Japanese pop culture comes to life in Harare

Scenes from an OtakuKon event last year.

The local comic book culture has been generating momentum over the years despite the creative industry being heavily influenced by music through a sustained presence of digital art.

A few groups and individuals have dedicated their time to growing the community providing safe and enjoyable events for animators to express their creativity.

While comic books and Japanese pop culture have a lively following in Zimbabwe among anime (Japanese animation), manga (Japanese graphic novels) and video game enthusiasts — also popularly known globally as “Otaku” — there has barely been any activities that fully cater to their participation on the local scene.

This observation has since inspired maverick and first-generation tech start-up founder Archie Moyo to launch Otaku Konnect (OtakuKon), the first anime convention in the country.

The convention made its debut in August last year to create an environment for fans of anime, manga, related gaming and Japanese pop culture to share and learn from one another through community-based events and conventions.

In an interview with IndependentXtra, Moyo said the idea to have the first event came through his interactions while selling anime merchandise.

“I used to sell anime merchandise and would customise t-shirts, and hoodies. I then started bringing in figurines and interacting with so many people,” Moyo said.

“There were a couple more people who were popping up and selling anime merchandise. It was so weird that the community was growing so much yet there was nowhere we could all meet in one place to see how much of a community we had or how well we could do if we all came together.”

In April, June and August of the previous year, OtakuKon put together a series of events, including three mini-conventions dubbed Anime, Merch, Nakama 1, 2 and 3 comprising a movie watch-day event combined with a merch fair as well as gaming and a cosplay showcase where fans wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent specific cartoon characters adopted from Japanese pop culture.

“After that, we did OtakuKon Suit Up, which was a cosplay showcase event in partnership with Magamba Network at Shoko Festival. We had two talented cosplay costume creators, Vengai Ota (Ota Sensei) and Tarisai Bakasa (Sharko Cosplay) who made costumes out of recycled materials such as cardboard and old clothes.”

Award-winning Zimbabwean comic book creator Bill Masuku, who created the fictional superhero character, Captain South Africa, and other animations and has worked on Netflix and Disney productions, is among some of the notable creatives to grace OtakuKon events. Other creatives such as Afro Tokyo (pre-production studio), Tafadzwa Shumba (manga and comic artist), music producer Verseless and Kudakwashe Rwizi the creator of the Mutupo animation have also been part of these events.

Unveiling their 2024 calendar which has an event scheduled to take place at REPS Theatre tomorrow, Moyo said they will be having three major OtakuKon events, two Anime, Merch and Nakama events and a festival which will be held in August.

“We are trying to secure funding so we can turn it into a multi-day event, but as it is, it will be a one-day with more competitive cosplay and a lot more happening from the gaming side and from the creators’ side as well,” he said.

“We are planning to grow the gaming community, we have diarised to have a gamers’ meet every month where people can exchange games, tips and play together to try and bring the competitiveness to be at par with work from outside the country.” 

He said tomorrow’s one-day extravaganza promises an immersive dive into the world of anime, with a rich programme designed to celebrate the art, stories and community that anime has inspired globally. From the strictly outdoor events that were held last year, this is the first foray into indoor events.

Co-hosted by Masuku, some of the activities of the day include a cosplay showcase where attendees will have a chance to showcase their costume craftsmanship and represent their favourite anime, manga or game. There will be a wide selection of exclusive anime merchandise.

Attendees will have an opportunity to experience and learn from local expert comic book authors and artists who will be marketing their old and new works.

They will be back-to-back screenings of classic favourites and new releases, including the showing of three first episodes from a new anime.

“We will be showing the first episode from Solo Levelling, Ninja Kamui and Shangri-La Frontier,” Moyo said adding that guests will take part in a post-screening vote to help decide on this season’s winning first episode.

Through events like AMN4, OtakuKon aims to strengthen the community and share the joy and creativity of Japanese pop culture with a wider audience.

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