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Illustration by Ramiro Bustamante Torres

Calgary’s bizarre adventure: The return of Otafest

By Roog Kubur, June 10 2022

After two years of cancellations, Otafest finally made its triumphant in-person return and Calgary’s anime community came back even stronger. The weekend was filled with panels from industry professionals, including voice actors and cosplayers, spaces for fans to geek about their favourite shows, an arcade full of old-school games and local vendors offering a variety of one-of-a-kind merchandise ranging from handmade berets to vintage manga. Needless to say, this was an event much anticipated that delivered on all fronts. 

The weekend highlighted three voice actors who have been part of iconic anime. Griffin Burns, most notably the English voice actor for Akira in Devilman Crybaby, mentioned this was his first Canadian convention. Two iterations of Hunter X Hunter’s Hisoka VAs made an appearance in the form of Brenden Hunter and Keith Silverstein, reciting some iconic lines to get the crowd excited. 

The lineup also included cosplayers from across North America, including AK Wirru, Sonia Blade, and Fighting Dreamers Production-Twinfools. All three had booths in the Exhibitor Hall for those who just wanted to chat, but also held panels to help cosplayers hone their craft, including an introduction to corsetry from Blade. 

Aside from industry professionals, the convention held multiple evening shows for anyone looking to let loose. The line up included The 404s, a Canadian improv group, Alex Kade and NEET, Canadian DJs hosting the evening anime raves, and drag performers to bring a different kind of spice to the table. 

In addition to entertainment, the convention also remained conscious of social issues with panels covering topics of societal importance relevant to artists, creatives and casual anime watchers. Convention goers were able to attend sessions to explore anti-racism healing in an artistic context hosted by Larissa Crawford, or others exploring queerness in Japanese media through the ages. 

Between the festivities, con goers were treated to food options throughout the day thanks to the conbini, the Japanese word for convenience store, offering Japanese snacks. The highlight was the onigiri, or rice balls wrapped in seaweed with savoury fillings, the perfect snack for anyone that needs a quick pick me up. There was also a ramen stall for those looking for lunch, but luckily the convention’s location made it easy to pop down the street for a meal. 

Photo by Ramiro Bustamante Torres

The most memorable part of the event was, without a doubt, the cosplayers. The crowds of people with multi-coloured wigs, suspiciously accurate props and creative interpretations of beloved characters was something that you couldn’t miss even if you tried. The streets of Calgary were filled with cosplayers the whole weekend, providing a nice contrast to the standard business attire.  

Unsurprisingly, Demonslayer cosplays were the most prevalent throughout the convention. Walking up and down the halls, through the +15 or even crossing the street meant meeting a slew of Tanjiro’s and even more Mitsuri’s. It was never repetitive though, each cosplayer giving a different spin—including a playboy and Demonslayer crossover. Soon-to-be-released series also got some love, with Makima from Chainsaw Man being a popular choice for those excited for the animated adaptation coming later this year. 

Characters from Genshin Impact were also a popular choice for cosplays. The diversity of character design made sure that no two cosplayers were dressed alike. A cosplayer dressed as Scaramouche in the irodori festival took the prize for Otafest’s beginner cosplay contest, solidifying Genshin Impact cosplays as the MVPs of the weekend. 

Even those who didn’t go all out for cosplays still put in effort, whether it be through some cat ears or maid outfits. These costumes brought a different kind of life to the convention, shedding light on the diversity of convention goers. Walking into the convention centre and being faced with a crew of genderbent maids was certainly an image burned into anyone’s brains. 

Despite the voice actors, cosplay professionals and amateurs and exclusive merchandise, the most exciting part of the convention was the community. The moment you stepped into downtown, the excitement in the air was energizing. It felt revitalizing to be surrounded by people who were all there to simply have a good time. Anime fans were able to chat with people cosplaying as their favourite characters, cosplayers were able to bond over mutual storylines and anyone walking down the street was able to feel the energy. Events like this are a nice reminder that, even after two years of being apart, we’re able to pick up right where we left off. This was certainly something needed, and the city is itching to see what’s in store for next year.

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