Winnipeg anime conference returns after two-year hiatus, breaks attendance data

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

The annual anime convention offered fans artwork, panels and a chance to come together and cosplay as their favourite characters. A fashion show and lip sync duel featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Rock M. Sakura were also part of this year’s festivities.

The festival celebrated their 20th anniversary this weekend, a milestone which was postponed in 2021 due to the pandemic.

“I think the community is really enjoying it. They’re very thankful it’s returned,” said Justin Ladia, Ai-Kon’s communications officer and graphic designer. He said volunteers motivated by a love for anime and costumes run the entire event.

Justin Ladia, Ai-Kon’s communications officer and graphic designer, said the turnout at this year’s festival has been ‘incredible.’ (Walther Bernal/CBC)

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

“At the moment, we’re 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 non-profit which 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 by its return.

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

“You can be any character that you want, you can be anything that you set your mind to,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your race, creed, whatever it is.”

Hnatiuk, dressed as the character Starlight, has been attending the festival since 2003. She said it was odd to see peoples’ maskless faces again, but she was happy to see everyone back.

Her advice to people wanting to hand-make their own costumes is that everyone starts somewhere.

“I was never really that good starting out, but I just kept at it,” she said. “You’ll eventually get the hang of things.”

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

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

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

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

For Chyrkina, what she loves most about cosplay is that it allows her to bring more of herself out into the world.

“And I love seeing this childish excitement in people’s eyes when they’re like ‘You’re my favourite character  — I get to meet my favourite character in person!'”

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

Ai-Kon returns after pandemic hiatus, breaks attendance records

The annual Winnipeg convention showcasing Japanese anime and pop culture returned to the RBC Convention Centre for the first time since 2019, and broke past attendance records.

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