12 December, 2016

A Sangawa Experiment

The Sangawa Project is an 18+ anime convention held in Pittsburgh (the word sangawa is literal Japanese for "three rivers") as a companion to and partial fundraiser for Tekko. It's a considerably smaller affair (only a tenth the size of Tekko or less), with programming geared towards adults. This is the first year I've attended. It's usually held in December - which is an awkward time for a convention - in the weeks leading up to Christmas; and for the past few years it's been held at the hotel which Tekko used in 2008 (my first year) as a transitional stage before moving downtown to the convention center to accommodate for its growing size. The hotel was tragically small for Tekko then (and Tekko continues to grow each year), but it's the perfect size for the much smaller attendance of Sangawa.

You might be asking yourself, what are the advantages of having an anime convention strictly for adults? I had to ask myself the same question. You see, I'm against age segregation as a matter of principle (it's just another way the government or society makes decisions for other people without considering the individual), and I'm not bothered like some are by "annoying kids who can't stop talking about Naruto" (or as it was in my day, Dragon Ball Z) - I like seeing the fandom being infused with young blood. And, the truth is, there's nothing you can do at Sangawa that you can't do at Tekko (and on a larger scale). It's just that some of it is more out in the open at Sangawa. For example, although it tries to distance itself from the stigma of being labeled a "hentai con" (not that I think there's anything wrong with that - that should be one of its main attractions!), I have to admit I enjoyed being able to browse hentai without having to give someone a secret handshake, or being treated like a pariah.

As my experience with nudism has borne out, it's amazing how not a big deal things can be when you just relax and stop getting yourself worked up over them. (No, I'm not advocating "anything goes" - I just think rules should be informed by cold reason, not heated emotions). One of my favorite activities of the weekend was a hentai coloring contest, in which attendees could stroll in at their leisure to sit down at a table littered with crayons, and choose from a selection of sexually explicit coloring pages to work on (I chose tentacles!). And it was nice being able to sit in for the end of Perfect Blue, and be reminded of what a good movie that is - animation for the sake of art (not just Japanese cartoons), which is what got me into anime in the first place. That's easy to forget in the face of all that titillating violence and nudity, especially with a movie that has as sordid a reputation as Perfect Blue.

There is a not inconsiderable focus on drinking at Sangawa (in place of concerts and raves), although you might be surprised to learn (as I was) that the atmosphere is rather subdued compared to Tekko. I imagine that people at Sangawa are, for the most part (not withstanding treating the IntoxBox as an arcade game), relatively mature. Not being a drinker, I was more looking forward to a concentration of content geared toward older fans of anime, who may have trouble keeping up with all the new series the kids are watching these days. Maybe it's impossible to turn back the clock, but this con was not the time capsule experience I was hoping for. I would have liked to have seen more retro content (I know the new Berserk series is exciting and all, but I was hoping to wax nostalgic with the original series), but I can only reflect on the panels I caught (which, sadly, do not include the Old School AMV Showcase or Retro Anime Worth Watching).

The biggest disappointment of the weekend, however, was a last minute schedule change. One of the traditions of Sangawa (I hear) is their Cosplay Cleanup contest, in which they encourage fans to dress up as their favorite characters, as if they had just stepped out of the bath. In other words, it's a towel and bathrobe cosplay contest, which I thought sounded like fun. So I went and prepared a cosplay I've been wanting to do for years - Griffith at the well (who is technically supposed to be naked, but I compromised with a flesh-toned towel wrapped around my waist; this was also my first experience working with a wig). And then, just days before the con, the contest was changed in favor of a Cosplay Battle Royale, in which cosplayers are pitted against each other in order to - and I quote - "act out silly situations". Yeah. I saw only one or two other cosplayers in bathrobes or towels, and one of them was headed to the hotel pool. I actually saw more non-congoers standing around in towels that night...

Still, I braved the subfreezing temperatures to show off my cosplay. A few people recognized me, which is cool, but mostly it was people telling me I was brave, or asking if I was cold (like, duh?). I was hoping to see a lot more "sexy cosplay" at this 18+ convention. Maybe it was the weather (I brought two other cosplays from this past year's Tekko that I wanted to wear, but ultimately left in the trunk because I didn't want to change out of my warm clothes), but that seems to me like a critical flaw of holding this convention in December. As it is, my favorite cosplayer was a Rider from Fate/Stay Night, although there was also a smattering of sailor senshi, a Deadpool or two, and quite a few Pokémon - including a Snorlax, which you don't see often, and lots of Pikachus in cozy hoodies and onesies (oh, how I would have wowed them with my sexy Pikachu cosplay!). I noted that there was a decided lack of emphasis on taking people's pictures, though.

All around, I'd have to say that I had a fun weekend, but I wouldn't call Sangawa a must-attend convention. It's just not as fun as Tekko, and most of its biggest flaws are a result of its small size. Not enough variety in cosplay. Not a big enough "exhibitor's room" - what was there was good (I bought some melon bread and green tea-flavored mochi, and an issue of Megami magazine - which is the one stuffed with posters of moe girls), but there just wasn't enough of it. I don't think I'd go out of my way to attend in the future (at least not unless they move the con back to July or thereabouts), but I wouldn't turn down an invitation, either, and I definitely wouldn't discourage others from attending if it sounds like something you would enjoy. If you have the time and the money, and need a break from Christmas shopping to hang out with grown up American otaku for a couple of days in December, it certainly helps to tide you over during the long wait for next year's Tekko...

Speaking of which, I'll see you there! -_^


  1. It's a crime against nature that they cancelled the bath house contest, you might have won it. I mean, I can count on one hand all the Griffiths I've seen but you're easily the best.

    It wasn't what I expected but I definitely enjoyed it. And, perhaps ironically considering how I made my exit that evening, I really appreciated how tiny the convention was. That's much more my style... I would have preferred a larger dealers room, but other than that I'm fine with a small crowd. Kind of like in the Coffee Den days, when we'd show up to Open Stage and there'd only be 5 people there. Those were always the best days.

  2. I'd really just like to hear an official statement as to *why* the Cosplay Cleanup was changed at the last minute. Because, it's like...I was under the impression that this was one of Sangawa's traditions, and then they changed it with no fanfare whatsoever. So I'm a bit confused, and would appreciate knowing just what's going on. I didn't want to be out of the loop, looking stupid because I was the only one in a towel. But I prepared that cosplay just for that con, and it was too good to waste.

    Less people at an open stage means more time you get to play, and less of a crowd to have to win over (if you get nervous at these sorts of things) - especially if the people who show up are the regulars you know the best. In this case, I appreciate larger crowds because of the added diversity in cosplay you get to see, and the better chance of encountering people who like (and recognize!) yours.