Ahoy! I have returned from Anime North. This convention is held every year on the last weekend of May at the Toronto Congress Centre and adjacent Doubletree Hotel in Toronto, Ontario. Perhaps calling it “Anime” North doesn’t sum everything up, because it’s a mix of all aspects of geekdom. While its main focus is on anime, manga, and Japanese culture, it’s evolved into a kitbash of gaming, art, and performances, with a touch of sci-fi and fantasy. If you’re into nerdy stuff, you’ll find it here.
Moreso, there are plenty of featured events that offer a unique flair to the con. In addition to the convention staples of cosplay chess and a masquerade (which, this year, was better than ever before, IMHO), Anime North includes Anime North Idol, a 13-hour rave called Otakubaloo, and what can only be described as cosplaying luchadores. More returning fan favourites include performances by the local impov group, the 404s, and a number of homegrown gameshows.
Alright, let me rave about the gameshows a bit. These are coordinated and hosted, by congoers, with the utmost love and care. It’s For Fans, By Fans, so they are fun for participants and spectators alike. Gameshows include anime versions of the classics, like Anime Jeopardy and Anime Family Feud, as well as originally crafted games such as Create That Anime (wherein participants are given a number of anime clichés and must improvise a review of a non-existent anime that includes each one) and Hetalia Versus Reality (a trivia game that quizzes teams on their knowledge of both real nations and the characters of Axis Powers Hetalia).
In addition to the gameshows, there are plenty of panels to attend. They range from group discussions of various animes to advice on cosplay to fangirling over J-pop bands to, well, you name it.
And of course, no con would be complete with an awesome Dealers’ Room. This being my seventh Anime North, I can tell you the Dealers’ Room has evolved quite a bit. First of all, it has always been a great place to buy manga. At the con, dealers offer special discounts, so you’ll pay less at the con than if you bought it from the very same dealer at their store. If you’re looking for a title that’s bound to be in good supply, wait until Sunday when they drop their prices even further. However, for other items, I am less than enthused. The past few years, I’ve found that the toys and gadgets have been mostly junk. This year, I was pleased to see that the inventory has gotten better, but it’s still overpriced for what it is. Again this year, I didn’t buy much, but it was harder for me to walk away from some lovely jewelry and very cute throw pillows. However, if you are a serious collector of, say, retro toys, action figures, or specialty cosplay items, you can pick up some nice things here.
Something else I noticed about the Dealers’ Room this year: there was much more functional stuff. After my phase of Buy Every Cool Poster Ever and running out of wall space, I made a vow to myself never to buy something that didn’t have a purpose. Things that are just for display (like figurines or plushies) would end up cluttering my already-messy space. However, I still allowed myself to buy things that I needed anyway, and I’d just be getting a cool anime version of it. Therefore, I had an eye open for stuff that had a use, and the Anime North Dealers’ Room did not disappoint. This year, there were a lot more T-shirts, mugs, hats, and wallets. It was an excellent opportunity for people who want to add a little extra anime to their daily life, provided they didn’t mind paying, well, a lot. I saw a guy with a T-shirt that said drugs are a cheaper addiction than anime. He may be right.
Speaking of what people were wearing: cosplay! Now, this being an anime convention, one might expect to see mostly anime cosplay, but this year (as with the past year or two), this was not the case. Previously, anime cosplay had taken a backseat to cosplay from gaming. In 2012, the most prominent cosplay series I saw are My Little Pony and Homestuck. There was also a considerable amount of Minecraft cosplayers.
2012 was the first year that Anime North really stepped it up with their online presence. They’ve got a twitter feed that was rather active this month. IMHO, it was used more for psyching people up than disseminating information. They were helpful in telling people how many memberships were still available (as this was their first year enacting a limit of how many people can attend), but other than that, there was quite a bit to be desired. Not bad for a first year, but I’m hoping that in 2013, they offer more information in the lead-up to the con with regard to panel schedules and deadlines. I think they had only “audience” attendees in mind and forgot that plenty of Anime North congoers are active participants in organizing and providing programming. This was also their first year using a YouTube channel, and, again, it was a good effort for a first time, but I’d like to see their videos more polished next year. Their videos were made with, I believe, the TL;DR crowd in mind. The videos were essentially readings of the con rules, which got rather boring. I’d suggest either doing dramatic readings (to make it memorable and perhaps meme-able), or keep the boring stuff to text in the con booklet and leave your YouTube channels for more exciting updates.
In closing, Anime North is a great con and I think they get a bit better every year. While there are a number of things I think could be handled better, I give them credit for the fact that I never noticed that until I started to help out behind the scenes. If you just want to go there and have a fun time experiencing all there is to see and do, then it’s, well, pretty much perfect. It’s a friendly atmosphere that’s got a lot of wackiness and a lot of love. If you’re in Toronto at the end of next May, I hope you can join us for another weekend of awesomeness.