As many an artist knows, cons are a great place for you to pick up new followers, meet people, sell some of your work, and check out some interesting panels and discussions on areas that fit your interests. But for adult artists, and their fans, this is less so. There are a great deal of cons that allow for a small section of a room or portion of a portfolio at a con to be used for these purposes but you cannot be someone who specializes in this field and get much from the con. More and more these small areas of operation are becoming vanishingly small as Anime and Gaming emerges into the mainstream and their corresponding cons must become family friendly in order to keep up with demand and get people coming in. Great for Anime and Comics, not so much for Hentai and other Adult art. But then along comes HentaiCon.
HentaiCon aims to be that con that caters to the adults of the Anime fandom, and by extension, the gaming and comics fandom that often overlaps. With a focus on the more mature elements of these spheres the character of the con becomes vastly different, especially when the whole of the con is 18+ only with no admission to anyone under this age. The Con was held at the Marriott across from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank California and featured a relaxed set of rules that con goers may have become accustomed to. It was the cons first year but the staff putting the con on was composed of several veterans who have worked with and around various cons in the California and Vegas area, with security being run by professionals in the industry beyond cons themselves.
We at Kupaa heard about the con a few months back and immediately began to do some digging. After asking questions and getting some pretty in depth and prompt answers from the HentaiCon twitter we were interested. But a couple months was fairly short notice for nearly all of us to have anything for a table even if we were capable of swinging the travel expenses. It was decided that one person should go and get a feel for things not only for business purposes but to share with all of you. So how did it come together? How was it? Is it all the worst things you’re thinking a HentaiCon could be? I hope to answer that for you here.
Before we begin I want to preface this with a few things:
- First: I went in with no expectations, I had no idea of what form a HentaiCon would look like, I had a few hopes but in terms of expectations I had absolutely no idea what I was going to be dealing with.
- Second: I haven’t been much of a big con goer for a few years now, but that being said I know a little of what it was I was looking for that makes something a positive experience and what makes a negative one. I also have multiple other con goers in the Kupaa family who provided me with additional support on this matter.
- Third: Because it was a first year con I graded them on a curve in my mind a little bit. Things that I would have become salty with very quickly were given a bit more latitude as I gave people some time to settle into the groove of things.
- Fourth: I attended Friday and Saturday, but due to the fact I had work to get back to and had to fly back from California, I could not attend the Sunday events.
Now with those things in place. Here we go!
The Host: It might not be something that jumps immediately to mind as something to be impressed with, especially at a HentaiCon, but a good host of an event can make all the difference as to whether good things are great and bad things are easily forgotten. HentaiCon had that in Jeffrey Clark (@datafist on twitter). With experience in comedy and working with the Myth: Legends of Magic and Burlesque crew Jeffrey was at home on stage and rolling with the punches in situations that sometimes did not go as planned and was skilled at absolutely destroying the occasional heckler that stepped out of line. His humor and flow was so on point with the Hentai material and fandom that I cannot possibly imagine this guy being handicapped hosting a non 18+ event, though from what he’s said he does those as well.
After seeing him at the “Moistening Ceremonies” on Friday I quickly came to regard his presence at any other event as a sign of the quality of entertainment that we’d be getting.
The Venue: The Marriott chosen as the Venue had an ideal layout for what HentaiCon needed from it in it’s first year. The space for the convention itself was hosted in a building that is separated from the rest of the hotel, preventing any accidental wandering of innocent eyes too close to things and allowing con goers the freedom they’re seeking when attending such an event. Outside of the building itself there was a pool and open air bar that were both absolutely beautiful at night. This timing is specifically relevant due to the fact that unlike most other cons where events are scheduled primarily during the day and mostly conclude in the early evening with a couple unofficial after hours activities, HentaiCon’s timing focused on that side of the clock with things really heating up in the early evening and not wrapping until between 11PM and 2AM. So a Venue that has a warm and beautiful night time presentation became an unexpected factor.
The whole of the Venue itself was located across the street from Bob Hope airport which meant that someone could fly in there and simply walk across the street to check in. The surrounding area was filled with places to eat so if the bar and the grill of the hotel itself weren’t to your tastes you had other options available within short walking distance.
The Exhibition Room: The Exhibition room served as the single space for both Vendors and Artists, with the vendors being located back to back along two central “islands” within the room and the artists taking up the space along the walls around those islands on all sides. A single path divided the room up the middle allowing access to both islands and then a single path on either side of the islands allowed access to it’s other side and the artists adjacent. My specificity here is important because when I initially saw the layout I was skeptical. In my mind it almost seemed like the artists and vendors would have been mutually better suited to their own spaces and not given this sort of “mixed in” approach, but as I spoke with various artists and vendors this was contrary to how they felt. The overall feeling was that one group was providing the foot traffic for the other, with people being able to hop from one to the other. Essentially a person waiting in line to be served could still be eyeballing things from another, instead of forcing people to wait in long lines in one room and, once finished, put them in line for another room altogether. While some larger cons do it this way, I was unsure how it would play at a smaller one, but evidently it was to everyone’s liking.
Both the Vendors and Artists were primarily pulled from the Los Angeles area with only a few exceptions, but the variety presented was fantastic. I met with artists like AikaNorin (@AikaNorin) and Fappuccino Art (@Fappuccinoart) who were both lovely people and had a great selection of prints, buttons, and other goodies and who were taking commissions on the spot. I spoke at length with The Crafty Hedonist, an crafter of unusually shaped and exotic Dildos, a limited selection of which she had there with her and who also does custom jobs for people who might be interested in a very specific kind of dick. I picked something up from Kitsune’s Leather, a crafter who works primarily in leather though probably not the leather you’re thinking of and checked out the elegant pieces of Sultry Vamps, who specializes in custom made “Princess Wear” and frilly lingerie. In the center of the room was a booth for TracyVerse comics where Lety (@LetyDoesStuff), one of the cowriters for the group was presenting their first run of physical porn parody comics.
This list of course is not exhaustive and suffice to say, there was plenty to see and do in this room that had me coming back several times between other events.
Garage Hero: I had never heard of these guys, but evidently they make live action Sentai stuff with a decidedly more adult flavor both in language, content, and tone. The event I was able to attend for this was a combination panel/screening where Bueno spoke about the work that they do at Garage Hero both on the lewd side and the action sequence side, how they come up against the law during guerilla filming and a few other subjects. Once he was finished he screened his first film from years back called Gun Caliber which was absurdly hilarious with some surprisingly solid action sequences. If you think you’d be into a story about a down and out scumbag of a hero who has to step up to an unexpected challenge, I highly recommend a google search. Also it has boobies and weird monsters bumpin uglies in a way that had the audience alternating between laughter and sounds of disgust.
Cosplay Wrestling Federation: This is a thing? Yes, it’s a thing. It’s ridiculous but it’s a thing and I cannot overstate how much these guys capture the feel of old timey wrestling shit talk and scummy organization managers while still catering to a nerdy base. This event was composed entirely of cosplay characters doing classic call outs and smack talk on stage, complete with intro music and aisle walks. Mario threw coins into the crowd and called out the reigning champion Phoenix Wright to a match at their next big event. Catwoman switched between obvious Pussy puns and much more clever references to behaviors you see in cats, for example stating that upon winning the trophy she would place it up on a pedestal in her place….and then knock it off. Killer T Cell rallied the crowd as their champion. The scumbag duo of Mitch and Dave from the Get Cable Company handed out brochures then declared the event pointless as it would all be censored and when the crowd attempted to boo them off stage, they ripped open holes in their shirts to rub their nipples and tell us “that’s tooooo baaaad”. And of course there was Yami Yugi who made it rain Kuriboh cards on the crowd and had a bit explaining how he’d been trapped in the shadow realm that hearkened back to the vintage WCW days with the Dungeon of Doom.
It was ludicrous in every way, but the performers were skilled in energizing a crowd….when they weren’t laughing their asses off of course.
Timing: Though I can imagine a few situations where this could have been done on purpose for a good reason, I still can’t help but feel that placing the event on the same weekend in the same town as BlizzCon might have been a mistake. When I flew out to Burbank a large portion of my flight itself was people just going to BlizzCon, in fact. For a lot of adult artists keeping an eye on events like this and producing relevant Rule34 work in a timely fashion can make a huge difference for their business. Especially when it’s Blizzard, if we’re being absolutely honest here. Putting them in a position where they have to choose between aspects of their business seems like a bad idea for everyone. Being that this is the first year it could have been a mistake and the impact it has is relatively low. But in the future, something like this ought to be avoided.
Schedule: The actual overall layout of the schedule was actually fairly solid, with few events really overlapping and plenty of things spaced out throughout the weekend to keep attendees engaged. But when you make a schedule you’ve got to follow that schedule and Friday was something of a failure on that part. The opening ceremonies were about a half hour late, which besides the obvious irritation of being late up front would put people in the position of having to leave early to get to an event that was on-time elsewhere. This happened with a few separate events throughout Friday but by Saturday this seemed largely under control, leading me to chalk this up to growing pains and not worry about it too much.
Guest Organization: The event had plenty of guests but the presentation of them wasn’t great. During the opening ceremonies the first 3 guests they called on stage were no-shows, 4 if you count Swimsuit Succubus and Bunny Ayumi as individual guests and not as a pair. There exist any number of legitimate and understandable reasons why someone might not make it to the opening ceremony, but when you don’t know that going in and you leave your host out on stage calling names of people who aren’t there and standing around waiting for them, it’s a bad look. As I stated earlier the host was fantastic at rolling with the punches but this one was something that could have easily been avoided with a little more organization before the event.
In addition to this guests had a space for autographs and fan meets that they would sometimes be moved out of or to the edge of into additional vendor space without cause, creating a little bit of a misunderstanding as to who was or was not missing their scheduled event when they were in fact present…just somewhere else.
Panel Organization: Not all the panels were panels, so this doesn’t apply to all of them. But in some instances you would have a couple people running a panel or event and it would quickly get away from them and sometimes off topic. It wasn’t a rampant problem and I suspect it’s another aspect of it being a First year con, but I feel it’s worth mentioning for no other reason than to ensure that someone sees this article and takes steps to handle this for next year.
The Hotel: I separate this out as something different from “the venue” and the con itself, and is honestly just a cheapy nitpick on my part. But the Marriott that hosted the event had a lot of weird ways they attempted to nickel and dime individual guests and didn’t really provide much of an experience on their own part. Parking at the hotel was outrageous, a fact that the con organizers tried to mitigate by recommending separate economy parking off the premises. Parking for the con should have been at a reduced rate instead of 25 dollars a day. Wi-Fi for people in the hotel was not included with the room but rather came at an additional cost of 10 dollars an hour. While I’m told this is fairly typical for the LA area it still seems odd to me. Breakfast was also not included and came at an additional steep cost. 2 out of 3 of these things I could maybe see in a big city, but all three combined with the hefty cost of food at the hotel grill (20 dollars for a regular burger) and the cost of the room (130 something a night for earlier registration and 150 on the spot after “discount”) made a lot of the hotel’s own services just not viable.
Cosplay: With a much more lax code for cosplay and geared more toward the erotic, there were some absolutely stunning beauties walking the halls. This alone would have been good to see but when combined with the strictly enforced and often cited policy of “Cosplay is not Consent” at the con you got a group of cosplayers who could walk the halls with confidence and do photos with attendees without having to worry about whether or not they were going to get violated. I can’t stress how much this changes the tone of this con though. Cosplayers function in a lot of ways of creating a distinct feel and aesthetic for a con, so having cosplayers who could skew toward the erotic and fetish-oriented helped set that tone effectively. The policies that kept them safe ensured that they were empowered to do so.
Sex Positivity: This is kind of a blanket term I apply to the con as a whole because it covered a lot of things. While you might expect that there is only going to be a bunch of dudes salivating over big titties, there was a bit more to it than that. With the addition of material specifically geared toward women and people on various parts of the sexuality spectrum you ended up with a diverse offering of content for everyone. The result was an equally diverse crowd of men and women of all varieties eager to get involved.
Cabaret and Burlesque Shows: There was one major one scheduled on both Friday and Saturday, both organized by the guys at Myth and both equally entertaining. Each act meant to be funny was absolutely hilarious but the dancers were far and away the main draw. Because we’re at a con where there are no children and no one under the age of 18, this sort of show was easy to put on and easy to attend with everyone having a generally good time and comfortable with each other. These shows are of course geared toward the fanbase, so the women taking the stage are typically clad in cosplay or outfits that suit the tropes of hentai and anime, each with their own individual flair and style as to how they worked the crowd. Friday night actually had an act that pulled a woman from the crowd to work with that had the rest of us absolutely dying with how insanely spicy it was.
Go-Go Dancers and Host Lounge: The after hours events at many cons are often unofficial or just loosely organized. At HentaiCon there was a more involved effort to create an event that felt after hours and provided a distinct flavor all of its own. One event was essentially just a Dance with a DJ and some cosplay Go-Go dancers while another was a more low key event where cute girls attended to guests in a Host Club sort of format. Neither was particularly over the top but both provided an experience that was grounded within the Anime and Hentai community while providing a more mature experience that made you feel like you were hanging out with a bunch of Adults. Adulting. Like Adults do.
Hentai Viewing: There were plenty of rooms where you could just go in and watch some hentai with people in exactly the same way that you would be seeing Anime screenings at Anime Cons. While you would think that something like this would be uncomfortable by it’s nature, the casual atmosphere seemed to have people relaxed and conversing with each other while discussing things they enjoyed about particular titles or genres.
Discussions and Tutorials: Some of the panels were less about panels and more round table style discussions or instructional. You could sit down and talk with the people running it about your personal experiences, get some stuff off your chest, and speak freely. This was an unusual experience to see as it allowed a lot of people who feel as though they’ve had to lead secret lives, be it just for their love of hentai or for being in the closet, to openly talk about their experiences and find support in the room. The tutorial aspect of these, such as the shibari 101, provided a controlled atmosphere where people could learn to engage with certain fetishes in a safe and correct manner rather than piecing things together through online guesswork. If you wanted to learn the processes and procedures of how to engage in tying someone up or spank the hell out of your partner, there were tutorials for that.
And that’s it! That’s your admittedly long winded look at the first year of HentaiCon! Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive, I could not make it to every event or be there for the whole weekend so there are a lot of other things worth mentioning that I didn’t see. Hell there are things worth mentioning that I just didn’t know how to categorize, such as the scantily clad “Thot Patrol” in hot pants moving through the con with some sort of bit that they were filming.
Overall I had a great time. I came out of the con feeling like this was one of those Anime Cons from the early 90’s or 80’s before Anime hit the mainstream and had to skew toward the family friendly. Taking out a certain age bracket of teenagers went a long way in raising the bar of who was there and how they engaged with each other. And despite the expectation of various people that there would be a distinctly foul smell throughout the con, it seemed as though everyone remembered their hygiene. I didn’t once see anything scummy or disrespectful transpire and everyone acted like mature adults. It was exactly what I could have wanted out of a Convention like this and gives me all the reason I need to come back for a second year and emphatically recommend it to anyone who was apprehensive or unsure about either attending or doing business at such a Con. With that in mind, I hope to see you all there next year!