If you're in downtown Tampa this weekend, keep your eyes peeled.
Fans of Japanese style animation, video games and comics will be at the Tampa Convention Center for the return of Metrocon, Florida's Largest Anime Convention.
Considering that many of them will be in costume — dressing as samurai to school girls, robots to outer space Go-go dancers — you're likely to catch a glimpse of some colorful characters taking in part in "cosplay."
"The reason it's called 'cosplay' and not just wearing a costume is that, for the weekend, when a person is in the costume of say, their favorite character, they become the character for a short time," said Alex Craddock, director of operations for Metrocon. "It's almost like every single person who comes to the event in costume is contributing as a performer, acting like their character throughout the halls all weekend long. It really adds something to the feel of conventions that you don't even necessarily get with days like Halloween."
In addition to the cool costumes, the 10th annual convention will offer anime screenings, panel discussions, workshops, costume contests, video game tournaments, human chess matches, a masquerade dance and more.
Vendors will be selling everything an anime lover could want, including artwork and watercolor pieces, chainmaille jewelry, fandom buttons and hair bows, masks and caricature drawings, hand-crocheted arm-warmers and scarves and lots of other geekery.
The convention will feature more than a dozen guest speakers, creators of mangas — Japanese comics — and voice actors from popular animé series and video games, including Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who won the American Anime Award for best actress for portraying Major Motoko Kusanagi in "Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex"; Richard Epcar, who has voiced more than 300 characters and stars in the new Nickelodeon series "Avatar: The Legend of Korra"; and Crispin Freeman, a voice actor and director who has portrayed characters in animation and video games including Superman and Iron Man. Takayoshi Tanimoto, a popular singer of anime theme songs, will travel from Tokyo to headline a concert Saturday night.
Like the audience for anime itself, the Metrocon convention is growing. Last year's event drew close to 7,500 attendees, Craddock said. This year's convention, with the theme Agents vs. Outlaws, is expected to draw some 8,500 fans by the time it wraps up Sunday, making it the highest attendance yet, Craddock said.
Anime, which is short for animation, began in Japan with hard-to-find videos and DVDs. In the 1990s, it took off in the U.S. as titles such as Sailor Moon, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragon Ball came to American shores.
"It used to be a stereotype of the lonely guy, sitting at home by himself, watching anime at wee hours of the morning," Craddock added. "Don't get me wrong, that still exists, but our attendance is almost 70 percent female. If you ask anyone at the convention who was going to events like this or anime clubs 10 or 15 years ago, they'll probably laugh and tell you to stop lying."
Craddock said anime continues to gain momentum because of the popularity of video games. And although it is sometimes categorized as being cheesy, or something for kids, it appeals to a wide audience.
"It's just like any other hobby," he said. "It's an escape. "I think that with video games becoming so socially acceptable, if not encouraged and almost trendy, it has become hip to be at least a little bit of a geek. Once you look past the fact that it's a cartoon, you realize the genius writing and metaphor that went into a lot of these shows. Much the same, once you look past our event as a gathering of the sun-fearing nerds, you realize our patrons are some of the most unique, interesting people in the state, and I don't think we could stop them all from wanting to meet each other if we tried."
Pre-registration for the event has ended, but tickets will be available at the door.