, we didn’t even attempt trying to enter.
I can’t even describe the 3DS streetpass meetup. I came to SJ7 with 29 streetpasses, two dungeons cleared, and no puzzles completed. (These are all things that can only be accomplished via streetpass, which is having a 3DS connect with another and upload that user’s Mii into your streetpass universe) and when I left, I had 170 streetpass Mii’s, 5 puzzles completed, and 5 dungeons cleared. Many people. Much pleased. They had ice water, which was awesome, but not enough chairs and tables, and with the no-sit rule, that was a problem. Solution: Pretend you don’t speak English and sit anyways.
The EDM dance was the most fun I have had at one to date, mucho sweatiness but very well organized, and I didn’t get tired of the music immediately, as I often do, even though I love dance music. Some of it is just a little too obscure for me.
We also went to Karaoke in our pajamas, which was entertaining, but the sign up wait was way too long, and we left before my songs came up. The guy helping run it was also very dull, and I had to sit and watch him chew on a greasy hunk of pizza with his mouth open, which I did not enjoy. It’s a fun environment, no rudeness, and everyone is happy and supportive of the singers.
If you’re wondering why I excluded the Cosplay Competition, its because we never go. Not because we don’t want to, but because its a long, labor filled process and we really don’t like waiting in line. The end.
Sunday came, and we woke up early, because the Cosplay Swap Meet started at 9:30. We’re lucky we did, because we heard later that the Hyatt was so clogged and backed up that some people were stuck in their rooms for 2+ hours waiting to get out of there. The Cosplay Swap Meet was awesome, run by a very kind and professional young lady, who was nice and informative to newer swap-meeters. The room itself was quite large, but there really weren’t enough tables and chairs to display all of the swag to be had. The Lolita Swap Meet came next, which was weird; it should have gone either first or last since it was the most polarized meet, and most people would have to leave the Cosplay Meet and come back for the regular Swap Meet at 2:30. A very nice volunteer let us store our things in the back of the room, since we’d already checked out and didn’t want to lug it around. (We had a lot of stuff this year) In the meantime, we did our last walk-through of the dealers room and Artist’s alley, had lunch, picked up our green screen pictures, and returned for the Swap Meet.
Its always a party in the Dealer’s Room
If you’re unfamiliar with SJ’s yearly Swap Meets, you’re missing out. Its an amazingly innovative and fun experience, where you bring nerd-culture things you no longer want to trade for things you do want. Exchanges of money are not allowed, at all. One of my favorite parts of the meet is seeing someone’s eyes light up when they find something in my stash that I never considered important and don’t want anymore, and trading it for something of their own. Everyone is always so happy, and there’s no hard feelings for trades that don’t quite match up. What I don’t like about some new Swap Meet developments, and formally complained about last year, is the actual shops and stores that come to them with brand new stuff, and are rarely willing to trade with others, because lets face it, not a lot of what we bring is actually worth very much, hence the point. I got really angry last year when I heard the words “retail value” thrown casually around. I do not fucking care about retail value at a swap meet, because we’re not at a fucking store, we’re at a nerdy swap fest, and some of the people that come with that attitude are downright assholes.
Sundays are always very emotional for me. As I said, SJ is my yearly vacation, where I get to let go, wear whatever I want, do fun things that I love, and meet new like-minded people, all without fear of being judged by the “normals.” I can truly be free there, and that’s why I’ll never stop going, and hope they never stop doing what they do. Every year has its ups and downs, but this year was one for the record books, despite all the complaining I did. I called out some volunteers and Hyatt staff, but trust me, they’re not all like that, and they bust their asses trying to keep the con going and working for us on this rare fantasy weekend we have all come to love. As we were getting ready to leave, I cried, because I knew it was over, and I would be subjected to the real, stupid dickwaffle world the next day. (At 6AM, no less. Thanks, work!)
I will always, always recommend San Japan to anyone new to the convention scene, and anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of attending before. SJ8: 8-Bit, is already scheduled for July 31st- August 2nd 2015, (Aaaaah, the heat of August!) and I can’t wait to buy my passes and book my hotel room.
Get ready for FATALITIES – San Japan WINS!
SJ7 : Samurai 7:
9.5/10 Cat Bugs!
Relate links to photos that were not taken by myself: