All about anime conventions

This article was published on June 2, 2010 and could contain information that has since changed or become out-of-date.
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Naruto drinks Starbucks in Seattle
Naruto drinks Starbucks in Seattle

You’re out enjoying weekend crowds at Seattle’s Pike Place Market when you spy a few out-of-the-ordinary people from the corner of your eye. You don’t know what they are but you’re curious to find out since they’re dressed up and it’s not Halloween. Such is the case whenever I attend Sakura-Con downtown Seattle, where I get stopped on the street when walking between the Washington State Convention and Trade Center and my hotel or the Pike Place Market. So what is an anime convention, and why does (almost) everyone dress up?

Fans of anime, a style of Japanese animation, have always gathered to share their interest in particular series and the culture that surrounds it. Most conventions have sprung out from small gatherings in libraries or university rooms to take over hotels and entire convention centres.
At larger events, there are local and international guests (voice actors, bands, artists, industry speakers), dances, walk-on skits and cosplay shows, video rooms playing marathons of popular and obscure series, manga libraries, interactive panels (Q&A with guests, costume making, art, etc.), gaming rooms (video, table top and card games), exhibitors rooms filled with anime/manga related merchandise, artists alley showcasing artwork and other handicrafts, contests and karaoke.
Conventions usually occur over a weekend starting on Friday morning and ending Sunday afternoon or evening, although some take four days and offer various events that run continuously over the weekend.

So who attends anime conventions? Just about everyone, not just fans of anime and manga, but gamers, Trekkies, geeks, goths, and other pop-culture fans. You’ll find children, teenagers, young adults, adults and even grandparents at a convention. Entire families have shown up, sometimes in costume, and even anime-themed weddings have taken place in the midst of an convention. Quite literally, it’s fun for the whole family. Throughout the course of the day there are many family-friendly activities, while the adult crowd is catered to in the later hours of the evening.

Anime Central's empty registration lines
Anime Central’s empty registration lines

Before setting foot in a convention, attendees need to register. Registration provides admission to all “public” space within a convention, access to special events, and additional benefits, such as programmes, news letters, and other treats. Admittance to a convention does cost money; however, lower prices are available for those who pre-register online in advance. Pre-registration is easier as payment is made beforehand and the lines are much shorter for badge pickup. Registering directly at the door can take time and is usually more expensive.
Registration fees help pay for the convention, many of which are operated by non-profit organizations and staffed by unpaid volunteers. These fees help secure location venues and guests along with additional resources which are required for a successful weekend.

Soul Eater cosplayers at San Japan
Soul Eater cosplayers at San Japan

Many attendees will dress up in costume, in what’s called cosplay (short for costume play) for the duration of the convention. Cosplays can range from the very simple to incredibly detailed and intricate designs. Some attendees opt to make their own costumes because it gives them a sense of accomplishment, a means to showcase their talent and also allows them to have the freedom to expand on a design, such as a holiday themed outfit depending on the time of year. Others who aren’t so fabric-savvy may purchase their costume or have it commissioned from someone who specializes in cosplay design. Whatever the background or reasoning, there’s always someone with a unique or amazing outfit wandering around.
Some costumes may require the use of props, which are replicas of weapons or objects used by their character. Cosplayers will make these out of just about anything: cardboard, cloth, papier mache, plastic, wood or aluminum foil. Many conventions limit the size and content of props due to safety and security concerns, and convention and hotel staff and even law enforcement officers have been known to confiscate props that resemble guns or other projectile weapons. Always read up on the convention’s policy of props to see what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Try to take some pictures at a photo shoot. A photo shoot is when multiple characters from a particular series come together in a group and participate in poses for photographs. Some photo shoots, especially for more popular series, can easily expect large turnouts. Photographers will usually call out for particular cosplayers in different poses before taking pictures, so it’s not uncommon to see multiple characters all in one shot.

Anime Evolution's infamous Cobra Commander Panel
Anime Evolution’s infamous Cobra Commander Panel

There are many panels, most of which cover a wide range of topics related to anime and manga, but there are interactive ones that allow attendees to try out drawing, costume design, voice acting, along with question and answer sessions with key industry people to better understand the foundation and background of the medium.
People who host the panels are called panelists, and present their topics in a variety of ways. Panelists can run a simple discussion that lasts maybe thirty minutes or multiple panelists have elaborate setups with full visual displays, sound systems and other tools to allow for an enhanced session. Popular panels can go deep and explain the logic behind series, or into the development and personality of an animated character.
Most, if not all conventions, provide an expansive listing of the panels with their topic, location and duration to attendees. It’s not uncommon for a panel to be rescheduled or cancelled due to equipment issues or the panelist just not appearing. In some cases, regular attendees have stood in for panelists who haven’t showed up (which can be decided upon at the convention’s discretion).

Guests at a convention are another highlight, ranging from voice actors, series producers, manga artists, bands, to industry speakers. These guests will host an array of panels, autograph sessions and even a few performances to their fans delight. Some of the bigger attractions include Japanese cast members, artists and musicians; it is a little difficult on asking Japanese guests to appear at North American venues, so any appearance can expect to draw in large crowds.

Exhibitors Room at Anime Central
Exhibitors Room at Anime Central

One of the biggest attractions at an anime convention is the exhibitors, or dealers, room. In most cases, this is a massive space with all sorts of merchandise based on Japanese animation and culture. The largest conventions boast entire halls within the facility dedicated to selling everything from DVDs, CDs, books, magazines, figures, shirts, plushes, key chains, to VHS tapes and rare video game cartridges. Because of the size, many vendors sell similar products, but at varying prices, so it’s always best to shop around and look for the better deal. In some instances, haggling with a vendor may be able to net you a lower price.
Many vendors accept major debit and credit cards, however not all do, which is why it’s best to bring cash. The convention centre or hotel may provide ATMs, but these can empty quickly, and most will charge additional fees if they are not issued by a major bank.
The last day of the convention is usually the best day to purchase stuff as most vendors dislike having to carry extra product back with them. The only downside is that hard to find or popular items may have sold out.

SHADi's booth at Anime Central's Artists Alley
SHADi’s booth at Anime Central’s Artists Alley

The Artists Alley is another staple of the convention scene, usually resembling rows or a cluster of tables presenting artwork and other handmade designs related to anime or Japanese culture. The majority of artists produce fan art, which is the artist’s representation of a particular series, done in different styles or mediums. Each artist has their own technique and often offers a varying selection of their creations from small stickers to larger posters. Some artists even take requests, for a fee, to draw almost anything within reason (which varies artist to artist).

A number of smaller rooms are set aside at conventions to play episodes from various series. Many of these rooms run the length of the convention, with breaks to air out the room and give the attendees a chance to stretch their legs and move about. Usually, series are sometimes shown dubbed in English, or Japanese with English subtitles; or sometimes alternate between the two. Occasionally the staff who run the rooms take vote before playing an episode to see what the crowd majority want, although this varies convention to convention.

Final Fantasy IX cosplayers at Sakura-Con
Final Fantasy IX cosplayers at Sakura-Con

Of course, in addition to anime and manga, there are rooms set up for video gaming, seeing as some series have spurned games or vice versa. Most of the game rooms feature arcade games, with selections varying based on the convention and size, although Dance Dance Revolution and Initial D appear to be staples. There are also console gaming rooms from retro to current generation consoles and just about everything in between.
However, the gaming rooms aren’t limited to just video games, as table top games, collectible card games and role playing games are available. There are tournaments and contests for those who are looking for a bit of a challenge and glory.

I’ve attended almost a dozen conventions, from Vancouver to Seattle, Chicago to San Antonio; with some big and some small, and have met some amazing people. Anime conventions are a great way to make new friends who share similar interests in a particular series, or anime in general. You’ll have lots of fun, learn something new about your favourite series from other fans, see some amazing cosplay, and maybe even purchase that hard-to-find box set or figure.

Of course, this is all just a glimpse into the world of anime and manga fandom as each convention varies with their own themes and styles. Visit for a complete convention listing in and around your area, but also be sure to return to for con recaps and photographs!


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