The Japanese word ai means love and is an accurate descriptor for Ai-Kon, Winnipeg, Manitoba’s premiere anime convention as the love held by the staff is radiated at all times throughout the event. The convention is run by a purely non-profit organization of unsalaried otaku die-hards who are making noticeable efforts to share their passion for anime, manga, video games and even traditional Japanese culture. They go out of their way to present panels, guests and other events that celebrate the best of anime production, localization, cosplay, culture, and more all without the cost restrictions enacted by bigger cons, but with noticeably fewer resources as a result.
|When it Established||2001|
|Length of Event||July 26-28 (3-day event)|
|Place/Location||RBC Convention Centre, Winnipeg, MB|
|Hotels||The convention is held in downtown Winnipeg at a short walking distance from multiple hotels, including but not limited to Delta Hotels, Radisson, Best Western, Holiday Inn, and the chic Alt Hotel.|
Company/Event Message for Fans/Attendees
We’ll see you at Ai-Kon!
What to Expect
There’s nothing strictly necessary for enjoying the convention, but we recommend speaking with other attendees and meeting new people, as the crowd is very friendly and open to just about any sort of polite conversation with fellow otaku. The city also features too many talented cosplayers to count so keep an eye out for cool outfits and don’t be afraid to approach those wearing them as they are often happy to share their craft with other devotees and discuss the details of their creative process.
A few bad apples were trying to enter the convention but the convention centre's security staff was effective in stopping anything bad from happening. That doesn't mean that security is overly tight, though, there are guards spread out across the building and a mandatory weapon's checking station for cosplay props, but that's it. No metal detectors, no bag searches or anything else like that. It's worth noting that the event is spread out across 3 floors with a fair amount of walking between areas of interest, so it's best to be prepared to walk a little.
The walk will be worth it, though, since Ai-Kon has an incredible amount of cool things to see, especially for a con of its size, even though they don't pull them all off without a hitch. But more on that later.
What to Bring in Order to Enjoy the Event
Ai-Kon has a fairly sizeable vendor’s hall and artist’s alley, so bags are recommended in order to keep track of all the stuff you’re likely to buy. Thankfully, the convention’s volunteers organized a bag-check system that lets everyone drop off and pick up their belongings at their leisure at no charge, eliminating the need to lug heavy backpacks around all day.
Speaking of the vendor’s hall, it’s got a lot of great merchandise on offer, but somewhat favors smaller independent sellers, who don’t always have access to card readers. As a result, we recommend bringing cash to the convention, lest you be caught having to choose between a sweet custom Hisoka mousepad or splurging on the local ATM’s high service fees.
Unfortunately, a lot of the convention will be spent in the recent expansion to the RBC Convention Centre which, unlike the original building, was built devoid of any water fountains. We probably don’t have to explain why that’s a bad thing for a crowded event in the middle of summer, but however bad you may think it is, it’s probably worse in real life. Luckily, the staff had the foresight to install numerous water cooler stations all across the venue which helped a lot, but we found them to be empty on a few occasions, so carrying a bottle of water around is highly recommended.
What to Do While There/What is Available
The biggest focus of Ai-Kon’s 2019 event was undoubtedly the guests, with high profile names like Team Four Star, Monica Rial, Luci Christian, Micah Solusod and Jerry Jewell among others being present at the event, with some holding multiple different panels so that guests can have numerous chances to interact with their favorite otaku celebrities. But for those who aren't interested in meeting guests, there are other events like anime sing-a-long sessions, traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, video game tournaments, lip-synch battles, cosplay tip panels and of course the classic convention staple that is the cosplay contest happening at frequent intervals, so everyone should be able to fill up their schedule with interesting events.
And for those who don't want to plan their attendance around scheduled events, Ai-Kon has a game room, maid café and several anime screening rooms open where people may come and go as they please. The screening rooms and game room, in particular, will absorb a lot of overnight patrons' time since they are among the relatively small number of things to do at the con during the night. It was far from ideal, though, as the game room had somewhat of a limited selection of systems which kept things crowded and the screening rooms were crammed pretty close together with thin walls and minimal sound dampening, meaning that the shows and films playing in adjacent rooms could be pretty easy to hear. Most other conventions don't allow people to stay overnight, though, so what was on offer was still a cut above the rest. While taking advantage of the fact that Ai-Kon never closes until the final day of the event by staying all 3 nights without sleeping is probably not very healthy, we had a fun time indulging ourselves in the entertainment that was present.
The Saturday night rave hosted by DJ and anime dub actor Greg Ayres was also a weekend highlight that got attendees in even the most restrictive of cosplays moving and giving Ai-Kon a small touch of party atmosphere to garnish its convention flavor. There did appear to be some difficulties with the rave, though, as it was delayed by nearly a full hour. We suspect this may have been caused by technical hiccups which are much more common at independent conventions compared to your Anime Expos and the like, but we nonetheless, do not envy anybody who had the misfortune of being stuck in that line without a friend.
Like we mentioned before, the local community has a lot of awesome cosplayers with epic cosplays who are extremely friendly and eager to share their passion with others. Whether they’re simple or complex outfits, obscure or mainstream characters, established characters or OCs you’re sure to find something appealing. If you’re looking for help with your own cosplay, the Ai-Kon staff have a repair booth to help with any unexpected damage to your costumes. And if you want some tips with getting your own cosplay started, tutorial panels are held and Marshall Fabrics’ table had numerous professionals to answer any questions. This includes the very talented Consulted Crocheter whose talents can be seen displayed on her Instagram page and who rocked a stylish Vegas showgirl take on legendary Pokemon Articuno this year.
Despite some technical flubs holding it back, Ai-Kon had an excellent run in 2019 thanks to solid planning and a laundry list of events as entertaining as they were diverse. Other attendees seem to be sharing this sentiment and local discussions about the event on the following Monday all seemed to lament that it had gone by far too quickly, despite the convention having run for over 48 uninterrupted hours. Whether you go to anime conventions for panels, parties, culture, cosplays, merch or anything else, you'll be able to find something up your alley at Ai-Kon.