TAMPA - Downtown is being overtaken this weekend by Jedi knights, Pokemon and comic book characters.
The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Santa Claus and the Mario Brothers are here, too.
Metrocon, a three-day convention celebrating anime, movies and comic books, is back at the Tampa Convention Center. In its 11th year, Metrocon is the largest anime convention in Florida.
Thousands of people, some with light sabers, fishnet stockings and brightly colored capes, swarmed both floors of the center Friday as they browsed vendors' booths, watched fencing demonstrations and listened in on panel discussions.
"I just like that people can come in here and just be themselves," said 19-year-old Elyza Nuguid, who was dressed like a character from the Cartoon Network show "Adventure Time." "Everyone can express themselves and be whatever they want."
Throngs of Metrocon-goers lined up to hear talks on topics such as costume sewing and the sexiest men and women of anime. On the second floor, about a dozen vendors sold artwork and handmade accessories. A line to enter the weapons-check room wound out the door.
On the agenda for the remainder of the weekend are raves, a masquerade and a human chess match.
"It's interesting," said 18-year-old Dalton Mullen of Riverview. "The people are definitely a sight to behold."
More than 8,000 people attended alst year; organizers are hoping to hit 10,000 this year. If that happens, next year's event will be expanded from three days to four, said Heidi Reeves, assistant head of operations for Metrocon and Team Dynamite Productions.
People come from throughout the country, and as far away as England, Reeves said.
"They spend lots of time making the costumes and then they get to show off their hard work," Reeves said.
Jenny Rose spent three days creating a head piece to match the female witch doctor in the video game Diablo III. She started with a headband and added fur, beads, feathers and deer antlers. The rest of her outfit was a two-piece suit.
She has attended several similar events but never Metrocon.
"I love the people I meet here," said Rose, who is a Tampa tattoo model. "I love the culture. The people are definitely a little more friendly than your typical conventions. They're all nerds here. You're not going to get any criticism. They're going to tell you how awesome your outfit looks. You're going to tell them how awesome they look, and you're going to move on. It's a feel-good convention."
Alicia Blackburn spent two weeks sewing and putting together her female Spock outfit. Since her Spock is a woman, her outfit consisted of the Star Trek short skirt, high boots and lots of makeup. She also wore Spock ears, which she bought through Ebay, she said.
She's attended Metrocon for seven years. There's something for everyone, she said. If you like sci-fi, video games and anime, it's available here, she said.
"It's a place where you can be nerdy without people looking down at you," said Blackburn, 20, a student at New College of Florida in Sarasota. "Everyone is just so nice and you can meet people who like the same things that are weird and sort of hard to find."
Myrna Haag attended Friday afternoon with her 19-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. They were dressed like Sora and Roxas from the video game Kingdom Hearts.
Haag sported a purple wig.
"I didn't just want to be mom," said Haag, of Tampa.
Metrocon started at noon Friday and will continue through Sunday. Tickets are $35 at the door Saturday and $30 on Sunday.