They call themselves the Stray Dogs.
At least that’s the name of the group text where the quintet plots, designs and realizes the elaborate plans for their next cosplay adventure.
The group of five Alaskans congregated Friday afternoon in the lobby of the Dena’ina Center for Senshi Con, the state’s biggest video game and anime convention.
Like many at Senshi Con, the Stray Dogs met through their shared love for an idiosyncratic pastime, became friends and are now regular companions at the conventions across the state and even Outside.
“I wouldn’t have met anyone I’m here with if I hadn’t gone to these conventions,” Sydney McQuaid said.
Cosplay, or costume play, is central to the activities at Senshi Con. More than half the crowd is in costume. The Stray Dogs came across as a cohesive regiment, a black-and-white template with pops of color from wigs and unique accessories.
The five friends — McQuaid, Manon Younkins, Noel Mullens, Ellis Buettel and Kenji Lacap — are from all over the state: Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau and Kodiak. But cosplay brings them together.
“When you find that person that has the same hobby as you, that’s how that connection comes through,” Senshi Con director Braxton Bundick said. “It happens here a lot.”
The Stray Dogs, named for the anime series Bungo Stray Dogs, were in for a busy weekend. After Friday’s festivities, the group was scheduled to be part of a cosplay panel on Saturday with nearly everyone taking on a new character for the event. And the group was excited for that evening’s masquerade gala.
Senshi Con started in 2005 as a collaboration between the West High anime club and the gaming club from Dimond. The convention has grown steadily until in 2017 it moved into the Dena’ina, where it will occupy much of the building through Sunday evening.
“At first it was just ‘Why don’t we do a convention?’ ” Bundick said. “There’s nothing like this in Alaska. And it’s kind of been like that since. Why don’t we bring that entertainment and fun instead going out and spending hundreds or thousands (at Outside conventions).”
Alaska even has its own celebrities in the animation and gaming world. Kira Buckland, a renowned voice actor for cartoons, video games and anime, is one of the convention’s special guests this year. A West High graduate, she is also one of the founders of Senshi Con.
Decades ago, the term nerd was viewed as a slight, an insult often directed at the offbeat or peculiar. But in recent years it’s become more synonymous with passion and enthusiasm.
“What could be more fun than being a nerd of any kind of culture right now because the word nerd is actually OK,” Bundick said.
The table swap was a popular spot on Friday with vendors and all sorts of collectibles, from toys and trinkets to games and costumes.
Luca Derouen and Lou Ohman, two friends from Palmer, came away with figurines of the popular character Hatsune Miku. While the figures are fine for showcasing on a shelf, their actual purpose is as noodle stoppers, caps for a warm cup of ramen noodles.
Both dressed as characters from the video game Identity V, their costumes were as gaudy as some, they were still incredibly detailed and intricate.
“I like seeing other cosplayers and meeting people that have the same hobby as us,” Ohman said. “And the whole thing of other people recognizing your character. It’s a really great feeling having someone come up to you.”
Hayden Crist is a relatively rare breed in a sea of hyper-specific culture vultures. The 26-year-old from Wasilla is a generalist.
“I’m a bit more broad (in my interests),” he said. “I like to nerd out a lot. There’s a lot of people just hanging out. I enjoy hunting for video games and fan art. I’m a huge nerd. I love it here.”
Most of the people who cosplay model their ensembles after video game or animation, but furry fans develop theirs from scratch, creating animal characters with human qualities. One attendee has spent nearly a decade developing his “fursona” Finn. The character started as drawings with trait development and was realized when Florida suitmaker developed the the form-fitted head-to-toe costume.
“I started off watching cartoons when I was a kid and watching anthropomorphic cartoons, and slowly over time, kind of developing it,” he said. “Having a passion for art and then slowly like creating my own (original characters) and then finding the furry fandom and then you know it just kind of did that. I got the suit just a couple years ago, finally bringing him to life.”
Finn, who is an Aussie shepherd, was joined by fellow furries Maxie, a fox, and Tikaani, a wolf, on Friday. Tikaani said one of their unique contributions to furry culture is to get into the Alaska backcountry where they shoot photos and videos with their characters. Last week, they took a trip to Byron Glacier near Portage.
“We try to show people a part of Alaska that not a lot of people see,” Finn said.