Do you know your Naruto from your Tenjho Tenge? Are you up-to-speed with Cowboy Bebop?
If these terms mean anything at all to you, you most certainly have some familiarity with anime, the term used to describe the field of Japanese animation. (All, incidentally, are popular anime titles).
Although the North American audience is modest compared to its following in Japan, the popularity of anime (and manga, anime’s comic-book equivalent) is unquestionably growing in this part of the world. Even in Manitoba, anime has many devotees.
From Aug. 12 to 14, as many as 1,500 people will gather at the Winnipeg Convention Centre for Ai-Kon, a convention for anime fans from across the province. This year’s Ai-Kon is expected to be the largest, but it’s not the first. In fact, the event got its start in 2001 at the University of Manitoba, which is home to a student group appropriately titled UMAnime.
UMAnime member and Ai-Kon communications officer Heather Baril said she’s watched as the popularity of anime in the province has jumped in just a few years. She says the availability of anime titles in most video stores and a few titles on regular television have made the genre less mystifying to a mainstream audience.
Baril said it’s largely the style of art that initially attracted her to anime and manga. While characters differ, anime artists generally adhere to a certain artistic consistency that spans the genre.
“It’s very distinctive when you see a Japanese animation character,” Baril said.
She said fans are also attracted to the breadth of anime and manga titles.
“People like the variety of genres that exist within anime. There’s romance, mystery, action, there’s comedy. The genre is very broad.”
UMAnime members usually meet two Saturdays each month. Most come to watch the anime movies the club screens at each meeting, while others work on anime art or play Yu-gi-oh, a card game popular among anime enthusiasts.
At the Ai-Kon convention, UMAnime members and hundreds of other fans will watch anime films, read manga, check out the wares offered by local and national anime dealers, and play games.
Many will also dress up.
Costume play, or “cosplay” as anime fans refer to it, is a big part of the anime world. Several hundred convention attendees are expected to appear in full costume.
Baril said she’ll be attending the convention dressed as an anime character. Her approach to costume-making is similar to how most would make a Halloween costume: find some appropriate clothing, and modify or decorate it to create the desired appearance. Others, however, will invest long hours sewing a costume from scratch. Handmade costumes aren’t uncommon, Baril said, and the workmanship among costumes is generally high.
For some anime fans, simply dressing as a favourite character still falls short of truly getting into the script. Hence the popularity of “fan fiction,” which involves anime buffs crafting their own adventures with existing characters.
“They can do things with characters that maybe weren’t done in the show,” Baril said.
It may be tempting for outsiders to brand anime fans as obsessive cartoon-watchers who refuse to grow up, but Baril said that view stems from a poor understanding of anime. The genre is broad, she says, and includes titles intended for audiences of many ages.
“One of the big misconceptions people have about anime is that it’s only for children,” she said. “But that’s not true.”
Ai-Kon takes place at the Winnipeg Convention Centre from Aug. 12 to 14.
UMAnime hosts a comprehensive regularly updated web site.