What to expect at Anime North

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When I signed on to cover Anime North (AN), I wasn&rsquo;t totally sure what I was getting into. Sure, I&rsquo;m pretty familiar with a lot of anime, and over the years I&rsquo;ve been to a fair amount of conventions, but I also know the anime community enough to know that sooner or later you&rsquo;re going to find something that throws you completely off guard. Couple that with some last-minute Internet problems that made it impossible to find any sort of itinerary for the event, and I went into my first Anime North convention almost entirely blind. What I saw over the next three days surprised, pleased, shocked, and sometimes disturbed me, but throughout I was wholeheartedly entertained.</p>

Talking with other people who had little experience with AN, I came to realize that there’s probably a few things the uninitiated should know about the event. So whether you’re curious about going to AN, or just want to know what the fuss is about, here’s the beginner’s guide to Anime North.

It’s not just anime

I can say with a fair bit of confidence that the biggest misconception outsiders have about Anime North is that it’s just an anime convention. While it goes without saying that the event has a large anime presence, there’s also fairly wide coverage of popular movies, TV shows, and video games, both in the characters fans cosplay as and in the schedule of events. While I was expecting something a lot more anime-focused, I appreciated that in some ways AN was as inclusive as most nerdy cons I’d been to, if not moreso (but I’ll get to that later).

It’s about the fans

When I was at Anime North, I heard several people say that where most conventions are about celebrities or merchandise, Anime North is really about the fans — and they’re totally right. While it’s not unusual to see a lot of cosplayers at any convention, I had never seen so many people in costumes in one concentrated area until I went to Anime North. Costumes are a massive part of the experience, and the grounds near the event were filled with thousands of cosplayers posing for cameras or chatting it up with their similarly-dressed peers. There were dozens of photoshoots scheduled throughout the convention so that cosplayers from popular series could meet up for group photos, as well as masquerades and lots of panels instructing event-goers on how to step up their cosplay game.

There’s really something for *everyone*

The events at Anime North covered a wide spectrum of nerdiness ranging from mainstream/vanilla nerdfare to very specific, somewhat… uncommon interests. As one might expect, there were many panels on specific anime or video games, and competitions like anime Jeopardy! and a Super Smash Bros. tournament. There were panels on Japan’s culture such as Japanese language sessions or the proper way to wear a kimono, some panels for cosplay tips at varying levels of skill, celebrity Q-and-A’s, and even some steampunk-oriented sessions. While all of that is great, it was pretty predictable stuff, and the kind of thing you might find at many conventions throughout the year. The real attention-grabbing panels were the ones that made you scratch your head and say “Oh.”

The area that surprised me the most was the ball-jointed doll (BJD) activities.  While I didn’t actually come across any during my time there, the ball-jointed community seemed to have a significant presence at Anime North, existing as a subculture known as Doll North, with events that focused on proper BJD care, a doll market, and even a “dolly speed friending” event.

Finally, there were some events that I can’t wrap my head around and lack the knowledge to explain. Here are some of the more eye-raising events:

“Ethnicity in Lolita”

“Declaration of New Otaku Century”

“Crappypasta: sp00ky, eh?”

“Care and Feeding of your MLP Collection”

“Black Folks Like Anime, Too!” (I really wish I could have made it to this one)

“Yaoi Bedtime Stories”

And the one that will likely keep me up at night for years to come:

“Very Naughty Origami (18+)”

It’s pretty hardcore

If it weren’t clear already, the fans at Anime North do not mess around. The stories I heard about event-goers were eye-opening: tales from people who had booked their hotel rooms nearly a year in advance in anticipation, people who were out of luck for not buying weekend passes for the event before February, horror stories of hardcore otaku (nerds) who spent so much cash on merchandise that they didn’t have money left for food. Anime North is a test of both preparation and self-regulation.

There was proof of this everywhere. Before the dealer’s room opened on Friday, there were at least a thousand people waiting outside the hall hours before it opened, just to be one of the first to look at merch. On a slightly less maddening note, it was also impressive to see all the people committed to their bulky cosplays despite the considerable heat prevalent throughout the weekend. How anyone could walk around in a dress or a suit of armour all day in 20-degree-plus weather is beyond my comprehension.

Prepare for the dealer’s room

Lastly, we come to the dealer’s room. This was the part of Anime North where all the nifty, nerdy products were sold — in other words, the part where you were most likely to drop irresponsible amounts of cash. After seeing the hordes of people lined up to get in on Friday, I picked up that it was kind of a big deal — in the end, even I spent hours in the hall, cataloguing the items and trying to decide what weird, nerdy crap I absolutely, positively needed.

So what was in the dealer’s room? Probably everything you might expect from an anime convention. Anime, manga, movies, and even western comics were available in spades. T-shirts, hoodies, and accessories like pins, keychains, and socks of your favourite anime and video games were rampant, as were actual video games (both ones available in Canada and those imported from Japan). There were plushies and figurines of anime characters, cosplay materials, a concerning amount of sword replicas, and even the ever-controversial love pillows.

While some of the products were pretty novel (I was vaguely tempted to pick up a Fullmetal Alchemist pocketwatch before I realized I would never have any reason to use it), overall I think a lot of the vendors suffered from too much product overlap: almost everyone was trying to sell something related to Sword Art Online, Attack on Titan, or other incredibly popular anime — it makes business sense, but for a convention that otherwise accommodates to some obscure hobbies, many of the products were pretty predictable. Overall, the dealer’s room isn’t too much to handle, especially if you’ve been on a convention floor before. When in doubt, just think about how much long-term happiness an item might bring you and if it’s really worth the price. Don’t be the guy that has bags of swag and no money for food.

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