For the first time, ladies and gentlemen, Haruhichan presents to you a con review! That’s right, myself as well as several several other bloggers went to visit Anime North, one of the largest anime conventions in North America, spanning across three days of almost non-stop anime, gaming, and general Japanese pop-culture mayhem! It’s safe to say this is one of the most exciting events of the year as nearly every otaku within a thousand mile radius descends upon this convention. Guests from the homeland of anime itself make appearances regularly and so many different events take place that it’s impossible to catch them all at once – fortunately when picking up one’s ticket, a guidebook is handed out as well as a mini map, so you know what’s going on and when! There’s the dealer’s room, where businesses sell their anime/Japanese pop-culture related wares, or the various panels where different topics are discussed, ranging from mainstream shows such as Fairy Tail or Bleach to ones that don’t necessarily come to mind initially such as “Horrors of Hentai” panel, or perhaps even some informative ones such as the “How To Run An Anime Club” panel.
There are signings by big time guest voice actors – in this year’s case, the three most popular being Mai Goto , Yumi Hara, and Hidekatsu Shibata, and there are various other attractions such as the artist’s alley or crafter’s corner where one can admire the work of local artists as well buy their prints or commission custom prints in their art style! There’s even a large manga library you can visit (with special 18+ section – if you know what I mean) or various video game, table top game, or live action roleplay panels you can check out or try or learn about new games/variants in. Dance events, contests, a maid café and even late night raves that take the weaboo fun deep into the night (and even into the next morning) riddle the weekend long ride that is Anime North. But the one thing that’s most prevalent… the one thing almost everyone is there to see or do… Cosplayers!
It’s safe to say that there were a lot of them. Thousands, in fact – and this year it seemed like more than half of them were in scout regiment gear! One would be pressed to fear a titan attack at any given moment because of it – and there weren’t even any large walls. That’s an exaggeration of course, as in reality the mix spanned across hundreds of different shows, games, pop-culture icons, and even popular Canadian coffee shop Tim Horton’s!
But for those of you who are perverts and only wish to see “kawaii girl cosplayers”, have no fear. Plenty of those around as well! Due to a recent crackdown on rights and what not however, if you’re a con goer please remember to always ask for permission before photos are taken as it can get one in a lot of trouble otherwise – especially in North America. Something we fortunately did not have to learn the hard way but might be useful for others who are inexperienced with anime conventions. No need to be shy when asking – most appreciate it and even pose!
Though the laws and morality of cosplay photography is something of a debated topic, as well as the fact that several incidents in which cosplayers have been verbally or physically harassed (usually a misunderstanding of some sort) there exist panels at Anime North such as the “Cosplay Is Not Consent” panel in which the issue is debated and conclusions are reached. All in all, cosplay is something people do for fun and in most if not all cases, cosplayers enjoy being seen, given attention and photographed. So once again, have no fear in approaching and having a chat with a cosplayer and keep your eyes open for interesting ones. Sometimes one can even find interesting crossovers like we had the good fortune of coming across!
Cosplay however is just only one of the many attractions Anime North holds for fans. One of the bigger attractions for most is the area known as the “Dealer’s Room”. This is a large hall in which hundreds of businesses, big and small set up shop to advertise and sell their products. Manga, anime DVDs or Blu-Ray discs, figures, plushes – you name it, you’ll be able to find it in the dealer’s room. Prices aren’t always fair and some may try to rip you off or sell you a bootleg but those booths usually are spotted early on and reported or simply don’t do well. For the most part one is safe, however it does pay to have an experienced con-shopper by your side. The dealer’s room is known for its variety, as quite literally anything anime/manga or Japanese pop-culture related can be found here. On Sunday (final day of con) one can visit the room for massive deals as the booths are now trying to sell off the last of their products. Well worth visiting and most certainly can not be covered in just a day!
Incredibly crowded all three days, it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart as casually browsing takes quite some doing. However, it is well worth it as you get to see many different kinds of products as well as the cosplayers we all love to see so much. In addition to this is the Artist’s Alley, in a room next to it. Although it is called an “alley”, the room is equally as big and just as crowded. It is worth a visit though, as hundreds of artists have come together to show off and sell their prints and artistic expertise. Those who have visited the con in previous years say that the quality of art available has improved substantially which of course is great. When commissioning pieces there may be a wait, as artist’s have a line of them to do. A wait could be as short as immediate or as long as “come back tomorrow morning”. It depends on the popularity of that artist’s style, so be prepared to remember the booth number and come back the next day. They are very fairly priced on the other hand and one is guaranteed to get their money’s worth.
What really would catch the interest of a tight fisted otaku is an event called “Nominoichi”. This is an event in which a room (only slightly smaller than the dealer’s room) opens for a day and all the booths and sellers are normal people like you and I. No businesses or corporate greed here. These are people who have a ton of anime/gaming goodies at home they want to get rid of and come here to do so. Extremely fair prices and arguably the best deals you’ll see at a convention. While of course there won’t be the variety or cherry-picking capabilities of the dealer’s room – if you find something you like, buy it immediately because if you don’t, someone else will. The prices are just that good. It is only on for 3 hours of one of the days though and gets insanely crowded, so beware, be quick, and bring cash!
Outdoor events like photoshoots or some of the more spontaneous events like a band showing up and bursting into song, or a cosplay LARP battle occurring (both of which happened, by the way) don’t require one to get into any lines – just fight the waves of photographers that gather! But there is a flip side. When it came to panels, signings or any of the other activities that took place indoors, you would most likely have to suffer through a long line. Like any large event, this is an unfortunate inevitability, but on the bright side, since everyone around you is in the same predicament you can easily swivel around and chat up the person behind you – make some new friends! As everyone shares interests during conventions, it’s quite easy to talk to people and make new friends who live in the same area. For most, it’s likely the one time a year they leave their rooms and get off the internet. Make it count!
One of the many events, dances, competitions, fashions shows and panels we got to visit was an event called the Maid Café. Much like the maid cafés shown in anime, it is a small portion of one of the four venues the convention is spanned across in which a small indoor café is arranged and guests pay to enter, being given the complete maid experience. The maids bow when you enter, ask your name and call you by it (adding the right honorific) and do little interactive moe dances and performances for you. Some find it awkward, but in a cute, endearing way and it is certainly a unique experience. The proceeds of this event go to a charity organization and I had the good fortune of even interviewing one of the maids – one who went by the name of Shiori. The cute looking young girl dressed in the maid outfit said that it was her first time but she truly enjoys the experience and even wished that actual maid cafés opened in North America. Well, we certainly would not mind! Unfortunately however since it is an event one must pay specifically for and is funded by a third party, digital photographs aren’t allowed to be taken inside. Fortunately though, part of the package includes a polaroid photo of you with your maid!
As one delves deeper into the night, the dealer’s room closes and the cosplayers slowly begin to return to their hotel rooms to take a load off. The streets outside grow less and less crowded but the noise has far from died down. Why, you ask? One word. Rave. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, Anime North is host to several late night dance parties and even raves. From ballroom dances to an indoor club atmosphere to an outdoor concert/festival-like mood, the party absolutely does not stop until the early morning. There’s a separate event for K-Pop and even live performances from J-Rock or J-Pop bands – this year’s fan favorite being Daizystripper.
If by chance loud electronic remixes of popular anime or J-Pop tunes aren’t your cup of tea, this isn’t the only set of late night activities one can pursue. In one of the hotels that hosts the event not a five minute walk from the rave hub there are a set of rooms solely for gaming purposes. From tabletops like D&D or Magic to online games such as League of Legends, the place is hooked up and filled with gamers of all sizes, ages and skill levels for you to play with or against.
For all flavors of party, Anime North is your place. Three days of ultimate otaku heaven! While there is much yet to experience, it is impossible for one person (or even several people) to experience all of what Anime North has to bring, even in the weekend long time span. All that is left to say is that it’s an incredibly fun joyride and whether going for just one day or all three, you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth. We genuinely look forward to returning next year!
Did you go to Anime North? Or have you been to any anime cons in general? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!
Special thanks to our proud sponsor Shoukochan for collaborating with us and designing the custom shirts!
Input by fellow bloggers “Big Sister” Rii and marilleo
Photographs by marilleo