By Jenny Uechi
It felt like a localized scene from The Matrix: just as I was walking on the bus and wondering how to orient myself at the city’s annual Anime Evolution convention, a girl in a white rabbit ears and a voluminous ruffled skirt came and plopped herself down in the seat in front of me. Awesome, I thought. I have to do is follow this white rabbit and she’ll lead wherever I need to go.
It turns out the white rabbit was only the first of many other convention-goers to jump on the bus, and soon the whole vehicle felt like part of an altered reality: suddenly I was surrounded by odd characters like guys in ruffled shirts and levitating yellow hair, punk ninjas, sexy demons with lavender hair and cute Lolita girls with frills and ribbons, looking like anthropomorphized cupcakes. Clearly, this was going to be a surreal weekend at the UBC campus.
Jason Rako, the Media Manager of the Anime Evolution convention, tells me that the event has grown over the years, with 4,000 registrations on Friday and possibly growing to 5,000 or 6,000. The fans are passionate about the event, he says, to the point of forgetting to drink water or stop wearing their heavy costumes in the sun to avoid heatstroke. The entire convention, he says, is a labour of love run by volunteers, which is astounding considering the level of some of the events involved, including the Final Fantasy Fight, which quite simply has to be seen to be believed.
Renee Cheung, the convention’s programming director, says that the convention has been helped out by its strong roots in the comic and gaming industry. “Connections are really important,” she stresses, “We try to meet face to face as much as possible. It’s always nice to know the person before they come to the conference.” She lists Udon Entertainment, Funimation and Dark Horse Comic as as one of the main supporters of the event, as well as standout independent comic publisher Cloudscape, which has been pivotal in the careers of many local artists. She notes that many of the Vancouver-based artists, like Nina Matsumoto (Space Coyote), Wei Li (one of Cheung’s personal favorites), and the ubiquitous Camilla d’Errico, whose drawings can be seen not only in comic stores, but also in art galleries and bookstores across Canada.
Cheung brims with enthusiasm as she talks about the uniquenesss of local comic artists who have taken Japanese anime and manga and not merely replicated it, but have made it their own.
“Many people have adapted the original manga style and have kind of taken their own slant mixed with the North American stories and drawing style. What you get is this kind of hybrid that is also very symbolic of Vancouver itself.”
Even though the majority of the convention-goers are teenagers and youth, she says that the edginess of some of the recent manga (such as Noir, and Ganz) helps widen the books’ appeal to an older audience. Cheung says that while some issues in the manga (such as “honorable” deaths and intense family bonds) may feel foreign to Western audiences, its complexity keeps the older readers intrigued all the while seducing the younger readers.
Cheung says that the Vancouver Anime Evolution is run more like a family than some other conventions, which are more operated like a business. Rako points out, “We don’t make any money off of this. Any money we make goes straight to the next convention.”
Rako notes that there is a charity auction, mostly for unique and non-duplicate autographed pieces by voice actors and artists, and that 100% of the proceeds goes toward the B.C. Children’s Hospital. He grins while recalling some of the more eccentric items put up for auction at previous conventions. “I remember in ’06, somebody bid on a sandwich that was autographed,” Rako says, turning to Cheung.
“One of the voice actors in the front made a joke about auctioning off a bottle of water and then it just started, like it actually happened for real.” Cheung adds. “It was a signed bottle of water that went for like, $300.” Cheung laughed at the incredible geekiness of it all.
The conference had no shortage of things to do and see over the weekend — from Cosplay Cafes to AMV showings to card game battles. There were on an incredible range of panels and seminars, ranging from how to style one’s wig in a believable manga hairstyle, to tips on voice acting and publishing an original comic.
This year’s focus, however, was artists, and the entire Student Union Building was pretty much transformed into a manga art gallery. Many extremely talented artists showed up, including Nina Matsumoto and Susan Li, a UBC student whose exquisite drawings put many of Tokyo’s professional manga artists to shame.
There were quite a few vendors selling costumes and accessories, among them Edmonton-based Melissa Wartenberg of Attic Raiders, who handcrafts “Steampunk” prescription goggles and gorgeous antique jewelry for those fascinated by the romantic Victorian era aesthetic.
Many fantastic cosplayers at the event, who were more than happy to have a photo taken.
Some people apparently wanted to remain completely anonymous, yet also be really noticed by everyone around them.
Looking at the attendants of the convention, I was struck by the different age groups and ethnicities of the attendees, as well as their camaraderie: people who would fall into the pretty/popular category were socializing freely with the offbeat and socially awkward, bound by their shared enthusiasm for their favorite series. Whether you’re a die-hard anime/video game/manga fan or just a curious observer of Vancouver culture, this event is a must-see and worth every minute of attending.
Check out more at the Anime Evolution photo blog.
For a brief history of animation through the decades, check out this wonderful website.