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February 3, 2009

Anime convention draws academic experts, costumed fans

[img id="77226" align="alignleft"] Hundreds attended lectures such as “Japanese Animation and Character Merchandising” in Harper on Saturday during the UChi-Con Anime Convention, held by The University of Chicago Japanese Animation Society (UCJAS) every January.

Maddy Watson, the sole speaker on the UChi-Con Anime Convention “Con 101” panel not wearing a neon wig, stressed the importance of avoiding immobilizing “elevator parties” at large scale Anime Conventions. “There can be anywhere from 15 to 30 people in an elevator. Not fun,” said the 14-year-old Watson, the designated security expert of the panel.

Watson was one of the hundreds of attendees at the convention Saturday in Harper Memorial Library. UCJAS throws the free convention every January, attracting merchants hawking their wares as well as University students.

Brian “B-MAN” Babenderele, who has attended the conventions for the past two years, was at the convention selling his graphic art prints. He designs video games for his day job, and described his work as a Manga artist as “what I do in the evening.”

The convention offered introductory question and answer panels such as “Con 101” alongside more academic lectures such as “Japanese Animation and Character Merchandising.”

Seven video game tournaments and 28 screenings divided into the four genres of “Mecha,” “Shoujo/Artsy,” “Action,” and “Movies,” kept attendees busy between panels.  The video game tournaments, while not specifically related to anime, contributed to the convention feeling, said UCJAS president and fourth-year Ariel Erbacher. It gives attendees a “chance to de-stress and shoot things while you wait,” she said.

What has blossomed into a one-stop shop for anime fans started humbly as “UCJAS in a room,” according to Grace Krause, an alumna of the College. “There was a movie, a speaker, and that was it. Except maybe some Pocky,” Kraus said, referring to the chocolate-dipped bread sticks still served in abundance at the event.

UCJAS Vice President and fourth-year Rachel Buchman attributed some of the growth of the convention to the unique expertise of each of its members. “I’m really into Cosplay, for example,” said Buchman, referring to the practice of anime fans who dress up as a specific character.

Buchman was certainly not alone: the normally drab halls of Harper teemed with neon wigs, poofy skirts, and other inventive costumes.

Erbacher said dressing up for conventions is by no means mandatory, but a “fun thing to do.” Erbacher herself was wearing a Yukata, a type of kimono, explaining it as “appropriate for a festival sort of atmosphere.”

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