Colorado Anime Fest offers “a safe place” for thousands of attendees

DENVER, CO - MARCH 26: From left to right Bronwyn Ellis, Sophie Kennedy and Rae MacCarthy, right, play members of Team Skull from Pokeman during the 2nd annual Colorado Anime Festival at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel on March 26, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Lucas Udager, dressed in a costume that was a furry mix between a dinosaur and dragon, took stock of the scores of dressed-up peers surrounding him Sunday morning at the Colorado Anime Fest and said he felt at home.

“It’s where people come to feel most accepted,” the Denver man said of the convention at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel. “I come from a really small town in South Dakota where people weren’t into stuff like this. It’s a safe haven.”

For the roughly 2,000 people attending the second annual event, many of them teens and young adults in makeup, masks and wigs, the gathering meant more than just a way to enjoy their hobby. It was a place to freely express themselves without the fear of stigma or judgment and find a network of friends.

Jinnie McManus, a festival organizer and spokeswoman, said she likes to say the convention — and others like it — save lives.

“(Attendees) might not have as many friends,” she said. “They might not fit in other social circles. They come here for their community. Conventions like this draw people from all age groups.”

The festival ran from Friday through Sunday and included about 40 artists and vendors from across the country, as well as speakers representing some of the top names in anime. Unlike its bigger counterpart, Denver Comic Con, Colorado Anime Fest organizers and participants say this weekend’s smaller event has a more tight-knit feel that makes it easier to find like-minded people.

Not to mention it also helps spread the word about anime, a Japanese style of animation with an intense following known for dressing up and doing costume play, known as “cosplay.”

“I love coming to places like this because you can meet people,” said Alondra Medina of Denver, who was dressed as Touka, a character from the series “Tokyo Ghoul.” “It just makes you feel at home.”

Jeff Hoffman of Greeley said he’s made some of his closest friends at conventions such as Sunday’s. He called it a “safe place” where he knows everyone around him has the same passions.

“Having the conventions and all of these events really brings out the nerdism and helps other people explore and understand,” Hoffman said.

“Everyone here is like I am,” said Hoffman’s friend Gerardo Caballero of Denver. “It’s awesome.”