Winji Mesadieu started on the journey of a lifetime in 2006, looking for local anime conventions in South Florida. At first, Mesadieu discovered Florida Supercon and was so fascinated by the experience that he started to volunteer and then worked his way up to creative director.
“When I was younger I knew that there was a difference between ‘Disney Afternoon’ and ‘Toonami,’” said Mesadieu, referring to the late-night American television programming that broadcasts Japanese anime.
Later, Mesadieu wanted to create a convention, OtakuFest, where people from all over Florida who are interested in anime, cosplay, music, and gaming would feel welcomed and find the gathering affordable.
“OtakuFest is a great way for us to showcase Miami’s diversity to our guests,” Mesadieu said.
The upcoming OtakuFest: Holiday Special, previously held in January will take place this year on Dec. 16.
“We wanted to try to put on a fun, intimate event around the holidays,” Mesadieu said.
The festival — which will be held at the Pembroke Pines Charles F. Dodge City Center — is inspired by anime movies and TV series that revolve around the winter and holiday seasons.
Anime, which refers to hand-drawn and computer-generated animation from Japan, is a term used to help Japanese as well as Americans distinguish between Japanese and American animation.
At the OtakuFest: Holiday Special, attendees can find gifts from local vendors at the artist alley, take pictures with variants of Santa Claus from different multiverses, and compete in gaming tournaments to win cash prizes. The term “Otaku” was coined as a way to categorize people who like to indulge in spending extra money and time on their hobbies whether that be in cosplay or in making anime-style art.
In the past, the festival has hosted Katherine Clavelo, a bilingual voice actor, Jean WanWan, a Cuban-born cosplayer, and musical guests like Robb Banks, Apollo Fresh, and NoneLikeJoshua.
One of the local artists taking part this year is Sarah Schedler, also known as “Stargirl.” She’s a Tampa native and has been making art since childhood. Schedler knew she could make a career out of it when she was able to sell her first piece of work at a convention she attended in 2006.
“Not many people knew about anime when I was younger,” Schedler said.
Another artist, Daria Zakamskova, also will be appearing at the event. She’s known as “Dasha Draws.”
Initially, art was just her hobby, but after diving into the world of digital art for the past two years, Zakamskova has turned her pastime into a career. Originally from Russia, she has been living in Florida for the past six years and finds inspiration in the art she sees while visiting Wynwood. Encouraged by her friend to attend Otakufest, this will be Zakamskova’s second convention and she is excited about meeting fellow creators.
“When I attended my first convention, I found my world,” Zakamskova said.
This year, the festival also will showcase several celebrity voice actors from popular anime and gaming series, including Dameon Clarke, Kyle Hebert, Roly Gutiérrez, Katherine Clavelo, and Anjali Kunapaneni. They will participate in panels and have discussions with fans.
OtakuFest takes place on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Pembroke Pines Charles F. Dodge City Center. Tickets range from $10 to $30 and are $20 at the door the day of. Kids 9 and under are free with paid adult admission. Registration is open from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., and the Exhibition Hall is open from 12 p.m.-8 p.m. You can find more information on their website: www.otakufest.com/holiday-special