While recent years have been rocky, anime conventions are as popular as ever. Conventions are an opportunity for fans to share their passion and for companies to promote their latest creations. Anime conventions in America have a fascinating history. Older conventions act as captivating time capsules, allowing us to see what was popular in the past. While some select shows are still as popular as ever, others have fallen into the cracks of history.
The title of “America’s First Anime Convention” is hotly debated. However, the discussion is very different depending on what one would consider an anime convention. Long before the convention structure many fans are used to now, many local groups met to discuss, watch and share anime. Many of these groups would have room for more generalized nerd and sci-fi conventions instead of hosting their own dedicated events, with anime shows and trade circles as popular activities, although the rest of the convention focused on other media. However, the top three contenders for the title are YamatoCon which started in 1983, Animagic in 1986, and Project A-Kon in 1990.
As the name suggests, YamatoCon was a celebration of Space Battleship Yamato, an anime that debuted in Japan in 1974. The one-day event was held in Dallas in 1983, and featured a screening of the first 26 episodes of Star Blazers, the American stud of 1979 The spaceship Yamato anime. As an added bonus, visitors to the event were also treated to a viewing by one of them The spaceship Yamato movies in Japanese. This would have been a major attraction at the time, since importing physical media before the internet was a complex, time consuming and often costly task. While The spaceship Yamato is not the most popular franchise in America, the series is still active in Japan with Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2205, a remake of The spaceship Yamato: The New Voyage film after landing last year.
In 1986, the Animagic Convention was launched. This con was more extensive in scope than YamatoCon. It also featured a special guest, Aline Leslie, the actress who voiced Lisa Hayes on the Harmony Gold show Robot technology, which was the most popular and accessible anime-related show in America in the mid 80’s. Next to this were several Star blowers views, larger sales outlets and other attractions. Today is Robotech the franchise is dormant, with the latest entry in the franchise Robotech: Love Live Alive from 2013. However Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA, the shows that were used to create Robot technology, are still popular. The Macross franchise released a new movie called Macross Delta the Movie: Absolute Live !!!!!! In Japan in 2021. And earlier this year, movies based on Macross Frontier received official US releases so that American fans can finally enjoy these cult classic movies.
In 1990, Project A-Kon was launched in Dallas. Today, A-Kon is the longest running anime convention in America. However, the first A-Kon had a strange mix of special guests. The 380 people who attended were treated to lectures by animator Louis Scarborough JR., Cartoonist Steve Krueger and animator Tex Henson. The flag’s guest of honor was BD Banzai, known in the community for creating Dirty couple parodies. Animag editor Trish Ledoux and Jeffery Tibbetts of Pacific Rim Publishing, the company that published Animag, were also present.
This is fascinating when Trish published an article about the incident in Animag. Before social media, these recipes were the only way for those who were not present to learn about what happened at the convention. Interestingly, unlike YamatoCon, the first A-Kon had much more non-anime content, with most of the guests only tangentially related to the anime medium. Trish notes, however, that one room contained a view of Lupine III: Castle of Cagliostros from 1979. This is fascinating, since a subtitled version had been shown at film festivals in the 1980s, it would not get a full American cinema premiere until 1991. It also shows how loved Lupine III has always been that the franchise is still a staple in Japan and America, with Lupine on the 3rd part 6 recently completed its broadcast.
It’s fascinating to see how the American anime fandom has grown over the years. Although these conventions may seem minimal to non-participants, they provided a foundation on which other events have built, and today many major cities have their own dedicated anime conventions. Although some series mentioned during these conventions may not be as popular as they were at the time, you can see that many franchise series are still going strong today, and some have cemented themselves as legends. In many ways, it is a reminder that while things change and time goes on, people do not change that much, and a good story can always unite a community.