More than 1,500 people -- many sporting candy-colored wigs, superhero tights or antique-looking ensembles -- packed the Egan Center on Saturday for the first day of Senshi-Con, an anime convention in its ninth year in Anchorage.
The scene looked a lot like an early Halloween, with most of the costumes based on Japanese animation and illustration. There were droves of Pikachu, and Sailor Moon was out in force. At one point about a dozen Dr. Who's got together for a photo op. The aliens, life-size animals, ninjas and other characters crowding the Egan Center entrance turned a lot of heads on a sunny afternoon.
"You can let your geek flag fly high and not be judged," said Maria Roelfs, 21, dressed in green-and-yellow trousers and tunic as a character from "The Last Airbender."
Senshi-Con has operated mostly under the radar at the Student Union Building at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Jack Chubin, the admissions coordinator for Senshi-Con, said that venue got too crowded and the event moved downtown to the Egan Center, where evidence pointed to it being a record-breaking year for attendance.
"It's the biggest I've seen," said Chubin, who's been volunteering for Senshi-Con for the past seven years. By the first afternoon she estimated about 1,500 had come through, almost as many as the entire attendance from the year before.
Senshi-Con (the name is based on the Japanese word for "warrior") began in 2005 as part of the West High School Anime Club and traveled to the University of Alaska Anchorage with its members after graduation.
The convention has vendors (plush toys, small toys, costumes and, of course, comic books), costume contests, karaoke, skit shows, discussion panels and anime viewings. There are dimly lit rooms where hushed crowds watch gaming tournaments on a projector screen.
In the main corridors, crowds of people ambled from group to group taking pictures of each other's costumes. In the hallways on the perimeter, clutches of young girls sat in large groups on the floor, their laughter and cheering audible from across the building.
Convention director Braxton Bundick said the crowd at Senshi-Con keeps growing, adding a couple hundred people each year. It's also become more diverse, he noted, and more people than ever are dressing up. He described Senshi-Con as a community that's coming into its own.
"We have everyone liking the same things -- from anime to video games. It used to be looked down upon, now it's amazing -- it's where nerds are the great thing now," Bundick said.
Many people come back year after year, and attendees repeatedly remarked on how many lasting friendships began at a Senshi-Con. Bundick said he even had a married couple tell him they met at the event one year and celebrate it as their anniversary.
The crowd Saturday appeared to be mostly in their late teens and early 20s, with older adults and elementary school-age students in the mix as well. Bundick said most of the costumed attendees make their own costumes, and he has known people to spend up to $3,000 on an outfit.
Kyle Heusser didn't spend that much to dress as the character Tri-edge but he did spend a couple months creating the outfit, including the signature three-bladed weapon for his character, which accented artfully tattered red pants and tunic. His hat was an altered navy beret, he said, that he'd picked up months before.
This is Heusser's second year at Senshi-Con. The first year he didn't bother to dress up, he said. He was a little embarrassed to be fan of anime growing up in Anchorage and figured the convention wouldn't draw that many people. "I never knew anime was that big thing here," he said.
"I didn't think anyone would be in costume, and I was horribly wrong," Heusser said. "It was very cool, and I thought, 'I have to try again and do it proper.' "
Braxton said that he hopes that Senshi-Con will continue to grow to the point where it takes a week and "takes over downtown."
In the meantime, it's clear that the costume and fan event has created a community that's more than happy to do its own thing.
As Firebender, Kara Miller, 17, said, laughing, "I'm with my people!"
Reach Victoria Barber at email@example.com.
By VICTORIA BARBER