Twenty years ago, in 1997, Animazement started out as a 36-hour anime marathon with 200 attendees. Today, it’s a major downtown Raleigh festival, one that draws thousands to the Raleigh Convention Center on Memorial Day weekend.
Attendees can be seen on the downtown streets and near the Sir Walter Raleigh statue, many dressed in elaborate cosplay garb. Sure, they’re here because they love anime – because they enjoy its fandom or because they’re curious about Japanese culture – but there’s more to it than that, says Matthew Holmes, Animazement’s external media and press coordinator.
“We’re not doing this as a business,” Holmes says. “This is essentially a labor of love for all of us involved.”
Here are a few aspects of the annual anime convention that might surprise you.
1. It’s a nonprofit with a mission. Animazement is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, and its core mission is to give North Carolinians an opportunity to learn about another culture.
“Anime, in Japanese media, is kind of the gateway that we use to draw people to the convention while we also have all kinds of cultural panels that they can then check out,” Holmes says. Between going to fandom panels, they can see how a Japanese tea ceremony actually works.
“Once you’ve had your mind expanded once, it gives you the opportunity to say, ‘If I didn’t realize that Japan was so different – because I realize it now that we’re the same in many ways but we’re different in many ways – how does that apply to every other country in the world?’ ” says Holmes. “Now that I understand how Japan is so different, what about Mexico? What about France? What about Saudi Arabia?”
2. It promotes Japanese cultural exchange. “Look back at our history of guests,” Holmes says. “You’re going to see a lot of the same faces because they love our convention and they love what we’re trying to do. They keep wanting to be part of that.”
Animazement director Yoshimi Aoyagi travels to Japan seeking guests for the convention; she talks to her friends and to friends of friends, and finds people who might not otherwise be interested in traveling to the United States except for the opportunity for cultural exchange. Word gets around, and Aoyagi finds herself contacted by celebrities and people in the anime industry who want to participate. Back at the con, panels can feature two voice actors who play the same character, one in the original Japanese and one in the English dub, talking about the differences in their approaches. Animazement has done this with the voice actors behind “Dragon Ball Z” character Freeza.
Some Japanese guests, though, like to go sightseeing.
“They don’t have Walmarts in Japan, so they want to come here and they want to see Walmart or Target,” Holmes says. “They want to see what the American consumer experiences is like. Those are always some of their larger requests. ‘How is the KFC different here?’ Stuff like that.”
Some Japanese guests like to go sightseeing. “They don’t have Walmarts in Japan, so they want to come here and they want to see Walmart or Target.”
3. There’s Saturday morning nostalgia. In the ’90s, before there were dedicated 24-hour cartoon channels, there were Saturday morning cartoons, and many of these shows were English-dubbed, Americanized versions of anime shows like “Dragon Ball Z” or “Sailor Moon.” Then, Cartoon Network and the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) started picking up anime shows in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The kids who grew up on these cartoons are adults now. For some, there’s a powerful nostalgic draw. Others continued down the anime rabbit hole.
“We still get people in the convention who are in their 40s and 50s who remember ‘Robotech’ back in the ’70s and ’80s, when it was a super-niche thing and you had to find out about it through word of mouth,” Holmes says. “They really appreciate that we still play homage to what we call the classical anime.”
He’s sure to point out, though, that there’s more to this fandom than simple nostalgia. There’s always fresh anime being produced in Japan, and Animazement draws those fans for sure.
4. This Memorial Day staycation is a boost. North Carolinians who go out of town on Memorial Day weekend either head to the mountains or the coast, Holmes says, noting that Raleigh obviously has neither. Tourism simply isn’t one of the city’s major draws.
“People don’t tend to come to us unless there’s something happening,” he says. “Memorial day, Labor Day weekend, those kinds of situations – people leave.”
On the convention’s economic impact, Matthew Holmes says Visit Raleigh and some local businesses report a 20 to 40 percent increase in business during an Animazement Memorial Day weekend.
Yet Animazement provides a Memorial Day weekend draw that might not necessarily exist otherwise. Last year, Holmes says, the organizers started looking into the convention’s economic impact: to what degree exactly was it reversing Memorial Day flight? How were the 15,000 attendees contributing to the greater Raleigh economy? So Holmes and the Animazement organizers consulted Visit Raleigh and local businesses, whose figures confirmed it.
“I spoke to some local companies and they were talking about anything from a 20 to 40 percent business increase over that weekend over normal,” Holmes says. “You take into account people have already left for vacation, and (that’s) on top of that.”
Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh
Cost: $65 for adults/$50 for children Thursday and Friday; $50 for adults/$40 for children Saturday; $25 Sunday
There is a free outdoor concert Saturday afternoon featuring Japanese pop singer Diana Garnet, who will be followed by the samurai stage combat of The☆Jacabal’s. This is open to the public and lasts from 3 to 5 p.m. in front of the Marriott on Fayetteville Street.