Sakura-Con 2023 Unites Fans, Artists, and Anime Community in its 24th Event
Updated: Jul 2
Edited by Gurjot Kang
Cosplayer Williow, dressed as Inkling Girl from Splatoon, on April 7, 2023. (Photo/Antonio Nevarez)
Sakura-Con returns to Seattle’s Convention Center to host a variety of shows, shops, and panels, among several other activities to bring anime fans together. Attendees had the opportunity to enter cosplay contests, interact with voice actors from their favorite anime, and even attend a concert by the Japanese rock band, FLOW.
Considered to be Seattle’s most popular anime convention, Sakura-Con was created in 1998 by the Asia-Northwest Cultural Education Association (ANCEA), a non-profit corporation with a mission to “educate about Asian Culture, with a focus on Japanese animation, comics, gaming and cultural arts,” according to ancea.org. Since the late ‘90s, ANCEA has gone on to host 24 Sakura-Con events, with over 23,000 guests in attendance in 2015.
If you were to visit Sakura-Con, something you would notice is an abundance of convention attendees dressed like their favorite characters from anime, TV shows, movies, video games, and so many other forms of media; this practice is known as cosplay. For some cosplayers, it can be a casual experience, as it was for Kayla Nguyen. She cosplayed Bishamon from the Japanese fantasy series Noragami.
“I woke up late this morning. So I rolled out of bed, took a shower, and did my makeup and I actually dressed in the car,” Nguyen said. This year was the first time Nguyen went to Sakura-Con. While her cosplay is casual, she enjoys how it helps her connect with others; something she has wanted to do in the past. “I've been watching [Noragami] a lot and engaging with the fandom, but I just never had time or I really didn't care a lot for [conventions]. But this time I just want to embrace it.”
On the other hand, there are also cosplayers who take the craft more seriously and enjoy dedicating countless hours to putting together their costumes. Oftentimes, a costume can take months to prepare and even require some handiwork. Willow is another cosplayer who attended Sakura-Con this year. Their costume was inspired by the orange Inkling girl from the Nintendo game, Splatoon.
“I started going to conventions like two years ago, and I started cosplaying about three years ago,” Willow said. “I go to as many as I possibly can. I'm always in cosplay.”
Splatoon contains an arsenal of paint-inspired weapons, including a giant paint roller that the player is able to use in turf wars. Willow recreated this weapon for their costume, which required a lot of hands-on work.
“It was a lot of paint and sewing and a lot of PVC pipes,” Willow said.
The giant paint roller they included in their costume was custom-built out of ordinary items. “This is all PVC pipes and just a painted two-liter soda bottle, and a lot of duct tape,” Willow added.
A highlight for many attendees of Sakura-Con is Artist Alley; a designated area for artists and small business owners to promote their art and merchandise at their own booths and tables. These business owners come from around the world, often traveling from convention to convention to sell their work.
One of the businesses featured this year at the Artist Alley was ‘Bubble Jar Art,’ run by Lauren Galvan and co-founder Alex. Together, they sell digital art, prints, and handmade plushies that each take about two and a half hours to make.
Lauren Galvan, co-founder of Bubble Jar Art at their table in Artist Alley, on April 7, 2023. (Photo/Antonio Nevarez).
“Each one is handmade by me. I make the patterns myself and the designs. So [for] each plushy, I first have to do a bunch of trial and error to get the correct pattern. And then once the pattern is made, I just cut everything, sew everything, stuff everything, and then bring it to conventions,” Galvan said. “I love interacting with customers [and] telling them about my art and them really appreciating it and accepting it. It's always a good time.”
While many artists enjoy sharing their work with convention-goers, it doesn’t go without hard work and planning. Clark Lewis runs ‘MeadowClarks,’ where they sell prints, buttons, and stickers of their digital art. Lewis admits they put in a great amount of work to prepare for conventions.
Clark Lewis (A.K.A. MeadowClarks) at their Artist Alley booth, on April 7, 2023. (Photo/Antonio Nevarez).
“Too much work, honestly. I mean, obviously, there's the actual doing the art, printing, prepping; buttons are made by hand, shirts are made by hand,” Lewis said. “So [I’m] like sitting on my floor at three in the morning with a button press and my iron.”
Once the products are finished, there is still a lot of preparation left before the convention table is set up.
“Packing things, moving things, setting up the actual booth takes like six hours. So that's exhausting. Yeah, I mean, most of the stuff here is like three or four months work of putting things together, sending it to a press, or printing it myself… too much time is spent on this and not enough time is spent on my real job,” Lewis joked.
One of the most important elements in the art of anime is the voice work done by professional voice actors to give characters their personalities and traits. For countless anime fans, Sakura-Con provides a way for them to finally meet some of their favorite voice actors behind beloved characters.
Every year, Sakura-Con works to create a list of guests involved in voice work to appear at the next convention to sign autographs, host panels, and take photos with fans. This year’s guests
included Erica Schroeder of Pokemon, Xander Mobus of Persona 5, Cristina Vee of Sailor Moon, and nearly a dozen other guests involved in animation and voice-over. While many of these guests attend conventions on a regular basis, Sakura-Con still manages to stick out to them in meaningful ways, as was the case for voice actor, Xander Mobus.
Xander Mobus with a figure based on his character, ‘Joker’ from Persona 5 on April 7, 2023. (Photo/Antonio Nevarez).
“This was my home. When I was in high school, I came to this as an attendee,” Mobus said. “I love this con. I love being in Seattle, so I'm very happy to be here.”
Attending conventions as a guest allows Mobus to interact with fans in a way that is more personal and emotional, compared to casual interactions on social media. His most notable role is the character ‘Joker’ from Persona 5, a Japanese role-playing game that centers on a team called the ‘Phantom Thieves.’
“Since conventions have started coming back, when I go to them, a lot of people will come up and say, ‘Hey, listen, I got into Persona 5 over the pandemic, and you know, when I couldn't see my friends, I had the Phantom Thieves. And that's, you know, it's not the same thing, but it helped us get through this tough time,’” Mobus shared. “That hits you where you live, you know? That is really powerful to hear.”
Erica Schroeder, known for her many roles in the Pokemon animated series, attends conventions on a regular basis. She is currently scheduled to appear at around 15 conventions across the United States in 2023. While the traveling is nearly year-round, the opportunity to meet with fans makes it all worth it.
“Conventions as a whole have been an incredible experience. It's been really amazing meeting the fans who are always so kind. It's really a humbling experience to have someone say, 'I was struggling with this, but then this character inspired me,’” Schroeder said. “Something as deep as that, you never expect.”
While Sakura-Con 2023 is officially over, fans of the convention have many more opportunities to look forward to, including the next Sakura-Con event scheduled for the weekend of March 29-31, 2024.