Nerd Culture

Taiyou Con 2017: A Field Guide to This Weekend's Event in Mesa

Sailor Moon cosplayers at last year's Taiyou Con.
Sailor Moon cosplayers at last year's Taiyou Con. Benjamin Leatherman
Anime is one of the world’s most popular geek pursuits – and it's only getting bigger and more popular.

Fans of the Japanese-born animation style can’t seem to get enough of it, which is why streaming services like Crunchyroll boast hundreds of thousands of subscribers, profits in the anime industry keep skyrocketing each year, and more and more people are flocking to anime conventions across the United States and around the world.

That includes anime-oriented events here in Arizona, like the locally produced Taiyou Con.

The annual three-day convention – which is devoted to anime and similar Japanese-oriented pop cultural pursuits like manga, video games, and karaoke – has been growing in size and popularity since its debut in 2011. Last year, for instance, more than 3,200 people came to the Taiyou Con at the Mesa Convention Center, which was a 21 percent increase over the event’s 2015 attendance.

And Taiyou Con will likely have an even larger crowd at this year’s edition, which runs from Friday, January 6, to Sunday, January 8, at both the convention center and adjacent Phoenix Marriott Mesa hotel.

click to enlarge Anime cosplayers at last year's Taiyou Con 2016. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Anime cosplayers at last year's Taiyou Con 2016.
Benjamin Leatherman
And just like a previous versions of Taiyou Con, attendees will have the chance to geek out about all things anime along fellow fans.

According to Taiyou Con’s staff, that’s always been the M.O. of the event: to celebrate anything and everything having to do with anime or J-culture in general with like-minded folks. As a matter of fact, says convention director Michael Spadafore, it’s exactly why Taiyou Con’s founders, a group of local anime junkies, banded together to create the event six years ago.

“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 told New Times last year.

And there’s plenty of ways that Taiyou Con attendees can indulge in their fandom. They can check out anime screenings, for example, as well as discussions about their favorite series and titles, attend a concert featuring Japanese rapper Lotus Juice, dress as beloved characters, learn how to build cosplay props (including all that ginormous weaponry), play imported video games, meet professional voice actors like Yuko Sanpei or Akemi Kanda, purchase collectibles, or simply hang out.

Spadafore says that Taiyou Con is aimed at all levels of anime fandom, die-hards and newbies alike. In other words, if you've only seen a few episodes of Dragon Ball Z or Naruto, you're welcome to attend.

“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.

And if this happens to be your first-ever Taiyou Con and you're interested in what to expect, we've put together a guide covering everything you need to know before attending.

click to enlarge All armored up at last year's Taiyou Con in Mesa. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
All armored up at last year's Taiyou Con in Mesa.
Benjamin Leatherman
Dates and Times: This year’s edition of Taiyou Con will take place from Friday, January 6, to Sunday, January 8, in downtown Mesa. Hours of operation are from noon until 2 a.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday; and from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Location: Events and activities will happen at both the Mesa Convention Center, 263 North Center Street, and the Phoenix Marriott Mesa Hotel, 200 North Centennial Way.

Prices: If you’d like to attend the convention on a certain day, admission is $35 on either Friday or Saturday and $30 for Sunday only. Those who plan on spending the whole weekend can spring for a full event pass that’s $45 in advance and $50 at the door.

There’s also a “premier fan badge” for $250 that covers all three days and offer express line access and entry to both events and autograph signings, as well as some limited-edition swag. (Certain events require an additional admission purchase to attend, such as the $25 ticket needed to attend the TeddyLoid VIP Party.)

click to enlarge BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Benjamin Leatherman

Age Limits: Taiyou Con is considered to be all ages and is open to everyone. Children 12 and under can get in for free, provided they’re attending with an adult who's purchased regular admission. (Limit of two kids per paid adult.) Be advised, however, that a small number of programming events will cover risque subject matter and are limited to those 18 and over.

Getting There: The quickest and most cost-effective option is to take the Valley Metro Light Rail. A station is located two or three blocks from the convention center, the trains run until 2 a.m. on weekends, and fare ranges from $2 for a single ride to $4 for an all-day pass. If you’re driving, however, the good news is that the convention center is fairly easy to find (take either the U.S. 60 or Loop 202 freeways to Country Club Road and head either north or south, respectively, toward downtown Mesa). You’ll also have no trouble finding a place to stash your vehicle.

Parking: Mesa Convention Center offers ample amounts of free parking, to the tune of several hundred spaces, and it's all free.

Food and Drink: Vending machines are located at various points throughout the convention center, the vendor hall features a concession stand with fast-casual eats, and the Marriott next door offers an in-house restaurant and bar. Beyond that, downtown Mesa is dotted by dozens of cafes, coffeehouses, drinkeries, and an excellent pizzeria. And the proprietors of each don’t mind if you’re in costume.

click to enlarge Think we can find a copy of Akira on laserdisc? - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Think we can find a copy of Akira on laserdisc?
Benjamin Leatherman
Vendor Hall: It's the centerpiece and hub of pretty much every single convention or geek event, and Taiyou Con is no exception. The event’s vendor hall and artist alley will be located in the main hall of the Mesa Convention Center and include booths teeming with costuming items, merch, toys, games, and (of course) tons of anime and manga. Artists from around Arizona and throughout the Southwest of a J-culture bent will be showing off and selling their creations as well. Hours 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.

Special Guests:
As with previous Taiyou Cons, the 2017 edition of the event will feature a number of special guests from the anime world – such as voice actors and musicians – as well as noteworthy artists and prominent cosplayers. For instance, prolific actress Akemi Kanda (the voice behind Witchblade’s Rihoko Amaha, Nina Sakura in Ultra Maniac, Haruna Sakurada in Sailor Moon Crystal, and dozens of other memorable characters) is scheduled to be at this year’s con. Fellow voice talents Yuko Sanpei (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, UFO Baby, Boruto: Naruto the Movie) and Clifford Chapin (Attack on Titan, Unbreakable Machine-Doll, Tokyo Ravens) are also set to appear.

Taiyou Con attendees can also interact with and get autographs from such musicians as rapper Lotus Juice, singer Shihoko Hirata, and DJ/electronica producer TeddyLoid, all of whom have had their tunes featured in various animes. All three will perform during a special concert on Friday night starting at 7 p.m. Speaking of performances, we’re certain that the members of Mega64 will be just as entertaining during their Taiyou Con panel on Friday afternoon as they are in any of their hilariously off-kilter and geeky videos, skits, and podcasts. Here’s hoping it's just as over-the-top and farcical as their costumed appearances at AnimeExpo and San Diego Comic Con.

Panels and Programming: Want to learn how to build costuming items from scratch or how to become a pro cosplayer? Or are you curious about what it's like to be an anime voice actor or want to get started in the business yourself? Said subjects will be explored and discussed during Taiyou Con 2017. More than 100 different panels and programming are scheduled over the course of the weekend, and will cover anything and everything related to anime, manga, Asian culture, gaming, cosplaying, collecting, and general geekery. A full rundown and schedule can be found on the Taiyou Con website.

click to enlarge BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Benjamin Leatherman
Costumes and Cosplay: Both are a big part of Taiyou Con and are heavily encouraged. Most everyone in attendance will be dressed colorfully or sport costuming of some sort, which means nonstop people-watching opportunities during the event. A variety of panels and workshops will cover cosplay topics, ranging from prop-making to sewing, for anyone who's eager to learn about the craft.

Cosplay gatherings devoted to many different fandoms (including Steven Universe, Homestuck, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Yuri!! on Ice, RWBY) are also scheduled throughout the weekend at various areas around the convention center. 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-syncs performed by attendees.

Bring: A printout of your registration and ID, in order to get your badge without much delay. Besides that, comfortable shoes, a swag bag, bottled water, a fully charged phone, and some cash will all come in handy. If you've got a costume, bring that, too. And if there are prop weapons involved, please be aware that staff will inspect 'em upon entry. Also, a healthy amount of respect for cosplayers and fellow fans (translation: don't be a bully, troll, or creeper).

Don't Bring: A disruptive or disrespectful attitude, as well as any real weaponry or any other dangerous items, including giant robots.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.