Memphis welcomes its first full-fledged anime convention to the Hilton Memphis this weekend, marking the beginning of what organizers hope will be an annual tradition.
Anime is a type of cartoon animation with Japanese origins, but anime conventions are often an extensive showcase of Japanese and East Asian culture.
Launa Morris, co-chair of Anime Blues Con, says the idea for a convention began with a rant. After experiencing the intense flooding at Nashville's Middle Tennessee Anime Convention in May 2010, Morris sounded off to George Min, owner of the Memphis anime store, Animax.
"I'd been driving my daughter from city to city for conventions. My question was, 'Why don't we have [a convention] here?'" Morris said. "And George said, 'I have the money. I'll put the money up.'"
The two began working on what would become Anime Blues Con, basing much of their planning on what they had observed as attendees at other conventions. Morris quickly locked in featured guests such as voice actors Vic Mignogna from Fullmetal Alchemist and Dragon Ball Z and Maile Flanagan from the anime series Naruto.
"The kids really love meeting the characters," Morris said. "Vic is absolutely adored by his fans, and he [plays] a lot of big characters."
The convention will also feature a dealer's room where vendors sell everything from comic books and T-shirts to kimonos and swords.
Anime Blues Con has five tracks, including an art track that covers the basics of illustration and includes a panel on how to get published. The otaku track focuses on voice actors, characters, and costume contests (known as "cosplay.") For the complete Japanese experience, the culture track features a demonstration on kimono etiquette, classes on origami and bento boxes, and advice on living and working in Japan. The gaming track brings together digital and analog gamers for tournaments.
At night, one last track shows a racier side of anime conventions. The adult track, which is limited to attendees aged 18 or older, features a cosplay burlesque strip tease, a cosplay drag show, adult trivia, and Hentai, sexually explicit comics and animation.
"The audience for that is not the mainstream anime audience," Morris said. "Most of the anime culture is a very young crowd. But you can't not include [the adult track]. It's part of the anime culture."
Other activities include a formal ball and a lantern festival. Lanterns for the festival are purchased to benefit the Red Cross relief efforts for tornado victims in Alabama and Missouri.
"So many conventions are doing the relief for Japan," Morris said. "We wanted to do something for the local community."
The convention starts at noon on Friday, July 8th, and ends at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Pre-registration has closed, but three-day passes are available for $40 as well as reduced rates for individual day passes. Based on the pre-registration numbers, Morris estimates that in its first year, Anime Blues Con will draw in more than 1,000 guests.
For more information, visit animeblues.com.