Let’s get the full disclosure out of the way at the beginning – I have very little knowledge of anime and manga. My exposure to them have been limited to “Attack on Titan” and my recent viewing of “Blue Eye Samurai.” I don’t know if “Vox Machina” counts in that category, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. Hence, given that limited exposure, my decision to attend the Pacific Northwest’s pre-eminent anime/manga convention in Portland drew some raised eyebrows.
But the time had come. My daughter and son-in-law are immersed in the world and when I saw this con coming up, I suggested we attend. It was time, I reasoned, to expand my admittedly limited horizons. So, on Nov. 18, I loaded into the Rav 4 with my relatives and their friend and set off on what I expected to be an eye opening adventure. I wasn’t wrong. I had no idea that anime and manga carried such weight, such power, in the world outside of my usual viewing domain.
But Kumoricon delivered not only that uplifting con vibe I am so drawn to, it opened up a new world of creativity and adventure to me. Driving back from the event on Saturday evening, I was grateful for the chance to experience something very different, but with a sensibility that I was delightfully familiar with.
The region’s top anime/manga conference got its start in 2003 in Springfield, Oregon. Since then it has made numerous stops at Portland venues, spent some time across the river in Vancouver, and finally settled in at the Oregon Convention Center in 2016. Since it’s inception, the show has grown from 400 attendees that first year to an unofficial high this year of north of 11,000.
It attracts people from all over the Pacific Northwest, and as wide an array of cosplay as any comic con I’ve been too. The Matron of Ravens from Critical Role, as well as Levi Ackerman, Erza Scarlett, Misa Amane, REM and so many other characters from TV, movies and games. But they weren’t alone. No, there were Spiderman sightings, out of shape Thor, Godzilla and a delightful Cruella De Vil on hand as well. While Anime and Manga were the focus, the chance to cosplay wasn’t passed up by those who simply love to do it.
Kiyana Pitre is a student at Portland State University and she’s been cosplaying nearly a decade. To say she nailed her Cruella look would be an understatement. She dialed into Kumoricon just as she would any other comic con event.
“I started just over nine years ago with my sister,” Pitre explained. “It’s so much fun. I think I probably watched to much anime in my youth and it has stayed with me. The characters I choose are those that have something I really admire. I get the chance to experience the world from their viewpoint. Cruella is a very confident woman, a very strong female. I try to find something special and unique in all the characters I do, but they are usually strong females.”
“My outfit is almost entirely thrifted, which I love to do,” she continued. “Coming to this is such a gift, so uplifting. I’ve made friends and found a community doing this and Kumoricon is a wonderful part of all of that.”
While Kumoricon is stationed at the Oregon Convention Center in the heart of Portland, it has stretched its wings to include rooms at the new Hyatt Regency just next door. There, con-goers had the chance to enjoy RPG, LARPing, a manga library, and other interesting tidbits. I found this to be a brilliant little addition. So often at other cons, everything is in one large space so ambient noise can take away from the experience.
By using the Hyatt, there were separate, quiet spaces for readers, game players and this interesting space called the Maid Cafe, which combined a sampling of the Japanese maid cafe experience in an American comic-con. I didn’t partake, but found it an interesting idea.
Well-known anime voice actors like Karen Strassman, Howard Wang, Amber May and others were meeting patrons, signing autographs or appearing on panels, while musical and cultural guests were on hand, offering Kumoricon a unique and fascinating flavor. I enjoyed it, though my exposure was limited given I was in full discovery mode from start to finish. It was all new to me, all wonderfully new and I enjoyed every sight and sound I experienced. And I wasn’t alone.
“You know, there are a lot of anime/manga cons out there, but there’s something really special about Kumoricon,” said Brittney Wells, who has been indulging her anime passion for more about 15 years. “I’ve gone to more than a few up and down the West Coast and this one just has a different and special vibe to it. I think the organizers do a really good job of covering a lot of aspects of anime and manga, as well as the Japanese culture that inspires so much of it. Anime and manga have never, I don’t think, been bigger than it is right now.”
I had no idea. I have been vaguely aware of the anime and manga world for a while, but never found a reason to delve into other than on a surface level. I will admit that I may have been shortchanging my enjoyment bank a little bit. At Kumoricon I met so many people who were passionate about their cosplay and their love of the genre. It filled them with joy, perhaps filled a hole in their lives, and most definitely offered them something fun to pursue.
Riding up with my daughter, son-in-law and their friend early Saturday morning, they conversed in a language that I simply didn’t understand. They talked games, anime and manga news, and other tidbits that no doubt were Kumoricon-related, but I didn’t understand. What I did understand on the way back after attending Kumoricon was that the foreign language of manga and anime they were using wasn’t confusing at all – it was a love language. And I heard it repeatedly at the 2023 Kumoricon in Portland. I’ll be back.
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