DragonCon may be Atlanta’s best known and biggest pop culture convention, but this weekend more than 10,000 Japanese anime fans will descend on Cobb Galleria Centre and the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel next door for Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA). The four-day pop culture convention kicks off tonight and runs through Sunday afternoon (Sept. 29-Oct. 2,2011).
While all ages attend, the AWA crowd tends toward the young (predominantly high school and college) and effusively enthusiastic in their costuming and passion for anime (for the uninitiated, a uniquely Japanese genre of animated TV shows and movies). Go, SPEED RACER aside, you might not think there’s much Retro about AWA. However, while some kids do go to lock themselves up in a room and watch anime 24 hours a day, thanks to the creativity of the con’s organizers, such as Event Director Jason Merrill, even casual anime fans like us can have a great time. After all, where/when else in Atlanta can you pretend you’re shopping a Tokyo flea market for vintage kimonos and Godzilla and Ultraman toys without spending a fortune on a plane ticket, as well as enjoy live concerts with bands from Japan, a burlesque show, a black-tie ballroom dance with a string quartet and a Saturday night vintage jazz Bebop Lounge?!
ATLRetro recently caught up with Jason to find out not only why anime has such a passionate following but also to get the full scoop on the many fabulous Retro connections and happenings at AWA. To find times and locations for the many fun things he mentions, check out the full weekend schedule here or download the new AWA app for Apple iPhone/iPad or an Android browser version.
How did Anime Weekend Atlanta get started, and how does today’s AWA compare to your early days discovering and enjoying anime?
My brother, Dave Merrill, and I grew up watching PRINCE PLANET, SPEED RACER, STAR BLAZERS, ULTRAMAN and SPACE GIANTS. It was hard to find new items unless you had the right connections. Dave got very active in the tape trading and convention communities so he had a steady stream of new and unusual anime to watch. He and his friends used to gather at my parents home to watch anime. That group became the fan club Anime X, which later threw the first Anime Weekend Atlanta, 17 years ago. I have to admit, I’m kind of glad they decided to throw an actual convention, because I don’t think my parent’s family room could survive this kind of thing.
The difference is night and day. Just the technology alone has made the entire experience so far removed from the old days. We would get untranslated anime on fifth-generation videotapes with bad tracking issues months (if not years) after the show first ran. So keeping up with the action would take a lot of effort. Now shows appear subtitled within a week of the original air date.
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