One of the many non-beer-related nicknames Milwaukee has racked up over the years is the City of Festivals. The most obvious evidence of that moniker exists on the lakefront during the summer, with a series of festivals city residents love to hate (and hate to love). The party doesn’t stop once the picnic tables are full of snow instead of leathery Tom Petty fans, though. In fact, Anime Milwaukee, which runs February 13-15 at the Wisconsin Center and Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, shares quite a few similarities with Summerfest—at least to those citizens who know that Rurouni Kenshin and Samurai Champloo are not sushi specials.

Big name guests
While Milwaukee breathlessly awaits the announcement of even more Summerfest acts—including a few we’re really hoping for—Anime Milwaukee has stacked their guests with several voice actors, comic artists, game designers, musicians, and yes, professional cosplayers to attract attendees. Folks outside the anime scene might recognize some of the voice artists, since many of them work in video games and animated series based on the most recent Hollywood blockbusters. Musical acts include a traditional taiko drum group, synth-rockers from Chicago, and a symphony orchestra that specializes in arrangements in anime and video game chamber music. Cosplaying, a long-standing anime con tradition, grows every year. To top it off, the cosplay guests often make costumes that wouldn’t look out of place in a terrible movie version of a beloved media property.

Eating your way through a strange culture
Some Summerfest attendees go for the great food available down by the lake rather than that one band they had on cassette back in high school. Anime Milwaukee offers a chance to pick up some rare Japanese treats in the exhibitor’s hall ranging from the always-tasty Pocky to a bag of mystery candy that probably has at least one thing that tastes like eel. One of the unique experiences at the show is Hoshi No Yone, a.k.a. the maid cafe, where the servers dress up to treat patrons like they’ve stumbled onto the set of a forgotten Japanese adaptation of Downton Abbey.

Experiencing different cultures
Many of the lakefront festivals show off pride in ethnic cultures, and Anime Milwaukee is no different. Otaku culture can be overwhelming to people who’ve never experienced it, but taking in a panel or two really lets fans show off their love and enthusiasm. Programming for this year includes cosplay meet-ups where fans of different series can talk about their favorite shows and offer pictures to bewildered onlookers. The masquerade adopts a San Diego Comic-Con tradition of running skits that parody and mash up pop-culture. The retro gaming room also takes the edge off all the new experiences with a respite of classic console games.

People watching
Summerfest draws people from all walks of life. Ask a convention-goer how they got into anime and you’ll find hundreds of origin stories: older fans who remember having to hoard videotapes like they were keys to a fallout shelter; younger fans who got hooked on one show in college and then just kept finding more; members of the newest generation who stream original shows at the click of the button. There will be old fans that find new entertainments surprisingly good, and new fans who discover lost classics and understand how reputations were made. The only thing missing is the expensive beer and the shady off-street parking.

Anime Milwaukee runs February 13-15 at the Wisconsin Center and Hyatt Regency Milwaukee. Weekend passes are $45.

About The Author

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Rob Wieland is a contributor to the Milwaukee Record. He is an author, game designer, and professional nerd.