Highlights from Otafest 2010

IMG_0359 Running on the May long weekend, Calgary's annual anime convention featured a record number of special events and popular classics for anime and comic fans from Alberta.

Otafest is considered one of the premier anime conventions in Alberta, only rivaled by Animethon in Edmonton. With 103 special events, there were plenty of activities for otaku of anime, comics, manga and video games to enjoy at Otafest 2010.

Artists, Voice Actors, Bands, Improv and Cultural Demonstrations on Otafest's Special Guest List

This year, Otafest featured three headliner guests: voice actors Todd Haberkorn and Michelle Ruff and cartoonist Scott Ramsoomair. Haberkorn is known for portraying Hikaru Hitachiin (Ouran High School), Watanuki (xxxHolic) and Death the Kid (Soul Eater). Ruff was awarded Best Voice Actress (English) at the 2009 SPJA Industry Awards. She has voiced over 100 different characters, including Rukia (Bleach), Yoko (Gurren Lagann), Chi (Chobits) and Princess Euphemia (Code Geass). Canadian cartoonist Ramsoomair is the creator, writer and artist of VGCats, a popular video game humor-based web comic.

Other special guests included Synaptic Chaos Theatre, Midnight Taiko, the Shin Ken Kai Nobara Iaido Club, the 404's improv group, the band THWOMP and the band Pinku Polkadotsu.

Special Events Galore at Otafest 2010

Otafest increased its special event line-up from 90 to 103. This year, a wide variety of interactive game shows were added, such as AMV Mortal Combat - where anime music videos selected by the audience are pitted against each other, Otafest Tactics - a game that tests players' strategic and battle skills and Anime Talkabout - where players have only 20 seconds to show off how much they know about an anime-related topic.

Other new events included the Otafest Much Music Video Dance, Lolita Fashion Show, the Maid Café, the Pokémon League, Speed Dating and live-action Anime Chess.

Popular Classics Return and Old Standbys Continue to Draw Crowds at Otafest

The AMV Game show returned, in which contestants watch selected AMV's and then answer questions. In Anime EDGE, 15 different games and game shows were combined into one big game.

An anime con would be incomplete without anime showings, cosplay contests, karaoke and gaming rooms. Otafest is no exception. The vendor room and Artist Alley were popular with shoppers seeking to buy Bleach manga, Inuyasha DVD's and other popular otaku merchandise.

The History of Otafest

Otafest is the brainchild of the the University of Calgary's Dedicated Otaku Anime Club. The first festival was held in 1999 as a one-day film festival. Throughout the years, Otafest organizers added educational panels, including Japanese 101, computer tips to enhance music videos and CG art, cosplay , writing fan fiction, convention etiquette and flirting. Cultural demonstrations on how to wear a kimono, the Japanese tea ceremony, Taiko drumming and Iaido have been included over the years. Otafest is now a three-day annual festival held during the Victoria Day weekend at the University of Calgary. A one-day "lite" festival was added in November 2009.

Some Glitches But Still a Fun Weekend at Otafest 2010

The most controversial issue at Otafest 2010 was over weapons and props. During an incident at Otafest Lite 2009, a cardboard prop was mistaken for a real weapon by university staff when viewed from a distance. Otafest organizers initially banned all props of weapons, but fan backlash was strong. The revised policy on the website is a workable compromise, banning any weapons, any props resembling weapons and any props made predominantly of metal. Acceptable prop weapons were tagged so that university campus security could easily identify these items as props from a distance.

Two band-related glitches detracted from fans' musical experience. The band Pinku Polkadotsu had to withdraw from the line-up when the drummer was injured in an accident. Partway through the THWOMP concert, a fuse was blown.

Some changes were good, others not as successful. The vendor room saw an increase in vendors from 20 to 30, thanks to a streamlined floor plan. Programming was rather light on Sunday, with the bulk of the activities scheduled on Saturday. Otafest Idol was smaller than previous years, with 25 pre-registrations accepted (down from 30) and eight finalists (down from 10) to give more time for feedback from the judges. Campus construction resulted in various detours and restricted areas.

Bumps aside, attendees still enjoyed a fun-filled weekend. Cosplayers were in abundance; the youngest was a mere toddler, while the oldest cosplayers were well into their 40's. The Maid Café drew such a crowd that advance tickets had to be issued. The Cosplay Contest was as popular as ever, with over 60 entrants and audience line ups spanning one kilometer.

Attendees got into the spirit of giving by donating over $5,300 for breast cancer research. With the fundraising goal well met, three festival organizers had their heads, while one shaved his chest at the Closing Ceremonies.

Final attendance figures for Otafest are not yet available. However, attendance has been steadily increasing over the past two years. If these historical figures are any indication, 2010 numbers should be over 4,000. With 103 special events, healthy attendance and over $5,000 raised for cancer research, the Otafest 2010 anime convention can be dubbed a success.

Originally published May 28, 2010 on Suite101.com. All rights reserved by Rhona-Mae Arca.