They came in droves – and in armor, animal ears, short skirts or some combination thereof – Saturday to a fan convention rooted in Japanese animation but fueled by desires for self-expression and community.
“Here, not dressing up is unusual,” Sacramento comic book publisher Jason Dube said of the 20th SacAnime event, held at the Sacramento Convention Center and the Sheraton Grand Hotel. SacAnime organizers anticipated Saturday that attendance figures for the three-day event, which concludes today, would pass 11,000, a 25 percent spike from a year ago.
Sac Anime spokesman David Wadley cited increased awareness through social media as a factor in the increase.
Dube, a fan-convention veteran who set up a table Saturday in the Convention Center’s bustling exhibition hall for his Scattered Comics brand, said he thinks the dress-up factor – as irresistible to young adults who populate fan conventions as it is to 5-year-olds in their bedrooms – has played a part in the convention’s growth over the years.
SacAnime has “become so strong because of the costumes,” said Dube, who first set up shop at SacAnime (held biannually) in 2006, when it was much smaller and held in a hotel.
Though comic-book conventions often include costumes, dressing up is even more of a hallmark of anime culture, Dube said.
On Saturday, many convention-goers stretched anime’s costume imperative to pop-culture franchises unrelated to Japan. Scattered among the many anime-inspired costumes were a few junior Captain Kirks, a “Star Wars” Storm Trooper and a very good likeness of Chris Hemsworth in “Thor.”
Dube was dressed as a comic-book publisher, in jeans and T-shirt. But Leann Realiza, a 21-year-old San Jose college student hanging out at the Scattered table, had combined a bustier, rabbit ears and red contact lenses to approximate a member of the viera race from the “Final Fantasy” video games.
Viera are known for being “Amazonian,” Realiza said, and for excellent hearing. Realiza’s own ears perked up when Dube discussed his young son’s recent potty-training victory. Realiza offered the proud father warm congratulations.
Outgoing and a non-Amazonian 4-foot-11, Realiza has attended fan conventions for the past few years. Her “strong sense of justice” drew her to superheroes, she said. Her strong fashion sense inspired her to fashion rabbit ears out of fake fur.
Her participation in pop-culture fandom has “empowered me creatively,” she said.
Creative engagement is a key part of SacAnime, Wadley said. It comes into play when organizers book voice actors and other behind-the-scenes talent to appear at the convention. Celebrities should be willing to field technical questions.
Some fans “want to break into the industry” and want tips, Wadley said.
Comic-book and anime conventions also tend to draw fans who explore creative works on a deeper level than more casual fans. Many already have discussed the smallest details of a TV show or video game in online fan communities before arriving at a convention.
Janet Varney, who voices the lead character on Nickolodeon’s animated series “The Legend of Korra,” said she appreciates fan conventions’ interactive, engaged spirit. Varney has guest-starred on high-profile television series. But her voice work on “Korra” draws more intense interest.
“Before, someone might say, ‘I liked you on ‘Entourage,’ ” said Varney, who appeared at SacAnime on Saturday. “But with this show, people really want to know about the experience of being involved, and how I feel about where the show is going.”
Wadley said convention organizers have found, in surveying past SacAnime participants, that celebrity appearances are important to fans, but “fan community is most important,” he said. “They want to hang out with people like themselves who have similar interests.”
Fans lined up Saturday for celebrity appearances. But crowds also gathered in and around the convention center to admire each other’s costumes.
Rio Linda High School student Jessica Nesbitt, 17, and already a veteran of several SacAnimes, came to the event with 20-year-old Victoria Morales “to see people,” she said.
Nesbitt did not appear to be speaking literally, since a dark mask covered her face, including her eyes. It was part of her costume as Japanese video-game character Takaoka, from “BlazBlue.” But Nesbitt said she could see through the material.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.