IKKiCON is an anime and Japanese pop culture convention located in Austin, Texas. It brings together otaku from all over the United States and conveniently takes place at the Renaissance Hotel. While this was my first ever IKKiCON experience, the convention has been around since 2005, making this their 13th year.
Although I attend conventions pretty regularly, this was not only my first IKKiCON but also my first anime convention attended. I came into it unsure of what to expect but open to learning the ropes of a convention geared to a somewhat different crowd and a piece of pop culture that I’m not extremely familiar with.
To be upfront, I am not the biggest fan of anime in general although there are titles that I do like like Netflix’s Ajin. That said, this convention gave me a chance to experience anime in a whole new light. It had a unique feel that is not like any other convention I have attended before. Just by walking into the lobby on day one, you could tell right away that IKKiCON is all about the community. There were areas for dancing, where strangers gathered around and did various dances from all their favorite shows and games or preparing for the idol competitions. There were even make shift photo-ops with photographers all around the lobby.
Overall, when you looked at the schedule, you could just see all the events that required audience engagement and participation. From the Maid Cafe, J-Pop karaoke battles, and idol showdowns to the interactive special guest Q&A’s every moment is geared to build community experience.
Cosplay has always been a staple at any conventions and the community only seems to be growing with more costumers taking on the persona of their favorite characters from almost every genre and medium. The cosplay at IKKiCON was amazing and very abundant. This convention had the most cosplay I have ever seen at one convention. We saw everything from Bioshock to Dragonball, Sailor Moon, RWBY, and every UA student from My Hero Academia.
In fact, there were people who just showed up just to show off all their hard work cosplaying and nothing else. They would set up in the lobby and make their rounds, posing, taking selfies, and staging photos with cosplayers from the same franchise. It didn’t matter what franchise you love, there was probably a cosplay there for you, the sheer amount of the variety is unmatched by any other convention.
With special guests who are professional cosplayers there were many panels about building armor, sewing, and getting started almost all equipped with hands-on tutorials. The importance of cosplay to the anime community is unparalleled, which makes sense since the style of costuming has been credited as originating in Japan.
The special guests of IKKiCON did a fantastic job making their fans feel loved. I was impressed at how many events and panels the guests did for the convention. Between all the autograph signings to their Q&As and addition panels, the guests were put on full display and fans had the chance to meet them at multiple times through out the three-day conventions. The guest list included Lisa Ortiz, Sarah Natochenny, Beau Billingslea, Tia Ballard, Greg Ayres, Big Head, Sephi Hakubi, Carl Martin, WindoftheStars, Steph von Schweetz, Vitamin H, Take 0, and Pixcelation.
They all had a full slate of things they were doing, so you had plenty of chances to catch up with them. I was able to attend two Q&A panels which were fantastic despite the noise issues that occurred from the other room. They were so good that we wrote about each of them — Here & Here. All the guests were great to see and really seemed to enjoy all the interaction and fan engagement.
As I stated before, this was my first anime convention. With all the dancing and people just enjoying themselves just sitting the various lobbies or relaxing in the dedicated manga room, watching episodes of popular anime in the screening rooms, or experiencing the Amai Maid Cafe, there was a lot to see. But another thing that was really cool and unique was the dealer’s room where vendors sold their goods.
I have been to other conventions that sell anime merch, but this was anime merch on a whole other level and scale. I got to interview and write about Rachel Page, the owner and creator of Happy Cat, a brand selling on the floor. Between the customized stickers all the way to cosplay weapons, Japanese street-wear, and customizable anime body pillows — there were a lot of them. If you love anime and cosplaying there was something there for you. We also got to meet and speak with the founder of the Where Da Waifu, a brand made by and for otaku.
I enjoyed IKKiCON and it was definitely a unique experience. The events and panels ran all day and way into the night that is something that different from most conventions. Taking place in a hotel that most guests were staying in, there were adult-geared panels like Hilariously Bad Hentai Dub and Your Favorite Final Fantasy Sucks that ran late into the night. There was also an after part and some great events like the Hot Onesies panel, where some of the guest ate insanely hot, hot wings alá Hot Ones in onesies.
But as great as the experience was because of the people, the convention itself wasn’t well-organized. As press, we ran into issues with information and communication. The convention is in its 13th year yet somehow we weren’t able to get a lanyard, program, or any information despite being press for the event. This made planning our days at the con and what to cover for the site very difficult.
While that may not seem like a major deal, with the way the convention was designed every room you went into you had to show your badge and without a lanyard, it was an annoyance. The lanyard is pretty much essential for conventions and the fact they ran out especially in a convention that is well over a decade old was a letdown. In addition, the lack of identifiable press badges made some guests uneasy as we snapped pictures in panels or took videos.
I think overall it is a still a fun convention with great guests and activities, but they could really work on some back-end organization. That being said, if you love anime, community, or you’re a cosplayer in the Austin area this is a convention you should definitely attend.