Kotoricon is a small, one-day anime convention held at Gloucester County College in Sewell, New Jersey. It is held annually in mid-January, and this year was its 4th year. I had never heard of this convention until a week ago, when I happened upon a free pass to the event. I’d never been to a small anime convention before, and once I determined that I could easily get to the convention without a car, I made plans to be there. I got my camera battery charged and packed together my stuff for January 12th, the day of the convention.
My journey to the convention was pretty straightforward. I took the train into the city, and then took PATCO across into New Jersey, where I got off at the Broadway stop. This stop is connected to the Walter Rand Transportation Center, where the convention shuttle bus was scheduled to show up at 09:00. The bus, a large yellow school bus, arrived on time, but it was forced to move to a nearby CVS parking lot so it would not block city bus traffic. After a staff member checked me off on the list of passengers, we were off to the convention!
Upon exiting the bus at the college, I received my convention badge and materials. Interestingly, the badge was not a normal paper badge, but rather a dog tag with the convention name and logo on it. After looking at the schedule and familiarizing myself with the convention layout, I headed to the first event of the day: a performance by the Hoh Daiko Taiko Drummers. They were fun to watch and they got the convention off to a good start.
After the drummers, I did a bit of wandering around the convention, killing some time before the next item on my agenda, the demonstration by Samurai Dan & Jillian. As to be expected, there were many cosplayers (people in costume) at the convention, and not all were anime related. There were a few stormtroopers and Jedi going around, as well as a few iterations of Doctor Who. I also saw a Superman and a Batman, although neither seemed to have a particularly high-quality costume. Of course, the majority of the cosplayers were from anime and games.
I wandered the Artist Alley, where you can find people selling their own drawings or home-made trinkets, and then checked out the Dealer’s Room, where commercial vendors sell their goods. Interestingly, there were food vendors there, which is something you’d rarely find at convention at a hotel, as the hotel would want people to use the hotel’s food facilities. It also seemed that these food vendors normally ran food trucks in Philadelphia. One in particular was cooking takoyaki indoors, and not surprisingly, she had to later move her booth outside, as they did not want an open flame inside the building.
After deciding I didn’t want to spend money on merchandise, I made my way to one of the other convention buildings. On my way, I ran into an odd game that many people were playing that was called “Ride that Mustang.” How it works is that everyone first gets in a large circle. Then someone gallops around the circle once as everyone sings a song that seems to derive from Jacques Offenbach’s Galop infernal. When the person completes their loop around the circle, they choose someone, do a little dance with them and then the cycle repeats with the new person. This was a very long lasting game; hours later when I passed by there again, people were still playing it.
In the other building, I checked out the video gaming room, where they were having a BlazBlue fighting game tournament, and the card game room, where people were playing the Yu-Gi-Oh card game. Not being too interested in participating in either of those, I went outside again and investigated a Batmobile that was parked in the convention area. It turns out that it was a replica of the Batmobile from the 1960s Batman TV series, and the guy who owns it sells replica Batmobiles and shows them off, usually at comic conventions. This replica was the 6th one he’s built.
Going back inside, I stopped to watch a bit of the demonstration of the American Karate System, set to English anime music. I didn’t stay for long though, as it was soon time to go see Samurai Dan & Jillian. I headed to the Fine Arts Center stage, where he and his wife would be performing.
I came in as Samurai Dan was joking around with the crowd. It seems Samurai Dan is both a comedian and a sword practitioner. Even as he was explaining the history of sword fighting in Japan, he continued to have fun with the audience. Sometimes the jokes were rather juvenile, but overall, he was pretty funny. After covering some history, and basic techniques like blocking, he performed tameshigiri at the end.
After Samurai Dan, I decided to stick around for the next scheduled performance, which was a concert by a J-pop/J-rock cover artist from New York called Sneko. Her performance involved doing the song and dance routines for several J-pop and anime songs. She didn’t actually sing for all of them, but she did dance. She also had backup dancers that did one dance on their own as well. Unfortunately, most of her performance was marred by problems with the microphones.
Afterwords the staff had us clear out, so I went to check out the Zombification Station. Since this year’s convention theme was zombies, you could go to the Zombification station to have zombie make-up applied to you. I didn’t actually have it done to myself, but I of course got pictures.
At this point, I finally decided to go check out one of the fan panels. I went to the Anime Quiz Show panel, thinking that although I wasn’t a contestant, I might know a fair number of the answers. The quiz format was similar to Jeopardy, with several rounds of questions, and contestants choosing their questions from set categories. Unfortunately this panel was beset by a myriad of technical problems, as the custom software used to run the quiz show had several bugs in it. Nevertheless, they managed to make it through the whole game. And no, I didn’t actually know many of the answers.
The last event I went to for the day was a demonstration by the group Dragon Jedi. It seemed a little strange to have a Jedi group as guests, since that’s not really anime or even Japan related, but it didn’t really surprise me. They orchestrated lightsaber matches in the demo area that was used earlier by the taiko drummers.
After that, I hung out at the booth for Zenkaicon, a different anime convention, and eventually ended up getting a ride home from them. I had planned to go to the Masquerade, which was later in the day, but I missed it while I was chatting at the Zenkaicon booth. For those who are unaware, the Masquerade is a staple event at anime conventions, and it gives fans the chance to show off their costumes and do various skits. Usually, the best costumes of the convention can be seen at it. It’s also usually one of the most popular events, so at larger conventions, it pays to line up early to get a good seat.
All in all, it was a pretty fun convention. Being a small convention with fewer activities actually got me to check out things I would normally have been too busy to bother with. And it had events you’d probably not find at a larger convention, like a Capoeira demonstration. So in the end, if you like a more manageable convention experience with some interesting variety, and are more interested in hanging out with fellow anime fans than seeing big-name guests, then a small convention like Kotoricon might be for you.