PopLurker would like to thank OtaFest for providing press passes in exchange for convention coverage.
When you’ve lived in Calgary as long as I have, you come to expect certain things every year on Victoria Day long weekend during the third weekend of May.
One, the weather is likely going to suck, and two Otafest will return for another year but unlike the weather, it won’t suck.
Both things came to pass, the weather over that weekend was chilly, rainy and wet and Otafest returned for its twenty-first year and PopLurker returned for the second year in a row to check out this three day festival celebrating all things anime and Japanese culture in downtown Calgary along beautiful Stephen’s Ave. (made all the more beautiful when it isn’t raining or threatening to snow)
Alright, we get it guy! The weather sucked!
Making my way downtown to Stephen’s Ave and the Telus Convention Centre to get my press pass, it was encouraging to see that despite the weather there were cosplayers making their way inside both the north and south section of the building ready to enjoy the weekend’s festivities no matter what. Getting my press pass was a breeze, and only took maybe five minutes at the most.
Before we get into the meat of the event; namely the vendors, panels and celebrity guests, I want to give a special shout-out to the Otafest event staff who worked tirelessly in preparation leading up to the show, setting up various stages as well as the Artist Alley and not once over the course of the weekend did I notice any congested queues or lines of people trying get into the various panels, the Otafest event staff made sure everything was well planned, well organized and stress free for everyone in attendance. They were all super approachable and ready to answer any questions one may have and made absolutely sure that everyone got into the panel they were in line to see. The staff was super professional and an absolute dream and they deserve huge praise for keeping a whirlwind three days running like a well-oiled machine.
And a whirlwind three days it was from the opening ceremonies on Friday to the closing ceremonies Sunday evening to everything in between. Once we picked up our press pass from the registration desk and made our way upstairs to the Exhibitor Hall one of the first orders of business was to stop by and say hello to our friends with Animethon who were kind enough to approve us as press for their 26th anniversary event August 9-11 in neighboring Edmonton. PopLurker is beyond excited and super stoked to see them again in the summer.
From there it was time to lurk and to purchase from the various vendors selling everything from handmade crafts such as the Secret of Mana keychain I picked up from Chinook crafts to the super fun Vivi from Final Fantasy IX pin I immediately bought from ThinkNu out of Toronto along with a badass Gundam art print from Chasing Artwork and an amazing Smash Bros. montage print from Quirkilicious.
If fellow Otafest attendees weren’t down with art prints, keychains, and pins there were plenty of booths dedicated to those looking to get their fix of various manga, video games as well as anime inspired statues and toys, whether it be My Hero Academia to Godzilla to Gundams of all sorts, to lining up and getting autographs from renowned voice actors and actresses such as Steve Blum and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, there was no shortage of things to see and do and spend that cash money on.
Also, anyone looking for a little more adult entertainment could hit up Fakku if they were looking for a selection of hentai titles to scratch their itch. The Artist Alley was never without heavy foot traffic, especially on the Saturday when many were free of school or work and could take in the day’s festivities in full. However, in spite of how packed it got, I had no personal issue navigating through the halls, escalators and elevated walkways, and I didn’t overhear anyone else in attendance complain about it being too cramped or squished or a pain to deal with.
In addition to the Artist Alley with so many amazing and talented vendors peddling their wares, there were also activities like a Pokémon League for people to join in on at the adjacent south building along with anime screenings, and panels covering a wide variety of topics from Cosplay as Consent, to Beyond Godzilla (a panel we attended Saturday morning which took a loving and humorous look at Toho’s history in the world of kaiju entertainment), to Build your own Gundam and so much more including outdoor entertainment despite the less than stellar weather. Mu’sica, a Calgary based group of talented dancers put on a J-pop inspired dance routine as part of the Idol Festival and while it rained on those of us watching, Mu’sica shined getting much deserved applause and praise throughout their 15 minute set. Mu’sica was a favorite last year when I attended, and I was looking forward to seeing them again, and they more exceeded expectations.
One of the more appealing factors to Otafest; at least for me and I would guess for many others was its accessibility, what with being located right downtown and just moments away from the local light rail transit system and city buses, attendees could come and go from the venue easily…at least for the first day on Friday. Much like last year due to the long weekend the local train service was unavailable in Calgary’s downtown on Saturday and Sunday due to maintenance, but there were shuttles available as a way to access the downtown core.
Being right in the heart of downtown, Stephens Ave also has blocks of restaurants, pubs and fast food joints if someone needed some nourishment; however Otafest also did a fantastic job of providing food and drinks to all in attendance with a dining area with plenty of tables and chairs within the Artist Alley along with a Maid café service not far away as well. While I did see some people sitting throughout the convention centre on the floors, there were adequate chairs, couches, benches and the dining area for guests to sit and unwind while they went over their haul or checked out the photos they snapped of their fellow cosplayers.
While I’m still a novice when it comes to personal experience attending conventions, I can say without question Otafest is an amazing three day show encompassing so much of what fans of anime and Japanese culture could want and would love to see in a show. Fully inclusive, everyone was welcomed with open arms and again those involved in the staffing, planning and organization from the beginning of the weekend to the very end, worked their tails off to provide a clean, safe, stress free and most important of all a fun environment that this Lurker looks forward to attending year after year.
Otafest is ichiban!
PopLurker’s Otafest 2019 Image Gallery: