Two of the most popular visual mediums, animation and video games, will take center stage in downtown Tampa starting Friday when Metrocon: Florida's Largest Anime Convention kicks off its 12th year, hoping for its largest attendance yet.
The annual convention celebrates anime, the Japanese animation style hallmarked by brightly colored characters and otherworldly creatures in series such as “Dragon Ball Z” and “Fullmetal Alchemist,” to some of the most popular video game franchises available currently, like “Bioshock: Infinite” and “Uncharted.”
It's also a chance for attendees to dress up in homemade, often elaborate and expensive, costumes fashioned after their favorite characters.
Event organizers are hoping to sell 11,000 tickets this year for the three-day event, which runs today through Sunday at the Tampa Convention Center and surrounding venues.
Alexander Craddock, co-owner and director of operations for Team Dynamite Productions LLC, said the event sold 9,900 tickets last year, a 23 percent increase from the previous year. Attendees came from every state as well as Canada and the United Kingdom.
Pre-registration for this year exceeded 2013, and the host hotel, Embassy Suites – Downtown Convention Center, already is sold out, but Craddock said most attendees buy tickets once the convention opens. Weekend passes cost $60 for admission all three days.
“Our goal and our benchmark is we will always charge less for a weekend than Busch Gardens charges for a day,” Craddock said.
Craddock, who attended the first Metrocon while still in high school before helping buy the event in 2009 from the previous owner, said Metrocon has changed, expanding its focus to other mediums outside just Japanese animation.
The average attendance age still ranges from 13 to 25, he said.
“Unlike the comic conventions where you do get a lot of adults, we pride ourselves on being someplace where parents can drop off their teenage kids, even more comfortable than dropping them off at the mall,” Craddock said. “We like to provide that kind of environment, and that's really why we stuck with it.”
Some anime deals with darker, more mature themes. Metrocon has a strict policy for costumed attendees. “We require the same coverage and cover-up you would wear to the beach,” Craddock said. “We have a ban on what we call shock costumes.”
The event also marks the fifth annual Anime Human Blood Drive, which will be held at the convention center. All donors will receive a limited-edition anime T-shirt and beach towel.
In addition to featured guests, many of them voice actors from popular video games and cartoons, whom fans can meet in person and get autographs, there are topic-specific panels featuring dozens of themes from how to write fan fiction and how to properly cosplay (costume role playing) to in-depth discussions about different genres of animation. There's also a shopping area with about 120 vendors from across the country.
Maygin Theresa, 28, of Boynton Beach, is making her third appearance as a vendor. Her company, Gromidez, sells handcrafted items made of yarn, chainmaille, beads, clay and other materials, like plush dolls based on iconic anime and science fiction characters.
Theresa said the size of Metrocon makes it easy for vendors to interact with attendees, which she enjoys.
“It's small enough for a vendor to see the majority of the fans that travel through the vendor hall without worrying about fans being completely overwhelmed by everything,” she said.
Tonight and Saturday night will feature a rave inside the convention center, but Craddock stressed that again that the after-hours event will be family friendly and strictly supervised.
“We actually have been rated two years in a row as the safest rave in the southeast. Completely dry — alcohol and drug free,” he said, “but it's still the loudest and most light-filled rave you can go to in Florida.”
For adult attendees, Metrocon is partnering this year with NightSide Productions, a Tampa-based party promotion company, to host The Digital Masquerade at The Castle in Ybor City on Saturday. The two-story nightclub will be converted into an adult arcade with vintage stand-up arcade favorites plus multiple Xbox, PS3 and Nintendo gaming stations throughout both floors. Tickets are $15 at the door, or $12 with a Metrocon badge. A complimentary shuttle will ferry guests from the host hotel to the club and back from 10 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.
Dan Fightstar, 35, of Tampa, works for NightSide Productions, but he's also a longtime fan of anime and a past convention attendee. His favorite anime character, Kenshiro, was introduced in the 1980s in “Fist of the North Star,” which mixed post-apocalyptic themes with bloody martial arts combat.
Fightstar said he is looking forward to several events this year, such as the Anime Human Chess Match, which involves live-action characters from games and anime battling across a giant chess board, and the Metro Fire Show, a nightly event featuring fire performers.
“Metrocon is great if you want a smaller convention that is big enough to see and experience many new things,” he said. “Great for exploring your anime fandom with other like-minded people, small enough not to be overwhelmed by the amount of activities that are going on.”