Things to Do

Your Guide to Saboten Con 2022, Arizona's Biggest Anime Event

Anime-inspired cosplay at a previous edition of Saboten Con.
Anime-inspired cosplay at a previous edition of Saboten Con. Benjamin Leatherman
If you’ve spent the past year or two getting into anime, you’re not alone. Interest in the Japanese-born animation genre and its numerous shows and movies is at an all-time high, thanks, in part, to COVID-19.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, millions of people binge-watched anime on various streaming services, causing its popularity to skyrocket. In fact, the anime industry raked in an estimated $24.80 billion last year, according to business consulting firm Grand View Research.

In other words, it wasn’t just otaku and weebs enjoying shows like Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, or One Punch Man during lockdown.

The general public’s awareness of anime also spilled over to anything and everything having to do with the genre, including events like Phoenix’s annual Saboten Con.

Organizer Greg Fennell told Phoenix New Times attendance at last year’s event hit 23,000 people, almost doubling the turnout from 2019.

“As everybody was [under lockdown], they started watching anime during the pandemic and it brought a lot more people into the industry,” he says. “I think it’s what caused the major growth we had last year and it's continuing this year.”

As such, Fennell is expecting an even bigger turnout at Saboten Con 2022, which runs from Friday, September 2, to Monday, September 5, at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, 340 North Third Street. The event focuses on anime, manga, and Japanese pop culture and features four days of panels, activities, concerts, gaming, cosplay, and appearances by voice actors and other special guests.

If you’re new to anime and would like to attend, we’ve put together a guide to this year's con with everything you’ll need to know.
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Anime fans outside of the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel during Saboten Con.
Benjamin Leatherman

When and Where Is Saboten Con 2022?

The four-day event runs over the Labor Day holiday weekend from Friday, September 2, to Monday, September 5, inside the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, 340 North Third Street.

What Are the Operating Hours?

It depends on what part of the con you’re talking about. The exhibitor hall, for instance, closes relatively early in the evening while programming will run into the wee hours each night. Here’s a complete rundown of Saboten Con’s operating hours:

Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Exhibitor Hall
Friday, noon to 8 p.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Friday, 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

How Much Is Admission?

If you’re buying online in advance, daily general admission is $25 on Friday, $35 on Saturday and Sunday, $20 on Monday, and $60 for a full event pass. (Prices for each option are $5 more when purchased at the event.)

An “Otaku Pass” is also available for $450 and is only available to a limited amount of attendees. It includes early access to the exhibitor hall, a VIP merch pack, the chance to attend a private mixer with special guests and staff, premier seating at panels, and other perks.

Are There Age Limits?

Nope. Saboten Con is an all-ages event, and children, teens, and families are encouraged to attend. Keep in mind, though, that certain subject matter at panels or screenings might be more adult in nature or limited to those 18 and over (check the programming guide for more details).
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A trio of Attack on Titan cosplayers zoom across a downtown Phoenix crosswalk.
Benjamin Leatherman

How Do I Get There?

If possible, take the light rail. It will save you time, money, and hassle. Trust us. Valley Metro park-and-ride lots are available along the route, there are stations within walking distance of the hotel, and fares are either $2 (for a single ride) or $4 (for an all-day pass).

Where Can I Park?

If you’re someone who needs to drive, due to having a complex costume or other reasons, the good news is that downtown offers a mix of surface lots, structures, and street parking spaces. Leaving your car at the hotel itself will run you $29 per day, while rates at nearby garages, structures, and surface 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. each day.

What’s the Weather Going to Be Like?

Very hot. The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for the Valley this weekend and temperatures will reach a high of 105 degrees on Friday and hit 108 degrees on Saturday through Monday. In other words, stay hydrated (especially if you’re in costume), stay inside as much as possible, and rest as needed.
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Stuff for sale during an "Otaku Closet' vendor session at Saboten Con.
Benjamin Leatherman

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?

According to the Saboten Con website, this year’s guest list includes artists, voice acting talents, performers, cosplayers, and a couple of notable figures in animations. The complete roster is as follows.

Voice Acting
Dave Fennoy (RWBY, Minecraft)
Corina Boettger (One Punch Man, Genshin Impact)
Sandy Fox (Cowboy Bebop, Naruto)
Lex Lang (Bleach, Lupin the Third)

Hirokatsu Kihara (former Studio Ghibli production coordinator)

Melon Batake A Go-Go (rockabilly idol group)
Kazha (J-rock band)
MVP Elite (K-pop dance team)

Cassandra Hershey (Lovelymixar)
Beth Hodgson (Kaolinite Dreams)
Joshua Scott and Deanna Stutesman (Urban Weeb)
Armand Villavert (Zapt!)
Karina Moreno (illustrator)
Ariel Medilo (Exodam Artworks)
Susan Lake (designer)
Santino Arturo (Evil Robo Presents)

Michael “Knightmage” Wilson
Bebe Alkaid Cosplay
Alyson Tabbitha
Illuminaughty Cosplay
Mikaria Drake
Ryann Kay
Courtney Leigh
Mae Dae
Paprika Mari
Eurobeat Kasumi
Courtex Studios
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Anime cosplayers at a previous edition of Saboten Con.
Benjamin Leatherman

What’s the Cosplay Like at Saboten Con?

It's one of the cornerstones 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 seen 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.

What Should I Bring?

Besides a face covering or mask, comfortable footwear is also an excellent idea, as is an ID if you'd like to get into any of the adult programming, and a camera to get pics of all the memorable costumes and experiences. And if you're planning to pick up a few things in the vendor hall or buy some water from a vendor, cash is always good and an appropriately sized bag to carry your haul is even better.

What Shouldn’t I Bring?

Since respect is of the utmost importance at any event like Saboten Con, leave any sort of intolerant, impatient, combative, or creeper attitude at home. And while prop weapons are allowed, you should refrain from bringing any actual weaponry to the event.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.