An Introvert’s Review of Zenkaikon 2024

As an introverted anime nerd, anime conventions like Zenkaikon can be both the best experience ever and my worst nightmare. It’s not that introverts hate socializing, but when your social battery runs out or anxiety amps up while you’re still at the con, it can be strenuous. Overall, Zenkaikon is a fun experience for an introvert like myself!

Zenkaikon 2024 occurred from Thursday, March 21st to Sunday, March 24th at the Lancaster County Convention Center in Lancaster, PA. It’s advertised as such: “Join us for our annual celebration of anime, science fiction, fantasy, comics, games, and fandom in Lancaster, PA. Our three-plus day event includes panels, workshops, screenings, cosplay, video and tabletop gaming, LARP, AMVs, dances, vendors, artists, and more!”

Since my fandoms are more anime-focused in this case, that’s what I was looking for when going to the con. Fantasy and science fiction elements were also included, and cosplay included a wide variety of fandom even beyond the advertised genres. This is only my third real anime con and my second since I returned to cosplaying and fandom. While I won’t be considering my introversion for every aspect of my Zenkaikon review, that will be a heavy theme in this article. In general, I want to talk about the pros and cons I noticed when attending.

If you’re an extrovert, check out Gabby’s article, “An Extrovert’s Guide to Anime Conventions.”

Lancaster County Convention Center, front-side view. Photo credit to Manta Ray.
1. Location

As a person who generally dislikes cities, I found Lancaster to be smaller and more approachable than most I’ve been to. It’s not huge like Philly or NYC which are especially daunting to an anxious introvert like myself. The weekend of the con didn’t seem very busy in the city either, with uncrowded streets and sidewalks. One of the downsides to going to a con and needing to walk elsewhere for things is getting stares from non-attendees. Since everything was relatively close to the convention center, including picture spots, it soothed most of my introversion of getting noticed as I was unlikely to be the only cosplayer in sight. As with most cities, it’s very walkable, so going out to eat or take pictures wasn’t hard. Not only that, but the Lancaster County Convention Center itself is a great location for the con.

The inside was very spacious, with a lot of separate floors to expand the panels and activities into. While it was a little difficult to navigate even with a map, meaning we had to ask for directions sometimes, I liked that everything wasn’t packed into one area. I also appreciated how most of it was in the convention center itself, with only a few things expanded to the Holiday Inn nearby. Occasionally, I can work up the courage to be the one to ask questions when necessary, but having extroverts with you always helps that case. I would even say it had plenty of spots to rest in between panels, too; it was floor space and not actual seating, but at least it was carpeted.

2. Crowd size

For the most part, I didn’t find Zenkaikon to be overly crowded or overwhelming. As mentioned above in the location, activities were separated between several floors, which then had several rooms on each. The convention center is spacious and easily accommodated the 5,000+ attendants throughout the whole weekend. Only a few times, particularly on Saturday, did it feel like too many people, causing my anxiety to spike. Escalators were the biggest proponent of that; the on-and-off section of the escalator from the first floor to the second was the busiest part, other than areas where event lines started. Some lines to get into panel rooms were also a little tight, considering people would be resting on the floor near the lines as well.

The majority of the time, I was fine. I’ve been to bigger conventions (not anime-related) that were much more crowded. And like I’ve already said, it wasn’t hard to find somewhere to be isolated. It’s possible Zenkaikon will continue to grow in the future, with the rise in anime and fandom popularity, but I think the Lancaster convention center can still accommodate larger crowds. For an introvert, smaller cons like this are perfect for not being too overwhelmed but still experiencing something fun and social.

3. Varying types of panels and activities
Floor-plan poster for Zenkaikon. Photo credit to Manta Ray.

The BEST part of Zenkaikon for me was the availability of panels and activities, so much so that I didn’t even get to do everything I wanted because of all the conflicting times. Fitting in panels, eating, workshops, cosplay meet-ups, and spending (so much) in the artist alley and dealer’s room was a bit of a struggle for the weekend. I’m not complaining though–I’d rather have too much to do than too little, and I think Zenkaikon delivered on that. I think the only thing I regret not checking out was any of the all-day running activities, like the arcade and console gaming, cosplay photobooth, and the Carolina Manga Library (though I was in there briefly). A lot of these running activities sounded like good spots to relax and decompress from the hustle of the con, which may have made some of the social aspects easier.

As for the workshops and panels, I found they were fairly easy to be in. Especially at panels, nobody in the audience is ever required to participate. They are excellent ways to learn more about different topics without having to be super social and use up any energy you might need for other con-related things. I only went to one workshop, but I found that less daunting than I thought it would be. For the most part, you just had to follow directions. It is important to mention that sometimes during panels or other activities, you may want to talk to people or people might want to talk to you. Contrary to the stereotypical belief, not all nerds are introverts. Plenty of extroverts at the con might want to compliment your cosplay or even talk and comment on the panel if you’re sitting next to them. While I did a fair bit of unprompted socializing, it wasn’t all bad.

1. Space for the artist alley and dealer’s room

Don’t take this the wrong way, I loved all of the vendors in the artist alley and dealer’s room themselves; I do think the space they chose for it and the layout was a bit hard to navigate. It didn’t feel like there was enough space for walking around, especially in the outer ring where only about two people could fit down the aisles. With traffic going both ways, it often meant having to hold onto your companion’s bags or clothes to not lose each other. It also meant that getting to specific vendors was tricky. I often felt very awkward, trying to not block vendors when looking at others or being in the way. I feel it either needed to be in a bigger space or the artist alley and dealer’s room needed to be split into two rooms. It would have been nice to have a separation between the artist alley and the dealer’s room either way, as they carry such different merchandise. Whether that was different rooms or different sides of the room didn’t matter to me. I do love that it was so accessible, being in the same building as the panels and workshops, so I wouldn’t want them to move it to another building to make it bigger. 

Granted, I did go during the afternoon on Saturday, which was their most popular day just based on the sheer volume of events and people attending, yet I feel that any space should consider the maximum amount that will be there and organize the space as such. This was where I felt the most overwhelmed with social interaction and being in a social space.

2. Rule confusion/difference in staff knowledge and treatment

I want to start this by saying that I absolutely love and appreciate the dedication and time that the volunteer staff for Zenkaikon puts into the con. With that being said, I will say it seemed a lot of the knowledge about the con and the enforcement of rules was a bit sporadic. For starters, when my friend and I arrived to pick up our badges, we asked about getting things that identified us as press but were told they didn’t have anything like that for Zenkaikon. We found out later the next day that press ribbons were available, and at that point, it wasn’t worth the effort to hunt them down. Also, the very first panel my group and I went to was 18+, and we were not checked for wristbands before entering, unaware of the rule since we were rushing. A little bit into the panel, a couple of staff members interrupted, forcing any individuals without the 18+ wristband out of the panel. We were allowed to return after receiving the wristbands, but the whole situation should have been avoided at the door. They were also very forceful about it, almost angry and blaming the attendees entirely. This attitude similarly happened when my friend and I were nearing the end of a panel. Even though they ended early, the next panel wasn’t due to start for another ten or so minutes. Regardless, a staff member came in and loudly proclaimed that we all needed to leave immediately for the next panel to get set up.

I don’t expect everything to run smoothly or perfectly, but I will say that these situations dampened some of the experience for me. It made me feel uncertain when doing other activities or panels, like I was sitting and waiting for a staff member to tell me I was doing something wrong. Convention rules should always be enforced clearly and consistently. 

3. Lack of food/drink selection
Overhead shot of the main foyer on Floor 1. Photo credit to Manta Ray.

Honestly, I’m grasping at straws here trying to come up with something as my third con. Zenkaikon was such a great experience that I don’t have much to complain about. The lack of food and drink selection seems to be pretty standard for most of the cons I’ve gone to, with the options not often being the con itself but places surrounding. This is more my personal preference to have quicker, cheaper options available from the con. At some point, my friends and I did see chicken strips and fries people were carrying around, but because we couldn’t find any signage for where they were, we found the source too late. All of our meals were directed to outside businesses or whatever food we were able to keep in our hotel. A fancy-looking restaurant and Starbucks were at the convention center itself, as well as the small location that was providing drinks and food (though potentially only the chicken strips?), but they were the only options for inside the convention center.

Next year, Zenkaikon will be hosted from March 20-23rd, still in Lancaster. Pre-registration is open here. Keep up to date on their website, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter/X. I know I’m definitely planning on returning!

All photos included in this article are from Manta Ray’s Zenkaikon 2024 album. A writer and cosplayer, Manta Ray’s Linktree, including socials, can be found here.

About Hailey Watkins

Hailey is a self-proclaimed bookworm and writer. While she loves to read fantasy or slice-of-life the most, their heart belongs truly to the Warrior cats book series. She has collected and read all of the books in the nearly 100-book-long (and counting) series. She's also a fan of reading Webtoons, graphic novels, and manga, as well as watching anime. When they're not writing about fandom, their day job is as a substitute teacher.

View all posts by Hailey Watkins

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