Ai-Kon 2018 - Post Show Field Report

People all over the world love anime and wish to celebrate it with their fellow otaku. Many conventions understandably seek to provide a supply for this demand and for fans in central Canada, there's no better choice than Ai-Kon.

Named after the Japanese word for love, the convention based in Winnipeg, Manitoba runs annually and attracts a bevy of people from all across Canada and the United States, including many a famous guest. So let's see how this year's Ai-Kon measured up.

Basic Info

When it Established 2001
Length of Event 3 days, with pre-registration ticket pickup the night before
Place/Location RBC Convention Centre – Winnipeg, MB
  • Friday pass – $28.00
  • Saturday pass – $38.00
  • Sunday pass – $26.00
  • Weekend pass - $60.00

(All prices listed in Canadian dollars)

Hotels The convention is located in the heart of downtown Winnipeg and is thus within range of many of the best local hotels. These include The Delta Hotels, Plus Downtown, Alt Hotel, The Holiday Inn, The Humphrey Inn.

Company/Event Message for Fans/Attendees

Ai-Kon is a Japanese anime and pop culture convention held annually in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The convention is a three-day event held during the summer, which runs 24 hours through Friday morning all the way to Sunday afternoon!

Our current base of operation is the RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre, a long-time partner that not only allows for our continuous growth but is also easily accessible to our wonderful attendees in beautiful downtown Winnipeg.

Our Ai-Kon July event hosts many anime convention staples such as our impressive cosplay contest, fun anime screenings, competitive video game tournaments, interactive and informative fan-hosted panels, an exciting Maid Cafe, and a sprawling marketplace for vendors and artists alike to showcase and sell their wares. Aside from our focus on Japanese animation and pop culture, Ai-Kon has branched off to include other events and activities that have varying amounts of overlap with our attendees' interests.

Thanks to the diverse range of anime fans, organizations, and clubs in the area, with each passing year we've been able to host panels and other events covering more ground from Japanese Tea Ceremony and Aikido demonstrations from the Manitoba Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre to panels discussing the finer points of kimono, Go and ball-jointed dolls. The continued support from these organizations and more has been appreciated by all as our programming expands to include an assorted entertainment, cultural presentations, and new pop culture aspects so that there is always something compelling for all our attendees.

NeRLXdmw-Ai-Kon-2018-Concert Ai-Kon 2018 - Post Show Field Report

Though it is primarily an anime convention, Ai-Kon casts a wide enough net to have a little something for everybody. Whether your thing is video games, fantasy, furries, western cartoons or anything else you're sure to find vendors, attendees, artists and lots of other people openly sharing your interests through cosplay and merchandise and they're all more than happy to engage in friendly fandom interactions with others.

Ai-Kon is certainly a smaller convention however and that means it comes with its own set of pros and cons. On one hand, it isn't especially crowded and moving from one place to another rarely feels like a slog through a sea of other attendees, but on the other hand, nothing is very big. The vendor's hall which is where attendees can buy art and otaku merchandise is fairly small and when not attending panels and the like, it can often feel as if one can see everything else there is to see in mere minutes.

One should expect to have to do a fair amount of walking to see all these people, as well, seeing as the convention is spread across 3 stories of the convention center, one that requires walking across a skywalk to access so it may be somewhat challenging for fans who have difficulty with moving around for long periods of time. Thankfully there are many initiatives taken to help mitigate this, from ample seating space, to free water in some locations to even local hero The Cosplay Medic who is always at the ready to help repair any damage attendees' costumes may suffer.

What to Bring in Order to Enjoy the Event

Something a lot of first time Ai-Kon attendees seem not to know is that cash is essential if you want to get a full shopping experience in the marketplace. There are many smaller vendors of interest that attend every year and like many businesses of their size, some don't have credit card machines which means you'll be missing out on some cool treats if you don't bring some liquid assets.

The good news is that you will absolutely not need to bring your own food, as you'll have your choice of several high-quality nourishment while on the premises. There are of course vendors selling lots of Pocky and Ramuné, as with any anime convention, but there is also a panel entirely dedicated to creating and eating sushi that runs multiple times throughout the weekend. Our favorite had to be the maid café, where guests can be served with lots of tasty sweets by beautiful men and women in stylish butler and maid uniforms. Most notable about the maid café is its adults-only Monster Hospital event, for which you'll need to bring photo I.D. and a taste for zombie nurses and gory treats.

NeRLXdmw-Ai-Kon-2018-Concert Ai-Kon 2018 - Post Show Field Report

What to Do While There/What is Available

A lot of popular conventions have built a reputation as crowded open-ended events where people spend most of their time wandering aimlessly and waiting in seemingly endless lines for a few events. Thankfully, Ai-Kon gets around this with a modus operandi that can be summed up as panels, panels, and more panels. For an average size convention, there is an almost endless number of things to do. Since the con never completely closes during its three-day run, there's at least something to do at all times. Most notable are the 4 screening rooms that play nothing but anime (with occasional live-action anime adaptations) at all times and the game room which features areas to play games casually and to run tournaments. These two destinations run through the entire event but they're complemented with a lengthy roster of shorter events during the weekend.

Ai-Kon sets up over 100 different events throughout its weekend run and while this list contains both hits and misses, the hits are more than strong enough to keep attendees coming back. Despite certain events leaving us unsatisfied such as the disorganized and somewhat tedious Hentai Bingo where attendees play bingo to win some pervy prizes, we remained engaged through the better-planned events, which vastly outnumbered the alternative. Some of our favorite examples were the highly produced Dance Showcase which shone a spotlight on the many local Asian-inspired dance groups, or the Sushi Panel, which brought a real Japanese sushi chef to teach attendees how to make sushi in a refreshingly hands-on event that adeptly combined audience participation with tasty treats.

Another notable event was the previously mentioned Monster Hospital which ran at the maid café on Friday night. This 18+ event treated us to some bloody good bloody sweets. We were privileged enough to inject a mysterious substance from a syringe into our bleeding velvet cakes and enjoy sweet drinks from a medical blood pouch. Of course, the company of the lovely maids, now in the guise of zombified nurses were another great addition, as were the many games and funny routines put on by the staff.

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And of course, what would a convention be without cosplays? Winnipeg is home to no shortage of talented cosplayers and Ai-Kon served as a fantastic showcase for them all. Whether you wanted a One Piece crew, Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn, a whole group as Class 1-A from My Hero Academia or even a Guardian from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there's sure to be something that appeals to you and each of these talented artists converged into one place: the cosplay contest. This brilliant event combined costumes, skits and of course love and dedication to the craft. Although the full show hasn't been uploaded at the time of writing, it is planned to be posted on YouTube in early August and we wholeheartedly recommend seeking it out when the time comes.
While we absolutely admire everyone who cosplayed, some of our personal favorites were some impressive renderings of Luffy and Sanji (sporting his Mr.Prince design) from One Piece, Yohko from Gurren Lagann, Lifeguard McCree from Overwatch and a surprising few who cosplayed for the somewhat niche mobile game Onmyouji. Also deserving of shoutouts are the women who cosplayed Popuko and Pipimi from Pop Team Epic and the refreshingly unorthodox Prairie from Megaman ZX. Ai-Kon was a wonderful time for anybody who likes to dress up.

Final Thoughts

Every town has their own local anime convention that they can be proud of but the people of Winnipeg have something especially great on their hands with Ai-Kon. What it lacks in size and mainstream attention it more than makes up for with a huge roster of events which, in spite of a few duds, is sure to bring happy times to any fan of anime

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Author: Will Bertazzo Lambert

I’m a 22 year old writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba who does fiction, media critique and everything in between, currently studying English and rhetoric. I have influences ranging all the way from Henry James, to Stephen Greenblatt to Nintendo Power and after years of fanatical devotion to the coverage of anime and video games, I've finally tossed my hat into the ring and decided to give writing a try for myself. Will this be the dawn of a lifelong career or a small footnote on an otherwise unrelated life? Only time will tell, but I would like nothing more than to have you join me on the journey to discovering the answer.

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