Arts & Entertainment

Anime lovers suit up, unite for Sakura-Con in Seattle

Get ready for East meets West at the 12th annual Sakura-Con, a three-day event geared at Japanese animation and culture in Seattle.

From Astro Boy in 1963 to Naruto in 2002, Japanese animation (anime) and manga (comic books) have been gaining popularity.

The event runs April 10-12 at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center at 800 Convention Place in Seattle and is put on by the Asia-Northwest Cultural Education Association, which aims to improve the understanding of Asian culture through the use of traditional and contemporary media.

"There's something for everyone," said Elmira Utz, publicity director. "We really try to focus on being family-friendly, but people of all ages can find something at Sakura-Con. It makes it something that's trip-worthy."

The convention began in 1998 and was originally called Baka!-Con until 2000. Attendance has grown from 313 the first year to 13,600 in 2008. The bulk of attendees range from their teens to early 20s, and in 2006, only half of the attendees were from the Seattle area.

The schedule for this year includes more than 1,000 hours of programming, including cultural performances, panel discussions and seven theaters playing anime 24 hours a day. Doors open at 10 a.m. Friday and closing ceremonies are at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Attendees will get an eyeful of people dressing as imaginative, avant-garde characters. Called cosplay, which is short for "costume play," this performance art features people dressing as their favorite characters from anime, manga, video games and movies. A Cosplay Contest is at 11:30 a.m. Saturday but a majority of attendees dress up just for the fun of it.

The event also will feature anime directors, producers, voice actors and creators.

"We have the original voice of Speed Racer," Utz said. "I believe (Peter Fernandez) is one of the first people to bring Japanese animation to the United States. We also have Kappei Yamaguchi; he is one of the most prolific Japanese voice actors in anime. He literally has hundreds of titles, such as Ranma Saotome in Ranma 1/2, InuYasha in InuYasha, and he was L in Death Note. He is a very prestigious guest and there are many others of similar caliber."

Utz, who grew up in the Tri-Cities, began volunteering at Sakura-Con in 2004. Since then, she has gotten her whole family involved, even her parents who live in Richland.

"It's become something my whole family's involved with," she said. "My oldest daughter, who is 17, is on volunteer staff, and my mother, who didn't even like anime, is now not only cosplaying, but she runs our Youth Matsuri, which is our youth craft room. We got involved in it in a way I never expected."

Membership registrations for Sakura-Con are available at the door: $60 for all three days, $35 for Friday, $40 for Saturday and $30 for Sunday. Children 6-12 receive a 50 percent discount with their family. Children 5 and under get in free.

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*Bethany Lee: 582-1465;