Alaska News

Senshi-Con expected to draw thousands of cosplay, anime fans to downtown Anchorage this weekend

A costumed parade will begin to form early Saturday morning outside the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage.

There will be sorcerers and swordplay, princesses and ninjas. Spider-Man will almost certainly make an appearance. So will immaculately constructed characters from "Star Wars," "Pokemon" and "Sailor Moon."

In other settings, they might be met with snark, certainly with some snickers or raised eyebrows.

But not here.

Here is Senshi-Con, Anchorage's festival of "nerd culture," where convention-goers get together to celebrate their favorite games, shows and characters -- and one another.

"It's a family-oriented convention where people can be themselves and cosplay, and you get to hang out with like-minded people in a friendly environment and not be ridiculed for being a nerd or be made fun of," said convention director Braxton Bundick.

Cosplay is vital to the spirit of the two-day gathering, and larger, similar events like Comic-Con. Bundick said it's more than playing dress-up -- cosplay is a transformation.

"Cosplay is being a character you like to be in costume from any cartoon, TV show, movie or game," he said. "You become that character. It's like Halloween, but in a different sense. You're invested. People compliment your costume and how much time you've put into your costume. The positive reactions are great. It's putting your hard effort into something and see it flourish."

Bundick wasn't sure what to expect when a friend invited him to a small convention of anime fans in 2005.

Held in the West High School cafeteria, the gathering was a loosely organized event, but drew a few hundred passionate fans of Japanese animation and other comic and fantasy subgenres.

Bundick knew immediately at that inaugural Senshi-Con that he wanted to be involved.

"I was just blown away," Bundick said. "They had karaoke, video games, art, Bosco's (comic book and gaming store) was there."

Kira Buckland, who was president of the West High anime club, founded Senshi-Con, and it traveled with her and friends to UAA, where it merged with a group of gamers from Dimond High School.

Senshi-Con grew slowly, moving from that cafeteria to UAA and in recent years mushrooming into an expansive convention housed in the Egan Center. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Bundick and other organizers are expecting more than 4,000 attendees, and Alaska Business Monthly is predicting it will produce an economic impact of $191,000.

Part of the growth of Senshi-Con is due to the way it welcomes enthusiasts of dozens of cultural genres under one big tent -- fans of animation, Japanese culture, graphic novels, comic books, gaming, science fiction, fantasy and more.

Another reason is that "nerd culture" has become increasingly mainstream.

"It's pop culture now," Bundick said. "It's helped tons."

With that cultural shift, fans who frequent events like Senshi-Con are viewed in a different light.

"It's definitely changed since 10 years ago," Bundick said. "Now ('I'm a nerd') is the coolest thing to say and not a bad thing to say. I've been a nerd ever since (the first one)."

As it's grown, Senshi-Con has added more features, special guests and vendors.

There will be showings of anime, or Japanese animation, on both days. The convention will feature a quiz show with nearly a dozen panels -- topics will range from "My Little Pony" to directing anime and the intricacies of cosplay. There will be contests for both board gamers and PC gamers.

Bundick said the convention has amped up its guest lineup in its 10th year.

"We have six guests this year," he said. "We typically bring in two or three people."

Jennifer Cihi is best known as the singing voice of the "Sailor Moon" series.

"She's going to be singing and doing a concert at the convention on Saturday," Bundick said. "She's also the voice of the woman who sings on the Hot Pockets commercials."

Another guest, Pannon, is one of the biggest names in cosplay, having represented the U.S. at the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, Japan. Novelist Stefanie DeLeo will speak about the legality of publishing fan fiction and other issues in the publishing industry.

But the star of the show, for both veterans and the uninitiated, is cosplay.

The convention features a cosplay contest, with judging taking place in both Eastern and Western categories, and a number of other awards.

There's also an interactive chess game between cosplay characters.

"Cosplay chess is where people get to act out as their character, like if Jack Sparrow and Iron Man met on the chess board," Bundick said. "How would they interact?"

Each year, the convention has a mascot that is chosen from a contest of local artists, many of whom also display their wares at Senshi-Con. They've also added an app this year, where convention-goers can easily track all the happenings and changes at Senshi-Con.

"Our vendors and artists, they are filled," Bundick said. "We're still getting applications for this year. This is the first time we've had a waiting list. We're really expanding a lot. Local people and businesses are wanting to get in on it. Our founder (Kira Buckland) comes up to visit her parents and see how the convention is doing. She's amazed. She never thought it would get this big."


When: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

Where: William A. Egan Civic and Convention Center

Tickets: One-day passes are $30 for Saturday and $25 for Sunday. Two-day passes are $50 and VIP passes are $200.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.