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Lancaster's Zenkaikon: Sci-fi and anime fans unite

Don't let the name of the Zenkaikon convention fool you. Zenkaikon celebrates much more than just anime, a Japanese style of cartoons. Zenkaikon has photo ops, panels and games that celebrate all fandoms. "People think we're exclusively anime, but we're welcoming to all fandoms," said Kristyn Souder, Zenkaikon's communications director.

Zenkaikon, which runs April 1, 2 and 3 at the Lancaster County Convention Center,  is celebrating its 10th anniversary with special events. Zenkaikon, which started in 2006, originally merged two conventions -- Kosaikon, an anime convention held at Villanova University, and Zentrancon, an anime and science fiction convention held on the University of Pennsylvania, Souder said.

"When the merger happened, we started out leaning toward more anime, and now we're embracing our sci-fi roots," he said.

Cosplay is an important part of Zenkaikon. Cosplayers will perform skits in the Masquerade. The Cosplay Ball is an opportunity to dress formally, while the Hall Cosplay Contest will judge cosplayers on the quality of their costumes. The Iron Cosplay contest will pit guests against each other, to see who can craft the best costume out of paper plates and duct tape.

The Zenkaikon Fandom Photo Scavenger Hunt will have participants snapping selfies with special objects, cosplayers and special locations. The first person to finish the scavenger hunt will win a membership to next year's Zenkaikon. Everyone who completes the scavenger hunt will receive an exclusive Zenkaikon 10th anniversary sticker, drawn by the Webcomics Guest of Honor, Kevin Bolk.

If you're a fan of a certain classic TV series set in space, you'll want to check out Artemis. Artemis is a spaceship bridge simulator, that makes you feel like you're navigating the galaxy. "This is the second year for Artemis," Souder said. "It's a lot of fun."

Fans of Dungeons and Dragons can bring their characters to life in the Live Action Role Play event. The LARP is played similarly to Dungeons and Dragons, but instead of rolling dice, battles are won in a quick game of rock paper scissors.

"The game masters have a general idea of a plot, and then the different players act it out, the way they think their characters would," Souder said. Costumes are not required.

Souder's favorite Zenkaikon event is the AMV (anime music video) contest. Fans edit together clips from their favorite anime cartoons, then add a soundtrack to create a music video. Selections are chosen by a screening panel prior to the convention. The finalists are shown during sessions at Zenkaikon, when attendees will vote for their favorite videos in a variety of categories. "It's one of my favorite events at a number of anime conventions I go to," Souder said. "I don't get a chance to see a lot of these." Prizes will be presented during a formal awards show.

The Moe Maid Café, debuting at Zenkaikon this year, is a unique experience that was inspired by Souder's trip to Japan. "In Tokyo, maid cafés are like themed restaurants. The waitresses are dressed as French maids." The waitresses at the Moe (pronounced moh-ay) Maid Café will serve you drinks and desserts, play games, and possibly put on a little performance. The Moe Maid Café is family-friendly, but reservations through the website are required.

Zenkaikon also has adults-only entertainment. Cosplay Burlesque will be performing at night, dressed as characters from a variety of fandoms. Souder said there might also be panels for attendees who are 18 and older.

Zenkaikon has a packed schedule of autograph sessions, panels and workshops, including mine on blogging. Fans can also check out a green screen photo booth, dances on Friday and Saturday nights, video games and tabletop games. Souder said the "Magic the Gathering" tournament is usually a hit. "There are game demos going on all weekend. There's a lot of great stuff going on."

See the Zenkaikon website for convention hours, tickets and guest information.