Running a convention dedicated to Japanese animation and comics comes with a lot of responsibilities. Top of the list is warning the locals. When the Westin Nova Scotian was secured as the location for Halifax's first-ever anime con, convention chair Lissa Pattillo decided it was important to let the hotel's staff know what they'd be dealing with. Pattillo sought out the manager of the convenience store in the Westin lobby and explained to him that for one weekend in April his store was going to be the go-to point for 500 anime, manga and video game fans looking for food and water.
"We're letting you know to get ready."
It's advice that Pattillo herself takes to heart. Pattillo is in charge of Animinitime Halifax, a convention this Sunday, April 25, celebrating Japanese animation (anime), Japanese comics (manga) and video games. While the subject matter may be cartoons and comics, running an anime con is no laughing matter. For the past year Pattillo and her small crew of organizers have worked to secure locations, register attendees, schedule panels, court sponsors, update the animinitime.org website and a hundred other things that don't even pass attendees' minds when they go to the con. And that's exactly how Pattillo wants it.
"They don't know what goes on in the background, they don't know the work that we have to put into it and they don't need to know."
Marsha Reid, another Animinitime organizer, says it's all worth it when you keep the fans in mind.
"It's 500 kids who were just like me when I was little, and it would have been a dream to have something like this be in my city. So to think that something like this could fall apart so easily if I don't try my best every time I'm given a task, it just..."
It helps that the organizers are huge anime fans themselves. Animinitime is an offshoot of Animaritime, an anime convention that began in 2004 as the brainchild of the Mount Allison University anime club. The turnout (around 35 people) for the first year was so low that organizers were able to take everyone out for pizza. Each year after that, attendance more than doubled causing the con to move from Sackville to Moncton. But finding enough space wasn't the only concern. As the level of attendance grew, so did the sophistication of the con. By 2009 it wasn't just an event put on for fun by a university club anymore, it was a genuine convention drawing in over a thousand people from all over Atlantic Canada.
Pattillo came to the con as a fan in 2007. That summer she became active on the Animaritime forum where she helped answer questions concerning the convention.
The Animaritime organizers were so impressed that they invited her to become a staff member.
"I loved the con so much. I didn't think that you could be staff just that easily, so when they extended the offer to me I was ecstatic." (Organizers call themselves "staff" even though their work is purely volunteer. Any money a convention makes goes towards putting on the next one.)
The con's growing size made it increasingly hard to plan. Most large cons are planned out two years in advance, giving organizers a better shot at reserving convention halls and snagging high-level guests. The Animaritime staff decided to switch to a two-year planning cycle in order to come back with a bang in 2011. But what to do in the meantime?
The staff decided that, instead of one three-day con in 2010, two smaller one-day events would be more practical. Pattillo coined the name Animinitime and was asked to take charge of it. Being a Halifax native, she insisted on hosting one of the minis here, with the other happening July 17 in Moncton. It looks like a good call, since all 500 pre-registration badges for the Halifax con have been bought, making it a sell-out.
The demand hints at one of the most interesting things about anime conventions in general: How they turn a solitary hobby (what could be more anti-social than staying home and watching TV?) into a community. Cons are a rare chance for people to not only display their skills, but meet other people with similar talents. It's the one place where a detailed Sailor Moon costume will get you looks of admiration rather than confusion.
It's a Wednesday night and video games are projected onto almost every wall of The Last Game Store in Clayton Park. A pulsating beat from a game of DJ Hero makes the place seem more like a dance club than an anime meeting. About 30 people are crammed into the store, the occasional elaborate costume taking up even more space. The only thing that breaks through the music and general rabble is Marsha Reid's voice, shouting out directions and greetings to newcomers. Even in a crowd of costumed fans it's hard to miss Reid thanks to her cat ears, kimono and outgoing nature.
Reid is the founder of Anime@Large, a club that meets bi-monthly to watch anime and play video games. As an Animinitime staff member, Reid's job is to oversee the "Super Picnic" taking place Saturday, April 24, the day before the con. The picnic is a gathering of cosplayers and plain-clothed anime fans at the Halifax Common. While it is affiliated with Animinitime, unlike the con there is no admission fee or cap on how many people can attend. (Also related to the con is a screening of Cowboy Bebop The Movie: Knockin' On Heaven's Door,
Friday Saturday at midnight at Park Lane Cinemas.)
Maddie Powell is a lot shyer than you would expect for someone who likes creating costumes and wearing them in public. At the Anime@Large meeting she is dressed as a character from the series Battle Powers Hetalia, wearing a red Chinese shirt her mother helped sew. In a notebook Powell has written down her definition of cosplay and shows it to people when they ask her to define her hobby. Dubbing cosplay a "type of performance art" where people try to dress exactly the same as anime, manga or video game characters, the definition stresses that a cosplayer also "takes on the mannerisms, affect and body language of the character."
With such characters in attendance, the Super Picnic isn't just a friendly meet and greet, it's a competition. Reid describes the masquerade as "a cross between a fashion show and a play." Cosplayers can do a simple "walk-on" to the stage and show off their costume, or perform skits, songs or dance routines. Prizes are given out based on the skits but also the construction of the costumes. The masquerade is typically one of the more popular events at a con.
The Super Picnic has been a long time coming for Reid. It all began in the summer of 2008 when she found herself in the middle of an identity crisis.
"I realized that I was 23, working at Dairy Queen and I had absolutely no aspirations for life whatsoever. None. So I decided to move back home and quit my job."
Reid thought hard about what she loved, and two things that came to mind were anime and planning things.
"I love planning events. I love it. I dream about them, I think about them, I plan events for no reason because I get bored. So I just started building up the picnic. So at the beginning of August I quit my job, and near the end of August I had the picnic."
That '08 picnic attracted around 20 people, which turned into 50 the next year. As for this Saturday, Reid says she has "absolutely no idea" how many people are going to come.
"I'm kind of expecting mayhem."