Debut AnimeiCon convinces audiences that imaginative geeks equals creative cool.

Light Fare: Though there is a whole realm of adult-only anime, convention organizers say their films are all family friendly.

Let’s start with the name. It’s pronounced “ANN-nih-may.” But what is anime?

Anime is the genre of animated films—and TV and web shows (and, recently, video games)—that originated out of Japanese manga, or comic books. The first anime was created in 1917, its first feature film in 1944. Its growth closely followed the U.S. development of animation, but in an alternate universe of drawing styles, visual cues and cultural mores.

Today the anime style claims big-time cultural touchstones like the kid fare of Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragonball Z, and adult stuff like Witchblade (pictured), Akira and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away. But it stretches across broad boundaries like space/sci-fi sagas, martial arts, magical girls (one of those Japanese cultural mores), mecha (fighting robots), monsters, romance, drama, fantasy, etc.

There are thousands of titles and they are spilling into the mainstream daily on the strength that they can be compellingly good—well drawn, detailed, stylish, with the energy of an ADHD boy on candy bars and the drama of a tween girl humiliated on Facebook.

AnimeiCon (pronounced “anime icon”) provides an immersion into the Japanese culture of not just this iconic entertainment, but also into the concentrated world of fandom and conventions.

“I went to my first anime convention in 2005,” says AnimeiCon co-founder Elyjah Mercurio. “Fanime Con in San Jose at the Convention Center. In the ‘80s they would have classified [attendees] as ‘nerds.’ Now, we’re so proud and happy and not afraid to show who we are. It’s amazing, the creativity.”

He and his fiancee (and AnimeiCon co-founder) Suzanne Nguyen are intent on recreating that same festive creative atmosphere here in their hometown with Monterey’s first-ever anime convention. As cool as rodeo cowboys or MotoGP motorcycles can be, Monterey has never seen anything like this.

They’re showing about 16 anime films and TV series from U.S. distributor FUNimation in two viewing buildings, about 40-plus hours of entertainment on loop, with titles like Soul Eater, Black Butler, Toriko and Fairy Tail.

Behind the screening rooms is the co-star of the festival, the cosplay fans, who dress up as their favorite anime characters. That means the requisite wild hairstyles, colorful outfits, accessories, jewelry—down to the voices, poses and catchphrases. They’ll also perform ensemble skits and parade across the fairgrounds to a soundtrack of music.

A mini-music festival unfolds as well. The bio for Salinas’ Hero Shot is complicated, a storyline of line-up changes, break-ups, reunions and “dramas.” The youthful sense of self-importance is charming, but damn if the music isn’t glorious guitar anthem stuff. “Act IV The Show’s Just Begun” cycles from emotive singing to furious howls, thrashy guitar to Strokes-like buzzing solos.

Seaside’s ESIK, from Projekt SEER, will add his fiery but peace-loving hip-hop imprint to the stage, while the Bay Area’s DL da Arsun and his Built to Grind crew does a more commercial brand of slick R&B raps. Then the culture clash begins.

“Yuki Dong is a vocaloid, an anime music performer,” Mercurio says. “[As are] Angel Hearts and RK.”

These performers specialize in anime opening credit and theme songs in a genre called J-pop (Japanese pop) and J-rock (guess). This music’s sugary pop sweet tooth is alleviated some by the complete earnestness of the delivery.

Other live action comes from Texas, of all places. Three English-language anime voice actors from FUNimation will arrive for panels, workshops and autograph signings. They are voice actor and director Chris Cason, whose work on Fullmetal Alchemist, Dragonball Z Kai (where he voiced Mr. Popo, in case your kids ask) and others has landed on Spike TV, The Cartoon Network and The Independent Film Channel; Trina Nishimura, who’s been Shigure Kosaka in Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple, Kiri in Ga-Rei and many others; and voice actress, director and scriptwriter Jamie Marchi.

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Nguyen and Mercurio both recommend convention-goers check out the Turf Club venue, which for three days they’re calling the Cafe Event. Its hyper-Japanese origins, though, make it tricky to decipher what “event” happens there.

“In Japan,” Mercurio says, “they have maids or hostesses serve guests and entertain them. [At Cafe Event] there will be Asian desserts and drinks. The maids will spend time with you.”

Mercurio assures that it’s not just for adults, and Nguyen says the “maids” will include men, which she explains is a radical departure from Japan.

A little more familiar is Club iCon, set in the Monterey Room, where “a bunch” of DJs, from 6pm to midnight every night, spin Top 40, techno, dark electronica and even battle each other.

Other geeky pleasures: Lazer tag, arcade and Magik tournaments, zombies and “certified pirates” a swap meet, vendors and an artist hall with more than 35 artists on hand. Some more noble purpose lies in the conventions’ donations of auction and raffle money to benefit Dorothy’s Kitchen, Monterey County Library’s literacy programs for teens, battered women’s shelter Women Alive and the Red Cross for disaster relief both here and in Japan.

From the cultural community of anime fandom, with its silly, creative and innocent fun, Mercurio suggests deeper rewards can be found.

“I’m amazed by the creativity,” he says. “The effort cosplay fans put into [their costumes]. When you see them...what’s the word? ‘Alive’ is the word. Other times it’s a vicious cycle of school, work, daily life. But here you’re alive.”

AnimeiCon takes place 10am-11:30pm Fri; 9am-11:30pm Sat; 9am-5pm Sun. Monterey County Fairgrounds, Monterey. Registration: $25/Fri, $30/Sat, $35/Sun; free/child 5 and under; $25/youth 6-11 all 3 days; group discounts available. 372-5863, www.animeicon.org.

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