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Report on: Anime North 2016

In the blazing heat of the new summer, Anime North makes it’s annual inevitable return. A massive, destructive force of fandom. Some come to embrace Japanese culture, others come to Cosplay, others come just to party. Anime North 2016 was, as always, held May 27 to 29 at the Toronto Congress Center and surrounding hotels. On a scale comparable only with Fan Expo, it’s one of the best parts about the start of summer.

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If you have even a casual interest in cosplay, Anime North is the place to do it, even if you don’t buy a ticket or go to any events. Without doubt, the best place to find fans who recognize an Excel Saga costume and appreciate the work that went into it. Usually there’s always a few brands which are dominating in popular, but 2016 felt more balance. Homestuck is over, Attack on Titan is no longer vogue, and despite the film, there didn’t feel like there were more Deadpools than last year.

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As the quality of cosplay rises, so does the quality of photography in past years photographers brought their own equipment to make elaborate set-ups, the photo quality is high but they take up space, and can disrupt traffic. This year Anime North made rules against photography set-ups and enforcement of their rule ended up bothering a few reasonable photographers so the rule is a good notion but the execution needs refinement.

The dealers room, crafter’s corner, artist alley, and nominoichi were all great places to buy goods you’ll never find in American stores. You might be able to pick them up through online vendors, but then there’s shipping prices and seeing things online is never as fun and tantalizing as seeing them in person. Although the dealer’s room does have some heavy bottle-necking of traffic and the temperature in nominoichi was unpleasant.

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For gamers, there’s tabletop gaming at the TCC which felt like it was given a much appreciated boost from last year. And next door Archers Arena was giving attendees the chance to try some combat archery where the firing and excitement are authentic even if getting hit doesn’t kill you. For video-gaming (or saucy stuff) you still have to run ten minutes to reach the Sheraton, but the gamers (and fans of saucy stuff) always go the extra distance for a Street Fighter tournament.

There’s a booth selling anime face masks that pretty much everybody finds creepy with their dead unblinking eyes and static facial features. So eerie.

While the here and there of the convention were all in strong form, the weak element might be the programming. Rooms with public airings of anime are a slight relic of pre-Netflix times (although Space Dandy is always cool). Autograph line needs a better ticketing system. And with so many big events, it’s up to the attendee to pick what the must-see events are, and a lot of guess work is involved. Mecha fans might feel betrayed by the lack of a Gundam panel but should embrace a Cybertronic Spree concert. Or you can save all your precious energy for the anime rave party.

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One aspect that has been improved is the convention’s regard for tolerance and accessibility. The code of conduct is expanded, gender neutral bathrooms are provided. There’s a “Cosplay for all body sizes” panel. It’s clearly 2016 and it’ll be interesting to see if Fan Expo will be able to keep pace.

Anime in current society has descended from being the cool sleek and sexy secret (Japanimation) represented by Ghost In The Shell to being a medium known for un-challenging and pandering harem pulp represented by High School DxD. But for the three burning days, the distinction between the eras is washed away by an endless see of dress-up and love. Some people claim Anime North isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still more than most conventions ever dream of being, and it’s going to stay that way for a long time.

Michael S Ryan, June 2nd 2015

With your head held high and your scarlet lies
You came down to me from the open skies
It’s either real or it’s a dream
There’s nothing that is in between…
Twilight, I only meant to stay awhile
Twilight, I gave you time to steal my mind
Away from me

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