Second BAMCon celebrates anime, manga and pop culture
Aaron and Shannon Gwozdz may be Pittsfield siblings, but on Friday, they had two completely different origin stories.
Aaron, 16, was dressed as Luigi from the Nintendo game "Super Mario Bros.," sporting overalls, gloves, and a big green hat. Shannon, 15, was dressed as Hatsune Miku, a Japanese character and virtual singer that uses a singing synthesizer application. She sported a flowery kimono and a long, blue wig.
And yet, both fit in with the parade of costumes that will be on display all weekend at the Pittsfield Crowne Plaza for BAMCon, the Berkshire anime and manga convention put on by the Berkshire Anime Club.
"I like the variety of anime," Aaron said of the style of Japanese animation. "In America, most cartoons are only for children. In anime, you have stories for children, teens and adults."
BAMCon is the follow up to last year's inaugural event. This year there is more to see, do, play and hear for members of "geek culture or fandom," said Jon Wynn, the convention chairman.
"We were able to get more voice actors and bands. Last year we only had one voice actor," Wynn said "When it's going well, it's a very festive attitude."
This year, BAMCon is hosting six bands and anime voice actors to meet, greet and perform all weekend. About 600 people are expected, the same number that attended last year, Wynn said.
Since BAMCon is the only convention of its kind in the Berkshires, its a rare opportunity for anime and video-game enthusiasts to network with like-minded fans.
"It makes them feel more accepted and more welcome knowing they're part of a larger fandom," said Crystal Howcroft, a member of the Berkshire Anime Club and senior organizer of BAMCon.
On Friday afternoon, many costumed convention-goers got autographs from Erica Schroeder, who sometimes goes by her stage name, Bella Hudson. Schroeder, an Albany native, has voiced characters in games and TV shows such as "Yu-Gi-Oh!," "One Piece," "Winx Club" and "Sonic the Hedgehog."
"Voice acting was one of my life goals," Schroeder said.
She said that many of the anime and manga fans she's encountered are autistic, and games and TV shows, like the "Yu-Gi-Oh!" property, bring those fans out of their shells.
"It speaks to the autistic community," Schroeder said. "It's strategic, it's very specific. It's a different type of world."
More often than not, the nearly 200 people at the hotel on Friday were dressed as several different characters from video games, TV shows or Japanese graphic novels known as manga.
"Cosplay," as it is referred to, is a staple to the convention scene, Wynn said.
"They actually try to create as authentic a costume as possible," he said. "It can get pretty extreme. The character designs of anime are very over-the-top."
Of the costumed attendees either browsing the showcases, socializing, or playing video games, the wigs were vibrant and the costumes elaborate, borrowing from popular games and TV shows like "Pokémon" and "Final Fantasy."
Billy Baker of Pittsfield had to buy his costume -- Choji Akimichi from "Naruto Shippuden" -- online.
"A lot of people want to express what they like," Baker said in his red uniform. "Nobody around here knows how to make the costume."
Props like fake weapons go with many of the costumes, The security team has cracked down on many of those this year, Wynn said. Fake weapons are allowed only if they are cartoonish enough to not be mistaken for real and can't hurt anyone.
Lee resident Ryan O'Connell's oversized fake sword, which completed his black outfit and blond wig to go as Cloud Strife from "Final Fantasy VII," passed the security test.
"I made it out of cardboard and duct tape -- a cosplayer's dream," O'Connell said.
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