Welcome Back ~ Okaeri, a free anime themed festival, took place during Fridays to Sundays in the month of May at the Anaheim Gardenwalk. Anaheim Gardenwalk is a shopping center not too far from Disneyland. In fact, sometimes we park here anytime we want to hit up Downtown Disney for a few hours. We went on Saturday, May 29th. We found out about this event through Maid Academy Cafe who had mentioned the event on their socials shortly after the Tsun Scoops grand opening. As of this post, 43% of Californians are vaccinated. Welcome Back ~ Okaeri could be what to expect when small cons start sprouting up again.
Location: Anaheim Gardenwalk
This place has changed since the last time we went to the shopping center! There were more tea and coffee shops in the area. There was even a store that sold merchandise from Tokyo Disneyland (though Downtown Disney is right across the street!). I liked that there were plenty of places to sit down and have a snack. I also liked we had plenty of option for a quick pick-me-up. Unfortunately, coffee and tea places don’t validate parking. Yet, I do appreciate that we were able to pick up boba for an anime inspired event.
I also liked the fact that in spite of the pandemic shutting down businesses, I did see more life into the shopping center than the last time we went.
Shopping at Okaeri
While there were a few outdoor kiosks selling decals for cars, laptops, etc, there was an artist alley set up for Okaeri. This artist alley also had more decals to buy. Popular fandoms included Genshin, Pokemon, Demon Slayer, Sailor Moon, Konosuba, Kingdom Hearts etc being sold. Many of the vendors were happy to be making money again. I did spot a few booths selling acrylic charms, face masks, and prints. However decals for itasha were all the rage.
The artist alley also had a video game console set up in the small space.
I felt the main draw of Okaeri was the shopping aspect of it. I mean, I did collect a few Genshin decals while I was there.
The number of cosplayers were few. However, I did appreciate seeing people represent their fandoms. I spotted a Sailor Saturn, a handful of Genshin Impact cosplayers, several Demon Slayer cosplayers, and a few Star Wars cosplayers (R2 unit included). I didn’t feel compelled to cosplay at a shopping center that I normally associate with parking, but it was cool to see some “normal” convention culture slowly return. There weren’t plenty of cosplayers, but it was fun to see people bring the ultimate expression of fandom over.
I also spotted a few familiar photographers conducting shoots. Anaheim Gardenwalk is great because there are a few selfie walls and decorations made for Instagram “been there, done that” photos. Any cosplay can be suitable for the Gardenwalk – so as long as the patrons from Bubba Gump Shrimp don’t mind.
The Car Show
We discovered this as we were going back to the car. The car show had a DJ spinning top 40 tunes. We waltz right in as they were going from “Wobble” to “Soulja Boy.” I was quite surprised no one was doing the dance to “Wobble,” but once “Soulja Boy” dropped, everyone was doing the dance. With how people were on the dance floor, you wouldn’t think we’re in a pandemic. I guess people just missed having this much fun at conventions.
I do like looking at the various Itasha cars. I’m not too heavy into the scene, but I like seeing how people decorate their cars. The music and lighting really did make this feel like a midnight car show in the middle of the day. I just appreciated the energy and vibe of this section of Okaeri.
This event made me think about what conventions will look like later in the year or in 2022. Everyone at Gardenwalk was masked up. However, though we are at a 43% vaccination rate, it was very hard to social distance, even in areas like the indoor Artist Alley. Even with signage reminding folks of 6 ft apart, it’s very hard to do so in narrow spaces and talking to vendors.
I was also thinking about music levels. Perhaps I’m getting too old for this, but when you have a few different DJ’s playing something at the same time, the cacophony really gets to you. I’m also not a huge fan of booming music while I’m trying to shop and talk to vendors. I know my partner wanted to chill at a quiet zone rather than to continue wandering through artist alley.
Would I have cosplayed? Maybe. I just felt like being a casual Nozomi Tojo fangirl for the day. If I knew of any photographers booking shoots, I probably would have worn something since there was plenty of time at the event to take some photos. Okaeri is great for shopping and collecting decals. It’s nice to wander around for a few hours. However, if you’re still sensitive to going out, I don’t quite recommend it.
I do commend Okaeri for raising money for Stop Asian Hate. Only a handful of anime events have made a statement against the recent attacks on Asians. As an Asian American, I appreciate an anime event that gives back.
It will be interesting in the coming months where conventions and festivals will go from here. There is a demand and want for anime events to return to Southern California. What will be your first event back?
Until then, we’re looking to Otakon 2021 as our first major convention coverage. Until then, stay safe, weebs.
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