Whenever a local geek event or convention debuts, it sometimes might take a few years for it to catch on in the local scene.
Not so with Saboten Con, however, which made a big splash from the get-go.
According to co-founder Greg Fennell, the locally produced anime con attracted a big crowd during its inaugural edition back in 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
"It was crowded,” Fennell says. “We had about 1,000 people there, which was more than we expected for the first year, but it was a lot of fun."
Nine years later, Saboten Con has become the biggest anime and Japanese pop cultural events in Arizona. Run by Greg Fennell, his wife, Stacy, and the rest of the staff at local company Monkey Paw Entertainment, the four-day event over Labor Day weekend regularly features a huge crowd of anime, video game, and J-culture fans, as well as plenty of geeks.
Last year’s event drew more than 9,000 unique visitors to the Sheraton Grand Phoenix hotel downtown. And they’re expecting even more for this year’s event, which happens to be the 10th Saboten Con.
Fennell says that the con has changed a lot over the last decade since its debut, which he says was due to Monkey Paw’s desire to have a local anime con. Saboten Con has taken place in venues on either side of the Valley, for instance, and has increased in size tenfold.
“The event then and the event now are completely different. It's night and day,” Fennell says. “Just the sheer size and amount of things we do and the focus more on Japanese pop culture as well. We've just expanded it over the years.”
This year’s edition of Saboten Con will feature its biggest lineup of special guests to date, including Funimation voice actor/director Dave Trosko, Carla Perez and Robert Axelrod from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Evangelion's Yuko Miyamura, Cherami Leigh from Fairy Tail and Sword Art Online, and a dozen other talents.
There will also be four straight days of activities and programming, including a J-fashion show, gaming areas, anime screenings, concerts, cosplay contests, maid cafes, and other fun.
Here’s a look at what else is in store for Saboten Con 2017.
Dates & Times: Saboten Con 2017 takes place during the entirety of Labor Day weekend. General hours are from from noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, September 1; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 2, and Sunday, September 3; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, September 4.
Location: Just like the previous two years, the con will take over the Sheraton Grand Phoenix, 340 North Third Street, in downtown. Events and activities will be located throughout the first three floors of the hotel.
Admission: Daily memberships are $15 for Friday, $25 for Saturday and Sunday, and $20 for Monday. A full-event admission package covering the entire weekend is $50 per person. (All these options include access all non-paid events during the con.)
Meanwhile, those who’d like to attend like a boss get an “Otaku Pass” for $350, which is available to a limited amount of attendees. It includes full access, a VIP merch pack, the chance to attend a private mixer with special guests and staff, priorty seating at panels, early-bird entry to the vendor hall, and other perks.
Age Limits: Saboten Con is an all-ages event, and children, teens, and families are encouraged to attend. Kids who are 12 and under can also get in free with a paid adult admission, although there’s a limit of two per adult.
Keep in mind, however, that some of the subject matter at panels or screenings might be of an adult nature or only open to those 18 and over, so be sure to consult the programming guide or a staff member before attending.
Getting There: The Sheraton Grand Phoenix is located on the northwest corner of Third and Van Buren streets. If you’re coming by car, take Interstate 10 to either the Third or Seventh Street exits and then head south to Van Buren Street. As with any event in downtown Phoenix, however, your best bet is to take Valley Metro Light Rail. There are stations located a few blocks both west and south of the hotel. Single ride tickets are $2, and an all-day pass is $4.
Parking: Parking at the Sheraton will run you $29 per day, while rates at nearby garages and lots range from $10 (CityScape, Jefferson Street Garage) to $20 (Collier Center, Chase Tower) per day. Street parking is also available throughout downtown, but you'll have to pay up to $1.50 per hour from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. If you use the Pango Mobile Parking app, however, you can preselect and prepay various spots in order to avoid the risk of a ticket or having to keep going back and feeding the meters.
Weather: The forecast calls for triple-digit temperatures and plenty of sun over Labor Day weekend. As such, you’ll want to stay inside the hotel as much as possible during the daytime, seek out shade when outside, and (most importantly) stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Food and Drink: The Sheraton offers a couple of eating and drinking options for con attendees, including a casual restaurant (District American Kitchen & Wine Bar) and an outdoor cocktail spot (Breeze Bar). If those don't suit your fancy, however, there are also numerous restaurants, bars, and other spots around downtown that are a short distance away.
Special Guests: More than two dozen special guests will be in attendance at this year’s event, and the list includes voice actors, famous cosplayers, and a variety of bands and musicians. “You look at our entire guest list and it's jam-packed this year,” Fennell says.
Most prominently, two of the folks behind chracters from the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers show will make an appearance: Carla Perez (who played Rita Repulsa) and Robert Axelrod (who played Lord Zedd). Other acting talents include Funimation's Dave Trosko, Steve "Warky" Nunez, Evangelion's Yuko Miyamura, Cherami Leigh from Fairy Tail and Sword Art Online, Morgan Berry of The Boy and the Beast, Johnny Yong Bosch from Devil May Cry 4, and Ben Diskin of Hey Arnold! and a few Sailor Moon programs.
Famed cosplayers will also be a part of this year’s event, including D Piddy, Green Jello Cosplay, Sweets4aSweet, and Enji Night.
Exhibitor Hall: Pretty much anything and everything relating to anime, manga, video games, or Japanese pop culture in general will be available within Saboten Con's exhibitor hall on the second floor of the Sheraton. More than 80 participating vendors and booths at the event will offer a wealth of cosplay items and costuming, as well as artwork, books, DVDs, games, music, books, collectibles, toys, and other playthings.
Panels, Programming, and Events: Fennell estimates that there's more than 700 hours of programming during this year's Saboten Con. “We designed it the way we did so that you're not bored the entire weekend,” he says. “You're able to find something in one of the 20 to 22 locations that's going on every hour to have fun and enjoy what you're doing.”
This year’s programming schedule features more than 250 different events, including such pursuits as anime viewing parties, gaming battles, lip sync battles, maid cafes, fan fiction readings, dance parties, trivia contests, animated music video contests, art workshops, karaoke sessions, discussions, and workshops.
“We've increased the gaming so it has its own programming room,” he says. “We’ve also added a new hobby expo for figure collectors and Gundam modelers.”
There will also be plenty of live music, including concerts, performances, and dance parties happening throughout the whole weekend. “Our music lineup is now like an entire festival over the entire weekend,” Fennell says.
And that lineup includes such artists and acts as vocal unit JO*STARS (who sang the theme songs for the anime JoJo's Bizarre Adventure), three-piece rock band Kazha, visual kei musician SANA, gothic/J-pop trio Hollow Mellow, songwriter/composer Daisuke Hasegawa. Famed "edge rock" band Eyeshine will also stage one of it's final performances ever at Saboten Con.
Costumes: One of the cornerstones of Saboten Con is the vast amount of cosplay that will take place at the event. Not only are costumes worn proudly pretty much everywhere throughout the event, there will be more than 100 different panels and workshops dedicated to cosplay-related topics. Want to learn how to get into the pursuit and create your own costume? There are several instructional sessions on how you can do just that, as well as tutorials on how to construct armor, learn embroidery, develop a character, build your cosplay self-esteem, stay within a certain budget, network with others, and accessorize with style.
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One of the biggest cosplay events of the weekend will be the annual Saboten Con masquerade on Sunday, September 3, from 7:30 to 10 p.m. in the Valley of the Sun Ballroom. It will feature skits, performances, and some of the most impressive and elaborate costumes at the con.
As with any event involving costuming, however, Saboten Con requires a certain level of respect for cosplayers, so be sure to ask permission before taking photos of anyone.
Also Keep in Mind: Fennell recommends downloading the mobile app early or grabbing a program guide when you come in to plan out your weekend. “There's so much going on,” he says. “The one complaint we get every now and then is that we've got too many good things going on at once and it makes it hard to choose which one to go to.”
Oh yeah, and enjoy yourself, too. “We run these conventions for the fans and for the community. It's time to come in, have fun, enjoy the industry, and enjoy everything that's part of this fandom, but also be able to make friends and enjoy the community and enjoy the atmosphere,” Fennell says.