On a gray and rainy spring day in St. Paul, the streets were barren of most signs of life as usual. A slow trickle of cars rolled down the quiet streets when suddenly a giant, 6-foot-4-inch robot marched out of Subway with a girl in a bright red kimono following closely behind. They were headed to the Anime Detour, at the Crowne Plaza-Riverfront in downtown St. Paul , where whatever kind of dreariness there may be outside IRL (in real life) completely disappears just inside the lobby.
The whole place was packed with costumed convention goers abuzz with activity. The weekend-long convention, more commonly called a “con,” featured guest panels , costume contests (cosplay ), an “artist alley “ where people can show off their work, lots and lots of anime merchandise , fan fiction contests and all of the other fantastical things to be expected when you put this many creative geeks in a room together.
“You’ll feel out of place here if you are not in costume,” explained a kindly bespectacled catwoman.
The registration for Anime Detour this year was capped at 3,500, up 500 from last year according to officials, but even with this increase, the convention sold out almost a month in advance. The Anime Detour grew out of its previous home in the Thunderbird Convention Center at the Ramada Inn near the airport , a decision many convention-goers said was for the better. There is no doubt that the Anime Detour is growing rapidly, making some speculate about what the future of the con holds.
“Five-thousand is the best number for a convention,” said Alli “Vice Mage” Cassel, a vendor from the Twin Cities. “Over 5,000 and the thing just turns into a cluster----.”
The lively cosplay at Anime Detour wasn’t just limited to Japanese cartoons. Boone Bruce of Cedar Rapids, Iowa dressed in a trench coat and some freckles, holding a sign that read “the end is …” and a picture of Bill Nye for his costume of Walter Kovacs from “The Watchmen. “ Cosplay, he explained, is best just described as general geekiness where anything that gets a LOL or sparks some interest fits. “My favorite costume would have to be the two guys from “The Red Green Show.” When I saw them walking around, I went up to them, shook their hands and said ‘thank you.’”
Cosplay competitions are a big part of what makes anime conventions tick. They give the goers a chance to express their devotion through performances and astounding craftsmanship. People spend months and sometimes years building and rebuilding their competitive costumes to perfection.
Depending on the number of awards a person has won at previous conventions, each competitor is put in the novice, journeyman or expert levels . This system keeps everybody involved, said Adam Schiferil of Stevens Point, Wis.
“This way you don’t have experts going against novices, it helps evens the competition out,” he said.
Schiferil, dressed as “Toshiro Hitsugaya “ from the show “Bleach “ had never been to the Anime Detour before, but he said that something about it struck him.
“Sometimes when you go to cons the vibe just isn’t right, but here everybody’s got a great vibe,” he said. “Everybody likes everybody.”
Kelley Marshall, also dressed as a character from “Bleach” and attached to Schiferil via a short leash, agreed.
“Just grab a plushy, find the person who matches it and give them a hug!” she said.
Though this year may have already seemed like a mess to people who aren’t used to the fantastic spectacle of anime conventions, the Anime Detour may well be on its way to becoming one of the biggest, best and happiest conventions in the Midwest.