Approaching the entrance of the Wyndham Grand Hotel across from Point State Park, Downtown, you'd know instantly that you were in the correct place for Tekkoshocon, a convention devoted to Japanese popular culture, especially anime, manga, art, music and video games.
The giveaway was the waves of super-fans dressed in the garb of their favorite characters, some well known but most obscure. Almost all of the convention's attendees were in costume, creating a hotel lobby packed with Japan's most beloved fictional characters.
Tekkoshocon began nine years ago and was held at venues in Coraopolis, Cranberry, Green Tree and Monroeville before moving Downtown. When space was not available at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, its home of the past two years, the convention moved to the Wyndham Grand, the former Pittsburgh Hilton.
Organizers say attendance has grown each year since 600 fans attended that first event in 2003. Last year attendance was just over 3,500, and this year it rose to 4,300 paid attendance (not including guests and vendors). Tekkoshocon IX raised "hundreds of thousands of dollars" last weekend, said Dan Lavoie, Tekkoshocon planner and head of event security, with all proceeds going to Japan for tsunami and earthquake relief.
"We're a nonprofit, and this year with all of our proceeds going to a great cause, a turnout that tops last year is really a big deal for us," Mr. Lavoie said. "We're all glad to be doing something we love as well as help in a time of need."
The four-day gathering this past weekend was packed with panels of experts, workshops, video-game competitions, art galleries and, for the first time, live bands. Japanese bands lix and Rampant made their American debuts here.
Many attendees come to interact in a friendly environment for "cosplayers." Cosplay, short for "costume play," is a type of character performance art, usually derived from anime or manga and more recently pop culture and science fiction.
"My favorite part about planning Tekkoshocon is the kids," Mr. Lavoie said of the young men and women who arrive in costume. "We do this so we can give one weekend ... where kids come around and let loose. Their hobbies may not be widespread or culturally accepted so you see these kids come in, wearing costumes of their favorite characters, relax and have a really wonderful weekend."
Attendees were genuinely exited to be a part of the culture they love. Angel Rodriguez, a traveling competitive gamer and native Texan, says he came for the video-game competition and had been waiting for it for quite a while.
"I travel to game competitions everywhere, that's why I'm here," said Mr. Rodriguez. "The people here are great, and it makes for a great competition."
Mr. Rodriguez had quite a scare in the "Super Street Fighter IV" Tournament finals but pulled out a win.
Video games were just the tip of the Tekkoshocon iceberg. Lines of costumed fans wrapped around the hallways to get into meeting rooms to screen their favorite piece of anime. Ballrooms were packed with artists and designers selling their creations.
Dozens of rooms on the second floor of the Wyndham were devoted to trading cards and hundreds of other Japanese collectables on display. Another room had a fully stocked library of manga, Japanese-made comics and graphic novels.
Mr. Lavoie said the convention will be back in Pittsburgh in 2012, but he might have to think about a return to a larger venue.
Max Parker is The Game Guy at communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com.