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OTAFest 2017 – My Weekend at the Convention

OTAFest came from very modest beginnings. It all started back in 1999 when the passionate Otaku Anime Club from the University of Calgary put together a small one-day film festival. Their purpose was to simply share their adoration of Japanese Animation with everyone. Over the span of nearly twenty years, the sparks of their passion caught fire with like-minded fans and grew to annually welcome nearly 8,000 avid enthusiasts or those simply wanting to learn more of the art or even the Otaku culture itself. The rest is history and brings us to the OTAFest 2017 convention.

I remember hearing about the event nearly a decade ago and my interest was piqued. Since I was a kid, and my first brushes with the beautiful and haunting tale of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, I have had a great love for the genre. However, I was never able to attend the event. It was either too close to the Calgary Entertainment Expo, or I had to work, or I could never find anyone to go with. This year, I was offered a chance to attend OTAFest with my fellow Game-Refraction members and naturally, I couldn’t pass it up.

We began our first day early, the car fueled with gas and us fueled with excitement and coffee. The first highlight of the day was discovering that parking at the venue, the Telus Convention Centre, was free for Canada Day. Anyone that has attended any multiple day conventions will know how much of a blessing even a one day reprieve from the expense can be. After grabbing our passes and wristbands, we made our way upstairs to the main floor of the event.

The lobby itself was lined with various information tables. Some were for local anime conventions, including Tsurucon from Red Deer Alberta. There was a table for getting your portrait done in anime/manga style and there were even a couple of tables devoted to travel as well as job exchange programs in Japan. Needless to say, I snagged a few maps and brochures and spent a good ten minutes chatting with the friendly volunteers about how to look into jobs that essentially pay you to be a tourist for anywhere up to a year.

I made my way through the opened doors and was greeted by a much-welcomed sight. Happy chatting crowds, rows upon rows of different booths selling everything from Japanese sweets to games and clothing. Of course, no “Con” would be complete without an Artist’s Alley. After weaving from one end of the hall to the other, resisting the urge to buy every cat-related item I saw, I noticed a strange feeling mingling with the electric excitement energy. It wasn’t until I met back up with my friends and we chatted a little about what our impressions were, that I knew what the feeling was and it seemed as though the feeling was mutual. It was minor, but it was there. Disappointment, at least initially.

I also discovered the perfect description of OTAFest after my first day there. Take the Calgary Entertainment Expo, take just about everything Anime, manga and Otaku culture related and make a Con with just that content. That leaves merch, Artist’s Alley, a few interesting panels, a few rooms showing episodes of different anime and only really three media guests. One could conceivably take in the entirety of the OTAFest experience in a single day, which isn’t much in comparison with an Entertainment Expo that you would be hard pressed to take all of it in over its four-day duration. Was the disappointment warranted? Yes. Considering the $55 ticket for the entire weekend, or $35 for just a single day, and that isn’t even counting food, gas, the time that is taken off of work and the amount someone would spend on merch at all of the booths.

The next question I had to ask myself, was the initial reaction and comparison fair? Not entirely. After that, I found that it was much easier to have fun. The disappointment gradually receded to where I could objectively view OTAFest for what it really was and clearly experience what it had to offer. This was a focused event, whereas a larger Expo sampled everything.

What the events share is my favorite part of going. The atmosphere and the people. Everyone attending was welcoming and super friendly. Stranger or not, people were there to have a great time and share their passions, whether it was their elaborate costumes, artists displaying unique handcrafted wares or just admiration for a good anime or manga series. The merch employees and volunteers were some of the most helpful people I have ever come across and would sometimes just indulge in a great conversation or share a funny joke or two.

All in all, it was a great weekend filled with fun experiences from one of my favorite genres of entertainment. If you ever are considering attending, I recommend not comparing it with the larger and all encompassing Entertainment Expos and focus on what it shares with you and not what it lacks. The staff and volunteers are helpful and friendly and the crowds are happy and welcoming. You will have an amazing time and I would gladly attend OTAFest 2018!

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