Certain people think Oz only exists in fairytales, but the attendees at Toronto’s Anime North prove that you don’t need lions, tigers, bears or even big actors to feel magical.
Goku, Sailor Moon, Pikachu, Usopp and Crash Bandicoot are just a few of the many characters that surrounded the Toronto Convention Centre last weekend, with a swarm of cameras circling them at every move. Heck, even Mario and company were performing music ensembles!
Though there was also ample star power like actor Michael Benyaer (lead role in ReBoot), the voice actors and actresses at AN don’t have the same level of recognition as guests at other conventions, like Fan Expo (whose line-up includes the talents of Sean Schemmel and Vic Mignogna ).
On the contrary, the real stars of this event were the attendees themselves.
People from the local community, Buffalo, Quebec and more came just to experience this one weekend, renting hotels nearby to escape the long commute to the Toronto Convention Centre.
21-year-old Anime North veteran Kahlia Maciel Dias attributes the diversity of the attendees to the unique camaraderie the event brings. “Despite attracting people from different walks of life, everyone seems to be friendly and understanding of one another. They're connected.”
Dias has been attending AN since she was 15 and says that experiencing the cosplay and photography is one of her favourite parts of Anime North.
And an experience it most certainly is.
The area surrounding the Toronto Convention Centre became pretty crowded for con-goers, especially when trying to avoid ruining someone’s photo. But many of them seem to thrive in this environment, constantly complementing and pointing at the amazing talent the costume-makers showcase.
Eric Guion is one such talent, wearing multiple costumes over the course of the weekend. “I started cosplaying in 2007 and for the bigger days [during Anime North] like Saturday I make the costume myself, but other days I just wear actual costumes like today.”
Guion, who travelled all the way from Quebec, decided to give an ode to DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc by dressing up as main character Kiyotaka Ishimaru, saying he “played the game on the PSP with the translation patch before watching the anime and really, really liked it.”
Cosplay’s importance in the event can’t be understated, yet the convention’s unusual identity is attributed to its wide variety of panels that depict anime’s weirdest exploits.
One such panel is Anime Hell which Dias claims has grown quite a bit. But what exactly is Anime Hell? In short, it’s a collection of the weirdest, funniest, worst and most memorable Japanese animation clips released during the year.
This is its 10
iteration and following an extremely long line-up, the panel ended up filling an entire ballroom of people at the International Plaza Hotel. Some of the best videos shown include the Attack On Titan opening redone with cats as well as a commercial about a USB lighter.
While most of these videos are available online, watching them with hundreds of other anime fans made each scene that much more entertaining.
Not to be outdone, Anime Jeopardy is another interesting AN panel that has also grown considerably, having tryouts for the first time ever this year.
Hosted by Michael Storey, the anime version works exactly like the classic tv game show, except with much more humourous commentary.
Storey blurted out hilarious quips constantly, including at one point when a picture of an anime girl came onto the screen before the category was picked, resulting in Storey saying “she's so desperate she couldn't wait.” Despite the light tone the three contestants had already battled it out with 28 other people to reach the finals, scoring highest on the tryouts.
Categories included topics such as Can Cons, Hot Summer Anime and Life's A Witch, giving the three conversational combatants significant brain teasers on all different facets of anime.
What may have been most amusing was when a contestant got a question wrong and half the crowd murmured “wow” in a sarcastic tone, showing a more cynical yet still enjoyable side to the community.
Yep, it’s safe to say that Anime North is one zany pow-wow. But the strange-yet-lovable weekend doesn’t stop there.
Accompanying the panels were a few themed cafés including Café Delish, which hires girls to act as traditional Japanese maids.
Emmy Dunn has been one of these maids for three years, originally going to the café as a cosplayer. She says they choose “a few select girls that are enthusiastic about it and fit the role.”
Guests are treated to refreshments as well as the occasional synchronized dance from the maids. Dunn says that while she has no dancing background herself, it can give applicants an upper hand.
So who is responsible for making Anime North happen? A corporation? Fan Expo conglomerates? Surprisingly none of those are correct. In fact, one of the defining features of Anime North is that everyone, including the staff, are all fans who receive no payment for their work.
It's a true labour of love and Carl Potaczala is just one of the many employees that make it happen. He says that the con is a year-long process, and requires many different areas to cover including administrative and registration (which he does), as well as a mass amount of volunteers.
It seems like Anime North 2014 was another successful year for the otaku convention. Just make sure you know the difference between One Piece and One Direction if you'd like to take the plunge next year!