Annual Japanese pop culture convention keeps growing
Maybe it was once a little unusual, even perhaps slightly weird, to dress up like a telekinetic elf or outer-space ninja or whatever and lug your comically oversized sword around Downtown.
Clearly, those days are over.
Even the Furries barely merit a second glance in Downtown Pittsburgh nowadays, so outing oneself as an anime (Japanese animation) fan during the weekend of Tekko 2016, from April 7 to 10, is virtually risk-free.
Mayor Bill Peduto has even issued a proclamation that it's Tekko Week in Pittsburgh and will likely address the cosplay (costumed) crowds via video. It's an actual constituency, in Pittsburgh and around the world.
“According to Visit Pittsburgh, last year, Tekko had a $3.7 million impact,” says Jack Varney, who helps organize and promote the all-volunteer event. “This year, we anticipate crossing the $4 million mark. We're one of the largest conventions in the city, and the mayor recognizes that.”
It seems to be becoming a more regional event, too. The “official” hotel, the DoubleTree, Downtown, sells out quickly, so they've added two more hotels in walking distance, which also have sold out.
Japanese pop culture has, in some quarters, become as common as Japanese cars. The distinctive read-back-to-front manga titles now dominate the graphic novels section of bookstores. An endless array of animated series can be found via Hulu and other streaming services, and local arthouse movie theaters (such as Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville and Hollywood Theater in Dormont) seldom go a month or two without a Japanese film showcase.
The cosplay element is pretty central to Tekko, now in its 14th year. In fact, among the 8,000 expected visitors, there will be two getting married at Tekko this year. Michelle Fialkovich and Shawn Gallant will say their vows while dressed as Cassiopeia and Talon from the game “League of Legends.” The ceremony will take place April 9 during the Cosplay Masquerade.
“They became engaged shortly after the event and requested the wedding be held at Tekko 2016,” Varney says. “We did have numerous engagements last year and hope to have many more.”
There will be voice actors such as Matt Mercer, Micah Solusrod and Marisha Ray, and dozens of artists and vendors. There will be live performances from J-Pop stars DJ Bass and the band Back-On, both from Tokyo.
Other highlights include fashion shows, new Japanese video games (many of which aren't made for export), music video competitions, dance contests, live-action role-playing games, even an “Escape Room.” Tekko's game room will have something to do with robots, ninjas, alchemy and high school — all pretty familiar fare for anime fans. There will be cosplay repair stations — to make switching between outfits easier.
Tekko is entirely volunteer-driven and somewhat outward-focused. Despite a fanbase that's typically known for introversion, if you see Tekko fans in the street, they're probably not too shy for a photograph or two.
“It's not a convention where we're trying to sell anything,” Varney says. “Are there things for sale? Sure. But it's more about people demonstrating who they want to be and enjoying themselves. The thing you can't get on the Internet is that live peer-to-peer interaction.”
However, should any interested parties find themselves unwired at any point, Tekko 2016 will be live-streaming on TeamTekkoTV, via the Twitter app Periscope. Anyone can tune in and see interviews with guests, staff and cosplayers at any time during the event.
Michael Machosky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.