By Kristy Wong, May 18 2018 —
If you see extravagantly costumed folks strolling through downtown or riding the CTrain this May long weekend, don’t be surprised. They’re celebrating Otafest, Calgary’s largest Japanese arts and culture festival.
Each year, Otafest attracts thousands for a jam-packed three-day convention. Otafest is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, signifying a rich history that has provided a community for anime lovers — or “otakus” — across the country.
Despite its current stature as the largest convention of its kind in Western Canada, Otafest started in 1999 as a University of Calgary Students’ Union club called the Dedicated Otaku Anime Club. It left the U of C campus in 2016 unrecognizable from its original iteration, having grown from a one-day anime film festival to a bustling three-day spectacle. Today, the volunteer-run, non-profit festival attracts close to 8,000 attendees annually and has raised over $100,000 for various charities.
As the Otafest chairperson, Jenny Chan has a lot of say in how the convention is run. Chan, who has been with Otafest since 2004, says the organization has not forgotten its roots despite its growth.
“Otafest is really a ‘come-and-be-part-of-the-community’ [experience] and that’s what I love most about it,” Chan says. “For me, it’s just being able to have that space for folks to be able to be themselves and feel like they’re apart of something.”
One main feature of the convention is the Exhibitor’s Hall, which brings together vendors selling everything from cute — or “kawaii” — plushies to rare comics. The hall also features the Artist Alley, a marketplace housing endless rows of talented artists.
On the entertainment side of things, Otafest is hosting a 24-hour anime streaming party during the weekend, as well as video-game-centric events like the Grand Overwatch Tournament. The festival’s lineup includes voice actor guests like Matt Mercer, and Caitlin Glass, best known for their roles in the popular Attack on Titan and Ouran High School Host Club anime, respectively.
However, Chan says you can put your wallet away if you plan to visit the autograph table. She claims that what separates Otafest from other conventions is that autograph and concert fees are free with general admission.
“If you’re on a budget and had no money, you could pack a sandwich for lunch and as long as you already have your ticket, you could be entertained from 10 in the morning until midnight without having to spend an additional dollar,” she says.
Otafest runs from May 18–20 at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre. Weekend, child and single-day tickets can be purchased online or at the door. For more information on special guests, panels and everything else at Otafest, visit otafest.com.