My husband and I attended this year's 3-day event for all things nerdy and Japanese. With over 30,500 ticket sales, Anime North is expected to soon outgrow its home at the Toronto Congress Centre. Crosswalks at nearby intersections are already brimming with crowds of colorful costume-wearing fans, causing epic day-long traffic jams.
Besides the shaking of fists by passing motorists, one of the commonest reactions to cosplay is "Why would you put that much time & effort into making a silly costume?"
You could say it's about the craftsmanship. While others choose to develop skill at playing the violin or building a car engine, cosplayers hone their artistic and engineering skills in the form of pop culture references that resonate w/ the crowds at fan festivals like Anime North.
The design and complexity that goes into many costumes evidences the dedication of these fans. Some cover themselves head to toe with body paint. Some have learned to use 3D printers to create large and intricate armor pieces. Some even engineer lighting systems for their outfits. And you'll catch each fan appreciating the other's cosplay by a show of squee-ish awe and a flurry of photo snapping.
There is a big sense of community and acceptance there. (So much so that fans of the branches of anime that cater to subcultures and weird fetishes come out of the woodwork, and this year drew religious extremists w/ picket signs that read "Repent!" lol)
Buffet of Entertainment
Overall, the festival is actually about more than just cosplay and anime (Japanese animation). It's brimming w/ all kinds of Japanese culture and history, like kimono-tying workshops & traditional drumming performances.
The fest also includes Disney sing-a-longs, comedy improv shows, live circus acrobats, and endless educational panels.
I attended a panel about underground Japanese music from the 70's onward. Learned about bands like Yamantaka Eye, whose "chaotic blend of spontaneous sound combustion and playful style deconstruction" (Exclaim magazine) were about as violent as his live stage performances. He was known to physically throw objects from the stage. Boxes, metal beams, sheets of broken glass. Fans actually had to sign waivers to enter his shows.
My hubster, Adrian, was selected as a contestant on the live GAMESHOW Anime WTF (Words That Follow! ...not the other thing, lol.) Competition to see who can come up with the funniest caption to the picture shown on the screen. Winner decided by audience vote. And he almost won! Good laughs...
So... why call it "ANIME North?"
For many Westerners, anime (Japanese animation) was their very first window into the vast world of Japanese culture, language, history, and style.
As a kid sitting in front of the TV after school, I noticed that anime stood out from American cartoons both in quality, tone, and content. All kinds of stories could be animated, and that was when I realized cartoons were not just for kids.
I think it's this 'first love' - anime - that binds all the festival fans. Their tastes may vary, but they share that common entryway into Japanese fandom.
GIVE IT A SHOT?
If you're thinking about trying out anime for the first time, here are a few recommendations for beginners:
Warning: DON'T watch English dubs! They completely ruin everything! (Most controversial subject among anime fans...) Subtitles are the way to go for anime-watching pros.
And if you're curious about cosplay and the Anime North fandom, feel free to leave me your questions in the comments below! I'll do my best to answer them.