Anime Ambitions: Shuto Con brings creativity, cash to Lansing

In just a few short years, Shuto Con has drawn upon a growing regional interest to make its mark on Lansing. The annual anime convention pays tribute to the style of animation that originated in Japan and is especially popular with children and young adults. Since hitting the scene eight years ago, Shuto Con has lit up the town with color and youth – not to mention hefty infusions of cash – at the Lansing Center and Radisson Hotel. It’s a three-day happening with a focus on the artistic, including a phenomenon new to a lot of people outside the realm of anime: interactive cosplay.

People who are into cosplay tend to be passionate about it. Cosplay at Shuto Con means dressing up as a favorite character, and interactive cosplay includes behaving like that character while you’re in costume and sometimes participating in mock battles in an arena. It can be an adventure in fabric glue, safety pins, hem tape, prayers and crossed fingers, but innocent wardrobe malfunctions come with the territory at Shuto Con.

The convention’s dealers, artists, panelists and attendees from out of town have to eat and sleep somewhere, so from the perspective of hotels, restaurants and maybe even Uber drivers, Shuto Con makes good business sense. That is partly because Shuto Con makes the most of its weekend run, opening at 9 a.m. Friday and closing at 6 p.m. Sunday. The convention utilizes several large meeting rooms available to attendees 24 hours a day, and it hasn’t been unusual for Shuto Con’s website to announce the addition of overflow hotels for those who might need to look elsewhere for lodging. The Radisson can get sold out quite early.

The service industry isn’t the only sector that stands to financially benefit from Shuto Con every year. On Feb. 13, Shuto Con announced details of its charity ball, including word that its 2018 charity designee would be End Violent Encounters (EVE), a Lansing-based nonprofit working on behalf of domestic abuse and sexual violence survivors in the greater Lansing area. 

Shuto Con was founded by Stefanie Shall. Attendance the first year was about 1,300, a big surprise to Shall and her helpers who expected roughly 300 people to show for what was a somewhat impromptu offering back in 2010. In 2017, attendance was close to 6,500.

My 19-year-old daughter, Sydney Aronin, attended Shuto Con in 2015 with a friend. She likes anime from having grown up with it. During Shuto Con 2015, her favorite character was Misty from “Pokemon.” My daughter said she liked Misty because the character was tough and “didn’t take any crap,” traits my daughter aspired to at the time. 

Sydney participated in cosplay that year by dressing up as Mabel from the cartoon series “Gravity Falls,” which ran on the Disney Channel for two years and is not rooted in anime. According to Sydney, participants can dress up as any animated, fictional character, not just those from anime, which was a confusing distinction for me to grasp. Sydney’s favorite part of Shuto Con was a voice-acting panel that provided a humorous, in-depth look into the field. She also enjoyed the vendors, which offered everything from fashion accessories to art. She attended all three days.

Sydney’s 17-year-old brother, Jon, attended this year’s Shuto Con as well as the 2017 convention. He went with four friends, some of whom dressed up. Jon, who attended one day of this year’s event, declined to participate in cosplay. Jon said he and his friends are big into “Super Smash Bros. 4,” and Shuto Con held a tournament of the video game this year. They attended the tournament and then walked through the shops. Jon said the tournament wasn’t crowded but everything else was, with lines to get into the art gallery and crowds of people in the halls. Jon said he would attend Shuto Con again, adding that he was very impressed with the galleries and venues and found the staff and attendees to be friendly. 

Putting a lot more thought and effort into Shuto Con than my kids did are 38-year-old Joen Turner and her 13-year-old son, Terrell. They’ve been attending Shuto Con since 2015, and Turner said it seems to get bigger and better every year when it comes to attendees and vendors. She said the guest lists for artists and celebrities are expanding as well. 

“As a cosplayer, I go to multiple comic conventions throughout the year and Shuto Con is steadily rising to become one of the biggest – and it’s right here – but it’s also something the whole family can get into and enjoy,” Turner said. “Every year, my son and I try to outdo our costumes from last year. Shuto Con is definitely one of the high points of living in Lansing.” 

How long Shuto Con continues to prosper remains to be seen, but it seems to be impressing the crowds. As long as people are fascinated by anime and the fantastical characters outside that realm, it’s likely to continue doing well for the economy and doing good for area nonprofits.

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