PopLurker would like to thank OtaFest for generously providing Press Passes in exchange for convention coverage.
Otafest a 3-day festival celebrating anime and all who love it held their 20th anniversary in downtown Calgary from May 18-20 and PopLurker were given the invite to this amazing party held at the Telus Convention Centre on Stephen Ave. PopLurker first met Otafest at the Calgary Comic Expo last month and we were eager to experience all that they had to offer and well…we were not disappointed.
Whatever you were looking for, whatever nerd itch you needed scratched Otafest had it for you. Arcade machine and table top games in one room. Pokémon Gym leader battles in another to an Overwatch tournament that encompassed the entire weekend. Overwatch has been hot at Otafest for some time and this year was no exception with noted voice actor Matt Mercer overseeing the finals. You could also show off your sweet dance moves at the Dance Dance Revolution competition or partake in a Foam Sword Fighting contest, or if you’re a lover of all things Nintendo you could head over to the Exhibitor Hall where the Artist Alley was located and choose from the many Nintendo Switch games that were set up at their booth.
Also, at the Exhibitor Hall you could find your fair share of manga, DVD and Blu-ray, pins, buttons, official Otafest merchandise, prints and cells as well as figurines and if you’re a Lurker who enjoys more adult entertainment the folks at Fakku were there to hook you up with your various hentai needs.
We then made our way to the Macleod conference rooms for the opening ceremonies. Everyone in attendance was treated to a special video from the founders of Otafest reminiscing on how 20 years ago they decided over several pitchers of beer to start a one-day festival hoping to attract a few hundred (if they were lucky) fellow anime fans. Getting over 700 that first year in the basement of the University of Calgary the event grew into the thousands over the years, attracting just over 9,000 this year.
From there the emcees introduced the many special guests attending Otafest 20th Anniversary from the previously mentioned Matt Mercer as well as fellow voice actor Leah Clark to professional cosplayer Leon Chiro. As well convention favorite Jinnie McManus was in attendance all weekend as were Arda Wigs and Empty Movement. Otafest was also sure to mention that the Clara Cow’s Cosplay Cup or C4 organized out of Europe was also a part of the festivities with the winners this year receiving a trip to the Netherlands representing Canada at Animecon in 2019!
PopLurker loves few things more than a good party and the party was on from here with a special appearance and performance from Capcom Live! who rocked us all with one badass performance after another of various video game themes from Mega Man to Street Fighter to Ace Attorney. Capcom Live! melted faces and blasted eardrums all throughout Friday night and are planning to release a live album soon.
Anyone who is a native of Calgary knows the Victoria Day long weekend is notorious for being subjected to one last snowfall. It’s as traditional as the Calgary Stampede in July or Otafest each year. But while Friday morning started off a little brisk, thankfully Mother Nature cooperated, and the ice trash (or snow to you normal people) was held at bay with each day becoming progressively warmer. Which was most fortunate because Otafest was not just indoor activities. The Telus Convention Centre has a North and South building connected by an elevated indoor walkway over Stephen Ave, but down on the street you could walk along Stephen Ave and mingle with the various cosplayers in attendance as well as take in some musical entertainment. From the Calgary based taiko drummers Midnight Taiko to Orbis Orchestra out of Edmonton performing in the evening.
Also, local Calgary dance group Mu’Sica were on Stephen Ave Saturday afternoon with a beautiful and fun live performance for the convention goers and cosplayers. Taking their inspiration from j-pop and anime, Mu’Sica put on an amazing show at this year’s Otafest.
There were a variety of panels one could also attend during the weekend whether you wished to learn about convention etiquette, learning how and when to get your children into cosplay, various anime and video game inspired cooking panels, or racing your friends in a live action Mario Kart contest outdoors along Stephen Ave, there was no shortage of things to see and do.
As a quick aside during one of the panels on Saturday (and the Sailor Moon panel on Sunday), we learned how many religious groups will come to conventions to protest the general nature of these festivals as they view the anime culture and cosplayers as unnatural or something to be shunned. One such religious group showed up at Otafest on Friday. Being constantly on the move we weren’t witness to any protesting but were impressed to learn how calmly and peacefully the event planners handled the protesters by simply blasting Da Rude’s Sandstorm until the religious group simply gave up and left. A special shout out to the Otafest staff for handling things calmly and keeping everyone safe and out of harm’s way.
In addition to the panels there were also autograph signings, a Maid and Butler Café preparing delicious bentos for those in attendance, as well as a night festival where you could win prizes at the minigame booths and try on authentic Japanese yukata. If this was all too much and you wanted to take a break from all the cosplayers and panels and Artist Alley insanity, you could relax in the Sunalta rooms of the adjacent Marriott hotel where a 24-hour anime theatre was showing various anime around the clock. From My Hero Academia season 2 dub to Yuri to Oh! My Goddess to Utena the Musical, there was no shortage of entertainment, no matter where you looked.
When PopLurker was at the Calgary Expo last month, one of the more interesting booths we came across that weekend was for a company known as StitchKit. StitchKit is for anyone interested in fashion and design as well as cosplaying from the young student to the most seasoned professional designers. Incorporating LED and fiber optics, StitchKit blends technology with fashion allowing the wearer to take their fashion or cosplay game to the next level. Lightweight, compact and durable it comes with a custom Arduino based board and includes a variety of sensors for sound, distance, light vibration and speaking of lights, there are plenty of those to go around.
We stopped by their booth briefly at the Calgary Expo to check them out, but after we discovered they would be at Otafest we knew we wanted to meet these guys and learn more. Making our way through Otafest Exhibitor Hall, we stopped by the StitchKit booth and spoke briefly to Matt Laprairie.
[Stitchkit photos; stitchkit.io on Facebook and IG, stitchkit_io on Twitter]
Matt is based here in Calgary, a 17-year veteran of the fashion industry he told us about the vision behind StitchKit and his company Lite Stitch, and how they take pride in introducing their product into the Home Economics rooms in schools, to encourage children and pre-teens who may not have had a previous interest or talent in sewing or design and make it encouraging and fun to add the various accoutrements to their designs and patterns.
Matt told PopLurker about the board that the LED light system runs through and some horror stories such as how 10 minutes before he was to hit the runway, one of the cables became too taut and pulled free from its board, causing his outfit to blank out like a city-wide blackout.
While cosplaying is a big deal in North America, Matt was quick to point out how in China the cosplayer community and craze goes beyond that of North America and how blown away he was by the sheer scope of the hobby over there. Matt also mentioned the differences between North America and China as it relates to the speed in which certain projects or goals can be achieved. Over here stateside, if you have a request or idea that you wish to turn into a reality it can take upwards of a year or more for it to come to fruition, whether its due to cost or certain regulations. Whereas overseas in Asia, those same visions can become a reality in 1/10th of the time.
Otafest celebrated an amazing milestone this year with their 20th birthday. What started as humble beginnings two decades ago has turned into a three-day event featuring amazing guests, insightful and entertaining panels, innovative groups and companies being featured over the course of the weekend as well as all the beautiful and talented cosplayers of all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds coming together to share their love for one another and their love of all things anime. PopLurker was so grateful to attend and we can’t wait until next year!
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