Senshi-Con: From humble beginnings to large-scale Alaskan convention

From high-profile events like the Super Bowl or a live concert with The Rolling Stones, to small comforts like Olive Garden or Urban Outfitters, there are many things that Alaska goes without. Anime conventions used to be on the long list of continental US exclusives. Things have changed.

Anime is Japanese animation, and while it is a long-time treasured national art form to the Japanese, anime has become an explosive fad in the U.S. within the past two decades. An anime convention is essentially a large-scale event that incorporates many anime-related media, merchandise, performances and culture in one place, much like a Star Trek convention, only without Star Trek.

In the contiguous United States, these kinds of conventions have exploded to very lucrative operations doing brisk business with anime fans, much of whom are younger and have a good amount of disposable income. Alaska had, until mid-2000’s, been without any representation in terms of conventions, though the anime fad had definitely reached here earlier by way of shows like “Pokemon” or “Dragon Ball.”

When compared to other anime conventions (“cons” for short), Alaska’s efforts have been on a somewhat smaller-scale. The Kenai Peninsula Anime Convention, Usagi-Con, a Fairbanks convention and others have tried to emulate the big conventions in the lower 48, but fell short due to lack of funding, attendance and general lack of involvement or interest. This is a logical hazard because the event is so specialized that it only really appeals to one particular target audience: anime fans.

Though the majority of conventionss in Alaska have invariably fizzled out without attaining much hype or publicity, there have been two unquestionably larger (and more successful) Alaskan ventures: Aurora-Con and Senshi-Con. Aurora was held at the Egan Civic and Convention Center, and had substantially more funding than all other Alaskan cons; it was able to afford a much larger venue and higher-profile guests, such as voice actors for the American versions of famous anime series like “Fullmetal Alchemist,” “Evangelion,” “Detective Conan,” and others.

While it was the largest convention in Alaska, it was not the most successful. After just three years, Aurora-Con effectively bit the dust after its last event in 2008. Senshi-Con, the other well-known Alaskan con, has been around for much longer (coined as the first Alaskan anime convention) and is the only one still being held today.

Started in 2005 by West High’s anime club, the event operated solely on student volunteers and was held for free in the school’s cafeteria. At the time, it was a pioneering venture for anime fans, and did proportionally well for the venue. Kira Buckland, one of the founders of the convention at West, said, “We had almost 300 people, which wasn’t bad for only four months of planning.”

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Since then, the convention changed venues like a hermit crab, seeking out new housing once it becomes too big for its old shell. When most of the anime club members in charge of the convention graduated from West, the next logical step was to found an anime club at UAA, and hold the next Senshi-Con in the Student Union. As the venue grew larger, so did attendance, which has doubled and then tripled since its meager beginnings to roughly 900. When it once was an event of the UAA Anime Club, it has now become a separate organization.

Senshi-Con has enjoyed mostly positive responses since its inception, and being Alaska’s longest-running anime convention, enjoys a lack of competition. This ensures that it gets a concerted effort from Alaskan anime fans as it’s one of the few community outlets that occur throughout the year, and definitely the only one of such magnitude. In addition to increased attendance, Senshi-Con procures a large number of vendors. Convention president for 2011, Braxton Bundick, reported that the vendor booths were at capacity this year, and that the convention had sold out all of its allotted space.

Some of Senshi-Con’s vendors even come from out of state, since the Alaska market is unsaturated with anime-related items.

“We’re even going to be having a vendor from Japan this year,” Bundick said. Bosco’s, a long time Alaskan comic and gaming business, hasn’t missed booth sign-up for a single year of Senshi-Con.

Between increased vendor revenue and steady ticket pre-sales, Senshi-Con has been able to afford  more advertising than previous years. From website ads to large pictures on the sides of People Mover buses, Bundick attests that Senshi-Con is “really getting itself out there now.”

The convention hopes to draw even more attendees this year due to having their first ever booth at the Alaska State Fair this summer.

Not only advertising benefits from increased revenue. Getting guests (usually English voice actors) to present panels usually runs at approximately $2000 a person, and is a staple of this type of convention.

This year’s convention will only have one guest, Chris Cason, a slightly lesser known actor than previous years. Cason is credited as the first voice actor for Mr. Popo in “Dragon Ball” and the sole voice actor for Gluttony in”Fullmetal Alchemist.”

Time will tell whether Senshi-Con will meet the same fate as other Alaskan anime conventions, or flourish and rise to bigger and better things. As long as the community wants it, and the volunteers in charge of coordinating the effort are able to answer the community’s calls, it may yet remain Alaska’s premier anime convention.