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Thousands gather for MetroCon anime convention in downtown Tampa

TAMPA — Armed Stormtroopers are strolling through the lobby. A group of yellow-winged angels searches for Waldo. And when the music really gets cranking, even the Joker does the jig.

Welcome, one and all, to MetroCon, where people dressed as anime warriors and beloved superheroes gathered for three days at the Tampa Convention Center to bask in virtual entertainment.

Since Friday nearly 6,000 fans, statewide and local, have taken part in the elastic overload and face-paint pandemonium. By this evening, that number is expected to jump to 10,000, said Heidi Reeves, assistant director of operations for MetroCon.

"A lot of people say it's for geeks, but when we go, we don't feel weird anymore," said Mollie Johnson, 16, who came to the convention from nearby Davis Islands.

Late Thursday night, Johnson scrambled to cobble together a costume when she heard MetroCon was visiting the bay area. She nabbed her sister's old boots and hot-glued fabric to the soles. Then she fashioned a sword from aluminum foil and other appropriated household items. She showed up Saturday with a dash of pink dye in her hair, her arms and legs covered in red and white cloth.

"I'm Asuna Yuuki," Johnson explained, "from Sword Art Online. I guess you would call this battle gear."

Inside the doors of the anime center, there's only one unspoken rule: No costume is too outrageous.

Bruce Carr, 26, labored for 18 hours constructing a colorful weave-tube of balloons that resembled Discord, a character from My Little Pony. Wearing a black body suit, the Orlando man strapped the contraption onto his shoulders and hips, and lumbered around for pictures.

"Excuse me," he said at one point. "I've got to dance to this song."

Then he waded into a crowd of ninjas and angels, his balloons bouncing 10 feet above the crowd as he boogied along.

Cheryl and Jason Isenberg, a married couple in their 30s from Orlando, trekked to the convention with sisters Hannah and Tiffany Mason. Their mutual hobby is constructing costumes, but in real life they work as a cartographer, an insurance agent, a maid and a park ranger. On Saturday, they dressed as characters from the Last of Us, a video game that pits two survivors against a post-apocalyptic wasteland dominated by zombielike creatures infected by a mutated strain of fungus.

On their heads, the Mason sisters wore bumpy foam masks streaked with gory paint, resembling a diseased cabbage. They smeared reddish-brown paint on their arms, legs, cheeks. They ripped gaping holes in their pants.

"You really have to embrace the role," Tiffany Mason, 27, explained. "That's what makes it fun."

Upstairs, herds of characters filed into a large room facing a blue-lit stage.

The lights went out and the music softened. Mist hovered in the air above the stage. An epic video started streaming on the big screen, warning heroes about the waning future of the multiverse (the exact science was a little unclear).

Then, a man wearing a lab coat sauntered into view, surrounded by two lines of action heroes and anime characters.

"I challenge you," he announced, "to an anime chess match!"

The room erupted with laughter, and the battle began.

Whenever "chess pieces" met, a fight ensued between the two characters, and heroic music blared through the hushed room, all soaring guitar solos and ceaseless drum beats.

Essentially anime wrestling, the battles were staged. Contact was planned, pain was minimal. But pride was real. One princess warrior was bested by an ogre Viking wielding an axe. When she fell to the ground, a cold voice announced her death: "The enemy has been slain."

The Viking stomped across the stage, thrusting his weapon into the air.

"She died a warrior's death," he shouted gruffly. "She will be remembered. And by the Gods, so will I!"

The audience roared. The princess warrior was dragged off. The chess board realigned.

And the battle, at least for now, raged on.

Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @zackpeterson918.

"A lot of people say it's for geeks, but when we go, we don't feel weird anymore."

Mollie Johnson, 16

"A lot of people say it's for geeks, but when we go, we don't feel weird anymore."

Mollie Johnson, 16

Thousands gather for MetroCon anime convention in downtown Tampa 07/12/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 12, 2014 10:26pm]
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