By Ryan Javier

DALLAS – Over the course of four days during the Labor Day weekend, thousands upon thousands of fans of Japanese animation and manga descended upon the Sheraton Hotel in the heart of downtown for the annual AnimeFest, one of the oldest conventions of its kind in the world.

Founded in 1992, AnimeFest has been held every year since, with the exception of 1997 and 2000. For those of you not acquainted with anime, let’s begin with some definitions. Anime is Japanese animation and comes three basic forms: TV show, movie and OVA (straight-to-video). Manga are Japanese comics, similar to Western graphic novels. Fandom, as it’s called, is the global community of enthusiasts devoted to anime, manga, drawings, merchandise and other related works such as anime-based games. Fans themselves, in the West, are referred to as otaku. It literally means “you”, however the modern slang translation equates to “geek” or “nerd”. Otaku who dress up as their favorite characters are called cosplyers, short for costume player.

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AnimeFest organizers ensured that there was always something to do during the convention. Every attendee was presented with a handy 150-page-long guidebook which detailed the hundreds of ongoing and overlapping activities and events on three floors of the Hotel, taking place over the convention’s four days. There was literally something for everyone, including gaming, dancing, panel discussions, live music, workshops and contests. Three dedicated viewing rooms showed anime, in all its forms, practically non-stop throughout the Fest.

Seven prestigious and influential members of the anime such as writers, animators, voice actors and other artists, including four guests of honor, were on hand to sign autographs and meet with fans. A big draw (no pun intended) were the “live drawing” panels in which legendary animators such as Hiroyuki Aoyama and Hiroshi Shimizu illustrated some of their popular material in front of fans.

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There were also other interesting and instructional panels and workshops, covering a wide variety of topics. Key aspects of anime and manga, from conception and design, to drawing and inking, to publishing and even voice acting were covered. The Fest offered two different crash courses on anime, geared towards parents. One of the other notable discussions was a panel covering the dark side of conventions, which focused on taboo subjects such as racism and sexual assault and which used education as a tool to help con-goers make wiser decisions. There were also panels detailing the works of master filmmaker Takashi Miike and legendary manga author, Junji Ito. A wide assortment of workshops including one of Kpop dance and another detailing the nuisances of cosplay makeup, help round out the variety of presentations during AnimeFest.

an_3982A major part of AnimeFest was cosplay. The sheer amount of fans in costume was staggering. The Fest held two cosplay contests and many other activities involving cosplay. There was an Iron Cosplay contest, loosely based on the TV show Iron Chef, where teams of participants were given a box of supplies and had to construct a costume within an allotted amount of time. There was even a Cosplay Chess game.

Gaming was represented in practically every form. In addition to six rooms dedicated to gaming, there was a super-sized Board Game room, complete with a library of over a hundred titles to choose from. AnimeFest even had a video gaming room with every major console along with tons of accompanying titles.

Throughout the floors of the Fest, fans could be seen playing various table top RPGs (role playing games) such as Pathfinder and Pokémon. Several of the discussion panels held audience participation mini-games as well. In addition there were Game Shows, panels in which fans could compete for prizes and bragging rights. Some examples were the Ani-Idol singing contest, three dating games and simulations, anime-themed Jeopardy, anime-themed dating games and an anime-themed Name-That-Tune. Anime Guitar Hero, a game unique to the Fest, was, as the name implied, Guitar hero set to anime music and theme songs. Perhaps the most popular competition at the Fest this year was the live action Pokémon battle involving cosplayers.

an_3989Dozens of vendors filled a massive room on the second floor as well as the entire lobby of the first floor. Practically anything that you could think that was even remotely related to anime and manga could be found there. The sheer volume of merchandise was staggering. Items such as artwork, clothing, toys and collectibles and everything was available at or below market rates.

Every evening was capped off with a massive rave dance, featuring live DJs. AnimeFest also put on a semi-formal gala ball as well as a live music concert featuring the band akai Sky, an alt/rock band whose music is infused with Japanese lyrics and whose sound is described as half Japanese pop and half American rock.

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For patrons who wished to say “thanks” and give back, Carter Blood Care was on hand taking donations. For the past six years in a row, Carter has been part of the Fest, collecting in total over 1,000 pints, which equates to over 2,000 lives potentially saved.

The 2016 and at least the 2017 AnimeFest will have some key differences from years past. The Fest will no longer take place over Labor Day Weekend, but be held earlier, in August. The governing body or committee will hold open elections for key Board positions every year from now on. This means each Fest will have new leadership. For more info on elections and how you can run, please click here.

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Have you ever been to AnimeFest?  We’d love to hear your comments below!