Animazement’s dream world comes alive in Raleigh

akenney@newsobserver.comMay 23, 2014 

  • If you go

    When: 9 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh

    Cost: $20-$60 for adults; $20-$25 for kids 6-12

    Info: animazement.com

— The evidence of Animazement’s arrival spread blocks from the Raleigh Convention Center on Friday morning.

For one thing, there was the Norse goddess sitting for a break at a street-side cafe, hammer laid against her chair.

Across the street, a woman wearing a schoolgirl outfit and a severely cropped dark wig, along with her colleague in liquid-black latex, hustled from a minivan toward the growing crowd in front of the center.

There they saw a man with only a sprig of hair on his forehead, who ripped off his naval commander’s coat as a young man circled with a camera.

These people, and the colorful crowd around them, were just a sampling of the 8,500 people expected to attend the annual celebration of anime, a broad genre based around highly stylized Japanese animation, featuring characters from the cute and colorful to the deranged and heavily armed.

Raleigh seems to have grown used to the convention, according to many of its organizers, but many passers-by are still mystified.

To an outsider, the convention hall might seem like a bizarro world, where only the uncostumed seem strange.

Up above, behind the convention center’s huge glass walls, the gathering’s organizers were watching their plan come together.

The high-ceiling meeting room dubbed ConOps – Convention Operations – is the command center for the yearly event, which has grown tenfold since its debut in 1997 as a 36-hour marathon screening of anime.

Rarely seen by most attendees, ConOps is where unpaid staffers meet to manage film screenings, discussion panels, international guests, several hundred volunteers and the various challenges of opening a portal into a fictional dimension.

Sitting for an interview, coordinator Chad Matich for a moment considered his most-unique problems.

“It’d probably be the displays of almost complete nudity,” he said. “We had a girl dress up as Poison Ivy. She was just wearing vines.”

That’s why Rule No. 1 of the costume code says costumes can reveal only as much as a “modest swimsuit.” Rule No. 5 forbids the connection of two people by chains, leashes or ropes.

There was also the sword issue.

“Back in ’97, nobody had swords. Over the years, everyone started bringing swords,” he said, referring to actual steel weapons. Eventually, there were just too many play-fights for comfort, so swords, knives, shurikens and bayonets were banned.

Of course, these rules only rarely need enforcement, Matich said. Animazement’s organizers describe it as one of the most “family friendly” of the various anime and sci-fi conventions that unfold in American cities each year.

The people

People like Matich, 38, are the core of a social structure that blooms each year in downtown Raleigh, growing largely by word of mouth.

About 50 people work year-round to plan the event, while hundreds more volunteer through the weekend and still more help casually, none of them paid.

The odd thing about the most-central organizers is how, well, normal they look.

“I’m so busy I don’t have time to change in and out of my costume,” Matich said. Instead he wears his staff T-shirt.

“It’s the only place where you wear a costume to blend in,” added Kimberly Sergend, 31, who uses her management skills from her job as a project manager for WebAssign in her convention role of volunteer coordinator.

“I wear cat ears, so people are a little more comfortable,” she said.

Sergend likes creating a place for younger people to enjoy anime and Japanese culture. She never had that as a kid in rural Virginia.

“I get to help out as an adult now,” she said.

On the floor

Down on the show floor, kids and adults are constantly trading compliments, posing for photos and treating each other like celebrities.

“It makes the person feel so good,” said Elrod Quiroz, 22, who was roaming the hall with a high-end video camera and a custom-printed T-shirt advertising his videography website.

He had plenty of subjects. The foyer was a bazaar of colors and odd uniforms, mashing up the already fantastical worlds of anime into one playacting stage.

One of this year’s biggest hits is a huge pink puffball named Kirby, who on Friday was attracting droves of squealing hugs from men and women alike.

Inside of Kirby, Patrick Poer, 25, was sweating and grinning.

“It’s your little tiny claim to fame. In everyday life, people don’t yell ‘Kirby!’ from across the room,’ ” said Poer, of Durham, who spent $200 on the costume but neglected this year to include interior fans.

Alice Crowley, 21, of Lumberton stood off to the side, watching the scene a bit nervously. Her first-ever weekend at Animazement – or any convention – had started just two hours earlier.

She’d worn an anime costume before, but never in public, like she was with her long black wig and bright green skirt on Friday.

“It’s a lot more nerve-wracking,” Crowley said. She is normally shy and nervous, she said, but already felt it falling away that morning.

Here, she said, “I don’t feel so much judged.”

Crowley said she’d been trying to work up the courage to ask to have her photo taken with other characters. Not long after, a young man asked her for a picture.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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