Having chatted at some length in my part 1 impressions about some of the larger unscheduled things that took place early on in my Shuto Con 2018 adventure, I wanted to next touch on some of the scheduled items that I spent the majority of my weekend on.
The opening ceremony was something of a mixed bag, as it seemed the guest panelists were very warmly received, but there was a good deal less enthusiasm for some of the staff introductions. Not that I have any issue with giving the hard-working team their due, but there was a notable difference in audience interest when weighing the greetings of Chris Patton against the heads of security or public relations. The adorable exception to that rule was when the conference head’s daughter (who looked to be about six or seven) was given the microphone a handful of times. The audience seemed to appreciate the little show stealer quite a bit.
Of course, beyond the introductions, this time was used to help roll out some rules. Most / all of which should really be common sense. Take a shower every day, for example. That’s like those warnings on hair dryers that say don’t take a shower while using them. You know that warning is there for a reason, just as some of these rules were, which is a little sad, but it is what it is. To their credit, the staff did a nice job getting people in the door with a raffle that had a variety of prizes (including a 3DS).
Once the introductory ceremony concluded, it was time for my motley band to start hitting scheduled panels. This is where my inexperience really came in, because I did not catch on to the color code system until late in the first day. The blue panels were those hosted by the guest speakers, who were obviously pretty polished. After all, they do talk for a living. The white panel boxes were a bit more inconsistent from what I saw. We arrived a few minutes late to Whose line is it anyway? and the room was packed and also laughing very hard. It appeared to be a great time by all. There was also no shortage of people attending Fragile Masculinity Fiesta, which had a room that was booming with laughter.
These were in stark contrast to some of the others we saw. I hate to call any sessions out, because these are clearly by fans, for the fans, and everyone’s reception is subjective, but our first panel was Hetalia: A Monologue World. My daughter (Raegan) has been a huge Hetalia fan for years, so we figured that was as good of a starting point as any. The group was clearly passionate about the source material, but some of the performances came across unprepared and at least from my perspective, just a flat experience.
Similarly the Online Roleplaying session seemed like something that would be right up my alley. Heather and I have been running Kingdoms of the Lost (a MUD – think online D&D with a persistent world all text-based with no graphics) for just under 18 years. I have been playing MUDs since 1994. I have participated in plenty of roleplay heavy servers in games like World of Warcraft. I have participated in online forums where you take time writing posts back and forth with participants. The concept is one I greatly enjoy, but perhaps I am just a bit too experienced because while the panel for this came across as passionate and interested, they did not come across as experts nor did they deliver the content in overly interesting fashion.
It takes a lot of guts to get up there and give these kinds of presentations, but there was a world of difference between these types of fan panels and the more polished ones offered by the official guests. I had the good fortune to sit in on several of official guest panels, and I will discuss them all in greater depth in coming days, but I really want to give credit where it is due. All of the panelists were funny, friendly, quick on their feet (fielding all kinds of questions without any inclination what was coming), but perhaps most importantly – patient as well.
Why patient? Well I’m glad you asked. Let me climb up on my soapbox for just a moment and explain why this was a quality that was very near and dear to my heart. Raegan had told me that Shuto Con was a really impressive mixer, where people of all ages and attitudes came together and really just let their creativity flow and created a great sense of community. From the old like me (41 years) to the young kid dressed in a Voltron outfit (he looked five), to those who had elaborate cosplays to those who tossed on a wig and called it good – there was a lot of variety to be had in attendance. Among those were several attendees who would probably best be described as ‘on the spectrum’. I have a daughter who was diagnosed with Asperger’s years ago. Heather coaches swimming for the Special Olympics. We are very used to these kind, friendly, inquisitive fans who are just so excited to be at a conference like this.
However, those qualities are often taken the wrong way in a lot of environments. That was why both Heather and myself were thrilled to see how great the panel was. They took a lot of questions, were frequently talked over and sometimes interrupted by these fans who simply do not always realize how they might be coming across. So bless the hearts of these panelists, because each and every one I saw not only was patient with these attendees, but actively engaged with them. Jason Marsden had met with one of them at some length before the start of his question and answer session, and still answered several questions from him during the panel discussion. He encouraged that young man to keep having the guts to do what he loves and push himself (he expressed an interest in making his own cartoon series).
Jason Marsden was pretty quippy with some of the guests, having some fun with them when he read the room – but he deserves just as much credit for understanding which attendees would need a slightly different approach. It was not just him however, it was R. Bruce Elliott, Chris Patton, Lauren Landa and Sean Chiplock as well. Kudos to the panelists – they made fans out of Heather, Raegan and myself during these sessions for multiple reasons, but their kindness was certainly one of those.
While there were major scheduled events such as the various panels, Cosplay Fashion Show and evening dance, there were smaller sessions that were really fun to see as well. Photo sessions (both inside and outside) were set aside with slots of time for people who were dressed up representing particular fandoms. Dressed up like a Voltron character? Meet up with other like-minded people at noon on the second day for an indoors shoot. Big fan of Overwatch? You were hardly alone – there were a lot of really nice Overwatch cosplays and they were invited to the outdoors gazebo at 3pm. These were really nice opportunities for fans to gather and show off their favorite characters. There were also regular autograph signings (both VIP and standard sessions). Additionally, there were a ton of movies being played in a couple of different rooms. Everything from Sword Art Online to One Piece and Fairy Tail had back-to-back continual viewings throughout.
There was plenty of solid filler in between these scheduled sessions too. There was a battle arena, where combatants used firm foam swords to do battle in roped off spaces. There were some interesting rules around it, such as getting hit in the leg forcing the injured combatant to kneel and move around with just one foot doing all of the heavy lifting. There was a tabletop gaming room that was a good idea, but probably could use a bit more effort in a couple of places. While they had some thoughtful touches like placing land cards out in the open for Magic: The Gathering players who might need to perform some last-minute deck refinement, it was just a large space that seldom seemed to be more than half capacity.
I suspect part of the reason for this was the demo games that were provided. Games could be bought and games could be brought in, but there was a table of demo games as well. The downside was that most of these games were pretty involved. If you did not know how to play them already, you were likely to spend an hour just figuring that out. Even if you knew how to play, titles like the Legendary series can be very slow to set up. There was a Dominion expansion, but if someone grabbed the base game, the expansion served no purpose. Just little things like that where having more accessible titles might have helped them better keep the room full.
Oddly enough, the Dungeons & Dragons session seemed to have the opposite problem. There were only two tables with two DMs, and the room was full. Each table had several players at it, and sessions that large can become pretty unwieldy. I’ve done a lot of DMing over the years, and I can’t help but think that four or five tables with smaller sessions would have greater velocity through the modules that were being played. I suspect that group could have filled a room more than twice the size of where they were kind of crammed in. Kudos to the DMs running the show. They were friendly, knowledgeable and they even had things like pre-constructed character sheets waiting for players who wanted to jump in without a lot of time spent getting going.
So this was my first experience with Shuto Con 2018, and while I really did not know what to expect, I came away really pleased with the experience. The panel was really entertaining, there was a lot to do and I was surprised at how quickly time flew. I was not sure how much time I was going to spend at the conference, so when I realized I had spent pretty much the entire weekend there, I think it is safe to say that it was a fun experience. 2018 was my first Shuto Con experience, but enough fun was had by all that I do not expect that it will be my last.