Nerd Culture

Taiyou Con 2016 in Mesa: A Field Guide to This Weekend's Event

Anime is probably something of a mystery to most people. In fact, quiz the average person on their familiarity with the Japanese style of animation and they’d probably reference Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Voltron, Princess Mononoke, or another well-known anime that’s been imported to these shores. That, or they might joke about bizarre characters with enormous eyes.

Thing is, there’s much more to the art form than that. Yes, the aforementioned examples are all considered to be anime (albeit Americanized for our consumption) but are an infinitesimally small sample of the voluminous amount of movies, television shows, and videos that have been created over the last half-century or so. Much of anime is quite fantastical and otherworldly, as well as being majestically animated and filled with great human drama and spectacular action. Some of it is just downright bizarre.

Suffice to say, anime is an interesting and colorful pursuit that’s surged in popularity in recent decades, especially here in America. There have also been a growing number of anime-related events and conventions in the U.S., including a few here in Arizona that have sprung in the last few years.

One of the newest is Taiyou Con, which debuted back in 2011, and covers not only anime but also its print-oriented cousin genre manga, as well as Japanese video games and other aspects of Asian pop culture.

In essence, the three-day event, which takes place every January in the East Valley, covers pretty much everything under the sun related to anime. (It’s an apt description, considering “taiyou” is the Japanese word for “sun.”)

According to convention director Michael Spadafore, Taiyou Con was launched five years ago by a group of local anime fans eager to share their interest in the art form with others.

“They have passion for the anime scene here in Arizona and they really wanted to start their own convention for people who have the same interests,” Spadafore says.

They also welcome anyone who’s a newbie to anime and manga, even those who can’t tell the difference between Pokémon and Digimon.

“I do believe that Taiyou Con is a great place for somebody that isn't very well-versed in the ways of anime to come and explore all the different elements of its culture and fandom through our programming,” Spadafore says. “[After attending], they'll come to realize there's more than just Dragonball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh, and all these titles that have become so mainstream over the past decade or so. I feel like they'll be able to find [anime] that will really suit them, whether it's something that could be super action based or something that could be a little more light-hearted.”

Taiyou Con has been attended by an increasing number of anime fans and regular geeks each year since its debut, growing in both size and popularity. So much so that organizers moved it from the Mesa Hilton to the much larger Mesa Convention Center in 2015. Spadafore says that organizers are expecting upwards of 3,000 people to attend this year’s event, which takes place from Friday, January 15, to Sunday, January 17.

As with previous editions of the convention, there will be a variety of anime-related programming and costuming events happening throughout the weekend, as well as appearances by special guests and anime voice talents. This year, that will include visits from actor Kappei Yamaguchi and actress/singer Yuu Asakawa, both of which will be making their first-ever appearance at an Arizona event.

“It's a really big year for us, because last year we had guests that have never been to America before and this year we have to try and top that,” Spadafore says. “The guest list is definitely a major plus for most attendees. If you have a good guest list of people that they're interested in, they'll go no matter what. I know, being an [anime] fan myself, if I saw some of my favorite voice actors at a convention, I would do my best to go to a convention.”

Despite its growing numbers, Spadafore says that Taiyou Con offers more of a relaxed and intimate vibe than much larger anime and geek events around the Valley.

“Arizona and Phoenix in general had a boom of new event to where a lot of events started to spring up. There's always Phoenix Comicon and all the other anime conventions that take place throughout the year,” Spadafore says. “At some big events, you feel like you'll get trampled if you stop moving from all the masses of people. But at a smaller event, you have more of an homey feeling where people feel more comfortable in a sense.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot happening during the three-day event, which Spadafore expects to be plenty busy. If you’d like to get an idea of what to expect, peruse the following guide to Taiyou Con 2016 that covers all the necessary details, including where to go, how to get there, and who to see.

Dates and Times:
Taiyou Con 2016 will take place from 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday, January 15; 10 a.m. until midnight on Saturday, January 16; and from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 17.

Location: Most of Taiyou Con and its various events, panels, and programming will happen in and around the Mesa Convention Center, 263 North Center Street. Certain late-night parties, concerts, and fan gatherings will take place at the adjacent Phoenix Marriott Mesa, 200 North Centennial Way.

Admission: Prices vary depending on how long you’d like to attend the event. Single-day passes, for instance, are $30 each for either Friday or Saturday, and $25 on Sunday. Access to the event for the entire weekend is $40 in advance, $45 at the door.

Age Limits: The convention is open to all ages and children 12 and under can get in for free with a paid grownup. (There’s a limit of two kids per adult, however.) It's worth noting that various panels and nighttime events during the weekend will only be open to those 18 and over. 

Weather: It’s going to cool but not get too cold with temperatures in the 60s. Those with heavy costuming featuring multiple layers should be fine. Everyone else might want to consider wearing a hoodie.

Getting There: If you’re driving, take either the eastbound U.S. 60 or Loop 202 freeways to Country Club Road and head either north or south (respectively) toward downtown Mesa. From there, turn east onto Second Street, which will take you straight to the convention center. There’s also a Metro Light Rail station four blocks south of the center at the intersection of Main and Center streets. Single-ride fares are $2 and an all-day pass is $4.

Several hundred free parking spaces are available at the enormous lot surrounding the Mesa Convention Center.

Food and Drink: Spadafore recommends that Taiyou Con attendees find some time during what will undoubtedly be a busy weekend to eat. “It seems very silly saying it, but I do know some people go the whole weekend without eating either because they’re busy or to save their money for other things,” he says. “Finding time to eat something is one of the keys to having a good experience at the con.”

And they can get their grub on any number of ways during the weekend. A snack bar offering hamburgers, hot dogs, and similar options is available inside the exhibitor hall while a couple of vending machines can be found around the convention center. Downtown Mesa also has a wealth of eateries and cafes, as well as a bar or two, within walking distance of the event. 

Vendor Hall: More than three-dozen different spaces in the convention center’s main hall will be taken up by a variety of artists, professional cosplayers, retailers, costumers, and vendors offering any number of items related to anime, J-culture, or geekdom in general. The hours of operation are from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Panels and Programming: Want to learn how to build custom armor or craft a costume from scratch? Or are you curious about what it's like to be an anime voice actor or want to get started in the business yourself? All of these topics will be covered during any of the 130 different panels and program events scheduled to take place at Taiyou Con 2016.

Ditto for any number of subjects related to anime, manga, Asian culture, or general geekery. On Friday alone, for instance, you could hear about some of the most catchiest anime theme songs, attend a discussion about the role of androgyny in the Japanese media, design your own character, learn about incorporating corsets into costuming, listen to the hottest K-pop artists, or check out a concert by local geek rapper Mega Ran. There are also bad fan-fiction readings, karaoke and lip-synching sessions, anime screenings, and more adult-oriented events devoted to hentai and other taboo subject matter.

A full rundown of everything taking place throughout the weekend at Taiyou Con 2016 can be found here

Special Guests: Around 20 different special guests are scheduled to appear at Taiyou Con 2016, including various voice actors from anime and video games, famed cosplayers, and a few different musicians of a geeky bent. And according to Spadafore, two of the biggest names that will be at this year’s Taiyou Con are voice talents Kappei Yamaguchi (who has performed such roles as Ranma Saotome from Ranma ½ and Inuyasha from the anime of the same name) and renowned actress/singer Yuu Asakawa from Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 and Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny. Both will be making their first-ever appearance at an Arizona event.

Like many local anime fans, Spadafore is excited to see both in person. “I've been a fan of both of theirs for a long time,” he says.

Other notable guests from the voice acting world will be Christopher Sabat of Fullmetal Alchemist and YuYu Hakusho fame, as well as Sean Schemmel (who stars as Goku in the Americanized version of Dragon Ball Z), hack//SIGN’s Valerie Arem, and Erin Fitzgerald from Ed, Edd n Eddy and Monster High. The Taiyou Con 2016 lineup will also include cosplayers like Twinfools and Nova, Garnet Runestar, Hanyaan, and Cerulean Draco, as well as geek-oriented musicians as chiptune artist Bansheebeat, Japanese rapper Lotus Juice, and local nerdcore star Random (a.k.a. Mega Ran). 

Costuming: As is the norm for any sort of anime event (or geek gathering in general, for that matter) cosplay and costuming will be a major part of Taiyou Con 2016. Most everyone in attendance will be dressed colorfully — whether they’re in clad head-to-toe in a costume or just rocking a Pikachu beanie or a pair of ears — and the pursuit will be the focus of a multitude of events during the weekend.

To wit: There will be 18 different “cosplay gatherings” devoted to specific fandoms (ranging from such animes as Hellsing and Black Butler to games like the Legend of Zelda or Five Nights at Freddy's). Meanwhile, roughly a third of Taiyou Con’s programming lineup will include sessions and workshops covering a slew of cosplay topics or functioning as tutorials. A masquerade and costume contest is also scheduled for Saturday evening and will feature some of the best costumes of the weekend, as well as a number of skits and lip-synchs performed by attendees.

It's worth noting that if your costume or outfit involves a weapon of some sort, it will be peace-bonded by security when entering the con. 

What to Bring: Comfortable footwear, a bag or backpack to lug around your stuff or costuming items, money just in case vendors don’t take cards, and a passion for anime.

What Not to Bring: Any real weapons, incendiary devices of any sort, disruptive or dangerous behavior, outside food or drinks, costuming that’s too revealing or of an offensive nature, psychic powers, roller skates or skateboards, horcruxes, gigantic mechas, or familial curses. And since Taiyou Con subscribes to the “cosplay is not consent” philosophy, leave your disrespectful tendencies at home. (In other words, ask before taking photos and don’t be a creeper.)

Other Tips:
Spadafore recommends keeping hydrated throughout the weekend is of great importance, despite the cooler temperatures. “[Attendees] should be sure to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated,” he says. “They'll have a much more enjoyable at the convention if they stay hydrated.”

It also helps to take a load off every once in a while, such as finding a place to sit and chill out for a few minutes, since you’ll be on your feet all weekend long. Your feet will thank you. 
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.