KotoriCon 2011 kicked off Friday night, but the big day featuring panels, vendors and videogames made for a busy Saturday at Gloucester County College.
Attendees came in all shapes, sizes and colors, as many dressed up in elaborate costumes of their favorite anime characters. Others were subtle in just wigs. Some were able to pass off as multiple characters.
Amber Dickinson, 17, of Deptford, named a couple possible characters she was dressed up as, before settling on Roxas, from the video game series Kingdom Hearts. “He’s in between being good and bad,” she said.
Two-hundred eighty-five people were preregistered for the event, according to college administrators, nearly tripling the number of preregistered attendees last year.
“The draw is the anime itself. The atmosphere’s a big draw [and] our volunteer staff getting the word out,” said Dan McAteer, 21, of Gloucester City. McAteer is in his final year at GCC and president of the college’s Japanese Anime and Gaming Club, which sponsored the event.
The convention featured many vendors selling things from wigs to jewelry, DVDs to comic books, costumes to T-shirts and even stationary, all anime-inspired.
While some traveled far and wide for the event, local vendors were represented as well, including Stephen Sistilli, owner of Rough Sketch Studio in Haddonfield. In addition to owning his own studio, Sistilli is a part of a creative team with Arcana Comics, which he was selling at the convention.
Gavin Goszka, owner of Home Circle Media, came all the way from Cleveland, OH, to play music and sell his anime-inspired stationary at KotoriCon.
“I’m no expert by any means [on anime],” Goszka said, “but it’s cartoons for adults. They have complex, interesting issues. They’re really original story lines and you’re able to relate to a lot of characters.”
Thomas Cook, 21, of Clementon called anime, "an escape from reality."
"but at the same time it can teach you real life events in a clever way,” he said.
“And the art is really cool,” added his sister Cassandra, 19. Each had anime music videos entered in a contest at the convention.
Emily Bessing, 18, of Deptford, said of the appeal of anime, “Some [characters] are unique, but remind me of my own life."
“There’s all kinds of fantasy elements,” Anthony Webb, 20, of Blackwood said. “I’m tired of American media, it’s monotonous and homogenized. Anime has a diverse field of genres, something for everybody.” Bessing and Webb were a part of a group of friends attending the convention.
Michelle Enz, 16, of Deptford, added, “I love that people are willing to dress up."
The group attended the first KotoriCon last January, and was happy to see it expand this year, while still remaining small and intimate in comparison to other larger conventions.
“People come from all over,” Webb said. “Conventions in general are just really good. Everybody’s really accepting. [If] they don’t have anything nice to say, they won’t say it.”
The entire atmosphere at KotoriCon was friendly, welcoming, well-spaced and organized, throughout three of the college’s buildings. The Fine Arts Center hosted live performances, while College Center contained Artists’ Alley and Dealers' Rooms, in addition to various anime-themed panels and martial arts demonstrations. The Instructional Center showed various anime films and held video game rooms.
Matt Pyson, a panelist at the convention, said being at a smaller venue was a nice change of pace. Pyson and Scott Melzer are used to larger conventions—they are in charge of the fan-produced videos department of Otakon, the largest anime convention on the east coast.
Melzer is the founder of Non.D.E. films and Pyson joked during their panel session that he is, “voice actor, writer and general entourage for Scott.” Together they create fan parodies of anime films.
Melzer said he has three reasons why he loves small conventions. “First, it’s more intimate.”
Pyson said that smaller conventions tend to remain local, therefore when you meet a fellow fan at a smaller convention, there’s a better chance of forming a great friendship.
“Second, they’ll have me as a guest,” Melzer said.
Pyson added, “We’re small-fry on the national scene.”
“Third,” Melzer said, “it really helps me stay creative … I get really excited, I can help create programming, network, meet people.”
As for the attraction to anime itself, Melzer again cites creativity.
“It encourages creativity at a time when we’re encouraged to sit on our asses and be consumers,” he said.
While Melzer and Pyson are fans of anime and call their films and convention appearances and work “just a hobby,” they also try to encourage deeper meaning and thoughts through their parodies. At the end of his films, Melzer includes taglines such as “For Love and Friendship,” “For Those Who Found Love And Lost It, May You Find It Again,” and “The World Can Be Saved By Love.”
“If you’re not doing something to make the world a better place, then stop what you’re doing,” Melzer said.
Members of GCC’s Japanese Anime and Gaming Club seem to agree. Each of its big events—the club also hosts a gaming tournament in June—sponsor different charities. Proceeds from KotoriCon 2011 are being donated to Doctors Without Borders and Child’s Play.
“All these charities are helpful in kids lives,” Dan McAteer said. “Child’s Play brings games to kids in the hospital. Doctors Without Borders … put in so much effort to make sure people get the health care they need.”
Elaborate costumes, games, Japanese animation and supporting good causes: all was found at KotoriCon 2011.