In 1997 a small fan run convention called Anime North was held at the Michener Institute. Eighteen years later the humble event has grown from 800 attendees at an Ontario college, to a huge gathering at the Toronto Congress Centre and International hotel.
Likewise the popularity of anime/manga has grown considerably since then. What started off as niche genres have turned into mediums that have entered North American pop culture.
When Kanye West starts tweeting about it, you know it’s big.
This year Anime North will once again be held at the Toronto Congress Centre and International hotel from May 22nd -24th. With just over a month away the only passes still available are single Friday and Sunday passes. Everything else has sold out.
This asks the difficult questions; how do you contain the event and keep it safe?
Last year Anime North was ranked the 4th biggest anime con in North America, over 28 000 people attended.
Believe me that number really hits you when it takes 4 HOURS TO REGISTER. The lines keep getting bigger with no signs of decreasing. It’s not just registration, huge crowds and lines are littered across the entire convention.
Kazuma Sato who has been volunteering at the event for 11 years agrees that the crowds can be a problem. “We’ve had some trouble getting large crowds out of large rooms. Also big line-ups that occur in small spaces, trying to figure out how to move but also keep the order. Those are big issues,”says Kazuma.
To counter this an attendance cap was put into effect in 2012 and has remained ever since.“We were growing at an exponential rate pretty much… We were starting to show some growing pains. The number of attendees were growing but our number of staff weren’t growing at the same rate. We were having difficulty maintaining peoples safety and following fire regulations and just general flow of people moving around the convention,” says Kazuma.
Like any event communication and pre-planning are vital. Fortunately Anime North has this down with a dedicated online community. Nate Merhar who will be hosting a panel this year finds this very helpful. “There is stuff on the forums on generally how to maintain a panel and keep everything under control…There are forums for that kind of thing that we do have access to and we can post questions to,” he says.
So while communications and an attendance cap do a good job preparing for the crowds there is still the question of maintaining sanity. How does the staff manage to a keep 28 000 hot costumed individuals together in a crowded area without them going crazy?
The answer is surprisingly simple, they don’t. They have crowd control and security but as Kazuma says the people at the convention get along incredibly well. “The people that come, they’re there to have fun. It’s one of the best vibes. Not a lot of conflicts happen,” says Kazuma.
Nate Merhar agrees “To be honest it’s just kind of a giant mesh of a bunch of nerds who like a bunch of different nerd things. It’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely something that any one is gonna enjoy as long as their open minded enough to be okay with either crowds or just generally lots of different things going on at the same time,” says Nate.
Also the growing crowd is actually a good thing. All of the money made at the convention goes directly to Sick Kids hospitals. Over $80 000 have been raised over the years with $10 000 being raised in 2013 alone.
Even if I complain about the lines I speak from experience when I say some of the most memorable moments occur while waiting in line.
(I’m the one on the left wearing the red vest, blue shorts and straw hat)
“Just seeing people compliment each other on their cosplays, it’s just such a great community, it’s great to work around that. It’s one of the reasons I’ve kept doing this,” says Kazuma.