By Bailey Lucero-Carter
Thousands of people will roam the streets near Washington Marriott Wardman Park in costume—sporting colorful wigs, wearing fluffy ears or wielding giant swords—which may surprise you, or not. After all, crowds have been dressing up for several years at Anime USA. This weekend marks the 16th anniversary of a convention that grows with each new year.
Anime is the term for Japanese animation and cartoons, which have become increasingly popular in the U.S. in the last 20 years.
Anime USA first began as a small convention organized by the Northern Virginia Anime Association to celebrate anime and Japanese culture among fans; the event hosted less than 500 people. The numbers have since grown to a steady 3,000 to 4,000 people per year since the convention moved to Washington, D.C. in 2012.
Attendees can expect to hear panels from anime and video game voice actors, enjoy unique musical performances, attend various informative panels about Japanese culture and, of course, see plenty of cosplay (short for “costume play”). Special guests include voice actors J Michael Tatum and Michele Knotz, musical duo Schwarz Stein, and cosplayer Joshua Hart.
Attendance at these anime and comic conventions has been steadily increasing; one of the most popular conventions, San Diego Comic Con, topped 130,000 attendees in recent years. So what has contributed to the recent rise in popularity of anime and comic conventions? Chris Needham, program coordinator and secretary of the board for the Anime USA nonprofit, says anime’s emergence in the mainstream has helped broaden its appeal.
“Probably the biggest factor overall is that ‘geek culture,’ generally, is much more accepted now than it was 5 [or] 10 years ago. … [F]rom Game of Thrones to Harry Potter, to gaming, to cosplay—all these things are becoming much more mainstream. When you turn on the TV, you’re going to see all of it there. So I think people feel more comfortable attending conventions.”
Not only do the media popularize “geek culture,” but the fan base is also proliferating thanks to conventions.
“Conventions have done a good job of diversifying themselves and appealing to more people,” says Needham. “Ten years ago, people would be playing video games or people would be shopping for anime or things like that, but they weren’t as social about it as they are now. Now it’s much more about meeting people.”
Embrace your inner geek this weekend at Anime USA. You won’t be alone.
Washington Marriott Wardman Park
2660 Woodley Road NW, Washington, D.C.
Oct. 3 – 5
$65 all-weekend pass; additional badges sold at the door