Fourteen years ago, Morgan Kollin was in the Navy. He was stationed in Chicago and one fateful weekend a buddy asked him to Anime Central, a convention that, at the time, was only in its second year.
"I was inspired by what I saw there," says Kollin.
Two years later he visited Ohayocon in Columbus, Ohio, which further galvanized his appreciation for conventions that celebrate anime and all that stems from the art form.
"It was just such an amazing feeling I got at these conventions, I wanted to share that feeling with others," he says.
After four years of planning, Kollin launched his own anime convention, Youmacon. And 10 years after that, the four-day event is celebrating not only a decade's worth of installments, but coming in at number 10 on a list of the country's biggest anime assemblages for the fourth year running.
In the past decade, Kollin has watched the convention grow from just over 1,000 guests its first year to 16 times that number. Every year attendance grows by upwards of 2,500 people, and this year they're expecting nearly 18,000 guests.
"The game has changed so much in the last 10 years," says Kollin. "We've seen families sprout, we've seen people grow up, and now we're seeing people start bringing their kids."
This year, from Thursday, Oct. 30-Sunday, Nov. 2, Youmacon will once again set up shop inside both the Renaissance Center and Cobo Hall. The convention takes up the entirety of the Marriott inside the RenCen, where all 1,300 of the hotel's rooms, as well as all meeting space are used for the convention. The footprint is astronomical, but so is the sheer magnitude of what's inside it.
There will be guest speakers, cosplay costume contests, concerts, live gaming, live art, dealers, vendors, and more.
Kollin is particularly geeked about the large number of guest speakers the convention has booked: Everyone from Johnny Yong Bosch, who played Adam Park in the live-action Power Ranger series to Pokemon's lead director, Tom Wayland. The cast of the new Sailor Moon series, as well as cloud-based animation studio Silly Filly Studios, will actually all be in the same room for the first time at Youmacon.
Live-action Mario Party will return, and this year will see live-action Donkey Kong, as well. Steam Power Giraffe will give a concert on Friday night. And of course, there's the cosplay.
"Cosplay evolved with conventions themselves," says Kollin. "People are really passionate about these characters. They love them. And they make the most amazing costumes. We've seen the techniques and abilities evolve over the last 10 years. Now they're using fiberglass to construct these costumes."
Cosplayers are a unique group, wholly devoted to their art. They craft amazing costumes, which bring the animated characters to life. So we asked Kollin why people feel such an intimate connection with these cartoons.
"Anime tells such vibrant stories with characters that are believable," he says. "You side with them. And it's all about the storytelling. There's a series out there for everyone. Whether what you like is fighting, supernatural, or anything and everything in between."
Throughout its 10 years, Youmacon has seen anime companies thrive and die.
"We've seen the rise of companies and their decline," says Kollin. "We've seen the evolution of anime genres and some groundbreaking series."
Kollin notes the leaps and bounds the American anime industry has grown in terms of artistry and storytelling, something the convention seeks to celebrate. The whole show is a glorification of the strides anime — and Japanese pop culture as a whole — has made in the last decade.
"It's a monumental task," he says, "but it gets easier with every year. There are always challenges, but that just makes it more interesting."
"We're in the business of building great and lasting memories," he says. We're here to give people the time of their life."
Youmacon runs from Thursday, Oct. 30-Sunday, Nov. 2. It takes place at 100 Renaissance Center, Detroit, and Cobo Center at 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit; youmacon.com. Thursday is free; at-the-door tickets for Friday-Sunday are $60, $30 for Friday only, $40 for Saturday only, and $20 for Sunday only.