Highlights from Anime North 2012 in Toronto
Anime North, Canada's largest anime convention and one of the top ten in attendance in North America turned sweet 16 this past weekend. I used to attend the convention in high school and decided to check out the action for the first time in a decade--from the costumes to the dealers room, it was a completely different experience.
The last time I attended Anime North, the attendance was approximately 3,000 and the convention took over the Sheraton Hotel by Pearson Airport. Fast-forward a decade and this year, attendance was capped at 20,000 per day and the convention took over three major hotels and the entirety of the Toronto Congress Centre. Things have been going quite well since I last attended!
Panels - It's not all fun and games.
Conventioneers really look forward to a good panel--it's an opportunity to learn from a master, meet a hero or discuss a contested point of view. Anime North did not lack for panels and the line-up of topics definitely wasn't all fun and games.
While there were panels like Anime Jeopardy and one dedicated My Little Pony fandom (run by a brony) there were also panels about costuming as a plus-size fan and "Black Kids Like Anime, Too" which discussed the stereotypical depictions of black characters in anime while also highlighting some more progressive roles.
The panel I was most curious about was probably the most serious of all, Fukushima: One Year Later. It seems strange to talk about a convention celebrating a Japanese art-form without thinking about the trouble the country is currently in, and the panel proved to be a thoughtful reflection on their current predicament.
Entertainment - From Duck Hunt to dolls.
Tired from running from dealer's table to dealer's table? Out of cash? Want to sit down a bit? There are rooms and rooms dedicated to screening anime all day long. Generally it's an hour of Polar Bear Cafe here or a two-hour block dedicated to a movie there, but the best experience I had was in the Anime Music Video room at the Sheraton Hotel.
You've all seen at least one fan-video in your life, where somebody cuts up their favourite scenes to a popular tune. Well, let me tell you, anime music videos are still, hands down, some of the best. The Upbeat/Fun music video hour on Sunday ended with Cee-Lo's 'Forget You' set to Revolutionary Girl Utena and it was a finale that brought the house down.
The Sheraton Hotel was also host to the doll convention, a DDR room, a manga reading room, cosplay and crafting workshops, rooms dedicated to table-top gaming, a Duck Hunt competition and some 4-player Mario Kart action. When gamers needed a pick-me-up there was also a huge candy-stand hosted by Candi Werx featuring the best chocolate bark I've ever had in my life.
Fashion - Win, lose or draw.
I used to cosplay when I went to Anime North, and it felt strange going dressed as a boring, normal person this time around. It's one of those conventions where it seems like more people are in costume than not. Unlike at FanExpo, having so many people in costume feels more egalitarian.
It's a much more shared experience and people are always incredibly flattered and pleasant about being photographed or telling you who they are dressed as. There's an unspoken rule at conventions that you always ask the person you're photographing if you can take a picture and then thank them--at Anime North, you see this happen all the time. It's a real shift from more mainstream conventions where people in costumes are treated like meat.
That said, the convention also hosts some of the most elaborate contests, masquerades and fashion shows of the circuit. The gem in the convention's crown is the masquerade, a gala event on the Saturday night that features some of the most detailed costumes, judged by a panel that painstakingly looks at each detail of a costume and the creation process. A more laid back fashion show occurs on Sunday, featuring kimonos, steampunk fashions, and more.
I was able to quickly interview the Weapons Master--Chris Warlo--who has one of the most difficult jobs at the convention; turning away cosplay weapons that are too realistic. He's the guy who turns away over-enthusiastic fans with real blades attached to their costumes, but also the guy who recognizes the talent involved in some of the more elaborate home-made items. His most impressive this year? A long sword that turned into a functional bow, Transformers-style!
Overall, I had a fantastic time reconnecting to a fandom that seems to have grown in size but stayed close to their core values. I was definitely not prepared for the age range of the event; there were many more families with kids than when I used to go, and more teenagers in general. It's great to see the diversity of fandom really expressed through those attending. Despite the long lines and some organizational issues with panels and room sizes, this convention still feels like a close-knit community of fans.
Even with 20,000+ of them.
Photos by Paul Hillier