Kumoricon attendees participate in a performance art called cosplay at the 2010 convention. In cosplay — short for costume play — fans of fictional characters, especially from comics or cartoons such as the characters in this Batman portrayal, dress in costumes and put on skits or coordinated dances.
Ally Fields first discovered a connection to her inner nerd-girl superhero when she was in fourth grade.
That’s when she got a glimpse of the anime film “Sailor Moon” and one of its heroes, Ami Mizuno. The character is a shy bookworm and genius who turns into the powerful Sailor Mercury, a soldier of water and wisdom.
It was a perfect role model for the equally bookish Fields, who always seemed to have a hard time fitting in at school, she said.
“I was on the outside of most of the popular girls,” Fields said. “But those stories were great because I was like the (Amy Mizuno) character, I could be proud of being a smart kid with dreams of doing something beyond being popular.”
The 23-year-old is now one of the organizers of Kumoricon, the region’s largest anime festival, which starts in Vancouver this weekend.
The nine-year-old event, expected to draw between 5,000 and 6,000 participants, is a three-day celebration of the Japanese style of animated cartoons, known as anime, and print comics, known as manga.
“Over in Japan, cartoons are considered less of a children’s medium and more for all ages,” said Beau Gentry, 33, the convention chairman. “Every type of show or movie you could imagine gets animated. There are some movies that are really high caliber, that portray a lot of emotion and tell very deep stories.”
There are a lot of subcategories and genres, but for the most part anime and manga break down into five categories, Fields said.
• Kodomo is mostly for small children of both genders.
• Shojo, like “Sailor Mercury,” is mostly for girls ages 10 and up and focuses on high schools, drama and magic.
• Shonen is mostly for boys of that age and focuses on sports teams or fighting squads.
• Seinen is for men and often tells war stories or other tales based on action and adventure.
• Josei is for women and tends to be “sort of like romance novels,” Fields said.
“I like most of the styles, actually,” Fields said. “The draw is actually that they tell great stories. You’d be surprised at how intricate they can get.”
One of the most well-known directors of anime is Hayao Miyazaki. His best-known work is probably “Princess Mononoke,” although he’s directed and created several other works of both anime and manga.
His work helped popularize Japanese styles in the United States after catching on about a decade ago, Gentry said.
“A lot of his stuff gets picked up by Disney and gets put out here,” he said. “Before about 10 years ago, anime was harder to get. A lot of people would have friends in Japan ship it here for them. A lot of anime groups started out as college clubs.”
Kumoricon itself grew out of a club started at the University of Oregon. The first year, it was held in Eugene, but after that it grew too large and moved to the Portland area.
It was held in Vancouver once before in its nine-year history, in 2007 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, when it drew about 3,000 attendees, Gentry said.
This year, the convention has grown too big for most Portland venues, so a friend at the Hilton suggested holding it in downtown Vancouver at both the Hilton and the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay.
“People come from all over the United States for it,” Gentry said. “A handful even come from other countries. Mostly, though, we get a lot of local people from our region — Portland, Seattle, California, Idaho.”
The event will include screenings in several rooms of all sorts of anime. Some people also show their own videos made from rock music and clips of various anime shows.
There will also be displays of manga and anime-based art.
And one of the most fun parts is something called cosplay, short for “costume play,” which is a sort of performance art where fans dress up as characters and perform skits or choreographed dances.
Fields plans to join them this year, dressed as a character from what she says is a “weird little anime” called “Hetalia: Axis Powers.”
She plans to dress as an anthropomorphic version of Canada, and she and seven friends will put on a play based on the film, which centers around personified versions of all the countries that fought in World War II. “It’s kind of a comedy,” she said. “The cool thing about cosplay is how many people put so much effort into creating costumes and characters. It’s a lot of fun.”
Each year, Kumoricon gets a little bit bigger, but the organizers say there’s room for more. They love to share their passion with newcomers, Gentry said.
“The attendees bring a ton of energy,” Gentry said. “It’s great to watch all the people running around and having fun. A lot of them have been coming since the beginning, so there’s a big family reunion feel to it.”
Still, the convention is far from cliquey, Fields said.
“I showed up at my first one in 2009, bought a ticket at the door and enjoyed it so much I just felt like I needed to be a bigger part of it,” Fields said. “People are very welcoming. We love having more come. The more the better.”