Lauren Nishioku, a Hawaii Baptist Academy student, traces her sketches using the light through a window.


Hawaii’s first-ever anime convention
happens this weekend courtesy of
a former isle resident

You know you're at an anime convention when you see a giant mushroom playing an electric guitar in the middle of an empty courtyard.

Kawaii Kon Convention

Where: Ala Moana Hotel, 410 Atkinson Drive

When: Registration begins at 9 a.m. tomorrow through Sunday, with rooms opening at 10 a.m. Most events run through 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and through 4 p.m. Sunday. Registration is also available from 7 to 10 p.m. today.

Admission: One-day adult pass is $15, ages 7 to 13 pay $8; a two-day adult pass is $30, $15 for children; three-day adult pass is $45, children $23

Information: www.kawaii-kon.org (general) or www.kawaii-kon.org/K2schedule.htm (for listing of events)

Fans dedicated enough to make costumes of their favorite characters do these things. That's why, for one weekend last October in Valencia, Calif., it was possible to see young women dressed up as Sailor Moon and her posse of Sailor Scouts eating at the nearby Johnny Rockets burger joint, or another young woman dressed as Haruko Haruhara from the anime series "FLCL," complete with an anime-accurate electric guitar and a yellow Vespa scooter with a "P!" sticker on it.

Those attendees at the Ani-Magic convention were surrounded by others similarly bedecked in costumes, so they didn't look entirely out of their element. Mushroom Guy, on the other hand, was all alone in the courtyard of the Hyatt Valencia, jamming away around 8 a.m. on a Sunday -- a time when most other convention attendees were only beginning to stir from their sleep.

And yet, to this casual observer, all of this seemed ... normal. Because when it comes right down to it, anime and manga fans are passionate enough to do this sort of thing, with or without an audience.

That passion will be on display throughout the weekend as Kawaii Kon, the first anime convention to be held in Hawaii, starts tomorrow at the Ala Moana Hotel.

For the uninitiated, the typical anime convention is a carnival of delights for any fan of Japanese animation and comics. Aside from the costumed attendees, taking part in an activity known as cosplaying, there are also anime screenings, panel discussions featuring industry talent and studio representatives, a dealer's room with vendors selling almost every piece of merchandise imaginable, and an Artist's Alley for sales of original anime-inspired artwork. (Part of the Artist's Alley will include an art gallery display by local club MangaBento; see accompanying story.)

From left, are three illustrations by Lauren Lee. The fourth drawing is by Yu Xian He.

ALL OF THIS comes courtesy of a team led by convention director Stan Dahlin. Kawaii Kon is a homecoming of sorts for Dahlin, a 1983 Radford graduate who has helped stage a similar convention, Anime Weekend Atlanta, for the past 10 years.

"It all started with a conversation with my friend David Williams of ADV Films," Dahlin said. "He knew I was originally from Hawaii and suggested that maybe there should be a show there. I dismissed his suggestion at first, but then I really gave it serious thought."

Dahlin, along with convention co-founders Marlon Stodghill and Scott Richardson, decided on a late-April convention date to avoid conflicts with several other West Coast conventions.

Creating the show from scratch wasn't a difficult process, Dahlin said, but does take considerable effort and money for organizing and promoting the event.

That effort has been focused on giving local fans an event that in years past could be experienced only by hopping a mainland-bound plane.

"For the average anime fan from Hawaii, the closest show would be in either Washington or California," Dahlin said. "Why should they have to travel there when they can have their own show? ... I'm very proud to be hosting Hawaii's very own anime convention and conference. This will be the first of many annual shows that are for (fans), a show that will have its own local flavor."

For his part, Dahlin is excited to be returning to his former home, looking forward to grabbing some dim sum, manapua and Shiro's saimin while he's here.

"It's so hard to get good local grinds on the East Coast," Dahlin said.

About the only concern going into tomorrow's opening ceremony is whether there will be enough space to fit everyone who wants to attend. With several events going on in and around the hotel and about 350 people already pre-registered to attend, parking and space likely will be at a premium all weekend.

Dahlin believes everything will be fine.

"With all that will be happening that weekend, the part I'll enjoy is witnessing the reactions on the faces of those who are not attending as costumed cosplayers wander the hallways of the hotel meeting area," Dahlin said. "Some will wonder what's going on. Others will be admiring the colorful costumes.

"This will be very interesting."

Gawkers will be treated to the sight of manga and anime fans indulging in cosplay, in which they dress up like their favorite characters, during the inaugural Kawaii Kon Convention. The guitar-playing mushroom was one of the cosplayers spotted last fall at the Ani-Magic Convention in Valencia, Calif.

Enter the animation specialists

An anime convention isn't complete without guests from the animation and comic industries. Representatives from ADV Films, Bandai and Manga Entertainment will be on hand to discuss their companies' products. Also scheduled to join the first Kawaii Kon will be:

» Monica Rial, voice actress for ADV Films whose recent notable roles have included Kirika Yumura in "Noir," Lumiere in Funimation's release of "Kiddy Grade" and -- for all the little kiddies out there -- Hello Kitty in "Hello Kitty Animation Theater." She's also a veteran of the convention circuit, with Kawaii Kon being the 43rd event she's attended since 2002.

» David Williams, ADV Films audio dialogue replacement director and DVD producer who has worked on such series as "Angelic Layer," "Pretear" and "Devil Hunter Yohko."

» Jennifer Sekiguchi, the English voice of Mamimi in "FLCL," Greta in "Sugar: A Little Snow Fairy" and Fujio in "Strawberry Eggs."

» Robert DeJesus, an artist who's worked on Antarctic Press comics like "Ninja High School" and "Mangazine" and is head of his own comic studio, Studio Capsule. Kawaii Kon is the 74th convention he's attended since 1993.

» Kaveh Kardan, chief technologist and a software engineering and gaming instructor at the University of Hawaii Academy for Creative Media. Prior to joining the academy, Kardan was software research and development manager with Square USA's Honolulu office, where he helped develop software for the feature film "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within."

» S. Kai Bovaird, co-founder of the locally based Cause & F(X) Pictures, a high-end digital effects facility. Bovaird has worked as a digital artist in such feature films as "X-Men," "Matrix Reloaded" and "The Day After Tomorrow."


Members of the local art group
MangaBento hone their skills in
creating anime-inspired work

Visit a MangaBento meeting, and it quickly becomes evident that members love the art of Japanese animation and comics as much as their entertainment value.

Quick Draw

MangaBento's first post-Kawaii Kon meeting:

When: 1 to 4 p.m. May 7

Where: Hartley Math, Science and Technology Complex on the Mid-Pacific Institute campus, 2445 Kaala St.

Age: Anyone age 12 and above is welcome to attend.

For more info: e-mail info@mangabento.com or visit www.manga-bento.com

Sure, there's a large movie screen beaming anime episodes in a corner of a room in the Hartley Math, Science and Technology Complex at Mid-Pacific Institute that some people watch every now and then. But most people are too busy sketching, inking and chatting with friends to pay too much attention.

It's this group of enthusiasts that Kawaii Kon officials have tapped to run the convention's art gallery, and members are excited about sharing their creations with fellow fans.

"It's an honor for us to participate in Hawaii's first anime convention," MangaBento volunteer Scott Yoshinaga said. "It will be great exposure for the artists that attend our workshops, and hopefully it will give them the encouragement to grow as artists. It may even inspire others to pick up some paper and a pencil and give drawing a shot."

The group has held informal gatherings since January 2004, with a group of volunteers offering guidance to anime and manga fans who want to hone their skills in drawing their own anime-inspired artwork. According to volunteer Jerry Gaskell, the group has evolved to become a more informal anime/manga club, with an emphasis on the art element. A stack of art supplies, including color markers and drawing material, sits on a table, ready for use.

While Gaskell hasn't drawn anything for a while, he enjoys helping others with their work and feeds off their creative energy.

"It's like the spirit of punk rock -- a sense of individualism, with one person, a piece of paper and ink," Gaskell said. "It's the original source, and you know the artist's hand is in it."

MangaBento co-ordinator Scott Yoshinaga, left, and Audra Furuichi, frame and label artwork while the anime "Full Metal Panic? FUMOFFU" screens behind them.

Group members were busy last Saturday preparing for the convention, bringing in artwork to be matted for display. A casual atmosphere prevailed as the room eventually filled with about 20 people, predominantly teenagers. One person read manga that she brought to the meeting. Others doodled. Three people fiddled with a PhotoShop-sketched piece on a laptop computer.

A group of girls quickly gathered around one artist, pulling out piece after matted piece from a large manila envelope. The artist, Aiea High School senior Karina Bailey, had received a flyer from her art teacher and was attending a meeting for the first time, although she's enjoyed drawing original fantasy characters for six years.

"I usually use a No. 2 pencil and any kind of paper that's lying around -- computer paper, notebook paper, my math book," Bailey said.

In another corner of the room sat Heather Matsuura, drawing and inking a sketch of a winged girl, and her friend Lindsay Oki, looking at a pencil-sketched page from their original comic, "Natsu Na Ki," which they've been working on for a little more than a year. The Pearl City High students, part of a six-member group of artists and writers that calls itself "THANKS!," were turning in three pieces based on their comic.

"It takes about a half-hour to an hour to draw ..." Matsuura said.

"... and probably around the same time to color and complete it (on the computer)," Oki said, completing the thought. "You kinda lose track of time when you're doing this."

While Matsuura and Oki were chatting, another girl sketched a human figure on her drawing pad. University Lab School senior Rachael Ing was the second-place color division winner in an art contest MangaBento hosted in December. (The first-place winner, Ashley Nose, went on to draw the promotional art seen on Kawaii Kon's posters and informational wallet cards seen in various places around town.)

Unlike Bailey, Matsuura and Oki, who are focused on original work, Ing prefers to create pieces based on her favorite series, including "Fullmetal Alchemist," and work by the four-member Japanese studio CLAMP. One of the pieces she submitted to the art gallery was her prize-winning piece, based on one of CLAMP's recent series, "Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle."

"It's fun to use characters that have already been made," Ing said. "I study the designs, and it helps me improve my style."

Everyone was excited about the full-fledged, inaugural Kawaii Kon anime convention debuting in Honolulu this weekend.

"It's been the goal of my friends and me to visit a convention, so we're really excited about it," Bailey said.

"I heard from my friends on the Internet how fun con experiences are," said Ing, who plans to attend her first convention dressed as a character from "Cardcaptor Sakura." "I can't wait to see other people's artwork ... and buy lots of stuff."

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