By Kate Denkinson
Animangapop 2018 – Photo credit Animanga
As I queue to collect my wristband two girls in front of me are making last minute touch-ups to their (already perfect) makeup, whilst behind me a couple in spiky wigs and drawn-on freckles debate whether or not something is “true canon”. Suddenly a girl in a vast, unwieldy hoop skirt comes haring out of a corridor, squealing in an approximation of what may once have been Japanese before leaping on (I hope) her friends.
This is AnimangaPop, Plymouth’s Japanese culture-inspired addition to the convention circuit. Whilst Devcon and PAW have been established in the city for some time, there has been nothing set up to cater specifically to Anime and Manga fans.
Beginning with Otogi Calendar and Astro Boy in the 1960’s, Anime has grown from obscure cartoons, rarely seen outside Japan to a multi-million pound industry with a global following. Ranging from love stories to horror stories, children’s tales to futuristic visions of Neo-Tokyo and more adult-themed productions, Anime has a fan base which stretches across all ages, races and continents.
Whilst not a “hardcore” fan myself, (I like a few Ghibli films but couldn’t tell you what constitutes canon), I am aware of the reputation which can precede Anime fans and conventions. The almighty Gods of Internet will gladly tell you that fans are obsessive, aggressive and up for heated debate on the minutiae of pretty much everything about their favourite shows and characters. The adult-themed side of things can get pretty extreme and there are entire forums dedicated to Waifu (animated women whom fans think of as their girlfriends). Thankfully it would seem that the Internet is prone to sensationalising such things (who knew?!) and all I see at AnimangaPop is a vast, loud, excitable community of likeminded teens and early 20-somethings keen for an excuse to dress-up and spend ungodly amounts of money on art work, figurines and adorable fluffy stuff related to their favourite shows.
Animangapop 2018 – Photo credit Animanga
Between organising the dance contest, costume contest and Aikido displays, the organisers are hard to pin down but I manage to get a few minutes to speak with Becky (MC for the day) and Mark (Running the Show). Between them they tell me that the event has been running for five years and has grown steadily since the first convention to the 400-person strong event around us today. Sponsored in part by Keep it Secret (a Plymouth-based Japanese clothing store) the event is clearly aiming to equal the success of larger events such as Hyper Japan.
Among the official merchandise stalls and imported figurines there are a number of stalls dedicated to local artists, most of whom are working on something as I pass. @BunChumArt (Roxanne to friends) goes one step further and offers on the spot commissions of favourite characters at £3 a time. Her talent is evident in the air of stress as she tries hard to keep up with orders whilst simultaneously selling the other items on her stall and answering questions from customers (all done with a dazzling smile).
Having missed the opening, I arrived in time for the dance contest; troops of girls in matching costumes performing synchronised dance routines to Japanese pop music. Similar to cheerleading with the addition of light-up tutus and robot bunny-ears, the contest features Jump♡S.T.A.R.T!!, Akemi ♡ μ’s and Endless☆μ’sic (local cosplay dance troupes) and, whilst I have no idea what the songs are about, they have clearly put serious time and effort into the routines.
As with any Anime based event, the costumes are everything and the majority of attendees are dressed to impress. From the youngest (attending with parents) to the group of 40-something males parading around with swords, everyone has made an effort and the efforts are appreciated by everyone. I do not manage to stay until the costume contest but am seriously impressed with the level of dedication to detail (and tolerance to being hassled for photographs).
The convention is loud, overwhelming and similar to spending a couple of hours in the world’s biggest crèche but, despite this, I am struck by the positivity here. Everyone is supportive, appreciative and, whilst the attendees may get some funny looks walking to the hotel, once inside they are most definitely Home. Something apparent in the last stall I encounter as I am leaving.
Class Toons is a mascot-based costume company created by Claire Cameron, a Graphic Designer, and produces costumes and comic books for the Furry community. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood corners of the convention community, Furries are people whose self-expression takes the form of dressing as their Fursona, an animal with which they feel a specific kinship. Claire explains that she enjoys drawing the characters but does not associate with this side of the culture. Her partner however is happy to tell me that he does and shows me where his wolf fursona appears in Claire’s comic strip. Indeed much of the cosplay taking place around me involves furry accessories of one sort or another, from girls in frilly dresses and cat ears, to the stall selling handmade tails and ears. Whilst I may never fully understand the development of a Fursona, or the appeal of a giant tail, the convention is the perfect home for those who don’t quite fit in and who want to experiment with their identity and it is this, I believe, which contributes to its growing success.
For more information on the festival click here