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Hello, everyone! I’d love to share a little story with you all: a tale which has repeated itself over and over every year since it first came to be.

In planning for Otafest 2009, back when Otafest was still at the University of Calgary, our attendance numbers had been rising steadily to include about 4 or 5 thousand dedicated fans, even despite the economic downturn. We decided it was time to give back to the community, and Otafest took its first small steps raising money for the Alberta Children’s Hospital to the tune of $1735.

What had actually happened were actions which helped define the virtues of our community at Otafest for the next decade onwards.

At Otafest Lite 2009 and Otafest 2010, we fundraised for the Mustard Seed and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, respectively. Through every donation, whether it was a loonie, quarters, or a handful of pennies, the donations came in. I recall running around with (my own) giant plastic Coke bottle-shaped piggy bank as people added their contributions; I proudly showed off its contents, shaking and jingling its precious cargo and showing off its weight. In the end we raised over $5000 for each organization, shattering our expectations. The bottom of the Coke bottle had cracked from the weight; a small sacrifice, alongside our specially infamous “charity incentive staff punishments” as traditionally showcased during the annual Closing Ceremonies. We were absolutely blown away by the generosity of our community and we knew we truly had something special.

Most recently we gathered together as friends on a couch in a living room and marathoned a video game, demolishing the initial goal of $500 and raising over $1200 in 24 hours once again for the Alberta Children’s Hospital through an excellent umbrella organization called Extra Life. Participating in Extra Life while being backed by the Otafest community has been a goal of mine for a while. To me it wasn’t just about the streaming content or even the fundraising efforts but a chance to do something amazing and fun with our staff and being able to interact live via chat with you, the audience, in a captive setting. While I know our team to be open and reachable, it’s difficult for us to forge a connection during the main event as we’re typically busy trying to run a convention, and you’re busy enjoying it. We don’t often get to thank people individually and acknowledge their contributions directly; chances like these are rare and meaningful and I believe we took advantage of it.

In the 10 years since, we’ve raised somewhere north of $110,000 for various charitable causes with a large focus on local organizations: animal shelters, youth care programs, or notably, foreign aid relief (Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi earthquake/tsunami disaster struck close to home.) With everybody’s support, I can always look back with pride in our endeavours and count my blessings to be a part of such a loving community. I know we will continue marching towards a bright future together because it’s just who we are, this Otafest family.

Thank you.

Jei Wong
Otafest Programming Coordinator

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As a young anime fan, I never imagined that such an ugly and dismissive statement would lead me to a such wonderful and inclusive community. I was like every teen trying to figure out their path in the world, but with some added roadblocks: I was queer, AND I was a nerd. While queer representation in North American media was still stuck on the stereotypical Sassy Gay Friend™, and I was too young to go to the gay bars. What was a young queer girl in Calgary supposed to look to?

To my surprise, I found what I was looking for at my first Otafest, way back on the U of C campus. Nerd culture has always carried with it a very special type of acceptance: those of us bullied in our youth recognize a kindred spirit, and the staff and attendees at Otafest have always opened their doors with open arms. On top of that, the convention gave me queer-themed anime, opportunities to stretch my wings through cosplay and volunteerism, and connected me with other queer youth and allies in Calgary.

It was Anime that brought Cosplay to North America, and the opportunity to re-imagine myself as a powerful and self-assured anime character or a beautiful gender-bending Japanese “Visual Kei” Musician. I hear stories of the freedom I found in cosplay reflected in stories of Drag artists in the queer community, and feel honored to have helped establish the early cosplay community in Alberta. Now Otafest runs no less than five cosplay competitions, including the Crossplay Contest for cosplayers of all identities, and the Canadian qualifiers for an International Cosplay competition.

Queer themes in Anime were also transformative to my young queer life. Overtly queer-themed anime like Revolutionary Girl Utena finally gave me interesting queer role models in media – characters who happened to be LGBTQPIA and were allowed to explore their queerness as people rather than being defined by it. Magical Girl Anime like Sailor Moon gave me a plethora of strong and unique women to aspire to – who didn’t need to be rescued by heterosexual stereotypes. Even more Anime gave me complex male characters in queer relationships or close male friendships not constrained by North American standards of masculinity.

Otafest itself has continually sought to evolve and improve their own accessibility and inclusivity. Long before bathroom bills were introduced Otafest had implemented gender-neutral bathrooms at the University of Calgary, carried over to its current venue at the Telus Convention Centre (arguably the nicest ones in the venue). Taking Otafest to Calgary Pride was just the logical next step, opening our doors to Calgary’s queer community and taking our own community to march with pride.

In its efforts to build community in Calgary, Otafest has created something really vital to Alberta’s queer community – a place to form meaningful connections and relationships outside of the bar scene. I’ve never questioned whether putting in the countless volunteer hours to bring Otafest to life year-round was worth it – it is. For the teenaged me, and for everyone else in Calgary who needs to find a place to call home.

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By: Sarah W.| Photo: Yugophoto|

Two decades of Otafest.

I’m writing this article from southwest Ontario, where I’ll be traveling from to get to the convention this year. I’m thinking about my friend Red who I’ll be meeting at the con, and our friend Sel who can’t join for the first time since 2008 since she’s off teaching in Japan at present. We’re barely older than the convention itself and there’s something that feels profound about that, more so than the fact that this will be my 12th year attending.

No matter how much time I’ve spent away from Calgary, coming back for Otafest means coming home in more ways than one. I’m reflecting on convergences – the flights booked, the plans made, the messages sent, everything centering around one weekend once a year where it all comes together. My oldest friends were those that I met here. When I come home, it’s a family reunion, every time, without fail. When I was younger and lived in the city, things were easier. I spent a lot of money on costumes and merchandise. Then I got older, and started on my undergrad degree in a different province, and all of a sudden there were more demands on my time and money. Now I’m in my mid-twenties, and budgets sure are a thing, but Otafest is and always has been included in that budget. Family is a priority, even when they’re not related by blood.

The first time I ran a panel, I was so nervous I swear I didn’t stop trembling until an hour after it was over. Now, I get to see some of my closest friends hosting the events that we anticipated year after year. Kinda cool. I remember the late nights in my basement, still in high school, swearing as I stitch-ripped another seam or stabbed myself with a hand-sewing needle.  A few years later, my friends and I had younger cosplayers coming up to tell us how much we inspired them to do their own thing, or talking shop and getting excited – together – about the techniques of crafting that went into a particular costume, a specific outfit, a performance or skit. Everyone involved in Otafest from the attendees to the content providers to the staff generates a sense of support, acceptance, and encouragement to grow– isn’t that the meaning of community? Doesn’t that feel good, and feel right? It’s a community that gives back. I love that about it.

Otafest has gone through a lot of growth in the last few years. Some reading this will remember the early days at the University of Calgary, with all the coinciding volleyball tournaments, the events hosted in lecture halls and classrooms, and the spontaneous bouts of performance art on Cosplay Hill at the Prairie Chicken (may it rest peacefully in whatever new home it finds itself).  Others will have more recent memories spanning through the inception of pin collecting, to the introduction of our beloved mascots (in the plural), to the monumental move to the Telus Convention Center. Still others will have never been here before (a side note: the water stations are truly a blessing).

Whether this is your first convention, or your twentieth; whether you’ve been here every year without fail, or had to skip a few; whether  you produce content for the convention through panels, or support the charity initiatives in whatever ways you can, or are here mainly as an attendee… welcome.

From one attendee to another, I hope that you feel strongly the belonging and fellowship that this convention has given to me and so many of my friends. I hope that you laugh, take yourself on adventures, get to meet some of the amazing guests, support local businesses and artists, give to charity, enter contests, cheer on performers, play games, enjoy the festival, take photos – whatever feels right to you. The quality of this convention, and the care and attention of the staff, is what’s drawn me back year after year after year – after all, many of them have grown up with the convention in the same way that I have. There’s always so much love that gets poured into how Otafest is run – I remember seeing the chairperson or other staff members getting moved to tears by the results of the charity events every single year. That’s a lot of love. I hope that you can feel it.

I hope that for you, it’s a celebration to remember.

I know it will be for me. It always has been.