This weekend in Bentonville the Arkansas Anime Festival was held at the sold out Clarion Hotel and Convention Center. The festival provided safe and engaging atmosphere for a crowd 900, mostly teenagers and young adults. Most dressed as characters from popular Japanese anime (animated videos and television series) and manga (illustrated books and novels), as well as popular fiction and video game characters. This masquerade is better known as cosplay to the group. It provides an opportunity to show their creative costuming and to role-play as the characters. They would stop each other for photographs, and compliments would often lead to conversations about the costumes and accessories.
The festival presented panels throughout the two days. They provided the opportunity to meet anime voice actors, explore Japanese culture and learn about costuming and makeup. The cosplayers lined up early for tea parties in which servers costumed by different themes served tea and cookies. A cosplay contest provided the spotlight for costumes and skits to be presented and judged before the entire convention. The festival also had game rooms for tabletop games and video games and a demonstration a live action role-playing game. Attendees could access an artist alley and a vendor room to purchase figures, t-shirts, DVDs, costumes and accessories, manga and more. Importantly, to many of the cosplay set, a snack bar featuring Pocky (biscuit sticks with chocolate cream) and Ramune (bottled soft drinks capped with a marble) was well stocked. Saturday evening ended with a MasqueRave, a dance with J-Pop (Japanese popular music) and another chance to show off costumes.
“We want to keep an atmosphere that is fun and safe,” said co-convention chair Courtney Shreve, adding, “We want parents to realize it’s a good place for the kids to be themselves.” She and the other supporting staff and volunteers, around 80 in number, worked to maintain, as Shreve expressed, a festival that was “PG-13 and below.” To reach out to parents, the festival offered free parent passes so the adults could keep an eye on their children and learn more about the anime community. Tamrah Fogelman of Bella Vista brought her daughter and a friend, both 13-years-olds. Noting she grew up on Bugs Bunny, Fogelman felt the festival was age appropriate and family oriented observing kids, parents and grandparents dressed in character.
The festival has been held twice a year since November of 2007. For information about the Arkansas Anime Festival to be held this spring go to the group’s website.