Celebrating anime culture: Convention outgrows State College and moves to Altoona this year

Courtesy photo / Antipode is a “geeky” belly-dancing squad that will perform at the 12th annual Setsucon, an anime convention moving to Altoona this year.

The fascination with Japanese culture has grown so much in central Pennsylvania that an anime convention has outgrown State College, where it was founded 12 years ago, and will be held in the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona over two days next weekend.

Setsucon, an anime and Japanese culture convention, will feature nearly 28 artists and 28 other vendors and is expected to draw more than 1,200 guests from at least eight states to the Jan. 27-28 event, said Ilan Gonzalez Torres, convention spokesman.

“Altoona is an excellent location,” he said. “It’s still close to State College and Pittsburgh. And there’s a lot of (anime) culture in Altoona.”

Setsucon, operated by the Penn State Anime Organization (PSAO), is one of the largest student-run conventions for anime — a Japanese style of motion-picture animation. Branching out to Altoona with its Penn State branch campus made sense, as well, Torres said.

This year’s version promises more than 130 hours of family-friendly programming, including fan panels, presentations from voice actor guests, a cosplay masquerade, a late-night dance, vendors and artists, he said.

One guest is Karen Strassman, who played Jolene in the television show “Weeds” and has made appearances on “Criminal Minds,” “Gilmore Girls” and others.

“She is a veteran in television and voice acting,” Torres said.

Other guests include voice actors Amber Lee Connors, Daman Mills and Micah Solusod, whose credits include various video games.

Another presentation will be from Charles Dunbar, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in anime conventions and their growing popularity.

Sarah Graybill of Hamburg is one of more than two dozen artists who will meet, greet and show her work. She said this year will be her second Setsucon, and selling prints of her illustrations online and at conventions is how she makes her living.

“I’m a traditional artist who specializes in mixed media tea paintings inspired by yokai animals from Japanese folklore,” Graybill said.

She said her illustrations explore the world of a young girl named Okina who, through a series of events sparked by her greed, becomes “possessed by a fox and trapped within the realm of spirits.”

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been inspired by animals, mythological creatures and ghost stories, and this has played a role in shaping my artistic subjects over the years,” she said. “I also grew up enjoying anime and Japanese pop culture, an interest that, over time, evolved into an appreciation of traditional Japanese art and folklore.”

Entertainment will include a “comedic bellydance troupe” from State College named Antipode, which literally means the exact opposite of something. Members dress up in cosplay, which is dressing in costume to represent usually a fictional character, to represent their favorites, said member Merika Lo.

“The best way to describe our shows is to imagine a comedic musical, but instead of singing to further the plot, we use bellydance,” Lo said. “Our show is a blend of a comedic skit and bellydancing to various types of nerdy and non-nerdy music. Although we primarly bellydance, we do blend other styles of dance into our shows.”

Antipode was founded by Ayla Almee and Termariel Esta, who wanted to “merge their love of bellydancing and nerd culture,” according to Lo. They performed their first skit at the first Setsucon and decided to evolve into a full-length show and eventually added additional members.

The group has made guest appearances at conventions along the East Coast, from Boston to Atlanta, for 10 years, as well as in the United Kingdom. Members also have attended the Sci-Fi Valley Con, which is held in early summer in Altoona and focuses more on science-fiction characters rather than specifically Japanese cultural characters, Torres said.

“We don’t compete with any anime conventions,” he said. “There aren’t many in winter anyway and none in Central PA.”

The name Setsucon is derived from the word “setsu,” which comes from a Chinese reading of the Japanese word for snow.

Setsucon’s organizers formed the PSAO in 2001 with informal get-togethers including viewings, video games and visiting other conventions. Founders decided they wanted to start their own, and the first one in 2007 drew 300 attendees at a State College motel. It kept moving to larger venues until the decision to move to Altoona this year.

“It’s still a young anime con,” Torres said. “The one in Atlantic City has thousands and thousands of people. We’re just happy that we’re still established after 12 years. A lot of cons peter out after only a few.”

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.

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If you go

What: Setsucon, an anime and Japanese culture convention

When: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 27 and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 28

Where: Blair County Convention Center, Altoona

Admission: $35 for the weekend; $25 for Saturday only, $15 for Sunday only

More info: www.setsucon.com

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