Southeast Anime Convention draws over 1,000 anime fans

Jul. 14, 2013 @ 11:56 PM

The second annual Southeast Anime Convention drew over 1,000 fans of Japanese animation to the Convention Center this weekend, with each dressed as a favorite character from anime – or from manga, Japanese comics

Sessions with Vic Mignogna, who has been in over 100 shows, voiced roles, and composed and performed original music in video games, were highlights. Mignogna also regularly writes, produces and directs video and film production. He hosted several events at the convention, such as "Faith and the Gospel According to John," "Star Trek Continues with Vic Mignogna" and "Vic Mignogna Q&A."

Cherami Leigh, an on-camera and voice actor, was also a popular draw. She has played Kirimi in "Ouran High School Host Club" and Patty in "Soul Eater." She has worked with celebrities including Ethan Hawke, LeAnn Rimes and Avril Lavigne.

At the convention, Leigh offered a Q&A session, offered a panel on how to make voice a career, and shared her experiences voicing Lucy Heartifilia in "Fairy Tale," a popular anime.

Leigh and Mignogna were available for autographs several times throughout the weekend-long event.

Other highlights were appearances by Laugh out Loud, a modern improvisational comedy troupe from The University of Georgia; Samurai Dan, the husband and wife team of martial arts instructors Daniel and Jillian Coglan, who run a traditional samurai training center in Iowa; and Greggo's Game Shows, hosted By Greg Wicker, who has been producing and hosting game shows at anime conventions since 1999.

Wicker said he has been hosting game shows since age 5, beginning with a chalkboard and a couple of teams willing to face off in "Family Feud."

He found a new venue for his hosting skills 15 years ago when his passion for anime was kindled. "We all watched 'Robotech' and 'Volton,' but the first anime I watched that I knew was anime came through an article I read in a video game magazine," Wicker said. "My local Blockbuster had everything anime that I wanted to watch on VHS, and I watched it all."

Shortly thereafter, Wicker attended Dragoncon, a multigenre convention in Atlanta. and his enthusiasm "snowballed from there."

By 1997, he was regularly attending anime conventions, though the earliest ones he attended were lacking in quality, he noted. "I wasn't impressed," he said. "The audience wasn't engaged, and there was a level of professionalism that just wasn't there. I thought I could do it better," he said.

In 1999 Wicker premiered his Anime Match Game at Project: A-Kon in Dallas, Texas. Since then, he has done anime themed versions of several classic game shows as well as developed a few games of his own.

"I love making people smile and sharing what I do with others," Wicker added. "I'm happy when sharing what I love makes other people happy."

Along with special events, many attendees signed up to host their own panels. One related to the visual novel "Alice in the Country of Hearts," which was a particular favorite for female anime fans. A retelling of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," "Alice in the Country of Hearts" begins when a napping Alice is awakened by a young man with rabbit ears.  He whisks her away to a dangerous, alternate world.

Hosts for the panel were convention moms Sandra Hayes and Kathy Garris from Waynesville, N.C. "These kids come together celebrating that it's okay to dress up," Hayes said. "Most of them aren't really outsiders at their schools, but at the same time, there's not many that share the same interests."

One guest who attended the "Alice in the Country of Hearts" panel was Donelle Pampel, a 25-year old college student from the University of Tennessee. Originally from San Diego, Pompel is an early childhood education major.

While not normally a fan of "shojo," a category of anime geared toward females, she said she has always been drawn to Lewis Carroll and the story of Alice, particularly how fantastical, imaginative and "out there" the story is.

Like most anime fans, Pampel spent a significant amount of time planning her costume, which took about 20 hours to complete. She dressed as Julius, a clockmaker in the alternate world.

Pampel said she has been cosplaying since 2006. When she moved to Tennessee, she realized that to keep up her hobby, she would need to attend conventions.

The panel was planned by four teenage girls, who focused on entertainment and card games. "Alice in the Country of Hearts" fans banded together to play the card games Go Fish, War, Gin Rummy, and I Doubt It. Winners in each category were awarded with a dance from the character of her choice.

"The girls really had free reign to choose the type of panel, and they decided just to make it a time of fun for those with similar interests," Hayes explained.

The convention also allows the kids to develop their social skills," Hayes said. "And the venue is great, because it's run by the town," Hayes added, referring to the Sevierville Convention Center. "We feel comfortable giving the teenagers who came with us a little more freedom than we might in a city like Atlanta."

jfrye@themountainpress.com