The fourth annual Asheville Anime Regional Convention brought in nearly 2,000 visitors - it's largest attendance ever, proving that there's no shortage of love or demand for Japanese animation, even in Western North Carolina. BPR’s Davin Eldridge attended the event…
Six million copies of anime are downloaded every week on the internet. In 2015, such animation had a total market value of over $18 billion—a number that has steadily increased each year for the better half of a decade.
The annual convention at the U.S. Cellular Center lets Western North Carolina anime fans of all ages can get together, dress up like their favorite characters, buy collectible merchandise, or just be around their own.
“I’ve made some lifelong friends. Just by doing cosplay and being active and doing things like that in the community,” says Cullowhee resident Carly Thompson. This is her third year at the Asheville convention. “Sometimes you can look at a person and you’ll know, and you can meet them and it’s a magic spark, and it just happens and you know that you’re gonna be friends.”
Thompson’s been an otaku—that’s Japanese for anime nerd—for most of her life now. She’s comes to conventions like Asheville’s for many reasons, but mainly, for the cosplay—or costume play. She’s dressed up like a Japanese school girl.
“It’s collaborative,” says Thompson. “Just like you would find the same people that are nerds that watch Doctor Who, or something like that, it’s a subculture. It’s really important to get the idea out there and become more comfortable with things like that here in America.”
But it’s not just cosplayers who converged on the convention. Comic book artists and writers interested in breaking into the industry flock to them too. Luckily for them, the Asheville convention also attracts special guests from the industry—like Waynesville’s James Lyle, who’s worked on major titles like “Turok: Dinosaur Hunter” and “The Other Dead”.
“It’s a good setup, because there’s a lot of people here that are interested in it,” says Lyle. “Being a fan of it is almost a requisite for doing it. Because if you’re not a fan, it’s really hard to maintain a career doing it. The trick is going from simply being a fan who’s done some illustrations, to try to learn how to tell a story with pictures, which is a very different thing.
Like Lyle, sci-fi author Jacob Holo, of Greenville, South Carolina, is selling his works at a booth. He says conventions like this one are an essential part of the business.
“There’s always an advantage to being a person, rather than just a name, and having that face to face interaction with fans and potential readers is incredibly valuable,” says Holo.
The event was also stacked with vendors at all levels, including Memphis-area merchant Allen Vu, whose entire livelihood is based on conventions like these.
“I do about 45 a year," says Vu. "Within a nine hour driving distance from Memphis. I’ll go up to Chicago, and than as far east as Charlotte, or Columbia. This is all I do.”
According to organizer and costume contest host David Oyler, the Asheville convention is especially important to nerd culture in Western North Carolina—because it’s the only of its kind in the region.
“It was a matter of just asking ‘hey, I want to put on an event, a convention in Asheville for all of the community that we know is here, but they don’t have a place to go to," says Oyler. "They have to go to Charlotte, down in Columbia. We didn’t have something local, and so we focused on that."
He adds that Asheville is a perfect fit for an event like an anime convention.
“I think it’s a good balance between the type of people we have in Asheville," says Oyler. "We've been known for years now as being kind of an artsy town, so anybody whose known of any art styles have probably come across anime or manga at some point in their life. Whether they like it or not.”
For those that do like anime, they are forever gung-ho about it. And with it’s rising popularity, both worldwide and in the region, event organizers say it may eventually become a two day event.