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Anime interests expand beyond teen set

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

It's common knowledge that to find the lodestar of futuristic, cutting-edge culture, you've got to look east -- to the urban tribes of Tokyo, where entertainment, technology and fashion seem to combine and mutate, virus-like, by the day.

And it's spreading here. The distinctive anime -- Japanese animation -- style is inescapable, even in Pittsburgh. Just check the science-fiction or comic-book section of the local bookstore, the video-game aisle of any Best Buy, or the late-night block of 'toons on the Cartoon Network.

Japanese animation -- it's not just for teenage boys and their giant killer robots anymore.

Pittsburgh's fourth annual convention of Japanese entertainment culture, Tekkoshocon 4, starts this weekend at the Monroeville ExpoMart. Last year, it brought 1,400 fans in from all over the tri-state area and beyond. It's still a cult-like phenomenon -- but one that keeps growing, and isn't limited to teenage boys like it was at the beginning.

"When I was growing up, there were bits and pieces of Japanese culture and programming showing up on TV all the time -- stuff like Power Rangers and Nickelodeon had a few anime shows," says Jeanie Rabatsky, 22, of Squirrel Hill, Tekkoshocon's advertising director. "For me, 'Sailor Moon' was the first that was actually anime."

"They didn't feel that there was a female market (here) to bring over the young, women-oriented shows that had obviously been showing in Japan," Rabatsky says. "The trend started to change with 'Sailor Moon,' which was unequivocally meant for young girls."

Anime is only part of it. If there's a TV series or movie, chances are there's a video game and a manga -- a thick, book-sized comic book -- featuring the same characters. Another reason for anime's appeal is simply the size of the stories.

"I found a number of anime that were just stories -- instead of having little episodic adventures like a sitcom, a lot of anime has a story arc that goes throughout the series," Rabatsky says. "You take 26 episodes to tell a story, and you leave it there."

For a narrative, that allows a lot more space for character development and complex plotlines than, say, self-contained TV shows or movies.

As the audiences have grown more diverse, these kinds of events have started to encompass much more than watching and buying hard-to-find manga and anime.

At Tekkoshocon, there's a video-game room, where visitors can check out the latest games from Japan, which may not make it here for years, if ever. Special guests include voice actors, publishers and manga artists. There's a gallery where the public can sell anime-inspired art. Various events and contests will be raising money for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, this year's chosen charity.

For the true anime geeks, there's a Japanese pop karaoke contest, and a costume contest in which people come dressed as their favorite characters.

"It happens at a lot of conventions for other genres, like Trekkie conventions," Rabatsky says. "Really, it's just fun."

But why call it "Tekkoshocon" -- why not "Anime-Con?"

"Tekko is a variant of a character in Japanese that means 'steel,'" Rabatsky says. "Tekkoshocon roughly means 'Steel Mill Con.' It's chosen to reflect Pittsburgh's heritage."

Additional Information:

'Tekkoshocon 4'

What: Pittsburgh's annual anime and Japanese culture convention

When: 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to noon Sunday. Hours are subject to change

Admission: $25 to $30; $10 for children ages 7 to 11; $45 for weekend

Where: Monroeville ExpoMart and Radisson Hotel, Monroeville


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