The long walk through the lobby and adjacent mall of the DoubleTree Hilton in northwest Miami is a normally mundane one. This past weekend however, that same path, leading ultimately to the Miami Airport Convention Center at the rear, was sprinkled with a bit of color and an eccentric collection of creatures. It may have been a bit jarring for hotel guests caught unaware to wait in line for a coffee next to a pair of pink aliens and various other cartoon characters, but it was nothing out of the ordinary for the 2015 edition of Animate! Miami.
For three days, the MACC was home to a cornucopia of some of the weirdest, nerdiest, and seriously cool casts of heroes and misfits this side of Halloween. Curated and organized by the same folks behind Florida Supercon, Animate! was an overwhelming success. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday saw a combined 12,000 people pass through the convention doors.
Although Animate! plays the role of little brother to Florida Supercon (which draws about 51,000 guests), make no mistake, it is by no means any lesser of a con. In fact, the smaller, more intense fanbase that attended made for a more animated event. Highlights included a Dragonball Z wedding, cosplay sword fights, and a roving gang of Deadpools cracking jokes throughout the halls of the con.
The bright and merry atmosphere was a treat considering this is the first Florida-based con since the tragic and fatal shooting at Zombiecon just a week prior. Security was alert and on task, but allowed the flow of geeks to do their thing, unmolested. The MACC's deceptively large layout may have posed problems in terms of policing all the activity, but Animate! had an aura of freedom and silliness that should always be present at cons. The bizarre and wonderful nature of the outfits were superseded only by the incredibly warm and (mostly) family friendly setting.
Strolling the main convention floor, where all the merch tables and vendor booths stood, attendees were liable to brush past everything from murderous Silent Hill nurses to grandmas in bright neon wigs to an adorable Harley Quinn toddler, pulling around her cart with a black puppy seated inside. The panels and celebrity meet-and-greets sported the names of voice actors only the most hardcore of anime, cartoon, and Disney fans would know (and know them well they did.)
Above, the second floor was an odd no man's land of nerd bodies either gyrating to remixes of Japanese anime theme songs or littered across the carpet, resting up for the next dance party. These winding hallways led to small ballrooms where plenty of seated entertainment took place. Several of the rooms held all day viewing parties of beloved anime / cartoon shows including Gravity Falls, Kill La Kill, Rick and Morty, and Sailor Moon Crystal among dozens of others. Nearby, the Kidzone kept the little ones busy with all sorts of games and crafting activities.
Later on each night, this same part of the MACC transitioned into decidedly more adult fare. While the convention floor shut down, the hentai panels and naughty Doctor Who trivia games powered up. One of the standout late night events was the Revenge of the Nerd Comics! Comedy Show. Also a staple of Florida Supercon, the show featured a lineup of sharp and witty young comics, that yes, offered some nerd-centered humor, but more often than not, killed with bits about gender, race, religion, and sex. Some of the edgier stuff made a few people squirm, while leaving the rest of the room howling in laughter.
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Also returning to South Florida for another round of geek loving was 8 Bit Wave, an octet of talented musicians that bring video game music to a live setting. Their concerts incorporate video clips of the old school games that inspire their dynamic, and oftentimes, dramatic orchestral music. The instrumental pieces are as adventurous and as enchanting as the soundtracks of the games they love. In fact, if 8 Bit Wave never revealed the nerdy background of their group, it would be difficult to distinguish them from any other band of classical musicians. Of course, then they wouldn't be as fun and we wouldn't have their simultaneously loungey and jazzy Super Mario Bros medley. 8 Bit Wave really inform what cons like Animate! were created for. They're less about the shows, movies, or games on display and more about the cultures that blossom around them and a shared adoration that brings people together.
Scanning the video game room, watching the girl in her kitty makeup play a computer puzzle game and a pair of teenage boys in their flamboyant, pink feather boas battle on Dance Dance Revolution, some of these people could justifiably be accused of running away from real life, of being addicted to their escapism. But truth be told, don't we all wish for help to deal with the daily grind? If only all of us were so fortunate to find something as safe and accepting as events like Animate! Miami and the burden-lifting good times it represents.