Anime convention celebrates imagination and culture

Convention lauds Japanese art form

CorrespondentMay 24, 2012 

  • More information What: Animazement When: Thursday - Sunday Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St. Cost: $20-$60, depending on the day; children 2-6, $20-$45 (Cash only at the door.) Details:http://animazement.org

For those born in the ’90s who swapped Pokemon cards on playgrounds during recess, filing dog-eared copies into card protector sleeves, and who rushed home after school to watch Dragon Ball Z, anime conventions can engender certain nostalgic musings.

Yoshimi Yamagata Aoyagi, who directs Animazement every year, would agree, although her connection is stronger.

“Because I’m Japanese, anime is always with me,” says Aoyagi, recounting her days as a 5-year-old watching color episodes of Kimba the White Lion while living in Japan in the 1960s. “It is part of who I am.”

That’s why the Japanese language instructor has spent the past 15 years welcoming similarly devoted fans of anime, manga, and Japanese culture to celebrate each spring at the three-day convention.

Beginning in 1998 with a modest turnout of about 700, Animazement found its momentum in the wake of 1997’s 36-Hour Anime Marathon, an event orchestrated by N.C. State students calling themselves the Triangle Area Anime Society. Striving to highlight Raleigh’s unsung fan base, the TAAS set out to mold a local convention in the mode of similar national events like the Anime Expo in Los Angeles and Otakon in Baltimore.

This year, Animazement staff expect a turnout of around 8,000 at the Raleigh Convention Center over the Memorial Day weekend. Last year’s ball-park tally hovered at 7,000.

A stylized genre of Japanese animation, anime is characteristic in its embellished features with exaggerated, near hallucinatory expressions. Tears fall in torrents, histrionics prevail. Sub-genres of animation range in tone from innocuous and childlike to portentous and somber to utterly pornographic, covering preferences across every niche market.

Panels of experts will provide lessons in calligraphy and koto (Japan’s national instrument), while fan-run panels will cover topics as divergent as dressing like a Lolita on a budget in “Nerdy Lolita Fashion” and “Getting Published: From Fan Fiction to Paid Author.” Meanwhile, a stage performance group called the Jacabals will combine samurai sword fighting with sketch comedy based on Japanese history. .

Chris Cason, the voice-over actor most notable for giving life to the characters “Tien Shinhan” and “Mr. Popo” in Dragonball Z, is one of this year’s keynote speakers. Having directed English dubs of anime for the past eight years and written for the past four, Cason will host a panel that will instruct aspiring fans on what it takes to direct and dub act, in what he likes to call “anime behind the scenes.”

“My job as a guest is to be there as sort of an ambassador of anime, to meet people who may enjoy anything I may have written, directed or acted in,” he said. “In animation the sky is the limit, and it’s only limited to your imagination.”

That idea is brought to life at the convention. Devoted fans often arrive wearing elaborate costumes – the trend is called ‘cosplay,’ derived from “costume play” – and studiously affect the mannerisms of favorite characters.

Anna Cochrane, an 18-year-old student at UNC-Greensboro, is a self-proclaimed cosplayer of five years. She stitches her costumes from self-made sketches on breaks from school.

“Usually everything is planned out in December, and I’ll start sewing in April or May,” she said while en route to purchase fabric for this year’s costume, a “frog-alien type thing.”

“Cosplay is really just a way to be the character you want to be, and it’s empowering to know you made something and have people like what you did.”

Animazement’s craftsmanship contest gives designers a platform to showcase their work for a panel of judges, who recognize costumes based on artistry of construction and intricate detailing. One costume judge for this year’s show is the convention-renowned cosplayer Jezeroth, who maintains a day job as a tailor for Cirque du Soleil.

“They put tremendous time into what they make,” said Su Young Song, assistant director of Animazement. “They are creative and construct it as art.”

Educational Growth Across Oceans, a nonprofit organization whose acronym spells “smile” in Japanese, sponsors the event. Bob Dockery, assistant director, recalls 1965, when Tezuka Osama’s Astro Boy launched anime’s initial wave of mainstream relevance among American masses. Young Song, who grew up in South Korea, where poor relations with Japan incited bans on exchange, didn’t discover anime until the 1990s after moving to America during the genre’s second resurgence.

For the Animazement directors, amusement is not the only imperative.

“Our goal is to teach Japanese culture and language through anime and manga,” Aoyagi said.

That goal might seem ambitious for what are essentially cartoons and comic books, but anime’s effect on Japanese thinking has been widespread and its influence far-reaching, lending itself to international audiences and cult followings – and big business for Japan’s entertainment industry.

“Besides entertainment, it’s interesting to see Japanese people explore themselves through anime,” said Cochrane, who is studying Japanese language. “It helps us have insight into the way they interact with each other.”

Cason adores the possibility: “It’s possible that animation allows a culture to experience things vicariously without going through it themselves. Whatever you imagine, it can be drawn and done. I can’t be a 30-foot dragon on stage, but I can in anime. It’s limitless.”

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service