Winnipeg anime convention returns after two-year hiatus and breaks attendance records

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Ai-Kon, an annual Winnipeg convention showcasing Japanese anime and pop culture, returned to the RBC Convention Center for the first time since 2019 and broke attendance records.

The annual anime convention offered fans artwork, signs, and a chance to get together and dress up as their favorite characters. A fashion show and lip-syncing duel with RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Rock M. Sakura were also part of this year’s festivities.

The festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this weekend, a milestone that was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.

“I think the community really appreciates him. They’re very grateful that he’s back,” said Justin Ladia, communications manager and graphic designer for Ai-Kon. He said volunteers driven by a love of anime and costumes run the entire event.

Justin Ladia, Ai-Kon’s communications manager and graphic designer, said the turnout for this year’s festival was “incredible”. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

And this year, Ladia said people missed the event so much that they returned in spades, breaking the festival’s pre-pandemic attendance records.

“At the moment, we are at 7,000 [attendees]. In 2019 they were at 4,800,” he said.

Dominic Richard, Brody Trach and Krissy Hnatiuk are part of the Costume Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that calls itself “Winnipeg’s premier costume group.” The three donned their costumes from the comic book series The boys at the festival on Sunday and were excited for her return.

Trach, who was dressed as Homelander, said he loved cosplaying because of the endless possibilities.

“You can be any character you want, you can be anything you want,” he said. “It doesn’t matter your race, your beliefs, whatever.”

Hnatiuk, dressed as a Starlight character, has attended the festival since 2003. She said it was strange to see people’s maskless faces again, but she was happy to see everyone again.

Her advice to people who want to handcraft their own costumes is that everyone starts somewhere.

“I was never really this good at first, but I kept going,” she said. “You will eventually figure things out.”

Returning to Ai-Kon after two years of pandemic postponements felt like “tripling the emotions,” said cosplayer Masha Chyrkina, who was dressed as Jinx from the League of Legends game. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Masha Chyrkina moved to Winnipeg five years ago when she started cosplaying. She said anyone with a desire can become a cosplayer, and this year she dressed up as Jinx from the game. League of Legends.

“You don’t need anything to start cosplaying. As long as you enjoy it and do your best, you’re a cosplayer,” she said.

Coming back to the festival after the pandemic felt “explosive” and tripled the emotions, Chyrkina said. The festival experience is chaotically good, and it’s a safe and friendly environment, she said.

For Chyrkina, what she likes most about cosplay is that it allows her to reveal herself more in the world.

“And I love seeing that childlike excitement in people’s eyes when they’re like, ‘You’re my favorite character, I’m meeting my favorite character in person!'”

WATCH | Cosplayers, gamers and anime fans happy to return to Ai-Kon:

Ai-Kon returns after pandemic hiatus and breaks attendance records

Winnipeg’s annual convention showcasing Japanese anime and pop culture returned to the RBC Convention Center for the first time since 2019 and broke attendance records.

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