The Asheville area may be a dark-horse contender for the most nerd-friendly region in America. What other area offers a retro arcade, a pinball museum and a “geek burlesque” revue in the same area code? This is why Jordan King, the organizer of the Asheville Anime Regional Convention, is so excited to be hosting the fourth iteration of the event. The gathering of all things drawn and rendered takes place Saturday, July 29, at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Anime and manga are illustrated Japanese art forms. Asheville’s convention started in 2014 with 700 attendees and continues to grow. “This year, we are adding even more panels, games and vendors,” King says. And for attendees, it will be easier to register for the cosplay contest.
“The biggest surprise of last year was the sheer turnout for the contest,” says King. “We had so many attendees in it that we almost didn’t know what to do. ”
As word spreads and more people in the area discover the colorful event, the organizers are able to book bigger-name presenters. This year, a few heavy hitters in the industry will be gracing the stage for panels and open discussions.
Paul St. Peter is a veteran voice actor from Los Angeles. He has worked extensively in English-language dubs of various big-ticket anime and video game franchises, including Akira in the 1980s and Kingdom Hearts and Naruto more recently. He will discuss the process of dubbing anime, his insights on the industry and how it has changed over the years.
James E. Lyle, a Waynesville native, has worked as a comic artist and illustrator for 34 years. Known as “Doodle,” Lyle has served as chairman of the Southeast chapter of the National Cartoonists Society and offers his services at the AARC as a portfolio assessment liaison to anyone looking to break into the sequential art industry as an illustrator.
Leah Clark is a New Mexico-based voice artist who has primarily acted for FUNimation Productions, a powerhouse in bringing anime series to an English-speaking audience and a major sponsor of the event. A classically trained stage actor, Clark has played prominent roles in the English versions of the Fullmetal Alchemist and Evangelion films, as well as in the Dragonball series.
Clark will discuss her previous accomplishments, as well as her more recent roles as a script writer and director in the practice of automated dialogue replacement.
Besides the guest speakers, the event offers a large central area of local artists sharing their wares. There will be vendors and sponsors, and two large rooms will be dedicated to all manner of gaming. Wyvern’s Tale hosts the board and tabletop gaming room, which will have titles from the popular to the very obscure, though attendees are free to bring their own. For the more circuit-friendly crowd, the video game room is hosted by the new Asheville Retrocade and will be set up with console games, arcade cabinets and a virtual-reality setup.
For this year’s convention, King has partnered with Attendify, an app platform built specifically for events such as AARC. Before the convention, attendees can download the app and set reminders for certain panels and vendors. They can also check out the map of the convention floor in advance. Then, on the day of the convention, the app “offers a social panel where attendees can post pictures, rate vendors and panels” and talk to one another, King says.
Finally, it wouldn’t be an anime convention without the cosplay contest, and AARC’s is the main event. Cosplay is the art of dressing up like a favorite character, often with intricate attention to detail. “I haven’t seen a costume I didn’t like,” King says, “from the cosplay that took people a long time and is superdetailed to the cosplay [that] took five minutes but shows a lot of love.”
As for the future of the convention, King is optimistic. “We want to continue to grow and move into a multiday event, eventually, hosting larger sponsors, professional cosplayers and guests,” he says. “The hardest thing about getting the convention up and running and keeping it running is that we are not a large company with lots of money. So paying for everything we do and need sometimes becomes a bit taxing. But because we enjoy bringing the convention to this area, we push through it and strive to make things better.”
WHAT: Asheville Anime Regional Convention, ashevillearc.com
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St.
WHEN: Saturday, July 29, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; $15, with $5 off for attendees in costume