Ninja-Con: Little on the Ninja, Big on Japanese Culture

 

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(Convention goers-and the food trucks- start to gather outside of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center)

Ninja-Con brought together anime lovers, artists, cosplayers, gamers and more for their 4th year in a row in the heart of the Little Tokyo district in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, June 4.

I have never been to Ninja-Con before. My first convention experience was San Diego Comic Con in 2012 and I’ve been to others such as Comikaze, PAX Prime, and WonderCon since then. I’m not going to compare apples to oranges here, pies to cupcakes, potato chips to Pocky. Ninja-Con is a different experience from all of those, but just as delicious.

 

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(Dustbunny Burger sold by Big Bunz Burgerz: named for the cosplayer Guest of Honor’s fave topping combinations; a combination of bacon, potato chips, Tapatio, and pepper jack cheese)

This year’s Ninja-Con offered a wide variety of guests, panels, artists, entertainment, and things to do for a “small con.” Let’s address this now: No, I didn’t see many what-you-think-when-you-hear-ninjas Ninjas. I did see a thoughtfully crafted, small-scale experience for those who appreciate Japanese pop culture, anime and Asian media. You want to know where a good Maid Cafe is? They’re here. (Summoner’s Cafe) Don’t know what a Maid Cafe is? You’ll learn. Want good music? You’ll hear it. Finished watching a show and you’re sick of relying on your streaming company’s “Suggested Shows” recommendations? Get some recommendations (plus screenings!) here. Plus, they offer additional displays, discussion and appreciation of traditional Japanese culture, including an authentic Urasenke Tea Ceremony and sword fighting.

I didn’t know what to expect going to it. I just knew I loved the subject matter. I feel the scheduled programming throughout the day were hits, with a few misses here and there. When you pick up your badge, you get your standard “loot bag.” I was disappointed to find that the “loot bag” consisted of one leftover comic book from Comic Book Day last month (or a sticker, or some other seemingly at-random object) and an 8.5×11″ paper Event Grid with a layout of the day and the submitted panel/event descriptions and hours of operation. A great variety, but it was missing a map, location of rooms, bios of the special guests, and list of vendors. For those who get caught up in the day and need to backtrack to who or what was where, I was sad a program wasn’t included and I couldn’t locate or find what and who I saw again. I want to thank whoever put up the Wrestling signs all around the building, because that was the only way I was going to find “LP3”- (which, by the way, was on the 5th floor).

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(Techno Destructo!, wrestler, the “unique” part of Ninja-Con’s “community of Cosplayers, Gamers, and the Unique.”)

There was a sign in the main lobby to the location of LP2 and a “No Public Restrooms Sign” (which I imagine, after the 200th inquiry about public restrooms, caused some twitching for the staff). What was missing was a sign for LP1, which was down the elevator, down the stairs, down the hall, past the classrooms (and makeshift dressing room), towards the gardens. (Needed: arrows to guide the way.) It wasn’t a terribly complicated area to get lost in, and the staff really was very helpful at answering my questions, but I feel bad I had to keep asking.

I eventually got the lay of the land, though, and really enjoyed the panels and screenings I was able to attend, of which included cosplay tips, Q&As from cosplayers and voice actors from the animation world (Darrel Guilbeau and Stephanie Nadolny), persons of color in comics, the Visual Kei scene, anime fandoms, a behind-the-scenes look into the making of anime films, and a backstage pass to the life of pro-wrestlers.

One of the afternoon panels I was really looking forward to didn’t have its panelist 20 minutes in, but the staff (and attendees) were sympathetic to it and did their best for those waiting for a delayed panel in the room.

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(L-R, Masquerade MC Marissa Floro, judges Nana Bear, Dustbunny and Danny Gonzales, co-chair on NinjaCon)

There were also games all day-  Smash Brothers and Street Fighter 5 to name a few, and entertainment: bands, sing-alongs, comedy shows, and skits.

“We were originally only going to check it out, but it’s now 4 hours later and I feel like we’re just getting started,” said one of the attendees I was sitting next to at the Nerd Civil War panel.

“We only thought we’d be here for one or two hours, but we just keep finding things to do!” said another group of friends after the 4:30pm Masquerade, who ended up staying the whole day, 10am-9pm, ending with the swap meet.

 

 

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(L-R, Masquerade winners 3rd place: DeCicco Family; 2nd place: Bomb Shell Cosplay, 1st place: Soraskater)

The Plaza Stage had a variety of all-day entertainment. The Fashion Show highlighted local indie fashions such as Sultry VampsAngel TenshiDarling Army, and Bunny Over the Moon. There were several musical performances from bands such as the Nerd-parody duo Library Bards and anime cover band Midnight Shinigami. They not only rocked it, but engaged the crowd, pointing out and calling up fans who were wearing costumes or t-shirts of the animes whose theme they covered during their set. Unfortunately. these performances had to be paused a few times for sound glitches, but they took it well and laughed it off and still kept on a good show.

 

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(Band Midnight Shinigami)

Set up across from the Plaza Stage was the vendor area, which housed an admirable array of Asian-inspired popular fashion trends, accessories, artwork, cosplay items, media, and more. (Shout out to those who thought of putting a canopy up on such a hot, sunny day. It really helped out!) Though there were only 2 rows, with a couple of tables set up around the building and sides, it was manageable for the venue and the vendors there were a good mix and representation of talent and interests. (I could go for a third row next year, though!) The space between tables couldn’t be beat–unlike many conventions, I wasn’t running into people or having people push past me every time I stopped or wanted to stop at a table. The area’s proximity to the Plaza stage’s speakers, especially during peak music and action hours, made it a bit difficult to hear conversation around the area, but I still managed to have a successful shopping and browsing experience. The stuff I didn’t buy, I got cards for, and the vendors I got cards for, I had very pleasant interaction with.

 

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(Some of the vendors at Ninja-Con: Furescent and Miss Alphabet)

If you went off-track from the great offerings Ninja-Con had on the official schedule, there were fan gatherings and the garden was open to a variety of photo opportunities, or just to rest and enjoy the sound of running water and topiary in the midst of skyscrapers and the city.

It was overall an enjoyable day. I came away learning new things, meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and hanging out, and I look forward to what Ninja-Con has in store for 2017. More kawaii? More signs? Add or subtract things from the focus? Comment below and let me know what you think.

 

 

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