At first glance, Nan Desu Kan seems to parallel my hometown anime convention, Anime Detour, in that for several years, attendance figures were capped after having outgrown their venue. This remained the case until 2015, the first year that Nan Desu Kan moved to their current location, a Sheraton in downtown Denver, and the convention lifted its attendance cap and was allowed to grow. This piqued my interest, as it seemed to be an up-and-coming convention, freed from the shackles of the past and allowed to now expand. Was it another good convention flying under the radar of most con-goers?
Well, first impressions were not great at all. Like Naka-Kon, the website and Facebook pages did not host any forums for attendees to interact with each other. Information was sparse and not very forthcoming, also taking on Naka-Kon’s approach of limited interaction with attendees and a “we will tell you things only when it is necessary” approach to communication. But then the website displayed one piece of information that sent significant shockwaves down my spine: the hotel cost, which was $199 per night. Now, to give everyone perspective, this would be the second most expensive hotel I have ever booked for a convention, so expectations were set quite high. However, what was even more disconcerting was that there were hotels in the surrounding area where rooms cost less than Nan Desu Kan’s convention room rate, which begged the question why the convention was not able to negotiate a lower room rate for themselves, and whether attendees would instead book these cheaper offsite hotels instead. Did Nan Desu Kan offer a cheaper convention room rate at these overflow hotels? Nope.
The website continued to release information that made Nan Desu Kan even less appealing even before I had set foot on the plane. Schedules were released about a week or two before the convention, and my disappointment continued to compound until landing in Denver, as I had discovered that Nan Desu Kan was another convention that did not start until later in the day on Friday. The “some people can’t get off of school” defense doesn’t apply here, as the convention took place over Labor Day weekend. My mood did start to brighten up after getting to the hotel Friday morning, which was aesthetically a very nice venue, containing quite a lot of space to host the convention, as it was split into two buildings connected by a skyway. Badge pickup was a quick and painless affair, and Nan Desu Kan has wisely followed two good moves set by AKON: use extensive amounts of tape and rope to cordon off areas to establish orderly lines, and put maps in communal areas.
Nan Desu Kan has also wisely staggered the opening times of various parts of the convention on Friday, in order to keep attendees’ interest piqued, and the rather nice artist’s alley, with its 12:00 PM opening time, did contain a good variety of artists, including those doing more convention-centric art and anime-style art nonspecific to any series or video game. The fact that the actual opening was delayed to 1:00 PM was cause for some concern, but observing the convention staff use a UV light to check the back of each attendee’s badge for a watermark before entering into the artist’s alley (and other events throughout the weekend) seemed like an excellent idea that should be rolled out across more conventions. But the artists alley was not big enough or sufficient enough to hold my attention until the dealers room opened at 3:00 PM, which is several hours too late. Once one got into the dealers room, it was quickly apparent that the wait was not worth it. The venue for the dealers room was much too small, with very little hallway space and too many booths crammed into said room. One doesn’t so much walk into a booth so much as bump into the tables displaying merchandise, but not after getting held up or crashed into by other convention attendees. There was a general variety of merchandise, but there were no industry booths at Nan Desu Kan, and the only thing unique that caught my eye was a vendor selling custom-made sculptures. Forget about taking pictures of cosplayers in this room or even going inside with a large and obnoxious prop.
On second thought, I take that back. Percentagewise, there were very few large and obnoxious props at Nan Desu Kan. Guns, swords, spears, and any cosplay which included armor or lights was rare at this convention, and it puzzled me why as there was plenty of space. Despite a lack of atriums and large open areas for groups of people to congregate that resulted in many people cramming into the square, fat areas, oftentimes crashing into someone else, there was enough space to bring large props. Instead, what Nan Desu Kan has chosen to do is implement a rule I had only seen at Anime Detour: peacebind all weapons with obnoxiously colored zip ties and wrist bands. Only Nan Desu Kan implements this much more extensively to the point of utter lunacy, and to give one an exact idea of how ridiculous the rules are enforced: a woman told me that one year, her well-stacked female friend was told by convention staff to peacebind her cleavage. Attendees have gotten so fed up and discouraged that they refuse to bring cosplays with such props. Instead, what I saw at this convention was attendees bringing out their simplest and most basic outfits, with little group cohesion amongst other people. Interaction with other people was limited as well, the atmosphere being one of order rather than one of fun, and there was a whiff of the same cliqueyness that plagued Anime Weekend Atlanta, though it was much more toned down here. It seems that staff has somehow managed to stifle and strangle this convention to the point that one didn’t let loose at all.
Or is all this the hotel’s fault? In addition to the peacebinding rules (which many cosplayers said was one of the hotel’s demands), photographers were forbidden by the convention from setting up large external pieces of lighting equipment in the hotel area, and the only other good site for photography outside the hotel was a commercial district owned by corporations who use private security agencies to enforce similar rules. Inside the hotel is not much better, unless you wish for your pictures to be overwhelmed by a hideous and obnoxious shade of orange more suitable for a road construction sign. In another blow to photographers, the photoshoot setup at Nan Desu Kan is appallingly half-assed, being one step above Naka-Kon with their “announcement only through a private Facebook group” approach. Sure, there is a comprehensive list of photoshoots available throughout each of the three days. But in setting up the schedules, Nan Desu Kan has instead taken the dictatorial approach of setting schedules for its attendees rather than the other way around. The constant theme throughout the weekend was attendees not knowing where the photoshoots took place, what times they took place, or the fact that they even existed at all. Once one got to the photoshoot area (which had hideous crème-yellow lighting and in the middle, bluish clear lighting), one instead found photoshoots without leaders, very few attendees, and 3 small, hideous backdrops (a One Piece themed work, one with obnoxious “NDK” logos all over it, and one featuring a car being driven down a road by an anime character). The half-heartedness being put on display here is shocking, and the extent to which the convention has managed to disenfranchise so many attendees is ridiculous.
Also ridiculous is the start time for panels, which follows the Naka-Kon philosophy of not having panels begin until Friday evening at 5:00 PM. Whilst Nan Desu Kan does at least use panel rooms to the fullest extent and has taped off areas to facilitate lining up, handing out a second set of cards to count attendees to avoid overcrowding is unnecessary overkill. Also, the overabundance of fashion-oriented panels will please some but disappoint others as it takes away from other panels that could have been held. Another thing that Nan Desu Kan falls short on is food- most conventions these days at least offer some sort of food option outside the hotel’s restaurant within the convention’s venue. Nan Desu Kan falls short here, with no food trucks or kiosks, and the only inexpensive option within the venue was a coffee shop. Restaurants will require walking down the street, and whilst the hotel does offer a cheap soup restaurant, it for some reason was closed for the weekend.
Throughout the convention, the main theme was one of disappointment, and I instead spent most of my evenings in my hotel room editing pictures from a convention I had attended the week previously. It was tolerable on Friday, but on Saturday, the day where a convention is supposed to ramp up and put forth its best footing, my disappointment turned into frustration. I kept wondering why anybody outside the local community would want to attend Nan Desu Kan, and whether there was anything that this convention did better than others I had attended. Sure, the artists alley was acceptable, the venue was rather nice, and staff was good at maintaining order. But there is more to a good convention than keeping order and having a nice venue. Each convention that I had attended previously, despite their drawbacks, did at least one thing better than their competitors and thus would offer a compelling reason to return or promote to friends. As much as I criticize the old and stale Anime Detour and the heavily flawed Naka-Kon, I can justify attending either convention at least one time because of their low price of entry. Nan Desu Kan doesn’t even have this defense to hide behind, so there is no reason to attend this convention whatsoever, as it does nothing better than its competitors or even rise above “average” when compared to other conventions, whilst charging an egregious sticker price. The panel schedule was terrible and the panels themselves were geared towards a niche audience. The dealers room was too cramped and offered little of noteworthy value. Everything started too late. The attendees were all disenfranchised and disconnected, as if they were attending the convention out of obligation, like going to a dentist appointment. The photoshoot arrangement was rubbish. The rules were overbearing. Now, this isn’t a bad convention in the normal sense. There were no political, financial, or criminal scandals that plague upper management, terrorist attacks or threats by other groups of people, crimes committed by staff, property destruction or rampant misbehavior from attendees, eviction notices, massive event cancellations or attendee walkouts. Instead, it is bad in the sense that it does nothing good. This is the first convention I have attended that I can’t recommend to anybody at all, and for the Colorado locals who have only attended Nan Desu Kan, for the love of god, get a plane ticket or drive and attend something else to get a proper, enjoyable convention experience.
However, do check out my convention photos here and here . Photoshoots attended include RWBY, Yuri on Ice (photos to come soon) and Vocaloid