Raleigh anime convention celebrates genre’s themes and look

Published Thu, May 22, 2014 08:00 PM
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Submitted by Corbie Hill — Correspondent

Friday through Sunday, local anime fans Sara Robinson, Connor McKeown, Jillian Smith and Brittani McNeill will suit up: they’ll strap into elaborate acrobatic harnesses, slip on tan coats with wing insignias on the back and left breast pocket, and attach boxy scabbards – one on each hip. Then they’ll head to the Animazement anime convention in downtown Raleigh, dressed as characters from the popular Japanese anime series, “Attack on Titan.”

“People will always pull up and be like, ‘What are you guys doing? Are you in a play?’ ” McNeill, 22, laughs.

The Animazement convention – started in 1997 by the Triangle Area Anime Society – will again draw thousands of attendees from all over the country to the Raleigh Convention Center. Many of them, like McNeill and her friends, dress up. It’s called cosplaying, and it’s just one way they show their love of the genre (not unlike the way football fans get decked out in team regalia on game day).

A shared passion

Fans return to this convention year after year, celebrating Japanese visual culture and happily cosplaying as anime characters they care about. They come to attend celebrity panels, watch shows, buy collectibles and be surrounded by people who share their passion.

“You’re never alone at the con,” McNeill says.

It’s easy enough, with so many people cosplaying, to spot someone dressed as a familiar character: you compliment their costume, start talking, and end up hanging out for hours. “It doesn’t have to be a great costume – people will come up to you and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I love that character!’ ” McNeill says. “And you end up making friends.”

McNeill, who lives in Wilmington, has lost track of how many conventions she’s attended, but of her group, she’s been to the most. Robinson, who lives in Raleigh, has been going for a while, too, while Smith, now 16, went to her first at 11. This year will be the first for 20-year-old McKeown. Smith and McKeown both live in Oxford.

“The most fun that I have is cosplaying characters that I love,” Smith says. Her outfit this year is a crossplay – she’s going as the male character Armin Arlert, a brilliant though self-conscious tactician from “Attack on Titan.”

Fantasy, in detail

In that show, mindless, man-eating giants have overtaken the world and humanity is a critically endangered species living in a walled city. The members of the Scout Regiment, whose uniform these friends will wear to Animazement, battle the Titans by swinging, Spider-Man-like, through the air.

The entire “Attack on Titan” fantasy world is imagined in great detail, down to the design of the wagons and breeding of the horses, and the action and character development are constant. The show is big among anime fans and has become highly accessible (it streams on Netflix and airs on the Adult Swim TV channel).

“A lot of anime, it’s such a slow buildup for anything to happen,” Robinson, 28, says. “You can have episodes where no one is doing anything. ‘Attack on Titan,’ instantly – it kind of has that ‘Game of Thrones’ feel. People die.”

An air of realism

For all the fantasy action sequences and unlikely mechanics of the show, there’s an air of realism, Smith says: Popular or promising characters are sometimes killed in battle. It’s more like actual war, then, than is portrayed in many cartoons.

That’s one of anime’s strengths, Robinson says. While it’s a heavily stylized genre, it’s less likely to pull its punches than American cartoons. In the original Japanese version of “Sailor Moon,” for instance, characters died, but this was changed when the show came to the U.S.; the same happened with “Dragon Ball Z.”

The heroes in these shows, though, tend to be imperfect – even in the American versions. “Most of them have flaws,” McNeill says.

Excitement builds

“When I grew up, I didn’t know it was from Japan,” Robinson says. “ ‘Sailor Moon’ and ‘Dragon Ball’ would come on, and I would go, ‘This cartoon is awesome!’ 

Only later did she find out that the shows were imported and translated for American audiences. Robinson, like her friends, simply kept watching, and this weekend, she’ll join thousands of like-minded people at the convention they’ve been looking forward to for months.

“Our friends will think about it all year,” McNeill says. “They’ll make posts in December: ‘May is just around the corner!’ 

“Are you kidding?” Smith says. “I start posting, like, a week after it’s over.”


What: Animazement anime convention

When: 9 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh

Cost: $20-$60 for adults; $20-$25 for kids 6-12

Info: animazement.com

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