This year’s Nan Desu Kan (NDK) was like coming to an annual family reunion, with all of the happiness and dysfunctional moments that one comes to expect. Compared to NDK 2018, this year was an immense improvement and it felt like everyone was truly present. The parents (i.e. Board of Directors) felt like they had everything under control. The aunts and uncles (i.e. Staff) were eager to please and not sit in the corner simply waiting for the convention to end. Finally, the children (Guests and Attendees) were so engaged that there was never a dull moment. While there were some hiccups, as expected with any family reunion, it was still a great time catching up with others that we only see a couple times a year.
In all seriousness, this NDK was a great reminder of what this con is all about and why it is still going strong after 20+ years. It may have its ups and down due to the changing climate of the anime community, they always try to adapt as efficiently as possible to keep their family engaged. Fandoms are an ever evolving experience, one has to expect change. Even if it is hard to change and accept it when all one wants is the status quo. However, sometimes rapid change as seen last year was required to help the NDK family adapt to change for this year and next. Not to say that change is the reason why NDK 2018 fell flat in many areas, but it did help lessen the blow with things that occurred this year. Regardless, we are not looking back at NDK 2018, but this current year in 2019. Therefore, in the sections below, we are going to look at the pros and cons of this year’s family reunion.
As you are reading this, I cannot ask which you would prefer – the good news or bad news. With that said, I am going to rip the band-aid off and start with the cons. We might as well take our medicine before getting the treat with the positives afterwards.
Autographs – This is a consistent problem at almost every convention and every year I have attended an event. No matter what is tried (ticketing system or limiting line access) it never quite feels like it works. However, this year at NDK, it was especially worse. While attendees were technically unable to line up until 2 hours before the autograph session to get a ticket, this did not occur. Many attendees had to sacrifice the rest of the con experience and hang out in the autograph line area more than 2 hours before to ensure a spot. Quite a few attendees tried to follow the rules outlined by NDK and were too late to even have a chance to get in the autograph line. One attendee lined up 4 hours in advance and was still unable to get an early ticket as other had been there even longer. While I know that autographs are optional to the attendee, it still harms the overall experience when rules are not followed or being abused.
Audio Malfunctions in Main Events – Not sure what happened this year, but every event I attended in Main Events had audio issues where it sounded distorted, choppy, and did not give the best quality. This was most notable during the Kazha concert when the bass overpowered the vocals and even LAVA mentioned this issue during their sound check before their improv show.
Smaller Variety of Panels – This year it did not feel like there was a great deal of diversity in panels. Not to say it was at all lacking, as I was able to find some excellent content that was engaging, educating, and exciting. The problem was that there was not enough of it from a wider perspective. In speaking with many attendees, it was not a choice this year of what panels to attend, but what else there is to do instead. That is a sad position to be in, when an event like NDK should be providing the attendees with the biggest impact possible along with all the diversity they can handle.
Website Outdated Up Until The Convention Weekend – At the time of the convention it still listed on the website with "more details coming soon" for the current event. While a simple error, it can present an element of disorganization or lack of care. Knowing this is unintentional, I imagine it was a simple oversight.
Charging for Hotel Rooms in Advance of Event – This was the most concerning aspect of the convention and it happened months before NDK even occurred. Earlier this year, NDK presented an early bird special that was a bit cheaper than the normal rates which was awesome. Many attendees signed up right away happy to have the chance to save a bit of money to have more to spend at the convention. But wait, this is where the kicker comes in to disappointment everyone. A few weeks after many attendees signed up for rooms they were then told the hotel rooms would have to be pre-paid. Not a pre-charge to verify funds, but to pay in full in advance of the event. This is a huge hardship to attendees that reserve the room for themselves and others who all share the cost, and then pay the full cost at checkout. If they are saving up funds for the total cost up until the convention itself, having to pay in advance is not an option. Going forward if this is to be a standard requirement, it needs to be communicated right away to prepare attendees for this in advance.
Sunday Afternoon Felt Very Empty – Connecting with the lack of panel diversity, Sunday at the con felt like a missed opportunity. The panel options were very sparse and not much was utilized to motivate attendees to want to stay for the remainder of the con. This was quite disappointing, as it appeared to present a rushed feeling all around the con of needing to get going as soon as one checked out of their rooms. While a number of attendees stayed until the end, it really did not have the energy that felt needed when saying goodbye to family for the year.
The Charity Auction Lacked Energy - Adding to the Sunday lament, even the Charity Auction felt very disjointed this year. Jeremy was running the show by himself and it lacked any sort of energy for the first hour until one attendee raised the flow by bidding $69 on a Master Roshi print. Being that we have attended many Charity Auctions in recent years, NDK felt very bland this year and none of the voice actor guests participated, which was also quite disappointing as they can often bring in an extra level of flare to the event.
Having a Heavy Focus on Cosplay – Although most, if not all cons, highlight their cosplayers, NDK took it to a new level. By having notable cosplayers as guests along with a sponsored sewing room, it provided constant cosplayers and those eager to start avenues to connect and engage in their craft. Seeing the excitement from attendees on this along with availability to learn was a welcome addition that I hope continues in future years. Cosplay demonstrates creativity, body positivity, and engagement throughout the community. Our family at NDK has found a way to capture this and excel the art form for everyone to enjoy.
Line Control – At any convention of sorts, lines are a given. For anime conventions, it is a known standard that comes with the territory and most are prepared for. While noted issues above with autographs and their lines, in the grand scheme of things, lines were not the nightmare they usually are. The line control staffers worked really hard to be communicative and friendly, knowing what attendees are going through. Some staffers managing lines even tried to make it fun as well. Although we are not sure how it was pulled off or what planning went into the process, it was most certainly appreciated by all attendees.
Staff Communications – In connection with line control, all of the staff and volunteers were on point this year. Everyone was very friendly, positive, and invested in the NDK experience. While one can have all of the critiques in the world, if you have an engaging staff that tries to make the experience then it is easy to overlook minor issues. Admittedly, this section is not long enough to sing the praises of everyone who staffed and volunteered for NDK, but did a fantastic job and should be recognized for all their hard work to make this an excellent convention.
Having Guest Booths for Signings & Interactions – This is a new feature that was introduced this year by select voice actors to have their own booths to sell prints and signatures. Other conventions have had this, so it is not a new concept, but it is new to NDK. Having this option offers multiple positive aspects such as, limits autograph line hiccups, offers attendees an alternative to meet their favorite voice actors, and allows the guests to make additional revenue.
Video Room 2 – This room is being specifically highlighted because it offered something entirely new, being able to watch anime and do something while watching. So many people do not just watch shows and nothing else. They may use that time to also work on something else (such as model kits, work on school/work stuff, or play a game). Having a chance to do something more than just sitting there for those who fidget is a great option. It is absolutely appreciated and was very popular to the attendees. For a video room, it was the first time seeing a line go out the door to get in. Hopefully this is something that will be continued as it has proven to be well worth it.
All Ages Content in Evenings – Most times after a set hour, the majority of content at a convention moves to older audiences. While it would be great to see 18+ panels earlier in the day as well, it is sad for younger audiences to be excluded from content just due to age. Conventions are typically the time where bedtimes do not matter! This year at NDK, they proved that attendees of all ages can attend later in the evening panels or events. Everyone then has a chance to have fun no matter the time.
At the end of it all, NDK was a success for the most part! There were hiccups as no family is perfect and having expectations of perfection is unfair. Nevertheless, it is important to note that there are areas of improvement to motivate attendee opportunities and make the convention smooth sailing. Now that NDK 2020 will be at a new hotel, it is anticipated that so much more will come of it. So if you are in the Denver area and want to attend a fantastic event, please make sure to join us. As a family we will be there for you every year!!