Next year, anime conventions across the country will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Japanese animation.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The volunteers behind the annual Ikasucon at Grand Wayne Center would like to make it through this weekend first, relations director Caitlin Patrick-Nickles says.
However, she assures it’s a huge milestone that the convention and its guests look forward to.
"(Anime) has evolved so much. If you go and watch an older anime and then compare it to the newer ones that come out now, the style is much cleaner and also more anatomically correct, like the characters will look more like humans. Not that they didn’t look like humans before, but there’s that very cartoony attitude," she says.
"Getting to see that evolution, and how it changes in different ways than American animation has changed, is very fascinating."
Ikasucon continues to strengthen its programming, which celebrates Japanese anime, manga and pop culture. This year’s theme is "Sports Day."
"Just like with your TV shows you see in the States, there’s all different genres of anime," Patrick-Nickles says. "What they do a lot with sports is you will see shows that focus on a team for baseball or for swimming or for track – it honestly covers all kinds of different sports – and it’s usually very much a teen environment set with high school students, and it’s sort of a slice-of-life type deal with dealing with sports and how it is to compete and how it is to be a part of that team."
Patrick-Nickles says Ikasucon, a nonprofit convention, put its efforts into social media marketing this year, and organizers are expecting an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 attendees for the convention.
Founded in 2003, Ikasucon moved to Fort Wayne in 2007, which Patrick-Nickles says continues to be the best choice for the convention.
"(Grand Wayne Center) is the best possible location we could use. It’s centrally located to the Midwest, so we can pull from Ohio, Chicago, Kentucky, Detroit; all of those locations can come to us for the show," she says.
Ikasucon has expanded its card tabletop gaming area for all experience levels. The area will include demonstrations of a game called Galatune. The creator, Adam Wik, was recently awarded a $5,000 loan to put toward the game’s development from Wright State University in Dayton, where he is currently working on his MBA.
The convention’s signature events include a rave, a formal ball, the Gunpla Builders’ showcase and workshop, and the Pokemon Gym Leader Challenge. There is also the popular Cosplay Masquerade on Saturday, along with cosplay panels and workshops.
Anime voice actors Aaron Roberts ("Tokyo Ghoul," "Dance with Devils"), Austin Tindle ("Is This a Zombie?", "A Certain Magical Index") and Blake Shepard ("Angel Beats," "Dream Eater Merry") will be special guests, as well as webcomic artist James Hatton and Greg Wicker, who has been producing and hosting game shows for anime conventions since 1999.
Patrick-Nickles says the convention has also put a new focus on its video game area, where attendees can participate in one of several tournaments or just play current games and older favorites.
"We have new systems, we have new games, we have new TVs, so I think we’ll see probably the most (growth) in that area this year," she says.
Patrick-Nickles says the main goal is to provide a safe space for young guests where they can celebrate their common interests. Although the convention does pull in adults in their 30s, 40s and even older, Patrick-Nickles says there is a younger audience the convention connects with and tries to encourage.
"Japanese animation and pop culture has grown much larger in the general scheme of what people are interested in, but when I was in high school a decade ago, it was always just the nerdy kids. It was the ones that didn’t have a whole lot of friends, or didn’t have people that were interested in the same things," she says.
"But here, we have an event where there are hundreds of people interested in the same thing. It gives them place of belonging."