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Otafest celebrates 25th anniversary this year, special guests to headline

This Calgary festival is celebrating 25 years and they’re doing it with some pizazz.

Otafest, Calgary’s only festival dedicated to Japanese anime, is celebrating a quarter century opening the doors to the Calgary art and cultural festival.

Otafest was started in 1999 by a University of Calgary students union club. After the founders graduated, they decided to keep the annual event running because of a lack of Asian representation in North American media.

This led to Otafest becoming a non-profit society, dedicated to celebrating Asian culture, and it has stayed that way ever since. While anime is more mainstream today, there used to be a stigma around consuming it. For many, watching anime was not socially acceptable, and Otafest was a physical way to break that stigma.

“We started off as a film festival that showcases anime that you couldn’t find in North America, and that’s what we’re still all about,” said Otafest chair, Jenny Chan.

Otafest has built a community of 10,000 people, and it continues to grow as a safe space for a lot of young people in Calgary. People with a passion for anime, cosplay and gaming can come together and find connection in a community that doesn’t judge them.

This year’s Expo

This year, Otafest has gone all out to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Chan said it will have some of their familiar annual activities, but they’ve got some new stuff this year. Plus, tons of new streaming anime.

“As usual, we are going to have a market. The market is the heart of the festival, and it’s a great place to pick up some anime merchandise,” she said.

“We are going to have over 100 different vendors and over 200 different artists selling their wares. It’s a great place for all anime lovers to unite.”

This year they will also have Dave Rodgers, a musician popularly known for his song Déjà Vu, which was a part of the anime Initial D. This song is widely attributed to spreading the Europop genre around North America.

“There will be a 25th-anniversary masquerade ball, a 10-piece woodwind band playing, and even a time capsule,” Chan said.

“This year, we are super proud to have three voice-acting guests. Erica Lindbeck, Erica Mendez and Lucien Dodge at a panel this weekend, talking about their work. People might even get a chance to get their autographs.”

Chan says that Friday will also host a multitude of concerts from local artists, as well as many other amenities, such as local DJs, cosplay contests and singing contests.

“We also have a whole bunch of panels and workshops, one of them is learning how to build robots,” she said.

“There are so many panels and exhibits, I don’t know where to start.”

Otafest will also be hosting anime viewing showcases, as they have every year.

“So we’ve got over 200 hours of anime streaming throughout this weekend. It ranges from your classics to the newest stuff that’s airing in Japan right now,” Chan said.

Tickets are on sale and are available on the Otafest website. The festival will run from May 19 to May 21.