Anime NebrasKon, hosted by the Nebraska Japanese Animation Society (NJAS), will kick off its 17th annual convention at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The three-day long event, taking place Oct. 21 to Oct. 23, hopes to draw in Japanese animation and pop culture fanatics from across the Midwest.
The convention started off in 2004 as a one-day event hosted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln's "Otaku Jinrui'' Anime Club before becoming a yearly event at the Nebraska Union. Due to the ever-increasing number of attendees, it eventually outgrew the space, so a full-fledged non-profit organization, the NJAS, was established in 2008 to run an event of its own. They chose a convention center in Omaha to house the event. In 2019, there were nearly 7,000 attendees.
The COVID-19 pandemic canceled plans for the 2020 NebrasKon. Then in 2021, the intended host center was bought and demolished. The organizers had to figure out whether to grow or shrink the event. They chose the former and set their sights on the Mid-America Center.
Mark Meelhuysen, the assistant director of promotions for NebrasKon, said that Japanese animation, or anime, displays emotional versatility that might be lacking in other forms of media. He believes that these strong elements create unique shows.
"There's just a lot of inspiring moments, touching moments, tragic ones,” Meelhuysen said. “It's very emotionally engaging. There's a lot of life lessons to pick up from these shows. It's played a very integral part [of my life].”
Meelhuysen also said the artistic medium brings people together.
“As a passion and a topic, it's just very fascinating,” Meelhuysen said. “A lot of people share these interests, bond and enjoy life over it. They support their creativity [with anime]. It adds a flavor to life that I really feel would otherwise be missing."
This year’s NebrasKon will have activities for both young and old audiences. Celebrity guests in the fields of voice acting and writing will be there to sign autographs and interact with fans. Cosplay and gaming competitions will allow attendees to show off their skill sets in front of an audience. Discussion panels will cover a variety of areas, including book publishing, the mobile game Genshin Impact and tarot card readings.
Artists will be there selling art prints, and an art auction will also be held. Vendors will be selling fashion accessories and collectables at their booths. Attendees can find solace in the anime viewing rooms, video game arcade and board game room. During the evenings of Friday and Saturday, DJs will be hosting an all-night rave.
Historically, NebrasKon has raised over $85,000 for various causes. This year, NebrasKon has selected The Trevor Project as its charity of choice. The Trevor Project is the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for young people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Corey Higgins, the vice convention chair for NebrasKon, notes that the community is what prompted their decision to give back. Higgins poses the convention as a place free of judgment or hate of any kind. Openness and honesty are qualities that are championed.
“It really aligns with The Trevor Project to live up to those standards of what that charity holds deeply: that everybody has a voice and a say, and they can be who they are and have a place to go to for any questions, concerns and stuff of that nature," said Higgins.
NebrasKon strives to be a place that cultivates long-term friendships and relationships. Higgins and his wife, for example, met on the event’s dance floor. Twelve years after their first meeting, the couple is now married, with both serving leadership positions at the convention.
“When people think of conventions, and that you’re around people that have the same passions as you and [like] the same things that you like, you never imagine that you’re just going to, in my case, meet someone that I’m gonna be with for the rest of my life,” Higgins said. “But it’s crazy to think [that] at a convention [...] of 600 people, I met a person and that we’ve been inseparable since then.”