While talking about anime is all well and good, there’s more to anime that just watching something on DVD. There’s also the factor of community amongst the fans themselves, and arguably the best form this takes is conventions.
Anime conventions take place in various locations around the country all year around. You may already be familiar with comic book or sci-fi conventions, and you can expect these to be of a similar tone. But for those who have never been to such conventions, here’s a beginner’s guide.
To act as a guide, this article will be covering a recent convention: Sunnycon, on the Sunderland sea front. In terms of size it is somewhere in the middle for anime conventions, with 2,000 people attending last year, over a period of two days. It features a wide selection of activities, and also a large number of businesses, normally small ones, selling their geeky goods.
One of the big draws at conventions is guest speakers, which normally tend to be American voice actors who dub anime into English. These tend to be the big draws for such conventions, signing DVDs, books and such, as well as giving talks about the industry.
Another big draw is gaming. There are plenty of video games going on at these conventions, modern and retro, with gaming contest also taking place. It is not just video games too. Table-top games and trading card games are also big. One of the biggest is a trading card game based on an anime and manga series called Yu-Gi-Oh!. It should be pointed out that you do not need to have seen the original anime in order to enjoy the game.
Then there are the panels. Various people with expertise in different areas give talks on a particular subject – and I should know as I’ve host a few myself on manga and anime related topics. At Sunnycon this year panels included one on lolita fashion, another on role-playing games, and my personal favourite was panel about gay anime like yaoi, which was both educating and humorous.
For most people attending conventions, the main activity is “Cosplay”. Short for “costume play”, this is when you dress up as a fictional character. It can be either someone from famous piece of work or a character of your own invention. Some people buy their costumes, others make their own from scratch. Cosplaying is welcomed and encouraged at conventions – but don’t worry, it’s not compulsory. If you do cosplay, expect requests for photos. If you do not wish for photos, say so, but on the whole most people are fine with it.
Also, although you may be at an anime convention, you don’t have to cosplay as an anime character. It can be any absolutely work of fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, video games, cult shows, cartoons, etc. Alongside these people are those into other aspects of culture and fashion, east and west, ranging from kimonos and lolita fashion, to steampunks (Victorian alternative history) and furries (people who like anthropomorphic animals).
Thus you get a really interesting mix of characters. Conventions are probably the only place in the world where you could be in the same place as Ash Ketchum from Pokemon, several generations of the Doctor, Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, Batman, Finn from Adventure Time, Lion-O from ThunderCats, Harry Potter, Sonic the Hedgehog, Elsa from Frozen, several grey trolls from the webcomic Homestuck, Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony, and in my case, as shown in the following photo, Rei Ryugazaki from Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club.
Cosplay also helps to make friends, as you might want to do a theme photo-shoot with similar cosplayers. I did a sports-theme shoot in my Rei cosplay one day, and on the other I was in a Hetalia shoot. As this was the year of the World Cup we dressed up in the football kits of the characters. I went as Sweden. I know Sweden isn’t in this year’s World Cup, but he is the character I most resemble.
The main cosplay events however are the “masquerade”, a kind of fashion parade in which cosplayers show off their designs to everyone else at the convention and a panel of judges; and the “skit contest” where one or more cosplayers write their own scenes involving their characters, again in front of an audience and a panel of judges. There are strict rules about entering (see the convention’s website for their rules). The prizes vary convention-to-convention. Often it is merchandise, DVDs, manga etc. In Sunnycon the top prize was £1,000. Arguably however the best moment at this year’s masquerade was at the end when there was a wedding proposal. You will be happy to know the answer was “Yes”.
There also little individual events that vary between conventions. At Sunnycon there was a charity auction which led to one odd incident. There was a bit of a bidding war for a plush doll of the character Vegeta from an anime called Dragon Ball. The bids were between two guys, one of whom was cosplaying the Marvel character Deadpool. After a mock sword battle between the bidders, the other guy got some back-up in the form of a man cosplaying a 7-feet tall Space Marine from the table-top game Warhammer 40,000. In response the Deadpool cosplayer got someone else to represent him: someone cosplaying a versios of Gundam, in an plastic outfit with flashing LEDs. The entire thing was caught on video.
In terms of main advice however it would be the following: prepare well in advance; budget everything; buy your ticket in advance rather than on the day; don’t spend all your money at once; and keep hydrated, especially if you are in a cumbersome cosplay.
But the most important things are to have fun, share your passion with others, and expand your horizons.
For details of Sunnycon, visit http://www.sunnycon.co.uk/. Ian Wolf is also available to present panels at conventions. Contact him for more information.
1-2) Taken by myself.
3) Taken by Amelia Jane.
4-6) Taken by Mario Czekirda Photography.