The Past, Present and Future of Finnish Anime Conventions

Ei, Mangotarha ei ole vaihtanut kieltä pysyvästi. Tämä kirjoitus on poikkeuksellisesti englanniksi.

The inspiration for this blog post came while reading Cheryl Morgan’s Finncon report. Thus, this post is written in English in case Cheryl or any of her readers are interested in a more thorough look at Finnish anime-themed conventions.

I have divided the post into three main parts. First, I talk about the past events organized in Finland. Originally I intended to do a chronological look covering each year. After some thought, however, I decided to talk about each con individually, and summarize the whole thing using a list of events for each year. After covering the past years, I’ll talk about the current year, which is quite interesting and extraordinary, when compared to previous years. Last, I’ll talk a bit about the future. What it looks like in my opinion, and what might come to be.

The past

It’s already been 10 years since the first Finnish anime convention. During that time, numerous anime-themed events have been organized in Finland. Some of the events have become yearly affairs, while others have been arranged only once or twice. It all began when the scifi fandom in Turku had an idea: why not promote anime in Finncon. This gave birth to Animecon.

Animecon (1999 – ) is the granddaddy of all Finnish anime events. The first con was arranged together with the 1999 Finncon. It was also the first time Finncon held in Turku. In 1999 it was still a bit too early for Animecon. The event didn’t attract that many people, and in some programs – like the infamous Animefandom in Finland -panel – there were more panelists than audience members. The most popular anime program was the anime viewing room. 1999 was, by the way, the only time such room was included in Animecon.

One Animecon tradition was, however, started in the 1999 con. It hosted the first Finnish cosplay competition ever. There were a total of two participants: one dressed as a Free Planets Alliance officer from Legend of Galactic Heroes; the other as an “anime babe” (no series). Anime babe won due to boobs. The judges were quite open about this fact, if I recall correctly.

After the 1999 event, it took four years for Animecon to return, again in Turku. In the 2003 con, which in addition to Finncon/Animecon was also Baltcon and Eurocon, anime came back with much more success. Lecture halls, which in 1999 had been practically empty, were not sufficient to hold all attendees, the cosplay competition had some very good entries, and overall the event was a real con instead of a sad joke. However, the 2003 con began a trend that has continued in almost all Animecons since: a fierce after-con debate. In the 2003 case it was about cosplay props. One attendee had had an apparently unsharpened metal katana with him, and had borrowed it to somebody. Who had promptly started waving it around and managed to cut open a third person’s ankle. That unfortunate accident has shaped the Animecon prop policy ever since.

After 2003 Animecon has been arranged together with each Finncon, and each time it has been larger than before. In 2004 the explosion of attendees caught the organizers (including yours truly) totally unprepared, and the Jyväskylä University main building was practically overrun when thousands of mainly teenaged anime fans flocked to the event. Overall, the event has been organized for seven times.

The first anime event besides Animecon was the Anime seminar (2003-2006, 2008) arranged by Omake, the local anime fanclub in Oulu. The focus of the seminar was more academic than Animecon, and it consisted entirely of lectures on various subjects. The event has not been renewed after the 2008 seminar.

In 2005, when there was no Finncon and thus no Animecon either, three new events debuted. First was Kikucon (2005, 2008), then still known only by its complete name Kirsikankukkacon (Cherry Flower con). The event was held in May 2005, and apparently was a success. I did not attend it, and therefore am unable to comment much on it. Kikucon was held in a school building at Turku, and attracted some 2000 participants during two days. The event was held for a second time in 2008. As far as I know, there are no plans to arrange it again.

Following Kikucon was the Day of Manga held in Helsinki on September the 18th. The event was part of the Japan Pop (not related to the Finnish magazine of the same name) exhibition. The exhibition included original drawings from several manga artists, lots of japanese language manga on display, etc. The name of the event was resurrected in 2009 as part of the Helsinki Comics Fair.

Third event that debuted in 2005 was Tracon (2005 – ), or the Tampere Roleplaying and Anime convention. Tracon contains both RPG and anime programs, but most of the participants tend to be anime fans. Traditionally Tracon has been a one-day event held in the winter (initially in October, later moved to February). Next year, however, Tracon will be held as a two-day event in the summer, partially as a replacement for Animecon, which won’t be arranged in 2010.

Summer 2006 saw the first Nekocon(2006, 2008) in Kuopio. Nekocon was the first Finnish anime event that was held close to Animecon; there was about a month and a half between the two events. Despite its location (Kuopio is quite far from the biggest Finnish cities), the event attracted about 1500 attendees. Nekocon did an encore in 2008, but I have no idea whether there are plans to organize any more events.

Also in 2006 the Helsinki Comics Fair started noticing anime and manga in their program. From then on, manga has been part of the fair, and each year has seen more and more manga program the event. There has even been one Japanese guest of Honor in the fair: Keitaro Arima of Tsukuyomi ~Moon Phase~ -fame visited the event in 2007. Yes, I do have an autograph. :-)

The year 2007 saw again several new events either established or noticing manga. Book fairs, including the Helsinki Book Fair noticed manga. In 2008 the Helsinki Book Fair became the venue for Finnish qualifications to World Cosplay Summit, the closest thing cosplay has to world championship. The reason for holding the qualification at a book fair instead of a dedicated anime event is entirely financial. Finnish anime events are all by fans for fans and therefore do not have the financial backing or stability required by WCS organizers.

Tampere Kuplii, the Tampere Comics Fair (2007 – ) was held for the first time in 2007. The event is a general comics fair but has always had some manga program and strong cosplayer presence. The highly traditional Kemi Comics Fair (older even than the Helsinki Comics Fair!) also noticed manga in 2007. The manga side of the Kemi event was made into its own con, Kitacon, finally in 2009.

Last event that debuted in 2007 is Tsukicon (2007 – ), which concentrates on japanese popular music and street fashion instead of anime and manga. Despite this, the event has had anime and manga-themed program.

The year 2008 did not see any new events debuting. However, two new cons, Bakacon and Desucon, were announced. Desucon was originally scheduled for late fall 2008, but later moved to summer 2009. The announcement of Finnish participation in World Cosplay Summit was also a rather significant new event that happened in 2008.

To summarise (book fairs excluded):

  • 1999: Animecon I
  • 2000 – 2002: Nothing
  • 2003: Animecon II, Anime Seminar I
  • 2004: Animecon III, Anime Seminar II
  • 2005: Kikucon I, Day of Manga, Anime Seminar III, Tracon I
  • 2006: Nekocon I, Animecon IV, 21st Helsinki Comics Fair, Anime Seminar IV, Tracon II
  • 2007: 1st Tampere Comics Fair, 26th Kemi Comics Fair, Animecon V, 22nd Helsinki Comics Fair, Tsukicon I
  • 2008: Tracon III, 2nd Tampere Comics Fair, Kikucon II, 27th Kemi Comics Fair, Nekocon II, Animecon VI, 23rd Helsinki Comics Fair, Anime Seminar IV, 1st Finnish World Cosplay Summit Qualification, Tsukicon II

The Present

As the look to the past shows, quite a few anime events have been arranged in Finland. The number of attendees has varied from a few hundred to thousands. For years Animecon existed in relative isolation, but since 2005 the number of event has grown and grown. The year 2009 is some sort of record, I think. So far there has been: Tracon IV and Shirocon (yet another new event) in February, 3rd Tampere Comics Fair in March, Bakacon I in April, Kitacon I in May, Desucon I in June and Animecon VII in July. Next in line are Cosplaygaala (again, a new event, this time focusing just on cosplay) in August, Day of Manga and Helsinki Comics Fair in September, and finally Tsukicon III as well as WCS qualification in October. That’s at least one event per month for nine months straight.

Animecon VII has been the largest anime event of the year so far, as well as probably the largest anime event in Finland ever. Its only competitor in size is Animecon VI from 2008. Other events have also grown to be large. Tampere Comics Fair had over 6000 attendees and Tracon, despite being in the middle of the Winter, attracted almost 4000 paying visitors, while Desucon had over 1600 paid attendees.

Thus, in the current situation, it is not a very great loss if one or two events won’t be arranged on a given year. There are quite enough events for everyone to get their convention fix, no matter where in Finland they happen to live, or how much money they have available for attending events.

Also, the number of conventions held has given Finnish anime fandom quite a lot of experience in conrunning. I think the current biggest problem might actually be the number of events. There isn’t much room for new events, and many conrunners are actually organizing several events at the same time. Also, there are so many cons that dealers need choose which events to participate in. Participation costs money for them, and not all events are guaranteed to turn profitable.

The Future

One thing seems to be certain, at the moment: the era of combined Finncon/Animecon mega-events is coming to close. Currently, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who’s interested in organizing a combined event after the 2011 con in Turku. For Finncon this will mean a return to the past. Instead of 15000 attendee combined scifi-anime event, it’ll turn into “just” 4000-5000 attendee scifi event. For Animecon, on the other hand, this’ll probably be the end of the line. Currently there doesn’t seem to be any conrunners seriously interested in running any more Animecons. Which isn’t that surprising, really, when you take into account the number of anime events currently being organized in Finland.

The passing of Animecon will, however, leave the title of the largest con in Finland vacant. Time will tell which event will take the title, but currently there are maybe three or four main contenders. First, there are the Helsinki and Tampere comics fairs, which have free admission and at least some anime- and manga-related program already. For example, both events have a cosplay competition and at least a few anime-related lectures or discussions. Third contender is Tracon. The organizing committee has explicitly stated that Tracon was moved to summer to at least partially plug the hole left by there being no Animecon in 2010. The last, and in my opinion least likely, possibility is Desucon, which got extremely good feedback from attendees this year. The feedback will undoubtedly inspire a large number of new attendees to visit the event next year. Furthermore, Tracon and Desucon are organized during the summer holidays, which will make it much easier for teenagers to attend the events. I think that, at least initially, Tracon will be the bigger event of the two. It is currently the larger event, and its attendance fee is smaller. Furthermore, from what I’ve gathered, Desucon organizers are not interested in having huge teenaged masses hanging around at the event, but want to do an event aimed at people who wish to see good con programs. Still, it’s hard to say which of the four events will be the largest in, say 2012 (if all of them will be organized then).

Furthermore, there is still one more Animecon to be held, the Turku convention of 2011. And currently nobody knows how that will affect other summer events. On one hand, Tracon has a sort of tradition of jumping around the year, since the event was first held in late fall, then in the middle of winter and now in the summer. On the other hand, if 2010 Tracon is a great success, the organizers might not want to go back into one-day winter event. Thus, it’s currently hard to say whether Tracon will be held in summer 2011, or not. Of Desucon, I cannot currently say anything. Only one event has been held, and from what I’ve heard it suffered from typical first-time problems. Therefore, there isn’t really any way to know if the con will be organized in 2011. Most likely, the organizers will first do the 2010 event, fixing their mistakes, and then decide if Desucon is here to stay.

However, if both Tracon and Desucon 2010 are great successes, and both cons are renewed for summer 2011, then there are three large anime events held in summer 2011, all of them quite close to each other. If such were to happen, then there might come some competition between the events. There are only limited number of possible sponsors, dealers, or gophers with special skills (like a guard’s license) and all of them are unlikely to participate in all three events. Of course, if current predictions prove true, then there is no such problem after 2011, since Animecon will be a thing of the past.

If the example of previous years will hold for the future, then there will also be a number of smaller events in the coming years. Some of them will be held only once or twice, but others might become a permanent part of Finnish con scene. So far Bakacon and Kitacon have been offically confimed for 2010. More events are likely to be announced later. Including some new ones.

We’ll see what’ll happen in the future.

Explore posts in the same categories: Animecon, Conit, fandom, Historia, In English

3 Comments on “The Past, Present and Future of Finnish Anime Conventions”

  1. Cheryl Morgan Says:

    Thank you, that was very interesting.

    I suspect you are right – three big anime events int he same summer is too much. However, things will doubtless settle down after a year or two.

    The important thing for Finnish fandom will be, I think, to not lose touch. By no means all of the kids who attend anime events will take an interest in SF as well, but a fair few will, and a small percentage of several thousand people is still a lot of fans. Fortunately Finncon will still be free to attend, so I can’t see it fading away like some cons elsewhere in the world look like doing.

  2. Dr. Phil Says:

    Thank you very much for publishing this history. My wife and I were in Finland in 2003 and ever since have been trying to figure out how to have time and money to come back, especially if we can combine it with Finncon/Animecon. Knowing that the combination is winding down is very useful to know.

    And thanks for writing this in English. I came here via worldsf.livejournal.com and the Partial Recall blog.

    Dr. Phli

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