The Canadian National Expo is a con that can not only satisfy the anime fan in you, but the sci-fi and horror fan as well.
Toronto is Canadaís largest city, with a population of 4,558,800. That's more than the population of the provinces of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and my home province of Nova Scotia combined. It has the world's tallest free-standing structure, with the CN Tower dominating the city's skyline. The city sits on the shores of Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes. Everything is big in Toronto, so it's only natural that one of the biggest conventions in Canada would be held there.
The Canadian National Expo (not to be confused with the EX, an amusement park held every summer in Downtown Toronto) is large in part because of how many genres it covers. It showcases horror movies, sci-fi, gaming, comic books, and last but certainly not least, anime. This may sound a little overwhelming, but each of the genres manages to co-exist peacefully beside each other. It's a little weird at first to be wandering through the Dealerís Room, looking over anime DVDs and then finding yourself at a booth selling Living Dead Girl Dolls, and a booth after that selling X-Men comics from the 1970's, but it makes you discover some things that you may not have bothered with otherwise.
Luckily for anime fans, the majority of merchandise and con activities are anime-related. Except for a few storm troopers and red-shirts from Star Trek (I hope they survived the convention), most of the people in costume were cosplaying as anime characters. When I first stepped into the lobby of the Toronto Metro Convention Center, I was blown away by how many people were in costume and how good some of them were. The best were the people who not only dressed up as their character but acted like them as well. One guy, cosplaying as Hughes from Fullmetal Alchemist, would whip out a picture of Elicia when you talked to him. A young lady dressed up as Aerith from Final Fantasy 7 had a basket of flowers, and she would give you one if you asked, "Excuse me, can I buy a flower for a guild?" like the main character Cloud in Final Fantasy 7. While not totally in character, two cosplayers dressed up as Naruto and Sasuke caused quite the commotion and a lot of fan girl squealing when they posed together in some rather suggestive ways.
After hanging around in the lobby for a while and taking pictures of the cosplayers, it was time to wait in line to get in. The con was scheduled to start that Friday afternoon at 4:00 PM, but it was only after waiting forty-five minutes that I got in. Although the wait was frustrating, it was worth it once I was finally inside.
I had a ton of things planned to do, but all my plans melted away when I saw the Dealerís Room. Consisting of practically half of the con, it had pretty much everything that any anime fan could want. I got some anime soundtracks and a Last Exile wall scroll for a friend. (Hopefully, he's not reading this; it's supposed to be a surprise.) A friend of mine was on a mission to find Fullmetal Alchemist key chains, and she ended up with fifteen of them!
Later that day, I attended my first panel. It was CPM's Be Beautiful panel, an introduction to yaoi and the various yaoi titles that they were releasing in the near future. The panel was hilarious, thanks to the moderator Peter Tatara. Not only is he a funny guy, but he wore a home-made Urahara (aka Mr. Hat-and-Clogs from Bleach) hat to the con.
After that, my two friends attended the Cosplay 101 workshop. They say it was a very fun and educational panel, with lots of helpful tips. I'm not a cosplayer myself, and there was another workshop that I wanted to attend. It was a Q&A with J. Michael Stracynski, creator and writer of many Babylon 5 episodes, as well as the comics The Amazing Spider, Supreme Power and Rising Stars. He was a very good speaker, and he gave some good advice, but I was disappointed that most of the questions were related to Babylon 5 and TV writing, rather than comic book writing.
After that, I wandered around the artist alley for a little bit, and then I went back to my hostel when the con closed at 10:00 PM. There was an anime marathon going on after the con, as well as anime karaoke, both of which looked fun, but I didn't go. I had been up since 5:00 AM to catch my plane to Toronto, and after several hours of wandering around the city, and then the adrenaline rush of attending the first day of the convention, I was beat.
On Saturday, I saw Nobuyoshi Habara, director of anime such as D.N. Angel and Fafner. He seemed happy to be in there, and he answered questions such as how an anime episode gets made, and what the director's role is. When asked about how he felt about his work being licensed and shown in North America, he said that he was very pleased with it, and he wished that Fafner would be shown all over the world.
A panel with Production I.G., the anime production company of such shows as the xxxholic movie, Blood: The Last Vampire, and the anime sequence from Kill Bill Vol.1 was scheduled right after the Q&A with Mr. Habara. Several other con goers and I waited for twenty-five minutes for the panel to begin before a staff member told us that the Production I.G. panel members had missed their flight, and that they would not be appearing. Some disappointed anime fans expressed their displeasure by jokingly suggesting a boycott of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig when it comes out.
Tofu Records is an American company that specializes in releasing J-Pop records to North America. Their panel was one of my favorites, as they showed various music videos from J-pop acts such as Líarc en Ciel, TM Revolution, and Polysics. After showing the videos, the panel moderator quizzed the audience on their knowledge of J-Pop. If you knew obscure J-Pop trivia, such as TM Revolutionís favorite color, you could win a signed poster. Itís orange, by the way.
Speaking of J-Pop, Saturday had one of the highlights of the convention, a concert by Angela. The two person J-Pop band is made up of Atsuko as vocals and KATSU on guitar. The duo performed some of their best-known songs, including the opening and ending to Fafner and songs from Stellvia. Their rendition of 'Cruel Angelís Thesis' had the whole audience on their feet singing along. Both of the J-Pop stars were very cute and energetic, with Katsu being a real life bishounen.
The final day of the con brought about the Anime Music Video Competition. This was my first time watching AMVs on a big screen with hundreds of other anime fans, and watching AMVs on a tiny computer screen by yourself just doesnít compare.
During the con, anime was being shown in the various screening rooms. Personally, I didnít come all the way to Toronto to watch anime when there's so much else going on, but there was one screening that I made sure to get to. Central Park Media showed the award-winning short anime film Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek on the last day of the convention. Kakurenbo tells the story of several young children who play a game of hide and seek in a demon infested town. With the DVD not coming out until sometime later this fall, I'm glad that I got to see this excellently scary anime this summer.
The whole convention was a lot of fun, and not just the anime events. It was really great to see so many different people with as many different hobbies all under one roof. Everyone I talked to, whether they were a horror effects expert or a RPG enthusiastic or an independent comic book creator was incredibly passionate about their work. I came away from the con a lot more aware of the various hobbies that people take part in, and a little more willing to try something new myself. The con is great for anime fans, although it's best to go with an open mind and a laid-back approach.