Israel's biggest anime convention returned in time for Purim

Purim is a holiday where Israeli cosplayers and nerds alike can truly shine.

 THE WRITER recreates the famous Spider-Man internet meme with other cosplayers. (photo credit: Gadi Zaig)
THE WRITER recreates the famous Spider-Man internet meme with other cosplayers.
(photo credit: Gadi Zaig)

On Purim and with people already dressing up in costume, Israeli cosplayers felt right at home, especially at Harucon, one of Israel’s large anime and manga conventions, which was held on the same day.

The event brings in thousands of fans of all ages where you can find a variety of activities, ranging from workshops to lectures, panels, competitions and film screenings.

For the uninitiated, cosplay is referred to by Oxford Languages as "the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game; anime refers to computer animation originating from Japan. 

I walked into the entrance of the Jerusalem International Convention Center, where the event is annually held, and everyone – experienced cosplayers as well as people celebrating Purim with their families – was dressed up. The costumes ranged from well-known anime shows to characters from some of the most famous Hollywood blockbusters and franchises.

As for me, I decided to get creative and a bit weird with my costume, and walked in wearing a Spider-Man mask, paired with the outfit worn by Player 456 from the Netflix show Squid Game.

 THE INTERNATIONAL Convention Center packed with anime fans and cosplayers. (credit: ROY DARNELL ) THE INTERNATIONAL Convention Center packed with anime fans and cosplayers. (credit: ROY DARNELL )

What is amazing about conventions like these is how they can bring complete strangers together through their shared love of popular culture. I saw many people get excited when they spotted someone else costuming the same character or another character from the same show, movie or book.

This happened to me when I saw other cosplayers wearing the Spider-Man outfit. There was a huge adrenaline rush and a lot of excitement. What ended up happening is that we recreated the famous Spider-Man meme where two people wearing the red-and-blue spandex outfit are pointing at each other.

When asked about what makes Harucon so special, one cosplayer said it’s “the fact that the community is pretty small, specifically in Israel – compared to other anime fandoms around the world. From music, art and cosplay, it’s easy to get into the culture and to approach people, and make new friends as well.”

 Some cosplays can also be scary. Pictured: A cosplay of the titular character of the manga series Chainsaw Man. (credit: ROY DARNELL ) Some cosplays can also be scary. Pictured: A cosplay of the titular character of the manga series Chainsaw Man. (credit: ROY DARNELL )

Costumes I saw people wearing included Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Batgirl and The Flash from DC Comics, characters from the Kingdom Hearts video game franchise, Alexander Hamilton from the self-titled Broadway musical, and the Disney villain Cruella de Vil. Anime cosplayers came in costume as characters from shows such as One Piece, Violet Evergarden, Attack on Titan and characters from films that were produced by the Japanese animation production company Studio Ghibli.

Notable cosplayers who attended the event included those from the Israeli Outpost of the 501st Legion, a group of Star Wars fans who cosplay as the characters from a galaxy far, far away. While not anime-oriented, these Star Wars cosplayers are frequent attendees of pop culture conventions in the country.

Another example of people meeting and connecting is through card games, as the event also included a massive room for games, where players and fans of card games such as Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokémon, Dungeons & Dragons, Magic the Gathering, etc. can compete against each other in friendly matches and tournaments. Even inexperienced players who want to learn to play are taught by more experienced players.

Other Harucon events consisted of many different competitions where anime and manga lovers could display their talent to the community, from singing to cosplaying to art.

 HARUCON GIVES fans a showcase for an array of uncommon talents. (credit: LIA GOLDENBERG) HARUCON GIVES fans a showcase for an array of uncommon talents. (credit: LIA GOLDENBERG)

The singing competition consisted of people “singing songs in Japanese from popular anime shows,” one of the competition’s judges said.

The cosplay competition was one of Harucon’s largest events. Cosplayers who made their own costumes by hand came onstage in front of a large audience to display their work. The competition was divided into multiple categories, such as a single cosplayers competition and a group competition where multiple cosplayers come onstage together in groups. Some group contestants even choreographed a scene where they would perform and act like the characters they cosplay from a well-known anime.

Harucon also featured educational lectures for fans, which covered a broad variety of subjects. “How to measure quality anime, how to write a good murder story in anime, and anime from a legal point of view,” were among topics discussed, said Raphael Sarya Serfaty, who has been involved in many lectures in various pop culture conventions. “There are also lectures geared towards specific series and movies.”

Japanese Ambassador Mizushima Koichi introduced the cosplay contest, coming onstage cosplaying Tanjiro Kamado, the main character from Demon Slayer. The Japanese Embassy has been present and has supported many of the anime conventions that have taken place in Israel, to present Japanese culture to the Israeli public.

Also, before the competition started, the event promoted the upcoming TV channel Arutz Anime (The Anime Channel). The channel will be airing anime series in Israel and will be made available on Hot VOD and YesVOD.

In the International Convention Center, the first floor had many booths with pop culture merchandise, action figures, cards, costumes, old and new video games and comic books. What makes this unique is that it is relatively difficult to find and purchase these items in Israel; they can be bought in the country only during conventions.

What makes the event unique is what is on the second floor – all the unique artworks that independent artists can display and sell to the general public as posters. I bought quite a few of them myself. Featured on the posters are original drawings of anime characters and pop culture characters.

“I love that there are so many artists here who sell their work and display their talent,” said one cosplayer.

One of Harucon’s last events included a spectacular performance by the band Hapoel Tokyo, which has garnered the attention of Israel’s anime community because its members are Israeli musicians who cover theme songs of popular anime shows – in Japanese. Songs in their setlist included openings from anime shows such as Demon Slayer, Naruto, Tokyo Revengers and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

 ISRAELI FANS line up to buy comics, manga and other merchandise at the convention. (credit: Naomika Goldkin) ISRAELI FANS line up to buy comics, manga and other merchandise at the convention. (credit: Naomika Goldkin)

Throughout the 12-hour-long event, all attendees were required to wear a mask due to the ongoing pandemic.

This event follows an increasing trend of geek conventions being held during Jewish holidays, usually during Hanukkah and Passover. The most recent example would be ICon being held during Sukkot in September of last year.

Other pop-culture conventions hosted in Israel include Olamot and Comics-Con. What separates Harucon from the rest is that it specifically focuses on celebrating anime and manga culture in Israel, rather than other areas of pop culture.

The event was organized by the Association of Manga and Anime in Israel. The other anime convention in Israel, also organized by AMAI, is CAMI, which is usually held during the summer.

The association is a nonprofit organization that has been working for over a decade to promote the field of anime, manga and Japanese culture in Israel, according to Harucon’s website. ❖

Aaron Reich contributed to this report.