Fans of Japanese pop culture to gather at 24th Edmonton Animethon

Luna O’Brien’s closet is stuffed with costumes of some of her favourite anime characters, from a Pokémon-inspired schoolgirl outfit, to an incredibly detailed spin on Neo-Queen Serenity from Sailor Moon, to tributes to the seminal Final Fantasy video-game franchise.

Edmonton native O’Brien is a cosplayer—that is, a person who dresses up in sometimes extraordinarily elaborate costumes based on characters from Japanese anime and manga. Cosplay itself is a portmanteau of costume and play, and in the cosplay community it’s common to reimagine existing characters — or invent entire new ones — when creating new costumes. “It takes a lot of money and time and patience,” says O’Brien of the costume-making process.

Of course, what good is a fabulous costume without an opportunity to show it off?

Edmonton’s Animethon — which, now in its 24th year, is the longest running convention of its kind in Canada — is just the occasion. Each year, the event, held at MacEwan University, attracts thousands of anime and manga devotees and curiosity-seekers, offering the cosplayers among them a chance to flaunt their carefully handcrafted outfits.

The three-day event will feature a vast array of anime-related celebrities: voice actors, such as Max Mittelman from the anime series “One-Punch Man”; several Japanese musical acts, including singer Mika Kobayashi and electronic-rock group The Sixth Lie; and famed Chinese cosplay duo Baozi and Hana.

O’Brien is also excited to meet some of the voice actors from the recently released Final Fantasy XV. Though her fascination with Japanese culture began when she first discovered Sailor Moon in the fourth grade, her love for anime blossomed via the Final Fantasy franchise — especially her favourite, Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997.

Final Fantasy VII is the very first game I played, on the very first PlayStation,” says O’Brien. “It has a very special place in my heart.” 

This year’s Animethon will be O’Brien’s eighth. Her first, Animethon 17, marked her return to Edmonton after having relocated to Cold Lake. “I had just moved back from Cold Lake and I didn’t really know a lot of people [anymore],” she says.

But she made new and enduring friendships at the convention, meeting people who had her same passion for anime and manga. “When I saw how amazing the costumes were and the cosplays were, I knew I wanted to do this,” says O’Brien.

The following year, she wore her first cosplay outfit, inspired by Rainbow Dash of My Little Pony. It was an emotional moment for her; she’d been nervous to cosplay in public, but was heartened when fellow convention-goers instantly recognized her and asked to take photos. “I will never, ever forget that feeling of my very first cosplay,” O’Brien says.

Cosplay is a major component of Animethon. Three cosplay competitions — the main cosplay contest, a craftsmanship contest for handmade costumes and a crossplay pageant for people who like to dress up as characters of the opposite sex — are on tap this year.

A number of panels and workshops make up some of the weekend’s 100-plus live programming events, as well. O’Brien plans to hit up some of them, particularly the cosplay tutorials.

Elsewhere, a masquerade ball will give attendees the chance to put on their best gowns, tuxedos and cosplay accessories and waltz the night away. The next night, the school gym will play host to Animethon’s big dance, featuring Japanese DJ Teddy Loid.

In recent years, Animethon has drawn upwards of 9,000 people, a number of whom travel to attend the convention. And there’s still room to grow. Kids 12 and under can attend for free (adult pricing here), and families are invited to stop by to check out the programming, autograph-signing booths and video-gaming areas. Animethon also hosts an artist alley, where shoppers can peruse independent artists’ and vendors’ handmade work.

But of course, the main draw — for self-avowed otaku (people who love Japanese culture) and those who are completely unversed in anime — is the cosplay. Seeing hundreds, and even thousands, of people dressed up in meticulously handcrafted outfits is truly a unique and memorable experience.

O’Brien has planned three costumes for this year’s Animethon, based on Pokémon, Tokyo Mew Mew and Final Fantasy characters. For her, it’s a fun opportunity to see and be seen. But the core of the convention experience, and what keeps people like her coming back, is really about community.

“It’s just really nice to meet people who have the same interests you do,” says O’Brien.

Edmonton’s Animethon takes place Aug. 11–13 at MacEwan University’s downtown campus, located at 10700 104 Ave NW. For more information on programming and tickets, visit animethon.org.

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Animethon.

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