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Geeks of the world, unite!

Anime Five Cities--that celebration of anime, Asian pop culture, and nerdiness at large--returns for its third year

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Scott Melot smiles like a cartoon. His is the kind that seems to come out of nowhere and briefly take over his entire face, Cheshire cat-like, as if the Anime Five Cities convention chair were himself an animated character.

POSTIVELY OBSESSED :  Local artist and manga illustrator Irene Flores, one of four guests of honor at this year’s Anime Five Cities convention, will give a panel on digital drawing and share her recent Avengers fan art. Pictured is Flores’ take on the character Loki. - ART BY IRENE FLORES
  • ART BY IRENE FLORES
  • POSTIVELY OBSESSED : Local artist and manga illustrator Irene Flores, one of four guests of honor at this year’s Anime Five Cities convention, will give a panel on digital drawing and share her recent Avengers fan art. Pictured is Flores’ take on the character Loki.

And who’s to blame him? This time of year, he has plenty to be animated about. The local anime convention organized by Melot and founder Paula Angeles is about to have its third, and most awesome, run. The event, which began in Avila Beach in 2010, later moving on to its current digs at the Ludwick Community Center in San Luis Obispo, has become the anime geek’s equivalent of the social season. Somehow, Anime Five Cities, or AFC, manages to take a Saturday and stuff the following into it: a cosplay contest; a video game tournament; a fan art exhibit; and panels with cosplayer Erika Peterson, manga illustrator Irene Flores, and voice actors Lauren Landa and Jason Charles Miller—who will also give a live musical performance.

The convention attracts not only fans of anime and Asian pop culture but geeks of all stripes, a term Melot has begun to embrace. In fact, a positive focus of geekiness, he says, is what makes any such event possible.

“I mean, geeks and nerds—or otaku, whatever term you want to use—we’re an obsessive bunch,” he explains. “And it’s through focusing our obsession that we kinda create these really cool things. Some of us become organizers, or costumers, some of us get into music, someone will focus their energy into original songs.”

PHOTO BY SEAN CHEAH/QUIXXLE STUDIOS
  • PHOTO BY SEAN CHEAH/QUIXXLE STUDIOS

(I later looked up otaku on urbandictionary.com and discovered its two meanings: in Japan, an obsessive, even sociopathic, shut-in; in American anime and manga culture, a more positive word for a zealous fan. It’s the latter, of course, that Melot and Angeles hope to attract.)

It’s this positive obsession, too, that brings such a diverse range of fans to AFC. In addition to the expected Pokémon characters and Vocaloid singers who show up to the convention, organizers also notice elaborate fan costumes from Batman, Star Wars, and even Ghostbusters. This mixing of nerd genres has always puzzled me. Yet talking to Melot, I begin to slowly understand why you occasionally see Captain America at the Renaissance Faire, or Darth Vader in line for the midnight screening of Harry Potter.

“I think this is something that’s growing,” Melot said of the melting pot conventions have become. “People want a place to do this. You have people who are enthusiastic Star Wars costumers, and they go through all the trouble of trying to replicate all the authentic armor from the movies. The more passionate costumers will go, ‘I really like this character from Soulcalibur Five,’ and they’ll go through all the trouble to fabricate the little details of the costume. … [I’ll ask], ‘Did you make that? Did you go through all the trouble of fabricating everything?’ I mean, why would I tell you that you don’t belong here, when you clearly do belong here, through your obsession?”

- TO ANIME AND BEYOND!:  Anime Five Cities takes place Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Ludwick Community Center, 864 Santa Rosa St. in San Luis Obispo. For more information or to register, visit animefivecities.com. -
  • TO ANIME AND BEYOND!: Anime Five Cities takes place Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Ludwick Community Center, 864 Santa Rosa St. in San Luis Obispo. For more information or to register, visit animefivecities.com.

When it’s done right, there’s something wonderful about being really, really into something. It’s what led illustrator Flores to create an awesome fan art series of Avengers heroes and villains re-imagined as anime and manga characters, which the guest of honor will be sharing at the convention. It’s the why cosplayer Peterson learned to dye, sew, and craft costumes by hand. It’s what leads organizers to pour countless hours into the convention in the first place, and it’s the reason fans flock to it.

“I think that’s where I think the community really shines, when we focus our obsessive energies,” Melot said. “Not just on ‘I really like X,’ but when they say, ‘I really like X, and I want to throw an event, or build a replica of that, or build a really detailed model of that, or make a game show out of that. It’s through the obsession that people come together.”

He flashed his cartoon grin.

“And that’s what we do.”

Does Arts Editor Anna Weltner turn into a giant panda when she gets wet? Contact her at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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