15th annual AnimeIowa kicks off this weekend

BY KATIE HEINE | JULY 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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RAGBRAI won't be the only event sweeping through Coralville this weekend.

Somewhere between the crowds of sweaty bikers, an eclectic group of individuals will gather to celebrate a culture tying them together.

The 15th-annual AnimeIowa convention will begin Friday at the Coralville Marriott, 300 E. Ninth St., and will wrap up on July 31. A three-day pass can be purchased for $60.

"We're hoping that there are not too many people taking up the hotels," said Kyle Cardine, an executive board member and programming head for the convention. "But we're not discouraging any bikers who want to stop by."

While anime is typically thought of as being cartoon-related, the 20-year-old said AnimeIowa is an event that celebrates many facets of Japanese art and culture.

Various activities are scheduled on an hourly basis and cover a range of topics from ninja weapons and anime art to Japanese tea ceremonies and making lanterns.

"A lot of people come here for different reasons — anime, Japanese culture, costumes," Cardine said. "There is no one way to properly tack down who we all are."

New to this year's convention will be a maid café. Upon entering the café, guests will be greeted by young women dressed in French maid costumes who will chat and play games with attendees.

While the maids will work for free, they'll accept donations, and all proceeds will be given to We Heart Japan — an anime industry charity dedicated to raising money for tsunami victims in Japan.

"When something like that happens, it gets to the point where you think, '[Japanese culture] gave me a lot of joy and entertainment, and I feel an obligation to help anyway I can,' " said Cardine, 20, who studies journalism at the University of Missouri.

But perhaps the most anticipated event each year is the Cosplay, short for costume play. The Cosplay, which will take place Saturday evening, is basically a two-hour fashion show in which attendees dress up in costume, but the dress isn't limited to strictly Japanese culture.

"You'll see everything from Victorian style to straight-up anime characters," Cardine said.

Allie Dyal, a comic book maker based in Madison, Wis., will be one of the featured guests at this year's convention. She will host various panels focused on art, artists, and comics.

She first attended AnimeIowa in 2001, and she has come back each year since.

"I've met most of my dearest friends at AnimeIowa, and even though I rarely see some of them because they live in Missouri or Illinois or Kansas, at least for three days in the summer, we can reconnect for a whole weekend at AnimeIowa," she said.

AnimeIowa organizers anticipate a large turnout, and they have raised last year's 3,000 person cap to 3,500 people for the 2011 convention. Roughly 2,000 people were registered as of Monday.

This will be the fifth year the convention has been held at the Marriott, and organizers have scheduled the venue for the 2012 convention.

"We've established a great relationship, and it's only gotten better over the years as we've learned about the organization and the anime culture," said Shannon Arnold, the Marriott director of event planning.

The convention is a nonstop event, she said, so the staff prepares for guests coming and going at all hours. And while the majority of the hotel is taken up by AnimeIowa guests, she said, the convention goers are always happy to interact with the other guests.

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