Anime and manga take Jerusalem

The layout of the convention is largely the same every year. Past the desk and up the stairs is a wide range of merchandise vendors.

COSPLAYERS DRESSED as characters from Kingdom Hearts, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency and other franchises pose following CAMI’s cosplay contest. (photo credit: AARON REICH)
COSPLAYERS DRESSED as characters from Kingdom Hearts, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency and other franchises pose following CAMI’s cosplay contest.
(photo credit: AARON REICH)
August 1 marked the 10th annual Israeli Anime and Manga Convention (CAMI), held in Jerusalem’s International Convention Center. Despite the brutal summer heat, hundreds of avid enthusiasts of Japanese culture attended the event, which featured a wide variety of lectures, merchandise booths and opportunities for fellow geeks to mingle and socialize.
The convention was organized by the Association for Anime and Manga in Israel (AMAI), and has been held every year since 2009, with the exception of 2013. This is in addition to the association’s flagship convention, Harucon, which has been held every spring since 2008.
Both conventions are held with the support of the Japanese Embassy in Israel, which maintains a visible presence each year. In fact, the embassy’s desk is one of the first things one sees when entering the convention center. This association allows Israel to participate in the World Cosplay Summit, an international “costume play” contest held every year in Japan. Each country selects its own participants through qualifiers. Israel’s qualifiers are held at Harucon, which has strict regulations on cosplay creation, specifically that all cosplays must be made by the cosplayer, rather than through stores. This is hardly an issue, however, as most Israelis make their own cosplays themselves anyway, an AMAI representative told In Jerusalem.
The cosplay contest was very impressive, covering a variety of categories and showcasing incredible creativity and flair. In addition to showing off a well-designed costumes, the contest also included a category for couples, a category for non-veteran cosplayers and a category for acting out in-character skits.
This was simply one of the numerous events at the conference, which included several lectures, workshops and a cosplay runway – allowing cosplayers to simply express themselves and show their cosplays equally on a noncompetitive stage. Also held were the finals of AMAIdol 2019 – AMAI’s official singing contest, which features contestants singing recognizable songs from anime, video games and more.
In addition to the convention’s focus on anime, manga and video games, the Japanese Embassy sees it as a chance to promote Japanese culture to young people in Israel. Not only does the embassy help with CAMI’s and Harucon’s budget, it also provides lectures, in addition to the lecturers the embassy hosts itself every two months. These lectures may be completely irrelevant to anime and manga, but serve to promote Japanese culture. The embassy’s representatives, including Japanese Press and Culture Attaché to Israel Shion Kawai, gave out numerous pamphlets and flyers in English and Hebrew covering everything from travel brochures and tourist guides to booklets about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese vice consul to Lithuania during World War Two who helped nearly 6,000 Jews escape during the Holocaust.
Something else present on the desk: applications for scholarships provided by the Japanese Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry that allow undergraduate and graduate students to study in Japan.
“We’ve had this scholarship program for over 50 years,” Kawai explained. “So far, about 120 [Israeli] students studied in Japan thanks to this program.”
The cultural attaché also mentioned that Japan is becoming a popular tourist destination for Israelis.
“In 2018, over 40,000 Israelis traveled to Japan,” he said. “There are charter flights operated by Sund’or, El Al’s subsidiary.” He added that with the addition of El Al’s direct flights to Tokyo – slated to begin in March 2020 – these numbers will increase even more.
The layout of the convention is largely the same every year. Past the desk and up the stairs is a wide range of merchandise vendors. Most of these vendors represent familiar brands, like the manga and comic shop Comikaza, and often showcase geek merchandise that you can only find at this type of convention. These items range from cheap used video games and consoles, hats, decorative pillows, posters, figurines, jewelry and more.
However, some individual sellers attend as well. One such vendor is experienced cosplayer Lyddar Shafrir, who makes custom cosplays and even sells guides to making cosplays.
ANOTHER NOTEWORTHY desk was staffed by two Israeli self-published authors, Dana Pines and Alon Zeira. Zeira, 39, has published three books, two for adults and one for kids. Pines, 28, has only published one, a fantasy novel titled Kalalat Hamalachim, or Curse of the Angels, which was nominated for a Geffen Award (the prize is awarded at Icon Festival held in Tel Aviv in the fall).
However, she is already working on a sequel. Pines is also working on her master’s degree in English literature at Bar-Ilan University, and is planning on translating her novel into English.
On the second floor are several more merchandise vendors. These vendors are mostly independent artists, selling everything from hand-knitted geek merchandise to paintings. Everything these artists sell is made by them, not mass-manufactured.
Past the vendors is a large room dedicated to games. Usually, this room would consist of one or two video game consoles and several tables dedicated to tabletop and trading-card games. This year, however, was very different. For the first time, CAMI was officially sponsored by Nintendo Israel. The company set up several Nintendo Switch consoles in the room with a variety of games, ranging from Super Mario Maker, Pokémon and Super Smash Bros.
Nintendo Israel public relations head Or Mentesh represented the company at the convention.
“We’ve only existed since March,” Mentesh explained. “We want to market ourselves here.”
Part of Nintendo’s strategy for sponsoring the convention is to expose people to its products at gatherings like this. Until recently, the video game market in Israel was dominated by PC, Xbox and PlayStation. However, Nintendo now has the advantage of having some of the most iconic video games in the industry, with the Mario and Pokémon franchises being the most commercially successful of all time. They also partner with Israeli influencers and YouTube gamers in order to increase the number of people seeing their latest games and hardware.
Another important part of the company’s strategy is to work with the small but growing community of established Nintendo fans in Israel, especially the Super Smash Bros. community. Smash, as it is commonly known, is one of the world’s most popular fighting games, with a very dedicated fan base. In Israel, however, the community is fairly small.
The most popular fighting game in Israel, Mentesh said, is Tekken, with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat also boasting dedicated communities. These games are available on several platforms, while Smash is a Nintendo console exclusive. However, what the Israeli Smash community lacks in size compared to Tekken, it makes up for it in openness.
“The Smash community is very friendly,” Mentesh said. “We don’t organize [tournaments and events], but we do sponsor and host them.” He added, “If you have tournaments, come to us.”
For Pokémon, despite having notably competitive fans abroad, the biggest competitive scene in Israel at the moment is the Pokémon Trading Card Game. However, this may be about to change.
“I can’t elaborate right now,” Mentesh said, “but Pokémon fans have a lot to be excited for.”
The strategy of opening the community reflects an interesting facet of Israel’s anime and manga community: how friendly it is to all ages and tolerant to fans from all backgrounds. CAMI embodies this perfectly – a stark contrast to conventions abroad.
This sentiment was reaffirmed by Naomi Chriqui, a 22-year-old immigrant to Israel from the US who has been to numerous conventions abroad as well as to CAMI and Harucon here. A big part of this openness, she explained, is timing. CAMI is only one day and takes place during the day. Most conventions abroad, however, last a weekend, and are usually geared towards the evening for adults.
“Trust me, when I went to [conventions] in America, I could point out five things off the top of my head that kids shouldn’t be allowed to see,” she told In Jerusalem. CAMI is “a completely different setting,” she said, adding, “I can barely think of anything at CAMI that isn’t something you can bring kids to see.
“It’s just a wholesome and fun place for anime, manga and video game fans in Israel to enjoy each other’s company.”
Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.