I had no idea what to expect heading into SacAnime. Even the host city, Sacramento, is known pretty much only for being the capital of California (the reason for which, I found out from a native Californian friend, was because the original location in San Jose flooded) rather than any sort of unique culture (i.e., San Francisco) or industry (i.e., Los Angeles). I did know that SacAnime was facing competition in the form of San Francisco ComicCon (SFCC),which was taking place across the Bay in San Francisco. SFCC is only two years old to SacAnime’s thirteen, and I wondered if the older con would be hit hard by newer con or if its longer-running status would mean it had loyal fans. The presence of two big conventions in the area meant that fans, and most likely vendors, artists, and guests, would have to choose between one con or the other. Certainly, I wasn’t about to attempt to do two conventions in one weekend, and I doubted anyone else was either.
Not having been to SacAnime the year before it was difficult to see if the con was flagging, but my overall impression was that while the convention had its highlights it also has been weakened by the presence of SFCC. On the one hand, SacAnime is far cheaper than SFCC (SFCC’s Saturday-only pass costs as much as SacAnime’s at-the-door registration for the full weekend) and also touted free autograph sessions. Then again, with guests from geek cult TV shows such as Doctor Who, Firefly, and Star Trek, and Xena, and movie franchises such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, across the Bay at San Francisco ComicCon, SacAnime seemed like a bit of a let down. Even worse, SacAnime surprisingly lost out on the voice actresses for Naruto and Pokemon‘s Ash Ketchum. Small wonder that SacAnime repeated more than a couple panels over multiple days; the con’s programming was stretched rather thinly. At the same time there were events such as a Lolita Morning Tea that required extra fees. It would have been interesting to check those events out if I hadn’t spent so much time in lines for other events.
For a thirteen-year-old con, SacAnime was also surprisingly disorganized and hectic. The venue isn’t new to the organizers–SacAnime has been hosted out of the Sacremento Convention Center for four years now–but the con staff, volunteers, and techs still seemed to have issues running the con. There also didn’t seem to be any sort of hierarchy among the staff, which meant that there was no one to order quick fixes such as inserting papers with updated information into program books or posting signs and putting down tape to indicate where attendees should line up. And speaking of the lines…there was no indication, even after confusion surrounding one panel, that attendees had to line up at the back of the convention center for the most popular events. More than a few attendees who had been waiting for the masquerade had to head to the back lobby and lost their place in line. Presumably the staff were trying to clear the narrow hallways, but then why have a line just to get into the autograph room, especially since there was more than enough space inside for waiting attendees? It was also a pain to move back and forth between the convention center to the nearby Sheraton to pick up badges or check the Lost and Found.
Ultimately, what saved SacAnime was the passion of the attendees and guests, especially the cosplay. If you want to see or be seen, SacAnime is your con. The ratio of cosplayers to non-cosplayers at SacAnime was the highest I’ve ever judged any other con to be, perhaps a fourth or even a third of the attendees, and the quality of both the hall and masquerade cosplays were top-notch. In fact, the first half hour of the cosplay masquerade alone made up for the wait and the line redirection even when viewed from a seat at the edge of the room. Aside from official events such as the masquerade and the geek fashion show, SacAnime also included cosplay support in the form of a cosplay lounge and ER (though sadly not in the same area) and multiple scheduled cosplay gatherings each day of the con. For those attendees inspired to cosplay on their own there were also fan-run cosplay panels on Friday and Saturday and quite a few vendors in the exhibitors’ hall selling solely cosplay wigs or props among the usual fanart and merch.
All that fan passion must have been infectious; veteran guests of popular franchises also seemed to enjoy themselves. When Steven Universe fans sang the show’s theme song while waiting for Saturday’s panel to start I caught a glimpse of Susan Egan (Rose Quartz) waiting to go onstage. She looked both absolutely touched and gobsmacked. Her fellow Steven Universe panel members, Zach Callison and Grace Rolek, were clearly just as delighted by the the fans and even the under-attended Friday Game of Thrones panel (that was missing from the program book) was entertaining and touching in turns thanks to Kristian Nairn and last-minute addition Keisha Castle-Hughes.
Is SacAnime worth the visit? Not for more than a day. I’m not sure I’ll be back next year; it would depend a lot on the featured guests. I would at least want to know that the logistics of the con would be smoothed out. If you’re a cosplayer, even an aspiring one, come on Saturday for the masquerade and the Geek Fashion Show. If you’re a casual fan or attendee, come on Friday when it’s quieter to get a better chance to meet the guests or just make it into a panel. Otherwise, SacAnime gets a pass from me.