From December 16 – 18 of 2016, I attended the holly jolly annual convention known as Holiday Matsuri. It’s essentially big ass nerdy Christmas party, and I fucking love it. This was my third year attending Holiday Matsuri, but my first year attending it as official press, which was super nifty! It was a great experience and I look forward to doing the same in years to come. Now let’s get down to business: How did Holiday Matsuri shape up as a convention this year? Is it worth it to attend? What does it have to offer?
The Venue: 6/10
The convention was held at the Orlando World Center Marriott, a change from its previous home at the Caribe Royale Orlando. Where the previous location was in the immediate vicinity of any and all manner of affordable restaurants and convenience stores, perfect for con goers who needed to stock up on snacks or grab some misplaced/forgotten essentials, the new location felt rather hidden and isolated in comparison. It was a bit of pain to get into and get out of, and there was nothing immediately nearby for those who didn’t wish to pay for somewhat overpriced hotel food and merchandise. Once you were parked and inside, you were basically stranded unless you felt like paying $11-$23 to get back in after you drove nearly half an hour away to grab a bite to eat.
Additionally, the event and panel locations felt a bit spread out, which gave off a rather empty feeling during slower times of the day. On the bright side, I did appreciate having room to walk around without worrying about accidentally breaking someone’s prop or stepping on feet. This was HolMat’s first year at the Marriott, so I’m cutting them some slack. It has potential to be a really great spot: the hotel itself is quite lovely, featuring a beautiful swimming area (you can often go swimming in December here in Florida, so bring your swimsuit), and multiple scenic locations perfect for photo-shoots. All in all, I’m excited to see how things will look next year! I’m sure that the helpful and creative staff will look into ways to make the best use of the space in the future.
Panels and Activities: 8/10
Holiday Matsuri always shines when it comes to panels. There really is something for everyone, and the majority of them are interactive, which is something I have always valued when it comes to cons. I didn’t get dressed up just to go sit and watch. I wanna interact! I want an experience. HolMat definitely delivered on providing multiple experiences. I personally attended:
- Dub That Hentai
- Funny as fuck. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Muted hentai is projected on a big screen, and two volunteers from the audience go up and “dub” the hentai. It’s a free for all, and typically pretty hilarious. I’m a sucker for improv…and porn. 10/10, highly recommend for pervs who like to laugh and show off their hidden voice acting talents. There was one guy who decided to take on the perspective of a ninja turtle throughout his turn, and it was possibly the funniest thing that I’ve ever experienced while watching porn.
- Idol Hell
- It was interesting. Not exactly my thing, but if you like watching people dancing and listening to K-pop in a dark room with other k-pop fans, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it it. It kept me entertained for the duration of my attendance, and I thought the setup was really good: It looked like a real concert with cool, colorful lighting and a nicely done stage.
- Bad Fanfiction Dramatic Reading
- Fucking. Hilarious. The hosts read aloud some hilariously awful fanfic, and volunteers from the audience act out the scenes on stage. It’s a recipe for success. Everyone in attendance enjoyed themselves, and the hosts had great energy that kept things going at a great pace. The atmosphere was akin to laughing at silly shit online in your bestie’s room, but on a much larger scale. Definitely a panel worth hitting up, unless you hate having a good time.
- Undertale: The Musical
- For the Undertale fandom, this seemed to be a popular event. The line to get in was extremely long, and nearly every seat was filled by the time the show began. For me, someone who is only vaguely familiar with Undertale, never having played the game myself, I was vaguely amused, but ultimately felt a little in the dark in terms of what was going on. Basically, the coordinators of this event sang songs related to the Undertale story while decked in cosplays of characters from the title. While this event definitely appeared to be a crowd pleaser for Undertale fans, it didn’t do much in the way of convincing me to join their ranks. This isn’t to say that it was bad: the vocals and instrumentals of the performing cosplayers were lively and pleasant, and the cosplays they wore were extremely well done. Overall, quite the spirited event!
- The Game Room
- Seriously fucking epic. There were so many different games on a variety of consoles, ranging from old school Nintendo consoles and arcade games, to shiny new PS4s. The room itself was spacious enough to maneuver about comfortably without feeling empty. There were also large monitors displaying gameplay for certain titles, like Mario Kart and Just Dance. It was a like a huge gamer party, and I loved it. I would recommend this con to anyone just for the game room alone. People were friendly, and there were plenty of games, so there was really no need to have to wait to get a few games in, and people were friendly about giving others a turn and letting them join in.
In addition to these events, Holiday Matsuri also held several competitive events ranging from dance-offs and an AMV competition, to multiple good ol’ fashioned cosplay contests (one exclusively holiday themed and another more general cosplay competition). There was a also a maid cafe (Cafe Peko Peko), two raves (one Friday night and the other Saturday night), and several after-dark panels for the 18+ crowd, with the latest panel running until 2am. Overall, each event/panel I attended was memorable and enjoyable, so if panels are a big deciding factor in whether or not you’re willing to shell out precious dollars for a con, Holiday Matsuri is worth the expense. There literally is something for everyone, at nearly every hour of the day! The only reason it didn’t get a perfect score is because more than a few events ran over their allotted time slots, which caused others to start later than advertised.
The Swag: 6/10
The vendors room/artist alley are easily my favorite parts of any con. I love talking to the artists and browsing through all the cool nerdy shit I can’t find in a regular store (and don’t want to pay for shipping for online). I’m used to HolMat having a large variety of vendors and artists offering both premade and handmade goods, as well as at least two knife and sword vendors (I collect knives at cons. It’s my thing), This year, however, the vendors room felt a little lacking. There were no knife vendors (sadface) and the vendors that were present all seemed to offer more or less the standard fare you could find at any con:
- Body Pillows
- Grab bags
- Art prints (there didn’t appear to be as many artists as there has been in previous years)
- Cute little odds and ends like key chains, hairclips, and accessories
Overall, it felt a little repetitive, sometimes seeing the exact same merchandise at multiple tables. This was also the first time I didn’t buy anything, but this isn’t to say that others wouldn’t be able to find sweet merch to drop their cash on. I’m not blaming this on any lack of effort by the HolMat staff, but rather chalking it up to the changes that come with moving to a new venue. Maybe they didn’t get as many applicants this year; maybe the Marriot doesn’t allow the sale of sharp-shiny-metallic weapony goodness. Finally, the room itself felt almost a tiny bit oversized in comparison to the number of actual sellers and artists, but I’m sure it will be more full in the years to come. Basically, there’s always tiny blips that come with relocating, but HolMat definitely worked to keep those blips to a minimum. While I didn’t feel compelled to acquire any new loot formy collection of con spoils this time around, it definitely wasn’t something that ruined the con for me.
The Guests: 9/10
In all my years as a HolMat attendee, they have always delivered on having relevant guests that include voice actors, YouTubers, cosplayers, and other public figures that are known and admired within the community. This year was no different! There was even a “Meet the Voice Actors” panel in which attendees could speak and interact with voice actors from some of their favorite anime and cartoons.
The Cosplay: 10/10
Disclaimer: I’m not rating the quality of anyone’s cosplay here, but rather pointing out how many cosplayers were in attendance. For instance, a con with a moderate number of cosplayers would get at least a 7/10, while a con that was light on cosplay would get around a 4/10. Got it? Awesome!
Most of the HolMat attendees were decked out in amazing and clever cosplays, with a good chunk of them having a holiday twist! I especially adored the Borderlands cosplay group, as well as The Oogey Boogie Man (he had gummie worms in his mouth. I ate one. It was magical).
The Bottom Line
Holiday Matsuri 2016 earned an overall score of 7.8/10 this year. That’s pretty damn good, especially considering the relatively affordable price tag of only $45 pre-reg for a weekend pass, with a final total of $55 for a three day badge at the door. It was the first con I’ve ever attended, and I have no intentions on cutting it out of my con lineup in the near or distant future. If you’re a geek with loads of holiday spirit, Holiday Matsuri is definitely a convention worth checking out.
Thanks for reading, and if you like this review and want to see more in the future, please be sure to subscribe to my blog! You can also check me out in these places!