“Are you going to Kon?”
It’s the question on just about every anime fan in Hawaii’s mind come springtime, and it needs no further elaboration. There’s only one Kon that matters here to lovers of Japanese anime, manga, video games and more: Kawaii Kon.
“(Anime is) a giant unifying outlet for people. Regardless of whether you like sci-fi battles or historical storytelling or schooltime slice-of-life storytelling, it all comes under the umbrella of anime,” muses Kawaii Kon senior administrator Roy Bann. “Everybody can come and enjoy it in one place like this.”
NOWHERE BUT UP
The first Kawaii Kon was held in 2005 at Ala Moana Hotel. With no budget for advertising, organizers relied on word of mouth to bring people in.
“We had our very first people going out there with fliers, and we made homemade posters and we put them up all over the place,” recalls Bann, who has been involved with Kon since “day zero” 11 years ago. The goal was 500 attendees.
Instead, nearly 2,000 people showed up — and it’s grown every year since.
“Really, with how accessible Japanese culture is in this state, it would be amazing if Kawaii Kon didn’t succeed,” says David Teraoka, an operations staffer and karaoke competition emcee. “Kawaii Kon is the premier anime event on Oahu.”
The average Kon features panels, live concerts, anime screenings, contests, merchandise vendors and more (see sidebar for a breakdown).
This year’s special guests are voice actors Toru Furuya, Cassandra Morris, Rob Paulsen and Bryce Papen-brook, and Japanese pop star Eir Aoi (who sings the opening themes for Sword Art Online, Kill la Kill and Fate/ Zero), among others. Previous guests have included artists Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy fame and Noizi Ito of UNiSONSHIFT.
“Four or five years ago, it was an impossibility for a show of our size to bring anyone of that caliber (like Eir Aoi) to come to Hawaii,” Bann says. “At one time, these are the types of people we would never, ever have been able to talk to or even remotely consider coming down to our show.
“And we can do that now.”
THAT ‘OHANA’ FEEL However sprawling Kawaii Kon has become, its success extends beyond the enduring popularity of anime.
“It all comes down to being an ohana with everyone,” Bann says. “The convention is owned by a Mainland entity, but 90 percent of us are here locally, and we make most of the decisions on how the convention is run, how it’s planned and what things are going to be happening.”
Indeed, Kawaii Kon’s staff is all volunteers — from the CEO and directors, down to the people manning the information booths — and always has been.
“People are extremely enthused to be working there, myself included,” says Teraoka, who’s been with Kawaii Kon for 10 years. “The fanbase in Hawaii is phenomenal.”
Bann says that many of the eager staffers who put up posters for the first Kawaii Kon all those years ago still are volunteering today.
“There are so few places like Kawaii Kon where like-minded geeks can come together and share their geekiness together and not be judged,” Bann says.
“That’s really special about Kawaii Kon, and that’s what we’re trying to foster and grow: to make sure there’s always this type of safe haven for all the geeks to be able to come out and not worry about expressing their geeky natures.”
Pre-registration for Kawaii Kon (three-day passes only) ends March 14. Twoand one-day passes are available at the door. For more information, visit kawaii-kon.org.