Anime club organizes first campus convention

Anime is becoming more popular than ever in America. Movies like “Howl’s Moving Castle” are getting nominated for Oscars. Deluxe cable channels like Showtime are putting anime shows like “Peacemaker” into their lineup. Manga books like “Naruto” are breaking into the top 30 of USA Today’s bestselling book list.

And now, UAA’s Anime Club will host an anime convention, Senshi-Con, in the Student Union March 18.

Both floors will host a number of events, including skits, games, vendors, anime viewings and a Japanese cultural booth. There will also be competitions, including a karaoke contest, a ramen-eating contest, a “Dance Dance Revolution” contest and two cosplay events.

Cosplaying, where fans dress up as a favorite anime character, is always popular at conventions. Kira Buckland, president of the UAA Anime Club and event coordinator for the convention, said it’s what people are looking forward to most, according to a poll on the Senshi-Con Web site. Several club members were even in costume at the meeting, showing off Edward Elric from “Fullmetal Alchemist,” Rikku from “Final Fantasy X-2,” and other costumes that looked ready to win prizes.

Buckland said with the difficulty in traveling out of state, most Alaskan anime fans have never been able to go to a convention like this.

“This is just a great resource for those who can’t travel to the Lower 48 for a con,” Buckland said.

She said Senshi-Con will have plenty for people who are not into anime, but would like to learn about other elements of Japanese culture.

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Aaron Landrum, codirector of sponsorship for Senshi-Con, said that while the club has several sponsors and vendors signed up for the convention, getting them has taken a lot of work.

“It’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be,” Landrum said.

Landrum said the anime club started last summer from a group out of West High, and is now a mix of high school and UAA students.

Rebecca Hardcastle, a member of the anime club, said at the club’s March 10 meeting that she was happy about the club’s progress in planning for the upcoming convention.

“I’m glad to see this has gotten so much bigger than last year,” Hardcastle said. “We held it in our school’s cafeteria.”

Just over a year ago, the anime club at West High put together Alaska’s first anime convention. The first Senshi-Con (“senshi” means “warrior” in Japanese) was a success and attracted about 400 guests into the school’s cafeteria, which prompted the club to begin planning for a second convention, even though some members were graduating.

Buckland, a freshman Japanese student at UAA, said the club and the convention plans have grown since then.

“Now it’s just expanded into all this,” Buckland said, speaking of the nearly 40 enthusiastic people at the meeting, as well as the size of the 2006 Senshi-Con. “We’re basically taking up the entire Student Union.”

Although anime is becoming more mainstream, Buckland said she doesn’t always like the way some American distributors handle anime, sometimes changing names, taking out cultural references or turning originally mature titles like “One Piece” into kiddie shows.

James Robbins, in charge of public relations for Senshi-Con, said there are still a lot of misconceptions about anime.

“The goal of Senshi-Con is to help people understand what anime really is,” Robbins said.

Promotion for the convention isn’t limited to flyers around campus. Senshi-Con information is on numerous anime-related Web sites, and notices can be found in the leading national anime magazines, such as “Newtype USA.”

Robbins expects that all the work and promotion will pay off, and he said the convention has already been getting attention from people of every age.

“We’re expecting a very high turnout, at least double of last year,” Robbins said.

Buckland, though, said she expects that Senshi-Con will just break even this year. But she said if Alaskans come and have fun, even if it’s just to meet new people and learn about a different culture, that’s all she really wants.

Anime Club member Thomas Peters said he doesn’t really care for anime, but enjoyed the first Senshi-Con.

“It was something new, something different,” Peters said. “I was really impressed a bunch of high school kids could put together something like this.”

Now he said he enjoys the club and looks forward to the convention.

“It’s mostly because of my friends, their enthusiasm,” Peters said. “I’ve made a lot of friendships here.”

Senshi-Con will be held in the Student Union March 18, from noon to 10 p.m. Tickets are $5 in advance, $10 at the door, or $7 for cosplayers. For more information, visit www.rei-chan.net/senshicon.