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Ai-Kon 2018: Winnipeg’s Wonderland


Here at Anime Herald, we endeavor to cover the major anime conventions. Anime Expo is the unquestioned big dog. Otakon is a haven for new announcements. Anime Boston and Anime NYC are our local major cons. Outside of these bubbles, though, there are legions of smaller conventions that promote Japanese culture and arts across North America. It’s rare for us to get an opportunity to give them coverage.

Which brings us to… Ai-Kon?

Let’s step back a second. The attendance of Anime Expo dwarfs that of any other anime convention, attracting more than 100,000 visitors each year. That said, there are tons of far smaller cons, where people congregate and share their love of anime, K-Pop, J-Pop, cosplay, and Japanese culture.

If you put the attendance of all the smaller cons together, they dwarf that of Anime Expo. The love of anime spans the globe.

I was lucky enough to visit Ai-Kon last year. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so let me share what I saw.

First off, they boasted the usual screening rooms, showing off films like Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Lu Over the Wall, Your Name., The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Robot Carnival. There were also various anime series shown, such as Kyousougiga, BLAME!, and FLCL. Good taste.

Like most conventions, Ai-Kon had its share of fascinating panels. My personal favorite was the philosophical “Anime That Don’t Exist.” Other panels of note include “Ghosts and Ghostbusters: The Fundamentals of the Supernatural” and “Boys Don’t Cry: Masculinity in Japanese Media.”

Additionally, there was a sizable game room (both video and tabletop games). Technically, it was the Gamers’ Lounge. Across from the Lounge was Maid Cafe. I didn’t spend much time in the Maid Cafe, but it seemed rather popular. The Monster Hospital concept seemed pretty cool.

Generally speaking, though, my experiences at Ai-Kon can be divided into three rooms:

  • Artists Alley
  • The Ballroom Theater
  • JCAM Room

I love artists alleys. They’re like little pop-up art galleries. At Ai-Kon, I ended up purchasing works from three artists:

Drake Tsui, better known as Quirkilicious

Drake winson tsui qsmchamploo
(Samurai Champloo by Quirkilicious)

Andrea Tamme, better known as Lothlenan & Chubby Unicorn

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(With a Parasol by Chubby Unicorn)

Justin Currie, better as Chasing Artwork

ahh! a snake! by ChasingArtwork
(ahh! a snake! by Chasing Artwork)

One of the things I noticed as I talked to the artists was that a lot of them hailed from western Canada. When I asked where they were from, the answers were generally “Calgary”, “Vancouver”, or “Edmonton.”

Shout outs to Justin Currie for representing the local Winnipeg art scene.

The York Ballroom hosted the fashion show, cosplay, and dance shows. Sadly, the dance and fashion shows I saw did not make their way to Youtube. Shows from other performances at Ai-Kon have been uploaded, though:

Unfortunately, I can’t show you the fashion show, which featured traditional kimonos and yukata. More on this in a bit.

The ballroom also hosted L.A.V.A. (Robbie Daymond, Ray Chase, and Max Mittelman)

They recorded the experience. Note the appearance of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival twelve minutes in. Also, the restaurant they dined at (Pheasant Cookery) is fantastic.

(Editor’s note: We were able to talk with Ray Chase about his experiences traveling the world with L.A.V.A.)

Greg Ayres has been a regular up in Winnipeg. He gave an interview with Jeanette.

(Editor’s note: We were also able to talk with Greg about his world travels.)

The place I spent the most time in during Ai-Kon, though, was the JCAM room. JCAM stands for the Japanese Cultural Association of Manitoba.

(All images credit to Matthew Sinclair, used with permission)

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Dragon closeup.

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Mustache included.

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The finest tsuba collection I’ve ever seen.

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Kindly remove your shoes. Thank you.

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Fine art and classic baseball gear.

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Contrast how friendly the hawk looks to how pissed off that tiger is.

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I’m a Swallows fan, but I have to admit that Hawks gear looks great. Also note the Ukiyo-E prints.

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I want the Swallows to win, but if they can’t, my next choice is anyone but the Giants. Also, note the Dragons font is similar to the Dodgers. Some rivalries transcend continents.

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Time for an appearance of one of my personal favorites, Fubuki Daiko.

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Cindy Voakes was kind enough to provide classical Japanese formal wear from her own personal collection. She prepared the kimono walk for the fashion show, which was a great success.

Cindy has graciously provided a guide to purchasing kimonos and yukatas.

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Ken Zelinsky of the Manitoba Kendo Club provided kendo lessons. I asked him about his swing:

“It took me five years to be happy with my technique. I plateaued and had to unlearn my swing. They say it takes twenty-five years to master it, so I have seventeen more to go.” -Ken Zelinsky

The JCAM room hosted:

  • Ikebana (flower arranging)
  • Origami
  • Tea Ceremonies
  • Sushi Preparation
  • Kendo
  • Yukata Dressing

The JCAM room was a huge hit in 2018, and will be expanded in 2019.

Ai-Kon also hosted gaming events such as the Extra Life charity event and the Super Smash Brothers Ultimate tournament. Both will be returning this year, along with a Beat Saber VR tournament.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Winnipeg has a very strong attachment to escape rooms. Truth be told, Winnipeg loves almost anything that can be done indoors:

“I heard it gets pretty cold in Winnipeg in the Winter.” -Young man

“Nope.” -Old Winnipeger

“No?” -Young man

“You heard wrong sonny. It gets pretty cold in Winnipeg in the Fall. It stays cold in the Winter.” -Old Winnipeger

Seriously. Winnipeg is where I learned 40-below is 40-below in Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Ai-Kon hosted an escape room during their Winterfest, and might be bringing it back this July.

Finally, let me note that this year’s guests include Monica Rial, Luci Christian, and cosplay master Sarcasm-himé. (Editor’s note: She wrote an excellent piece on the illustration business and understanding why you shouldn’t sell away your rights to your artwork.)

Ai-Kon will be running July 26th-28th. If you’re anywhere near Winnipeg (and why wouldn’t you be?), I highly recommend checking it out.

Special thanks to Tracy Nauss-Laurie and Paul Kesson of Ai-Kon for showing me around. Special thanks to Grant & Cindy Voakes for sharing so much knowledge with me in the JCAM room. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to do an interview with them later this year. Special thanks to Matthew Sinclair for providing all of the photography.

Ai-Kon was an absolutely pleasure and I look forward to returning in 2019.

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