Ahri and Poppy from League of the Legends walk into the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
Ahri and Poppy from League of the Legends walk into the San Japan convention at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Japan, San Antonio’s annual anime and internet fandom convention, hit downtown running on its first day.

S. David Ramirez, San Japan’s director of community relations, said the convention had sold 10,000 tickets as of Friday – a significant increase from previous events’ sales.

“Usually we’ll see that Saturday morning, but for us to hit that on Friday is tremendous,” he said.

San Japan started in 2008, making this year’s the 11th convention. It focuses on all things anime and “anime-adjacent,” Ramirez said, which includes video games, horror, and science fiction. Most convention attendees hail from San Antonio or nearby Austin, according to Ramirez, but each year 30 percent or so come from outside of Central Texas to attend panels and explore San Antonio. The convention runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

Last year, San Japan started shortly after Hurricane Harvey blew through Texas, but still managed to draw more than 17,000 visitors, Ramirez said.

“It was really surprising for us,” he said. “We were less than five days after Harvey, right in the middle of the gas crisis. It’s so crazy for us to think that in 2008, we had a little under 2,000 people in the basement of the Municipal Auditorium before it was the Tobin Center.”

San Antonians have gotten used to the influx of cosplayers – people dressed in character costumes – over time, Ramirez added.

“In the beginning, we always got that suspicious look,” he said. “‘Who are these people dressed up in costumes wandering around all hours of the day and night?’ Now we see people in T-shirts and in funny ears and costumes, engaging on social media. They’ve come to understand that our community is like any other convention. We want to have fun, explore, and have a great time in San Antonio.”

Convention events are spread out between the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, the Grand Hyatt, and the Marriott Riverwalk. Along with the interactive panels and the nightly electronic dances, Ramirez said he expects Deadlift Lolita’s concert to be one of the weekend’s biggest draws. Deadlift Lolita is a kawaii core death metal band from Japan, he explained, and they sing about fitness, weightlifting, and being healthy – in the style of death metal.

In keeping with past years, San Japan has been working with local charities, Ramirez said. This year, the convention will host a charity auction and fundraising drive for two groups: disABILITYsa, which hosts AccessAbility Fest and Fiesta Especial, and the UTSA East Asia Institute, for which San Japan will help provide scholarships for students who choose to study Japanese.

Weekend tickets cost $75, while day passes are $50. They can be purchased online or at the convention center.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.

Bonnie Arbittier worked as a photojournalist for the San Antonio Report.