When asked what it’s like staging a geek convention at the tail end of a pandemic, Fennell gets a little blunt. “I’ll tell you after it’s over,” he says, laughing. “We’ve been running this event for like 13 years and this has been the hardest time trying to get ready for it this year.”
That includes planning around COVID-19. Hence the reason why masks will be a big thing during this year’s Saboten Con – which runs from Friday, September 3, to Sunday, September 6, at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, 340 North Third Street. Fennell says attendees will be required to wear masks at all times except when eating and drinking. Social distancing will be encouraged.
Saboten Con – which focuses on anime, manga, and Japanese pop culture in general – will be the largest geek event to be staged in Arizona since the pandemic began. The event has taken place annually since 2008 at various spots across metro Phoenix and has been attended by more than 10,000 people in previous years.
Fennell says he feels like there are a lot of people watching how their event goes.
“It’s added to the stress we’re feeling. We’re the first really big [con] happening since this whole thing started. I’m not concerned that we’re not going to do well but we’re providing an example of what can happen when you run a con right now. We’re like the test model. I don't want to say we're carrying the flag into battle, but it sort of feels that way."
Fenell says Saboten Con 2021 will be the biggest event they've put on in terms of the number of programming, as there will be more than 500 different events, activities, and workshops throughout the weekend. And if you need some help deciding what to do (or are new to Saboten Con), we've put together a guide to this year's event to assist you with planning.
When and Where Is Saboten Con 2021?The Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, 340 North Third Street, will host Saboten Con 2021 and its various vendors, events, programming, workshops, and panels. The official hours are from noon to 2 a.m. on Friday, September 3; 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday, September 4, and Sunday, September 5; and 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, September 6.
How Much is Admission?Prices vary depending on which days you’d like to attend. Daily admission is $30 for Friday, $35 for Saturday and Sunday, or $20 for Sunday. A full pass covering the entire con is $60.
Are There Any Age Limits?
Generally, no. The convention is open to all ages, but certain adult-oriented programming and panels are strictly 18-and-over events.
What Are the COVID-19 Safety Rules?Masks or face coverings must be worn at all times when not eating or drinking. Attendees must also maintain social distancing whenever possible. Event security will be enforcing both and those who don't comply will be asked to leave.
How Do I Get There?Given the event is happening in the heart of downtown Phoenix, you might want to consider taking the train. Various park-and-ride lots are available along the light rail route — including those at 19th Avenue and Montebello, Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road, and Washington and 38th streets — and several light rail stations are within walking distance of the hotel. Fares are $2 for a single ride, $4 for an all-day pass.
Where Can I Park?Since some Saboten Con attendees, including those with more elaborate costumes and gear, might need to drive to the event, there are multiple places to stash your vehicle in downtown. Parking at the hotel itself 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.
What’s the Weather Going to Be Like?As hot as you'd expect, given it's the end of summer. Temperatures will be between 101 and 105 all weekend with plenty of sun. You'll want to stay hydrated, especially if you're in costume.
What’s Going to Be in the Exhibitor Hall?Practically anything and everything relating to anime, manga, or J-culture, in general, will be for sale in Saboten Con's expansive exhibitor hall at the hotel. More than 70 participating vendors and booths at the event will offer a wealth of cosplay items and costumes, as well as artwork, books, DVDs, games, music, books, collectibles, toys, and other playthings.
What’s the Programming Going to Be Like?
To put it mildly, there will be a lot happening during all four days of Saboten Con. The programming schedule features more than 500 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, and karaoke sessions. Live entertainment is also planned, such as traditional concerts, karaoke sessions, and more.
Who Are the Special Guests This Year?Special Guests: Special guests include anime industry legends Les and Mary Claypool, J-rock band Kazha and voice actresses like Olivia Hack, Jackie Lastra, and Faye Mata. Others appearing will be famous cosplayers D. Piddy, Ashenqueen, Courtney Leigh, and local group Superheroes Unlimited. A full guest list is available here.
Will There Be Costumes This Year?Of course. Cosplay is a cornerstone of the event and 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.
One of the biggest cosplay events of the weekend will be the annual Saboten Con masquerade on Sunday night at 8 p.m. in the Valley of the Sun ballroom, which will feature skits, performances, and some of the most impressive and elaborate costumes at the event.
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.