Drawn Together: One Couple's Love for Anime Brings Shuto Con to Lansing

2,475. That's how many anime (Japanese animation) and cosplay (costume play) fans visited the Lansing Center during Shuto Con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Convention goers filled all of the Radisson’s rooms—and this is only Shuto Con’s second year. Last year, the convention brought in over 1,300 anime fans, and smashed the goal set by founder Stefanie Shall and her husband Joe. “We were saying, ‘If we can get 500, that’d be awesome,’” says Shall, “We planned for 800, tops. That was our pipe dream.” The larger-than-expected turnout last year was a surprise, “We were just scrambling around, because we didn’t have badges and lanyards. We had to go out and buy wristbands.”
 
A Michigan native, Shall returned to the Capital region in 2009 while expecting her first child, after spending eight years in Florida. “We decided to come back up here to be with family,” she says. “I love it here. I love Lansing. I love the seasons.”
 
As regular attendees of anime conventions, Shall and her husband wanted to bring a convention to Lansing. “We always thought ‘It would be really cool if we could start a convention on our own,’” Shall says, but the frequency of conventions in Florida made such a task a challenge. After returning to Lansing, the dream of a convention still lingered, “When we moved back up here, it was always on the back of our minds. Lansing is an untapped area—we’ve got Youmacon in Detroit, and JAFAX in Grand Rapids, but there’s really nothing in the middle of the state.”
 
Teamwork
 
The first thing the Shalls did when laying the groundwork for Shuto Con was befriend the folks behind Youmacon and JAFAX. “We let them know what our plans were.” The support and approval was key if the Shalls wanted help promoting their new convention to fans on either side of the state. “We did [Shuto Con 2011] six months from Youmacon, which was ‘the thing’—if you let me do this, we’ll do it the furthest away from your convention.”
 
With the blessing of the other anime conventions, the Shalls went to work on their next hurdle: financing. “Joe and I took all the savings we had left…we put it all in, and did a really big risk—and it paid off.” After the successful first year, the convention is now self-sustaining, “We thought we’d be in the negative for at least three years.” The success of last year’s convention allowed the Shalls to increase the size and scope of this year’s convention.
 
When asked what she was most proud of about this year’s convention, Shall said, “I’m so proud of how many people came and supported us.” Like last year, attendance for the second Shuto Con was better than expected, “This year we were really expecting maybe 1800. We printed about 2000 badges, but with the 2475 [attendees], we once again ran out of badges and lanyards.” Faced with a badge shortage, but not wanting to turn people away, Shall improvised, “We were actually using ‘Friday Only’ badges as ‘Three Day’ badges at the end, and writing on them, and signing them.”
 
Interacting with Fans
 
One of Shuto Con’s unique features is that it offers interactive cosplay. Attendees are allowed, and encouraged, to interact with each other as the characters they are portraying, instead of just wearing a costume. Shall said this was the con’s main draw, “What sets us apart from other cons, is I always wanted to do interactive cosplay. That’s something a lot of attendees are slowly starting to enjoy. They’re very shy on Friday, and don’t want to interact with others, but once they see other people doing it—then that’s when they get into character.” Interacting is not required however, and a special ribbon identifies those who wish to participate. Points are awarded to those who participate the most, with the highest scorers being crowned ‘King and Queen of the Cosplayers’ during the convention’s closing ceremonies.
 
Giving Back
 
Shuto Con is more than just costumes and cartoons—it also gives back to the community. Each year, Shuto Con takes up a new charity. Last year, Shuto Con raised around $2200 to help with the post-earthquake relief effort in Japan. This year, the charity was the Greater Lansing Food Bank. A Date Auction raised $370, which Shall will match for a total of $740. Shuto Con also took non-perishable food donations for the food bank, “We raised 153 lbs. of food.” Shall already has ideas for next year’s charity,  “We’re still talking about it, but I personally would like to do a manga library for Sparrow Children’s Hospital,” she said. “We definitely want to do a charity every year, because it’s a good thing to do,” and with a grin she added, “It shows the community we’re not just a bunch of anime nerds. That we can actually give back too.”
 
?Downtown Fun
 
Shall said attendees enjoy the downtown location of Shuto Con, especially the accommodations, “A lot of people love the Radisson. They say that the Radisson has one of the friendliest hotel staff at a convention.” The ease of walking downtown and the proximity of restaurants to the Lansing Center was a boon to attendees as well, “A lot of people, especially since the weather was so nice, were able to walk around—to go downtown and inhabit the stores.”
 
The Future

Shall said Shuto Con will return next year, and the date is already set—Apr. 5, 6, and  2013 at the Lansing Center and the Radisson. With the success of Shuto Con, Shall and her husband are considering bringing another convention to the Lansing Center in the future—one targeted at science fiction and horror fans.


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Daniel J. Hogan is a freelance writer for Capital Gains. He is also the Geek half of Ginger and the Geek. You can follow him on Twitter, @danieljhogan.

Dave Trumpie
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Photos:

Stefanie Shall (photo 2), her husband Joe (photo 4), and other scenes from the recent Shuto Con event at the Lansing Center

Photos © Dave Trumpie
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