Local anime convention storms UAA

Cosplay interpretations (from left to right) of Jade Harley (“Homestuck”), Pinkie Pie (“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”), Riku (“Kingdom Hearts”) and Italy (“Hetalia: Axis Powers”). (Photos by Vicente Capala)

Once a year, UAA’s Student Union floods with hundreds of television personalities.

No, you won’t find Snooki or Kim Kardashian, but you will find Batman, Avatar Aang and, if you’re lucky, some of the original Power Rangers.

Senshi-Con is Alaska’s longest-running anime convention. It began in 2005 in West High School’s cafeteria with only about 150 attendees. Since then, the convention has grown into a two-day event that completely takes over the Student Union for a weekend. Last Saturday and Sunday were that weekend for Senshi-Con 2012.

Anime conventions are gatherings of those who enjoy Japanese animated movies and series. Similar to what people think of when they imagine “Star Trek” conventions, people often dress up as their favorite anime and video game characters (though any television or movie character is acceptable), participate in panel discussions, viewing groups, cosplay (short for “costume play”) contests and skits. There are also several vendors to purchase items from, as well as video game contests to watch and participate in.

Usually, there’s also a special guest brought in who has starred in an iconic show, game or both. This year’s guest was Robert Axelrod, the voice actor of Lord Zedd and Finster in the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” television series, various characters in the “Digimon” franchise, and many other roles as well.

“I started [attending conventions] towards the end of 2008,” said Axelrod. “I love it. I love traveling and being in new places. It’s my first time in Alaska, so it’s exciting.”

After introducing himself to the crowd at Senshi-Con, Axelrod sat at a booth for most of the day signing autographs and talking to fans about everything from his favorite characters to how he happened into his career.

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“Besides Lord Zedd, ‘cause that’s got to be my favorite, and Finster, I like Wizardmon, from ‘Digimon.’ He was a character who was only around for four episodes, but I was able to make a big impression with the fans with the character. He was a lovable character,” said Axelrod.

Senshi-Con 2012 guests gather in the Student Union cafeteria to watch day one’s “cosplay walk-on” event, where cosplayer show off their costumes modeled on media characters.

Axelrod first ventured into voice acting in 1980, when he landed the starring role of a cartoon.

“I always fooled around with voices as a kid,” said Axelrod. “I was doing a show on camera in 1980, and the studio next door was doing a cartoon show. Since I was there, I asked if I could audition. I auditioned and got the part; it was a show called ‘Banner the Squirrel,’ and I got the lead part of Banner the Squirrel. That’s how I started in, and the rest just snowballed.”

Jasmine Wyrick, public relations manager and vendor coordinator for Senshi-Con, has been with the Alaska convention since its first event in 2005.

“I was actually the president of the anime club at Dimond, and I heard tell of a group at West that wanted to start an anime convention. They collaborated with a bunch of clubs all around Alaska and Anchorage and we all got together and made it happen,” she said. “We had things like ‘Dance Dance Revolution,’ classics like ‘Mario’ and not so much as far as selling. We had a few displays, like the Japanese Language Club and video game clubs. Basically, it was like a really big get-together. There couldn’t have been more than 150 people.”

A cosplay group of characters from Nickelodeon’s animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Katara, far left) and “The Legend of Korra” ( left to right: Ikki, Korra, Mako and Bolin).

According to Braxton Bundick, UAA culinary arts alumnus and president of the Alaska Asian Association of Cultural Learning (AAACL) that oversees Senshi-Con, the convention increases in size every year. Last year, there were 1,400 attendees total, and this year, there were an estimated ***. In an announcement at the end of Sunday’s festivities, it was said that Senshi-Con would be switching venues to accommodate the larger crowds.

“We already have contract ready to go for the Egan Center,” said Bundick. “We are going to be talking with them on Tuesday. It’s going to be an epic thing for us.”

The Egan Center housed another anime convention, Aurora-Con, in 2007 and 2008. That convention no longer exists, due to low volunteer numbers and other complications, according to Bundick. He is happy that Senshi-Con is sustainable to take over the space.

A guest dressed as a nurse from the “Silent Hill” franchise.

“It has been way too long for us,” he said. “People didn’t want to come back here because “oh hey, the venue’s too
small,” or “oh man, I can’t wear my mask.” We always have that trouble. The thing is, it’s with UAA policy … which is fine by me; I’d rather go by the rules than get a slap on the wrist or be told that we can’t come back.”

Bundick went on to explain that the Egan Center will have its own rules for the convention staff and attendees to abide by, but hopes that they will be different enough to make more people happy.

“Hopefully, next year, we’ll have a lot more leeway, and people can do more with their costumes,” he said.

For more information on Senshi-Con, visit their website at http://www.senshicon.org.