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Anime convention Tekkoshocon VII opens

In the past decade or so, Japanese animation -- or anime , as it is popularly known -- has gone from a small cult following for science fiction fanboys into a cultural tsunami, influencing American comics, film, television and video games.

Tekkoshocon, Pittsburgh's annual anime convention -- starting Friday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center -- has exploded in popularity along similar lines. The name Tekkoshocon comes from a variation of the Japanese character for "steel," reflecting Pittsburgh's heritage.

"The idea was to get together to enjoy Japanese animation -- this very niche, very particular form of art, and then expand out to everything associated with it," says T.J. Condon, a Tekkoshocon organizer. "The first Tekkoshocon in 2003, we only had 600 people attend. Now, before we even open the doors, we have pre-registrations that exceed the total attendance for Tekkoshocon II. We're projecting 3,300 to 3,500 attendees this year."

It's driven by an audience that's getting younger and younger.

"It used to be just college students and the stereotypical middle-aged men who would get together," Condon says. "Now, since it's becoming more and more prevalent in American culture, we're getting a lot more college students, a lot more of those middle-aged men who are bringing their kids now.

"Part of it is just the cultural acceptance. I started out in video games, the Nintendo era. It seemed like translators and localization teams would take every step they could to remove any influence of Japanese culture from a video game. Whereas today, with anime getting so much airtime on American television, the anime aesthetic even influences American animation."

Lots of Tekkoshocon attendees come dressed in elaborate costumes, based on their favorite characters. The three-day event features panels, special guests, a video game room, a fan-created anime video contest and live bands.

"We have a band called Otokage, a Japanese band, that are a 'Visual K' style of band, which doesn't have much of a parallel in Western culture," Condon says. "They have a very complex stage show and very deep personas. I don't want to say the music takes a back seat, but it's more about the band and a celebration of this idea they have.

"In this case, that idea happens to be 'Ninjas are awesome.'"

Additional Information:

Tekkoshocon VII

What: Pittsburgh's annual anime and Japanese culture convention.

When: 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday; 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $35 today; $40 Saturday; $25 Sunday; 3-day pass $50. Free for age 6 and younger.

Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown

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