Thousands gather at Otakuthon to celebrate everything Japanese
A Pokémon trainer faces off against a team rocket duo while an eager crowd snaps some pictures. Pyramid Head stands near the far wall, holding a very confused baby while parents look on amusedly. Three Deadpools form a line and dance a jig while moving through the audience.
Welcome to Otakuthon, the largest anime convention in Quebec and the second largest in Canada. According to their website, this year, over 21,000 people attended the three-day convention, held at le Palais des Congrès from Aug. 5 to 7.
Otakuthon’s focus is on Japanese culture, both modern and traditional. With a full schedule of events, there’s something for everyone to enjoy, from the hard-core anime fan to the casual enthusiast. With live panels, video game demos, film screenings and special guests, it’s impossible to do everything. The events are as diverse as they are numerous. On the Saturday of the convention alone, convention attendees could sit in on panels about Japan tourism, the evolution of the Pokémon games, fanfiction, bento art and sushi modelling, to name a few.
“There’s a comforting sameness to these conventions,” said Chris Cason, voice actor and guest panelist. “The accents might be slightly different, but once you walk through the door you go ‘oh there’s a Goku, there’s a Naruto,’ it feels the same in a kind of unifying way that I really like.”
It’s also a chance for fans to meet special guests, including those behind some of the most iconic character voices, such as Cason, who played Mr. Popo in DragonBall Z and Gluttony in Fullmetal Alchemist, or Eric Stuart, who played Brock and James in the original Pokémon series, and Seto Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh!
“It’s pretty amazing to feel like I am part of pop culture history. You can ask a six year old what a Pokémon is and you can ask your grandparents and they will know,” said Stuart, who gives panel discussions on voice acting as well as on direction and adaptation. “I’ve been told numerous times by the fans, ‘you’re the voice of my childhood,’ which to me is very humbling and very flattering, and I definitely don’t take that for granted.”
One of the special events on Saturday was a concert by L’Orchestre des Jeux Vidéo, a Montreal-based orchestra dedicated to playing video game soundtracks. During their 90-minute concert, the orchestra paid homage to some of the most iconic franchises. The soundtracks from Sailor Moon, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the Pokémon theme songs, both from the anime and the Gameboy games were just some of the scores played by the symphony. As conductor Jonathan Dagenais very accurately pointed out: while music in video games is mostly invisible, it serves to guide you through the emotional journey, reminding you to feel happy, sad, or maybe hint that a boss is in the room.
The most remarkable aspect of the convention was the time and meticulous effort some attendees put into their cosplay outfits. Cosplaying, which is the practice of dressing up as a video game, movie or book character, is part of the integral fabric of anime conventions such as Otakuthon.
Face and body paint, prosthetics, and LED lights were just some of the products cosplayers used to recreate beloved characters, either truthful to the original design or with a creative twist. A particularly impressive group of cosplayers dressed as mechanic versions of Pikachu, Blastoise, Venusaur and Charizard from Pokémon. The costumes, which were painted and designed to look like metal plating (think something out of Transformers) included LED lights and voice boxes, so that when they spoke their voice was amplified above the din of the gathering crowd.
For the fans, Otakuthon is a way to express their love of a particular anime or character. For the special guests, it’s a way to see that their work is indeed appreciated.
“When you’re recording, you might as well be doing it in a closet,” said Cason. “Then you come here and it’s the theater aspect to it. It’s really a humbling and rewarding experience.”