‘Otakus’ to gather at inaugural Rhode Island Anime Con this weekend

PROVIDENCE – The inaugural Rhode Island Anime Con will be held this weekend at the Rhode Island Convention Center and Amica Mutual Pavilion, welcoming thousands of enthusiasts of the international subculture based around the popular animation genre originating from Japanese comics. 

Known colloquially as “Otakus,” the fandom of this multi-disciplined art has continued to grow, reaching tens of billions of dollars globally and boosted by growing popularity of streaming anime movies and television shows. 

But the culture goes way beyond animation and “manga,” the former a genre of paperback comic books and graphic novels usually released in serial form. There is fantasy, magic, and so-called “cosplay,” the practice of dressing up in the costumes of anime characters. 

“Its a definitely a different breed,” said Kels Ferguson, a public relations manager for Altered Reality Entertainment. “A lot of people think anime is cartoons. But it is not. Now it has evolved into something that is unquantifiable.” 

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Altered Reality Entertainment, which also organizes the annual Rhode Island Comic Con, was able to take advantage of its previous relationships with voice actors featured as guests in those events. This year, guests were booked from some the most popular anime properties, including Dragon Ball Z, Hello Kitty, My Hero Academia and dozens more. 

“They have always been popular,” said spokesperson Susan Soares. “This is what prompted us to produce an anime convention. “The fans have been very receptive and excited.”

Ferguson said they have sold more than 4,000 tickets but are expecting between 6,000 and 7,000 fans to walk through the gates of the convention center. She has spoken with ticket-buyers from the tri-state area and farther south down the eastern seaboard who are planning to make the drive. She said it’s not unusual for fans to buy tickets at the door after getting word through social media. 

“We tend to be a little finicky,” she said. 

While other conventions often encompass multiple subgenres, Ferguson said there are not many that focus exclusively on anime. She said the Fall River-based entertainment company is hoping to grow this convention to the size and scope of its more established Rhode Island Comic Con, which drew an estimated 100,000 attendees in 2022. 

“Providence is the perfect place to hold such an event,” said Ferguson, noting its downtown location and proximity to hotels, restaurants and nightlife, many which have partnered with them to offer discounts to VIP ticket holders. 

The location is also convenient for anime fan and Woonsocket native Steven Auclair, whose cosplaying of cartoon sitcom character Peter Griffin from “Family Guy” has allowed him to amass over 1.4 million followers on Tik Tok.  

A sales account executive at The Valley Breeze, Auclair has perfected the well-meaning but blundering family man who hails from a fictional Rhode Island suburb and was created by Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Seth MacFarlane. 

“Anime is huge in Providence and Rhode Island in general,” said Auclair. “I see T-shirts, patches, and stickers everywhere and Pokémon cards are so hard to find in stores. It’s incredible. The anime culture is alive and well.” 

Ferguson estimates there are now approximately 12,000 different anime shows, not counting theatrical releases. Netflix has said more than half of its 200 million U.S.-based subscribers watched anime in 2021. 

“There is so much selection,” said Ferguson. “There is always character you would love to dress up as somewhere. One of my characters wears a bear onesie.” 

A recent series featured a character that was reborn as a vending machine, she said. 

There are special events planned throughout the weekend. Organizers are holding a “rave” party Saturday night at the Omni Hotel, hosted by the Silver City DJ. There will be panels, gaming, a cosplay costume contest, immersive Japanese-inspired café and “geek speed dating.” 

Though anime might seem peculiar to the uninitiated, Auclair said the culture is really about a shared community. 

“[It is full of] diverse creative people who love to get together and celebrate their favorite characters and actors and actresses,” he said. “Anime Con is going to be a wonderful experience and celebration for those who love this genre dearly.” 

Anime Con runs Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

(Update: Corrects Auclair’s occupation in 12th paragraph)

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at [email protected]. 

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