At the end of May I learned something that as a Torontonian filled me with pride. Last year's Anime North saw numbers enough to jump us from #4 to the #2 spot on the rankings of largest Anime Conventions in North America. While official numbers haven't been released, being around for Anime North 20 this year makes me think we may have a shot at that #1 spot. Anime North 20 went BIG with numerous guest stars and speakers from across the animation and anime industry. Everything from a Japanese rock group to the English voice cast of Sailor Moon was at the Toronto Congress center to mark the historic anniversary.
Several years ago Anime North became my first convention. A place of bright colours, amazing costumes and interesting discussions. A year later it was the site of my very first Cosplay. Subsequent years however saw my enthusiasm for the convention drop off however as year after year it just felt like it was more of the same. The convention for a time got more and more set in its ways and I started to really question why it was that people went year after year.
That opinion of mine changed this year for one very important reason. This year, I took my brother.
Seeing the convention through his eyes as a first time goer reignited that spark that made me a convention goer all those years ago. What I had initially written off as stagnation I came to see as a community that has stayed true to its roots. For a lot of people anime and manga is their main fandom and this is their first, sometimes only, convention experience. Celebrating the rich culture of anime and manga really does require its own space to properly unpack because it is so different in so many ways from Western entertainment tropes.
But that's not what makes this convention so amazing. It's the sense of community that for all these years and through many a scandal has stayed true to itself. Anime North is much more a community event than a full blown convention like FanExpo. You won't find booths dedicated to Playstation or Sony Films set up on the vendor floor, you'll find other fans of anime and manga. The lack of a large corporate presence really makes the convention feel like its there for the fans rather than to just sell things the way you get with events like Comicon and E3. There is a greater sense of a fostering and caring community at Anime North.
The other massive attraction to the convention is with regards to how it has accepted the changing times while keeping to that community spirit. One need only look around at the cosplays to see that this isn't a convention solely dedicated to anime and manga; it has really become a place to celebrate all animated content. Western cartoons and video games both indie and mainstream are represented by the fans and vendors. This of course sparked a fair bit of controversy as these changes were happening. Message boards still exist where people voice their displeasure at what they see as a subversion of the point of this convention. It is a debate that is hotly contested. That being said you find not one whit of such objections at the convention itself. Despite the massive amount of people and the ongoing debate of how inclusive the convention should be, the convention goes themselves have shown that they are willing to accept the nerd community beyond the realms of anime and manga which is wonderful.
With 20 years under its belt Anime North has indeed gone through some changes and growing pains but if this year was anything to go by it will always remain a place of acceptance and enjoyment among all con-goers. Even if you aren't a fan of anime or manga Anime North still offers a vast space for discussion, nerdly swag and even some contact archery if you want to settle the whole Sango vs Katniss debate.