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NashiCon brings the anime convention fun to Columbia

gmelendez@thestate.com

NashiCon, which will lure hundreds of people in fascinating costumes to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center this weekend, was born a decade ago when members of a local anime club grew tired of always traveling to conventions and decided to stage one of their own.

About 100 people showed up for the first NashiCon. (The first five letters stand for Nippon Anime Society of Heavenly Imagery.) They spread the word about the enlightening panel discussions about Japanese-style animation and story books, the costume madness of the cosplay contest and the dancing to techno music.

Last year, 1,800 people attended. The goal this year is 2,100 as the event expands to three days for the first time.

So what’s this all about?

Anime is Japanese-style animated videos, and manga is Japanese-style printed graphic stories. A couple of generations of American kids have grown up watching anime, some without recognizing what it was. Most cartoon shows in the past 25 years have their roots firmly in anime, but the infiltration in the U.S. began way back with the “Astro Boy” and “Speed Racer” cartoons in the 1960s.

Manga has been compared to American comic books, but it focuses more on storytelling and with more diverse subject matter than superheroes and teen angst, according to University of South Carolina professor Northrup Davis.

Davis teaches a course at USC in which students create their own manga. As indications of the genre’s popularity, the course typically fills up quickly and Davis won the 2012 Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award at the school.

“Manga integrates storytelling into art, is extremely diverse genre-wise and fascinatingly creative,” Davis said. “One of the main differences between manga and American comics is that you’re in the middle of the action in manga but just a spectator in American comics.”

How does that translate into a convention?

NashiCon director Chris Lee recruits panelists who talk about the anime or manga they help create. Almost 80 panel suggestions were submitted this year, Lee said. Many of the artists seek out conventions so they can win new fans for their work or reward longtime fans with insight into the characters. The dealers and artists often also book booths to sell their work.

Why do so many of the attendees wear costumes?

It’s a tradition of these conventions called cosplay. People dress up as their favorite characters, or the characters that make for the most outrageous costumes. Lee went one year as Star Wars’ Princess Leia from the slave period, a look friends said was challenged by his beer gut. Last year, he was Dora the Explorer.

Many of the characters use outlandish weapons, and cosplay devotees have great fun creating massive swords and staffs. They can’t be truly lethal, with each convention having extensive weapons rules.

One of the biggest draws of NashiCon is the cosplay chess match. Characters are chosen for each of the players on a chess board, and they are moved in a heavily scripted show full of inside jokes.

Many people might think of this as a nerdfest. Does that bother the participants?

“It doesn’t bother me when people look at me like that,” Lee said. “But it sucks that people don’t understand. When people ask me why I like anime so much, I ask ‘Why do you like football so much.’ And I like football, too.”

If you go: NashiCon is at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center from 4-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $25 for the weekend, $20 for Saturday only and $10 for Sunday only. www.nashicon.com

Joey Holleman

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