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Anime cartoon fans join forces at Metrocon convention

The comic and film genre with roots in Japan has a devoted following, as evidenced by the growth of the local convention.

By JAY CRIDLIN
Published July 9, 2004


Under most circumstances, 13-year-old Adam Beldyk would have no problem spending a Saturday afternoon as a rook on a human chess board, wearing a homemade cartoon-character costume.

But this is no ordinary chess match. Beldyk will have to play his role Saturday dressed as Ash Ketchem, the red-hatted protagonist from the Pokemon comic series.

It's enough to gag a lifelong Dragon Ball Z fan.

"I'm not a huge fan of Pokemon," admits Beldyk, who lives in Northdale. "I just don't want to get my butt kicked playing Ash."

He'll learn his fate during Metrocon, Tampa Bay's second annual anime fan convention, which takes place today through Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Tampa at Sabal Park. On tap for conventioneers are video games, special film screenings, costume contests and a giant chess match featuring human "pieces" dressed as anime characters.

Organizers expect between 2,000 and 3,000 people at Metrocon 2004 - a huge increase from the 1,700 at last year's convention - filling the Crowne Plaza Hotel and two spillover hotels.

"The first year, it was like, "Let's see if we can do it,' " said convention spokeswoman Alison Roberts. "This year, it's like, "Let's see what we can do to make it even better.' "

Anime, an animated comic and film genre with roots in Japan, has a devoted local and worldwide following. The genre runs the gamut from children's cartoons, such as Speed Racer and Pokemon, to more adult material, like Akira or Princess Mononoke. The themes are no different than those in other comics - superheroes employ superpowers against forces of evil - but the animation is distinct, often dark and intense with sharp lines and bold colors.

Convention CEO and chairman Roy Harms grew up watching Speed Racer. A few years ago, he launched a Web site devoted to anime; Metrocon spawned from discussions among fans of the site.

One of the big draws at this convention will be live audio commentaries on Saturday and Sunday, similar to those on a DVD, by voice-over actors during screenings of their work.

The actors' names - Greg Ayres, Luci Christian, Vic Mignogna - may not ring a bell to the casual fan, Roberts said. But their voices might.

"If you turn on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, you're going to hear some of them on any given night," she said.

Another highlight will be the "Anime Idol" competition at 7 p.m. Saturday, in which participants will sing American Idol-style versions of Japanese rock and pop songs.

At least three dances are on the schedule: A Final Fantasy-themed ballroom dance at 7 p.m. tonight; a "Ninja in the Night" dance at midnight; and a Matsuri dance at 10 p.m. Saturday. Tickets for the Final Fantasy ball are $7 at the door. But the weekend's premier event is the chess match at noon Saturday. Billed as "Cat Girls vs. School Girls" for the homemade costumes worn by each side's volunteer pawns, the event will be played out over the course of an hour and will feature such characters as Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh (a knight) and Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop (a queen).

Harms will serve as a king, playing the part of Lupin III, the protagonist from the comic series of the same name.

"All of us who work on it are adults, but we're rabid fans of anime ourselves," Roberts said.

- Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or cridlin@sptimes.com

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Metrocon, Tampa Bay's largest anime fan convention.

WHEN: Events are scheduled from noon to midnight tonight, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Crowne Plaza Tampa at Sabal Park, 10221 Princess Palm Ave., off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

COST: One-day tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for children under 10; two-day tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for children; and weekend passes are $30 for adults, $15 for children. Children under 5 get in free. Credit cards will not be accepted.

MORE: A complete schedule and details are available at www.animemetro.com or call the hotel at 623-6363.

[Last modified July 8, 2004, 11:53:17]


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