Sakura-Con, the biggest and oldest anime convention in the Pacific Northwest, is celebrating its 18th year this April 3–5.
The convention will take place at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, which allows for over 100,000 square feet of activities.
“Sakura-Con is an event where people of all ages go to celebrate fandoms and cultures,” said Kambria Mcdonald, a convention attendee and cosplayer. This will be Mcdonald’s sixth year attending Sakura-Con.
Sakura-Con is hosted by the Asian-Northwest Cultural Education Association, a registered nonprofit corporation focused on educating the general public through various cultural events.
The convention offers attendees cultural experiences through cosplay, video games and special guests such as h.NAOTO, a fashion designer from Japan.
Educational activities include attending panels teaching various crafts from kite fish making and cosplay to panels featuring voice actors recounting their beginnings.
The convention is run completely by volunteers.
The first Sakura-Con was held in 1998 and was a small three-day gathering at the Double Tree Inn in Tukwila, Washington. Over 20,000 people attended the event in 2013.
Cosplay is a combination of costuming and play. Approximately 80 percent of Sakura-Con attendees cosplay.
“[Cosplay is] not required, but it is super cool to be able to do and present oneself as one of these characters outside of Halloween,” said Andrea Cole, a member of the Portland State University Anime Club.
Mcdonald was introduced to cosplay when she attended a local anime night at her public library and saw people dressed as anime characters
“The next time we had the anime night, I wore my Halloween costume, which was Manaphy from Pokémon,” Mcdonald said.
Sakura-Con is hosting a cosplay competition in which attendees can enter as novices, intermediates or masters.
Sharisse Rourke, a member of the PSU Anime Club and Sakura-con attendee, said that last year’s cosplay contest was interesting because of how people brought these characters to life.
Brooklyn Parcel, a full-time student and cosplay competitor, started competing to show off her creations to a wider audience. This year she will be competing as SKT T1 Zyra, a modification of the hero Zyra from the video game League of Legends.
Hannah Kraus, another fulltime student and cosplay competitor, fell in love with cosplay competitions after entering an event at her local convention, Bellingham Comic Convention. She will be competing as New Dawn Ahri from the promotional video for the video game League of Legends.
Photography is another major component of the convention. From taking candid convention space photos and group photoshoot gatherings, to individual private shoots, there is a photo opportunity for everyone.
Mcdonald said her favorite parts of Sakura-Con are the photoshoots. She said they allow cosplayers to meet people who are cosplaying from the same film, game or comic book. Cosplayers also get to pose for different photographers.
Vincent Milum, a photographer, said that in this day and age equipment does not matter. In the past it was all about the biggest and best gear. The focus now is on the creativity more than anything else.
“Find some[one] you like, borrow some of their time and go take some really creative photos,” Milum said.
Mcdonald said cosplay is very popular at Sakura-Con, and photographers should feel free to ask for pictures.
“Cosplay is not consent” is a running theme through the convention community. It is visible on posters around the convention center. This is to say, always ask permission before taking a photo of someone.
Cosplayers have worked hard on their outfits and do not generally appreciate photos of them eating.
Mcdonald said having photos taken of her in cosplay is one of her favorite things because it makes her feel accomplished.
“It lets me know that people actually like my cosplays and the work I’ve put into them,” Mcdonald said.
Anyone can take photos, but the best photos come from a knowledge of the characters and series from which the cosplay originates, said Brianna Shade, a staff event photographer for Sakura-Con.
Milum is the founder for cospix.net, a website with a focus on photos and high quality storage. It allows for cosplayer discovery and concentrates on the creation of cosplay, instead of the popularity of the cosplayer.
Cospix.net photographers attend over 40 conventions each year, not all within North America. There will be a cospix.net meet-up at Sakura-Con on Friday, April 3 at 3 p.m.
Vendors and Artist Alley
Sakura-Con also offers a variety of opportunities for people who enjoy shopping. There are over 100 vendor booths offering wigs, costumes and cultural items to anime and manga merchandise. Yaya Han even has a booth to sell her new line of wigs and ears.
“My mom is very sick so she can not go to many events, but she was able to go to Sakura-Con with me [in 2013]. I loved going to the vendor’s hall and getting melon popsicles to eat together,” said Mcdonald.
A section of the exhibitor’s hall is specifically dedicated to small press; small self-published web comics and other artistic forms including t-shirt printers and independent clothing designers.
There are 100 artists in the artist alley to peruse featuring not only prints, but also vinyls, mugs, custom made cell phone charms and figurines.
If you still have money left over, you can head over to the art show, which features original prints and one-of-a-kind art pieces not found in the artist alley.
There is also a silent auction section with signed prints from shows and video games. You can bid on the signs from the convention-sponsored hotels directing attendees to the convention. All proceeds from the silent auction go to Make-A-Wish foundation.
PSU’s Anime Club
PSU is sponsoring the Anime Club to be able to attend this event. When club members attended last year they traveled, lodged, ate meals and hung out together.
Sean Patterson, a member of the PSU Anime Club and a convention attendee, said that last year’s convention was one of the best experiences he has ever had. Before the convention, he would show up at the club meetings and hang out. During the convention he made strong frienships with his fellow club members. Now he feels like they are all family.
“[It is hard] being an anime freak where everyone at college looks at you funny, but go to the convention and everyone understands,” said Patterson.
Josh Ruch, another member of the PSU Anime Club and a convention attendee, said that he has gone to cons now and then over the years since he started college. Kumoricon, a convention held in Vancouver, WA over Labor Day weekend, is small scale. Sakura-Con is the largest anime convention in the NW. He was bummed he did not get a chance to go last year, but this year he cannot wait to represent PSU at the convention.
Ben Torrens, another member of the PSU Anime Club and convention attendee, said his best memory from last year was at the end, when they all arrived back in Portland after the convention, and everyone got teary eyed.
“All in all, Sakura-Con is a great event with a friendly atmosphere and safe environment,” Mcdonald said.