It'll be wall-to-wall otaku at the Lafayette Hilton this weekend for the debut of Mechacon, Lafayette's first Anime & Japanese Culture convention.

Japan has long held the rapt attention of the wired generation, from the technological innovations to the bouncy j-pop to the hagakure, the mysterious code of the samurai. The most popular import to grab the imaginations of the gaijin is anime, Japanese animated cartoons.

Perhaps the best-known anime film to contemporary viewers is Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Film and Japan's highest-grossing movie, period. Miyazaki is a master, and Spirited Away's jawdropping design and unforgettable characters have earned it more than two dozen major awards worldwide. Miyazaki, though, is just the most recent overground anime sensation: if you grew up in the '60s, '70s, '80s, or even '90s, you'll recognize names like Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer, Robotech and Card Captor Sakura.

At once recognizable by the large, evocative eyes of the characters, anime can range from sweet, childhood nostalgia (My Neighbor Totoro, Catnapped) to hyper-violent cyberpunk (Ghost in the Shell, Akira) to elegaic, breathtaking ruminations on mortality (Grave of the Fireflies). All of it is characterized by striking visuals, complex and layered stories, and more imagination than a dozen DreamWorks productions.

Mechacon will feature multiple viewing rooms for continuous anime overload, as well as the world premiere of Transformers: The Movie ' Reconstructed, featuring Optimus Prime, Megatron, and rest of those giant shape-shifting robots that you thought you had forgotten.

Mechacon is more than anime, however: The organizers promise a broad sampling of Japanese culture, including art displays, costume contests, karaoke, and informative panels on bonsai, origami, calligraphy, swordsmanship, and Japanese professional wrestling. Catch a whiff of cherry blossom time, go super sayan over the vendors' tables, or just gawk at the costumes: you won't find more pure imagination packed into one place.


Mechacon runs Friday, Aug. 26-Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Lafayette Hilton (1521 W. Pinhook Rd., 235-6111). For more info or to purchase tickets visit www.mechacon.com.

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