By Alexa Solis
The first floor of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Davidson Math and Science Center was overrun with characters last Saturday afternoon. No, a barrage of mathematicians weren’t taking over the building, but costumed anime and manga characters were converging for the Anime Manga Society’s Otakupalooza.
Otakupalooza, formerly nothing more than a fan meetup, became a full-fledged convention, or “con” as they are known, this year. AMS member and Otakupalooza volunteer Adriana Garcia said that after a two-year hiatus the convention is back and bigger than it’s ever been.
“It’s a bit nerve wracking because, like I said, it used to be smaller,” Garcia said. “It used to be the same old thing, and now it’s huge. That’s good! It means that we can expand, and that a lot of people are interested. We have people from all over.”
The convention was host to anime screenings, panels, traditional Japanese foods and a maid cafe, all in tribute to Japanese culture. Though the con was staged by university students, people of all varieties came to check out the new and free event.
Two women dressed as Rapunzel and Flynn Rider from the Disney movie “Tangled” strolled through hordes of people. Vendors lined the walls as throngs of unruly anime characters tumbled through the halls of DMS.
One of those women, Rapunzel to be exact, was Shawna Hafen of Lovelies Cosplay, a group dedicated to sharing the goings-on in the cosplay community. Hafen and her counterpart Joanna Dunlap, as Flynn Rider, were excited to see what the new con had in store.
“We’re loving the fact that there is so many different kinds of cosplay, and the maid cafe looks fun,” Hafen said. “I’m glad there’s food, it’s the only convention that I’ve gone to that is free, so that’s always a plus. It seems like everybody is very welcoming and we felt immediately at home when we came in.”
It’s that kind of friendly, all-inclusive atmosphere that Otakupalooza organizers strived for when putting the con together. Those in costume fraternized with their civilian counterparts as chatter from the mingling voices rang throughout the atrium.
“I love the environment,” Garcia said. “It’s very fun, people are informal and mess with you. Sometimes if they know your character, they’ll mess with you about that. Some people can be obnoxious, but most are really cool.”
Not only did Otakupalooza differentiate itself by being free, but it was also home to a maid cafe. Though traditional in Japan, maid cafes are few and far between in the United States.
Leah Mores, a maid at the cafe, touted the unique experience that they were able to bring to Otakupalooza and the university campus. Though they had a bit of a rocky start, Mores was pleased with the turnout at the con and the amount of people frequenting the cafe. Mores and the rest of the staff were eager to bring a piece of Japan to the convention.
“It’s something where you feel like you’re at home,” Mores said. “You’re waited on by a maid or a butler, and they are there to be your entertainment. They are there to make sure that you are waited on and that you feel at home, to make sure that you’re greeted by a smiling face and come out with a smiling face when you’re done.”
All involved in the convention stressed that it was welcoming and carefree. As old friends laughed and talked, new acquaintances were also being made. Garcia looked about the room as she mixed batter for a traditional Japanese dish. For Garcia and all who attended, this year’s Otakupalooza was a success and nod towards what the future may hold.
Alexa Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @thealexasolis.