Saturday, June 23, 2018

Convention creates costumed camaraderie

Steps inside the hotel lobby, a person with a blue face and metallic gold wings waded through a crowd of costumed kids stopping every 10 feet to pose for pictures. The squeals echoed off of the marble floors: "Goldar! Holy crap, it's Goldar!"

It wasn't the character actor who portrayed the villain in the 1990s TV show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. But for three days at the Khaotic Kon anime and gaming convention at the Sheraton Tampa East Hotel, the costumed fan could have been.

From its May 3 kickoff to closing ceremonies May 5, Khaotic Kon was all about fan service. Artists drew anime-style caricatures of convention attendees and vendors sold movies, books, music and detailed swag that piqued the interest of the diehards.

Stage shows like the Khaotic Kon Combat Musical and the Evil Shindig of Mal-Intent blended universes from Star Wars to Sailor Moon to Doctor Who. Raucous audiences looked upon the once impossible couplings and screamed out "I 'ship it!' " midscene.

In this place, there was no dividing line between fan bases and fans.

A major feature was a panel with the voice actors from the hit anime Ouran High School Host Club. The late-night panel was for VIPs only, which didn't tamp down the interest.

Jonathon Goldman, who played The Doctor from Dr. Who in the combat musical, wasn't going to let limited availability stop his fan service. He gathered up two other actors and portrayed the boys of the host club for a woman who couldn't get into the panel. Later, at closing ceremonies, he thanked his fellow actors on stage.

"This is what this is all about. Being able to give that service was a great thing that we were able to do for someone," he said.

Four years ago, the Khaotic Kon was just a dream for Henry Hutchinson — an idea he wasn't sure he could pull off. "I do this for you guys," he told conventioneers Sunday night. "If it wasn't for your support, we wouldn't be here. I've always wanted to do this."

The three-day convention opened with an elaborate ceremony featuring this year's post-apocalyptic theme. Teens and adult anime fans alike began pouring into the hotel Friday afternoon and reached max capacity by late Saturday.

Most didn't abandon their chosen characters all weekend as they sat through panel discussions about their favorite shows and characters. Voice actors from the English dubs of popular shows such as Bleach, Hetalia, Full Metal Alchemist, and Ouran High School Host Club were fawned over like A-Listers as fans lined up to get autographs and ask questions.

Todd Haberkorn, who voices Italy in the cartoon Hetalia, explained the hardships of voice acting to a room of more than 100 intent listeners.

"Right after this, I'm going to go up to my room and rehearse for an audition and if I get this one it will be a game-changer for me," he intoned as if sharing with friends. "This is a big one."

In fact, every person at Khaotic Kon felt like a friend. Two kids dressed up as Moogles, white cat-teddy bear creatures from the Final Fantasy universe, stopped strangers and asked them to sign a gigantic autograph book.

"Save your progress!" the female moogle called out. Every person who signed the book got to be best friends with the moogles for five minutes. Even momentary friendship makes people want to come back.

"This was way more fun than I expected," a girl and a blond wig said to her friends. "Let's do this again."

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