Matthew Santirojprapai grew up on what he terms “the real classics, from way back” when it comes to Japanese animation, or anime. He and his friends loved gathering around a TV to watch Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, One Piece and a mix of other long-running series together on Cartoon Network’s “Toonami” animation block and elsewhere. The genre helped expose the Memphis native to ideas he had never before imagined.
“I loved everything about the stories they had to tell and the way they told them through animation,” Santirojprapai says. “It was so out there, from sword-fighting to magic and other fantastic elements. I grew up watching it with my friends, and later they helped get me involved in working conventions as well.”
Now, Santirojprapai and the rest of the Memphis-based Anime Blues Con team are preparing to bring a taste of their beloved genre to Southaven, Miss., through ABC Winterfest Remix, a one-day convention that promises to pack all of the sights and experiences of a three-day anime convention into one. The event is on Saturday, Jan. 8, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Landers Center (4560 Venture Drive, Southaven) and will feature cosplay contests, a video game marketplace, exhibits, panels, gaming stations and more.
“The idea to have this be a one-day event came about largely because of time constraints and the greater effort required to organize a three-day event like what we do for Anime Blues Con every year,” Santirojprapai says. “Budgeting is a major concern when it comes to flying special guests out, but by not having guests at this event we’ve been able to put more money towards other aspects of the convention and let the attendees run the show at all the fan panels we have planned and give them the chance to discuss topics they love in their own way. Plus, a one-day show like this serves as a way to get people excited for our larger, three-day events to come.”
ABC Winterfest Remix will have a karaoke panel, a lip-synching contest, cosplay guides for beginners, 3D-printing panels and more, with attendees free to guide discussions their own way. ABC will also have a convention survival guide covering what people new to the convention scene can expect and how best to approach events, as well as a “character roast” that will allow attendees to make fun of characters from various shows and compare them to one another.
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“I think there’s a strong camaraderie that anime fans find in all loving the same thing and coming together to express their love of it, and that’s how strong communities form around these conventions,” Santirojprapai says.
“We’ve been seeing that in how we’ve grown every year, going from maybe 1,000 people at an event in the beginning to more than 5,000 showing up now. As anime has become more mainstream and started to get more exposure on television networks like Netflix and Hulu, the draw has gotten even bigger across the South. Now anime is something that everyone has easy access to, compared to 10 years ago when you had to find DVDs of many shows to see them.”
Born in Memphis, Tenn., Santirojprapai lived in Brandon, Miss., for six years because of his parents’ careers before moving back to Tennessee for high school when he was 15. He first became involved with Anime Blues Con group in 2012 after his friends recommended he try it out. Now, he serves as director of operations at MCA Entertainment Group, the nonprofit parent organization of Anime Blues Con, Anime Senpai and Yama-Con. Santirojprapai also manages media relations and website administration for MCA.
ABC Winterfest Remix launched in 2013 and has taken place every year except 2018, when the event had to be cancelled due to severe weather. Santirojprapai even managed to host the event during the summer of 2021 with thorough masking and social-distancing requirements, along with abundant amounts of hand sanitizer and other safety measures.
“After seeing the situation in Asia getting better after 2020, we felt hopeful by June 2021 that we could pull it off if we ran it as safely as possible,” he says. “We ultimately ended up going the whole nine yards to make sure Winterfest would be fun and safe for all our guests that summer.”
Attendees of ABC Winterfest Remix must wear a valid convention badge and wristband at all times and follow prop and costume rules, which are available on the Anime Blues Con website. Visitors must wear face masks within the convention center and follow COVID-19-prevention guidelines. Badges and wristbands grant access to all non-specialty events and function spaces based on availability and convention policies.
Drinking and smoking are prohibited within the venue, and adults must accompany attendees under age 13 at all times, even when in designated children’s programming areas. Specialty events may require an additional fee. Registration is $10 per person, and attendees can register online at animebluesremix.com/registration.
“I think that anyone who comes to check out ABC Winterfest might find themselves coming away from our event with a new hobby,” Santirojprapai says. “While our focus is on anime, we also cover games, comics and plenty of other things for people to come out and discover.”
Anime Blues Con, the larger three-day convention that Winterfest precedes, will take place at the Renasant Convention Center in Memphis, Tenn., from Friday, June 10, to Sunday, June 12. For more information on ABC Winterfest Remix, visit animebluesremix.com. For information on Anime Blues Con, visit animeblues.com.