Hundreds of anime and manga fans dressed as their favorite animated personas on Saturday, filling the streets outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall as they made their way to the first-ever AniTOMO convention at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Cosplayers traded in the iconic Jacob Javits Convention Center on July 8 for the Brooklyn Public Library, located at 286 Cadman Plaza. Impersonating popular characters from hit anime shows like Demon Slayer and wielding their plastic swords and donning bright kimono robes, attendees strode down Brooklyn Heights thanks to the culmination of one woman’s vision.
AniTOMO founder Eileen Baptistin Level had a dream over a year ago to create an inclusive space for anime and manga fans — one that did not cost attendees wads of cash and was developed by the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community. On a limb, she applied to the Brooklyn Public Library’s incubator, an innovative program that empowers members of the community and partners them with library staff to develop ways to service the public.
“The idea came from my experience working with anime and manga fans that were POC teens and young adults living in marginalized communities,” Level said. “I realized that anime fans were very much present in these communities with the power to bring different groups together and tear down walls of communication. Beyond that I noticed many of them were interested in being more than consumers but creators in the space.”.
The name AniTOMO is a combination of the words anime and Tomodachi, which means friendship in Japanese. Level hoped that this convention, which was developed by the BIPOC community, would become the perfect cross-pollination between Brooklyn and Japan.
Level told amNewYork Metro she was accepted into the Brooklyn Public Library Incubator on July 11, 2022, and from there she set forth on her journey to survey anime and manga fans of color living in underserved areas in Brooklyn, such as East New York, Starrett City, Brownsville, Coney Island, Canarsie, Crown Heights, and Flatbush.
For a year, Level hosted small town halls for fans at various library branches in these neighborhoods, and together the community shared their input on what they would like to see in their own convention. During her tour, she was surprised to learn that many of these fans had never been to a convention before, mainly due to the high costs.
“Me and my teammates Giovanni Griffths and Ashley Lubin visited local libraries where we invited manga and anime enthusiasts to stop by and tell us their ideal vision of a manga and anime convention,” Level said. “What I learned is that most had never attended a convention because they didn’t know what it was, or because it was too expensive. So, I broke down the anatomy of a convention and assured them that this would be free.”
Level’s team spoke to more than 100 fans of all ages and, together they developed a vision board full of ideas for the first-ever AniTOMO.
“One year later we were able to make our dream a reality at the Brooklyn Heights Library,” Level said. In January 2023, she received a $10,000 grant from the incubator program and the Brooklyn Public Library allowed her to use their Cadman Plaza branch as a venue.
Close to 1,000 people registered for AniTOMO, and more than 500 of them lined up outside of Brooklyn Public Library on July 8. Adjusting their bright pink wigs and angel wings, attendees enthusiastically grabbed their free swag bag and pamphlet and prepared for a day of panels, giveaways, and gaming.
The event was divided into three floors: The first floor was a common area where fans could socialize with each other and prepare themselves for the cosplay competition at the end of the day; the second floor was an artist alley where independent vendors sold their handmade anime/manga inspired designs such as embroidery and glass plates, as well as a Street Fighter 6 tournament section; and the lower level featured interactive gaming and manga panels.
Unlike larger conventions, each panel provided a space for trailblazers in the industry to communicate with attendees more directly, such creators from GKids (a producer and distributor of award-winning animation) who discussed internships and career opportunities, as well as intimate talks with voice actor Zeno Robinson and his advice on breaking into the industry.
One guest shared with Robinson that they were upset they couldn’t meet him at New York Comic Con but were happy to not only have a conversation with the voice actor but receive a free autograph and selfie.
Throughout the day attendees received free giveaways, such as an Xbox One X, gift certificates to the Japan Film Festival, and badges to AnimeNYC thanks to sponsors like Square Enix, Anime NYC, Sephora, Viz Media, Crunchyroll, the Japan Society, and more.
“In the end, I accomplished what I set out to do which was to ignite a spark!” Level said. “Today AniTOMO Manga and Anime Convention joined the movement of initiatives taking place to show the world that POC fans can participate in the evolution and every aspect of this industry. I’m thankful that I was able to launch this convention with the support of the Brooklyn Public Library Incubator program and make it free for all attendees in a space that is considered a community hub and safe haven.”