In middle school, I received an invitation to an anime convention. I didn’t accept the first one, but I attended the convention the following year. That first convention started a long tradition that still stands strong today. Each year, my friends and I, including hundreds of others, call the Hyatt Regancy in North Dallas home.
Hominess, the sense of familiarity and community, is the core of AnimeFest’s qualities. This year, I attended the convention to assist three of Plano’s rising stars sell art at a combined table. Once inside, I felt a rush of relief. I’m still not sure what I was holding my breath for, perhaps a velociraptor, but the brief tension left as we entered the Artists’ Alley. The tables change every year, as do the popular fandoms, but the heart of the convention is still the same.
The Artist Alley isn’t so much like a box of chocolates as it is like a fridge. There are the fresh things and the stale things, the sweets and the spices, and the things you’ve forgotten about and rotted in the process. The real gem, however, is the Dealer’s Room. While my friend insists most of the products are available at the local Asian supermarket, the Dealer’s Room should be treated more like an exhibition hall than an indoor bazaar. The Dealer’s Room is an assault on your senses; bright colors, familiar names and faces, and clusters of items never seen outside of tumblr, all in one place. Some artists find their way into the Dealer’s Room. While most of the independent craftsmen are there to sell homemade t-shirts and jewelry, there are a few illustrators in there as well. Such as the husband and wife team behind Two Lumps, who my sister and I have managed to run into every year since our first AnimeFest. Though this massive hall is a good way to empty your wallet, it’s still nice to walk around in what is essentially a giant toy-box.
AnimeFest also has two big events each year, the concert and the cosplay contest. This year, the concert arrived on its regularly scheduled Saturday but with a surprising twist. The bands normally booked in for the concert are artists whose music has either been officially used on a popular anime (such as previous acts FLOW and Maaya Sakamoto) or are cover bands (for example, Ramen & Rice and The United Fellas). This year, however, was truly special. This year’s band was Bowling for Soup.
The nostalgia factor was too good to pass up, so I attended. Though the audience didn’t entirely fill the ballroom, they were still very enthusiastic. I didn’t really realize how much I had missed this band until I heard them again. They were such an integral part of my early teenage years that hearing them again (and live for that matter) was like getting pleasantly punched in the face by my freshman year of high school. The band was pleasingly surprised by us as well. After the first song, lead singer Jaret Reddick commented, “It’s nice to see everybody dressed up. It’s like Halloween for the marching band.” The frontman went on to explain that when they are called on to play conventions, the event is normally little more than a glorified business meeting. This convention’s atmosphere was much preferred. Reddick also stopped several times to ask the audience how many of had decided they were the greatest band they had ever seen. Though the question was little more than a loving ego stroke, I personally would recommend Bowling for Soup’s live show to anyone in reach of tickets.
The other event is the cosplay contest. For those who are new here, cosplay literally is the simplified version of “costume play,” an activity that started in Japan with (generally) teenage girls and boys dressing up as their favorite anime or manga character. Today, the practice has expanded into Western comics, movies, television shows, and some books. While costume judging has its moments ranging from the glory to secondhand embarrassment, the skit contest has more postcard potential. Again, entries normally only hit the extremes of “hit” and “miss.” A handful of the entries are hands-down brilliant, original, and genuinely well-performed (This year’s star was the Silent Hill and Pokémon crossover skit, Pokémon Sulfur. Creepy and simultaneously hilarious!), while others are none of the above (I’m looking at you, slapdash dance routine). Though a few acts leaving a little lacking, those chosen few quality acts leave the audience with great stories to tell their friends back home.
AnimeFest is a friendly convention full of creative people and shiny toys. The atmosphere is homey, the music is nostalgic, and the people are “just add water” instant best friends. I’ve gone to six of the previous incarnations of the convention and I fully intend on attending more.