Everything I Did Over Zenkaikon 2024 Weekend

Zenkaikon happened this year from March 22nd to March 24th, four days packed with options for panels, workshops, shopping, or hanging out with fellow fans. While I didn’t get a chance to go on Thursday night or spend the whole day Friday there, I was able to spend the night of Friday and the entirety of Saturday and Sunday soaking up all I could. I’ve already done a pros and cons review of the con, but I wanted to take time to talk about the specific things I experienced.

Spending the weekend at an anime convention doesn’t just mean doing things at the con, but around the con too, like where to stay and where to eat or what you cosplay. Zenkaikon 2024 has been the best con experience I’ve had so far, so here’s everything I did that made it amazing (and brief thoughts on them, too).

Friday, March 22nd

My friend, my wife, and I left immediately after work on Friday from our humble abode in New Jersey to travel to Lancaster, a little under two-hour drive. While we were too late to book the partnered hotels of Zenkaikon (Marriott and Holiday Inn, though Cartoon Network Hotel, Hampton Inn, and Lancaster Arts Hotel were used for overflow), my friend Gabby found us another option: America’s Best Value Inn. It was only a step or two above sketchy, but it wasn’t expensive, uncomfortable, or too far from the convention. It was far enough that we had to take Lyft or drive over and park in a garage, but nothing that took away from the experience itself. All I cared about was a place to sleep at night, considering we spent the majority of our time at the convention.

The Coffin Bar

The BEST place where my group ate during the entire trip was The Coffin Bar, which we all found on TikTok at one point or another. It was a relatively small restaurant and bar with a devilishly good theme. The inside was very much dark academia meets Baphomet and the themed menu, with items like my pick “The Coffin Burger” or an entree called “The Devil’s Lettuce,” encapsulated the experience well. The service was quick and friendly, while the food and drinks were delicious. The best part, though, was the shot menu, which included a Heaven shot, Hell shot, and Death shot. After smelling the burning of the Hell shot, my wife opted to take the hit on drinking it while I was able to try the Heaven shot. The terrifying Death shot was not something we committed to this time, but maybe next…

Pick up badges

After our dinner, we walked a short distance to the convention center to pick up our badges. It was around 8:30 PM when we got there, so much of the crowd had dispersed or were at their chosen activities. The badge staff were friendly and nice, explaining where the lanyards, pronoun stickers, and maps for the convention were. The only hiccup during this interaction was the fact that they didn’t know if press individuals got anything to indicate that status. We were told that Zenkaikon didn’t have anything for that, though we later found out that they do get ribbons. Before we knew this information, I decided to write “Press” on my badge anyway, whether it was believable as written or not. As for the badge itself, I thought they were adorable, modeled as if Zenkaikon was an academy and the attendees were students. I also love that they have an octopus mascot whose name is Octavia!

“Between Us Fujoshis & Fundanshis: A Conversation on Gay Romance Novels, BL, and Danmei”
Photo credit: Elizabeth Pardo on Facebook.

Hosted from 9:00 to 10:00 PM, this late-night panel was 18+ and a lot of fun. The event description read:

“Join boys love (BL) readers/fans, Andrea, Sia, Brynn, and Eli for a fireside chat on gay romance novels and Asian BL. We will discuss topics such as sub genres, settings, terminology, themes, our favorite novels, shows, and more! We will reference examples from author Luna David’s experience as an author and her work such as the Custos Securities Series, as well as some of our favorites works spanning from Given to SaYe. The session will end with a Q&A and some surprises such as a book raffle for attendees! We encourage open conversation from the audience throughout the panel. if you are a fan, tell us what you think about the topic! If you are new, what questions did the session spark?”

Other than the small mistake of not having our 18+ wristbands yet (which meant we had to leave and return to the panel while it was ongoing), this panel was stellar. The atmosphere was very bubbly, with a lot of small side conversations during the panel that didn’t overall distract from the panelists. A majority of the panel was taken up in conversation between two of the panelists instead of all four, which I thought was a little strange. However, the two panelists who did talk were very knowledgeable and personable, so I still enjoyed myself. Since it was a little bit of a whirlwind to make the panel, I don’t remember many details of what was discussed. For the most part, I simply remember having fun. I did enjoy that they held a raffle at the end of the panel to give away a book and other prizes.

Saturday, March 23rd

On Saturday, I did my first-ever group cosplay with Gabby and my wife. We cosplayed characters from the anime Sk8 the Infinity. I was Langa, my wife was Reki, and Gabby was Joe.

“YOU are a Voice Actor – No Seriously, Come Record with Us!”
Photo credited to Rachel Schumacher on Facebook.

While this workshop was available on multiple days, my group and I signed up for the 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM slot on Saturday. It was run by voice actor Rachel Schumacher:

“Are you the brave hero or an evil villain? Maybe you’re the warrior with a heart of gold or the angstiest of bad-boys? Experience what it’s like to record original dialogue for unique characters! Choose from one of our scripts and have fun playing your favorite archetype! All in a super-cool, once in a lifetime, professional setup – That’s right, WE BROUGHT A BOOTH!” 35 presign-ups for participants and a $5 fee for a certificate and digital recording.

As someone who quit theater in high school and still lacks confidence in acting itself, I was glad that my wife pinged this workshop as her “must-do” for the convention. It pushed my whole group to fit it into our schedules and sign up. Luckily, you only had to stay as long as it took to do your recording, so as long as you arrived early, you were out of there in less than thirty minutes. Simply put, this workshop was really fun. When you walked in, you were handed a couple of sheets of paper that had over 50 lines of dialogue on it. Every participant was allowed to pick one line of dialogue to go into the recording book. Schumacher asked you what line and what your direction was before doing your first take. After that, she gave you some pointers and you did your second take. The whole process was nerve-wracking, but Schumacher made me feel reassured and confident. She was incredibly kind, motivating, and extroverted overall. The best part is in a few weeks, she will be personally emailing the audio recording to each participant, with sound effects included!

You can find Rachel Schumacher on YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, Instagram, Patreon, or Discord.

Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room
Three Warriors art prints made by potachi.

I was worried with the packed schedule that we wouldn’t have enough time to spend in the artist alley and dealer’s room, but thanks to the quickness of the voice acting workshop, we had plenty to roam the small room. While I have my complaints about the artist alley and dealer’s room, I loved being able to walk around and look at all the independent artists’ booths. The best experience I had during this time was finding three posters for my niche interest, Warriors. I have never seen merchandise for it in person so I was ecstatic to be able to find it. It can be difficult sometimes to find niche interests amongst the more mainstream and popular fandoms, but occasionally, these gems will pop up at different cons.

Lunch at Silantra

When we weren’t eating snacks or meals in our hotel room, my group and I ventured out of the convention center to find food in the area. Our lunch stop for Saturday was Silantra Asian Street Kitchen. Reminiscent of the build-your-own style of Chipotle, you chose your own ingredients to make either a bing (scallion pancake/burrito) or a bowl. I enjoyed the quick, personalized lunch and plenty of seating allowed my group a chance to sit down and relax before heading back to the convention.

“Women in Anime w/ Ellyn Stern”

Hosted on Saturday, March 23rd from 3:00 to 4:00 PM with voice actor Ellyn Stern:

“Together, with the audience, we will explore the roles of women in anime, and how they’ve evolved through time. This is an interactive panel.”

When I first saw the title of this panel I was excited, considering my focus on learning about marginalized issues in college. I admit I went in without having any background information on Ellyn Stern, an accomplished voice actor with 45 years of experience. I didn’t know her history or personality, I simply went in expecting a discussion about both female characters in anime and perhaps a bit about women in the anime industry (like voice actors, animators, developers, etc.). What I didn’t expect was to feel uncomfortable for a majority of the panel, but like I was unable to leave. While Stern got some chuckles from me throughout and made good points at times, I didn’t like the panel. It was very unstructured, with no presentation, and Stern rambling on about different topics. I would have left early on, except that whoever got up to leave got a frankly passive-aggressive goodbye from Stern. She did touch on some topics about women in anime, but by the end of the panel, it turned into a demonstration of the natural placement of people’s voices. As this is my only view of Stern, I’m not assuming anything; it just wasn’t the panel for me. This was the only thing I did during the con that I now regret. I wish I had chosen to go to “Cosplay for Anyone: Wigs, Contacts, and Makeup! Oh My!,” which Gabby reviewed and summarized so it almost felt like I’d been there.

Sk8 the Infinity Cosplay Meetup

Hosted by Gabby Beez Cosplay on Saturday, March 23rd from 5:00 to 6:00 PM, this cosplay meetup didn’t have a description itself, as it’s self-explanatory.

Zenkaikon was full of firsts for me, including my first cosplay meetup that I participated in! Hosted by our very own Gabby, this meetup was designated for Sk8 cosplayers, though other congoers watched and took pictures too. We did a series of different shoots, including people dressed as the same character, popular ships, and specific character interactions. I was socially awkward for most of the meetup, but I did enjoy the experience and being around so many fans of the anime. I also loved being able to see the individual touches of everyone’s cosplay and the pictures turned out good!

“The Cat Lover’s Guide to Cat Manga”

Hosted by Brand and CJ on Saturday, March 23rd from 6:00 to 7:00 PM:

“Do mew enjoy cats? Are mew easily amewsed by videos and imeowges of cute cats on the internyaat? Do mew need to pet every cat you nyotice? Well, now it’s time to meowge your love for cats with your love for manga! Learn about all the cat manga you didn’t even knyow existed and purrpare to waste your time on purr cuteness!”

If the panel title didn’t hook me, the description’s silliness certainly did. I loved this panel and am glad I was able to make it. As someone attempting to read more manga, it’s nice to have recommendations about a genre I didn’t even realize was an option (cats!). If you want a lengthier review and summary, check out my article “Two Purrfect Panels at Zenkaikon 2024.”

“Octavia’s 21+ Lounge”

Hosted on Saturday, March 23rd from 10:00 PM to 1:00 AM (though originally till midnight, the event was extended when we were let in late):

“Come join us in Live 7 (Heritage C) room in the Lancaster County Convention Center on a fun-filled evening in Octavia’s Lounge, based on the ‘Mostro Lounge’ from the hit Dark Academia manga and video game Twisted Wonderland! Cosplay is encouraged but not required. Featuring a cash bar with themed cocktails, general and Disney karaoke, TW cosplayers, trivia and activities/games for prizes! Complete the entire stamp rally activity set to win an exclusive Zenkaikon badge ribbon! Zenkaikon badges and state IDs will be checked for entry into this event.”

Activities and drinks were also listed, but have been omitted for length.

My expectations for this event were not necessarily met, but I thought the effort put in and some elements were good. I think the volunteers that hosted it put a lot of heart into the event, but it was simply not the atmosphere I thought it was going to be. The alcohol/bar was misrepresented, the space was small, and I personally didn’t participate in any of the activities. I did think the limited decor was clever, including the tiny octopuses and tentacle pens on the tables (free to whoever got there first), and I loved seeing all of the Twisted Wonderland cosplay! Gabby did a full review of this event.

Sunday, March 24th

On Sunday, I lived one of my dreams to pay tribute to my favorite series since I was a kid: Warriors. I cosplayed as Firestar from the infamous cat series and was happy to share this cosplay with multiple Warriors fans I found throughout the con. This cosplay also gave me the confidence to hand out small bells to any furries or people in ears/tails! Although I only got to a few people, it made me happy to gift something away to a loving community.

“The Cat Lover’s Guide to Cat Video Games”

Hosted by Brand and CJ on Sunday, March 24th from 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM:

“You have played Stray and fell in love with Cat the cat. What’s next? Are there more games with cats to play with and as? The answer is yes! Learn about all the cat video games from AAA to tiny indie titles you can get your fix with! Mee-oow!”

This one, as well as the other by Brand and CJ, was incredibly fun for me as a cat fanatic. For the majority of the panel, we watched trailers for video games, soaking up our mutual love for cats. If you want a lengthier review and summary, check out my article “Two Purrfect Panels at Zenkaikon 2024.”

The Carolina Manga Library

I’ll admit that I actually didn’t spend that much time in here. The real reason I went in was to meet up with Gabby and some new friends, one of whom also loves Warriors. What I did see of this quiet hideaway was great, with walls lined with manga and books. It was fairly quiet in there as well, which made it feel peaceful. Next year, I’d like to return to this spot and soak it up more. Gabby also did a review of the Carolina Manga Library.

Unofficial Twisted Wonderland Cosplay Meetup

When Gabby discovered a Twisted Wonderland cosplay meetup was scheduled for Sunday, she immediately planned to do her cosplay of the character Rook on this day. It wasn’t until later that we discovered the official meetup was canceled. Gabby was able to use “Octavia’s 21+ Lounge” to announce that she would still be meeting around the same location and time to take pictures with other TW cosplayers. Though this meetup wasn’t for me, my wife and I still enjoyed the weather and people-watching. It’s always great to see congoers having fun and taking pictures. Even if you’re not cosplaying from a certain fandom, it’s enjoyable to go to their meetups. Plus, I ended up using the time to take a few pictures in the good weather, too.

Lunch at Sakura

Sakura (Sakura Asian Fusion or Sakura Restaurant) was located only three minutes away by foot from the convention center, making it a tasty and popular destination for congoers. This was the last stop for my group before we went home, and I’ll say it made for a good ending. The service and food were both great, nothing too outstanding but nothing terrible. It was relieving to finally sit down and reflect on every experience from the weekend. When I return to Zenkaikon next year, I’ll make sure to keep Sakura on my radar for another meal.

Honorable mentions

Here are five more panels/workshops that were high on my list to go to, but didn’t fit into our schedule! I wanted to give more examples so that the true variety of Zenkaikon could be shown. Below, you’ll find the times and descriptions.

“Myths and Mortals: Fantasy in Japan and the English Speaking World” on Friday, March 22nd from 9:45 to 10:45 PM: “From orcs to oni, elves to kitsune, fantasy describes our darkest fears and highest hopes. Join us as we explore the divergent roots and current presentation of fantasy in Japanese and western pop culture.”

“Plushie Making Workshop” on Saturday, March 23rd at 9:15 AM: “The Plushie Workshop is back for its 3rd year! As well as a brand new pattern: Jiji-inspired black cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service. In this workshop you will learn basic hand sewing skills, plushie making techniques, and go home with your own handmade plush. materials will be provided. Presign-up for 48 people, $10 fee.

“Build your own Pokeball Habitat” was on multiple days at different times: “This workshop will teach attendees in a hands-on setting how to build their very own Pokemon Pokeball Habitat! Each attendee will get their hands dirty with this fun craft that they can take home with them.” No presign-up, no fee. It was first come first serve in a line.

“Anime Trope Bingo” on Saturday, March 23rd from 1:30 to 2:30 PM: “Don’t we all collectively sigh whenever we see our OP protagonist sitting by the window, with their weird hair and weird eyes? Don’t you wish you could keep a record of all the times you’ve spotted an anime Trope? Well, now you can! With Anime Trope Bingo, you’ll get to create your own bingo card filled in with your (least) favorite tropes. So get ready to shout bingo and get a prize at Anime Trope Bingo!”

“ITA Bling 101” was on multiple days at different times: “Coming onto the con floor and wondering how everyone has really cool ITA bag backgrounds? Bring your bag and join us for a make and take workshop where you will make your own bag insert!” Presign-up of 48 people, $5 fee.

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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