Anime fans find joy at this year’s virtual convention

By Rebecca Berthelette

An aerial view of a previous Winterfest convention at the RBC Convention Centre./Photo supplied by Ai-Kon.

The transition to a virtual Winterfest was well-received by fans of the anime convention after its online debut on Feb. 27.

Prior to COVID-19, the convention was a weekend-long celebration of anime at the RBC Convention Centre. Fans attended panels like anime showings and a variety of different activities. They browsed the marketplace, often dressed up as their favourite characters. 

“I love seeing all the artwork that artists create,” said Breanne Hyde, 23, a University of Manitoba student. “I also like seeing people’s cosplays, especially the ones you can tell they made from scratch.”

Hyde was able to view the art pieces through the online marketplace, but didn’t get to see any of the cosplays people would usually wear to the in-person events.

“It was neat that we were still able to do something during lockdown.”

Cosplaying has always played a huge role in anime conventions, but this year there was nothing for fans to dress up for.

“The cosplay community is more dormant because there aren’t any events that are physical that people can go to and show off their costumes,” said Justin Ladia, a graphic designer at Ai-Kon.

The producers of Winterfest said they worked hard to improve upon their previous convention, which did not turn out how they expected.

“It was great, but it wouldn’t have taken much to beat what happened in the summer,” said Sara Gossen, 26, a local artist.

Gossen makes antler headbands, Korok plushies, bags and other goods that she’s sold at past events.

 Hyde said the overall experience of the convention was great. 

Ladia said the appeal of the marketplace is being there in person to look at each of the tables and see what’s up for grabs. The staff improved the online marketplace by creating a digital floor plan.

“I thought the marketplace was pretty fun — especially as a shopper,” said Gossen.

Gossen said conventions have never really been about how much money she makes but rather enjoying the experience of selling things and seeing what other people have for sale. 

The online marketplace is an upgrade from the Ai-Kon event in 2020, but artists still missed having the opportunity to interact with each other. Gossen said it was her only drawback from this year’s event. 

Winterfest moved vendors to an online marketplace this year and provided a floor plan of all the vendors../Photo supplied by Ai-Kon

“I didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone,” said Gossen. “I think having a little bit more ability to talk with customers would be a good idea.”

Ladia said the chat feature isn’t something they can promise, but they are considering the options of more engagement between the people and the artists for their next event this summer.