Morgan Kollin grew up with a family-based appreciation for Jewish culture and grew into a special interest for Japanese culture.
The same heritage and interest hold true for Yuri Lowenthal, a television, stage and movie actor who has developed a voiceover presence in the field of animation.
The two cross paths through Youmacon, an annual event in its 12th year. It features anime (Japanese animation), manga (Japanese-style comics and artwork), video games, Internet experiences, comics, art and celebrity appearances, counting some 19,000 attendees in 2015.
Between 8 p.m. Nov. 3 and 6 p.m. Nov. 6, new interactive experiences will take place nonstop at Cobo Center and the Renaissance Center in Detroit.
“Every year, our team works tirelessly to create a bigger and better Youmacon experience with more programming, dealers, special guests and interactive opportunities and, once again, we’re proud to offer the largest event of its kind in the Midwest,” says Kollin, 36, chairman and founder of Youmacon Enterprises/Defying Conventions.
To make for fast-moving and complete engagement, attendees will find translations from Japanese to English. They can listen to original programming expressed in Japanese with English subtitles or hear American vocal talents speaking their own language while communicating Japanese creativity.
Kollin, who attended Pontiac’s Temple Beth Jacob until it closed, continues observance with membership in Troy’s Congregation Shir Tikvah and has traveled to Israel through the Birthright program. He became a fan of Japanese animation while growing up in Pontiac in the 1980s — watching imported anime shows like Voltron and Robotech and playing Nintendo and Super Mario Bros. — and looked into other forms of Japanese culture.
Drawn to the storylines of Japanese animation and the mix of tradition and pop, Kollin expanded his interest at conventions that focused on Japanese media and arts, and he decided to establish Youmacon to share the various media opportunities with others. He hopes to travel to Japan soon and further explore the origins of what he presents.
Lowenthal, who once Tweeted that he’s “a Tennessee Jew y’all,” will be making his second appearance at Youmacon. He was featured in the first year.
“Yuri is a veteran voice actor, and he has been one of the elite actors in this animated world since its beginning,” Kollin says. “Aside from participating on various discussion panels to talk about the series he’s worked on and voice talent in general, he will be at meet-and-greet autograph sessions.”
With an entry badge, all autograph sessions are free; and Lowenthal looks forward to them.
“I enjoy connecting with the fans at a level that I can’t when I’m just doing the work,” Lowenthal says about his Youmacon appearance. “I work in sort of a vacuum otherwise. It’s nice to hear from the people who are actually enjoying (and sometimes not enjoying!) the work I do.
“As long as I’m telling stories, I’m happy [while being] in a very ephemeral business. Although my union is currently on strike against video game producers — may it be short-lived — I’m constantly looking for the next job, whether that’s television, film, theater, writing or voiceover.”
Lowenthal, whose TV credits include Hawaii Five-0 and Criminal Minds, has been a fan of Japanese culture and history since his Nashville childhood. It started with anime and Godzilla movies and went on as he spent several years working and studying in Japan during and after college.
Remembering reading a book called The Japanese and the Jews and finding that very fascinating as it pointed out shared cultural characteristics, Lowenthal has accepted a number of roles that have kept him in touch with his religious heritage.
“I was in a play produced by the Jewish theater in Los Angeles; it was called Eva Peron and the Fourth Reich,” says Lowenthal, who has written books on his craft as well as fictional subjects and runs a production company with his wife, Tara Platt.
“Like many German-speaking actors in Los Angeles, I’m often asked to audition for the roles of Nazis in film and TV. Nobody puts the evil of the Nazis on display quite like a Jewish actor. Because I also speak French, I once voiced a French mercenary hell bent on exterminating Nazi vampires. It’s an odd business I’m in!”
Platt will be among the other celebrities ready to meet with visitors. She grew up in Chelsea, where her parents still live, and has been on TV’s Castle, Hawaii Five-0 and Parenthood.
Other panelists include Lisa Ortiz, U.S. director of Pokemon; Ian Sinclair, voice actor whose popular roles include Space Dandy in the series of the same name; and Todd Haberkorn, a voice actor heard as Natsu in Fairy Tail.
“We bring more guests and more unique guests than any other convention of our genre,” says Kollin, who has arranged for an exhibition hall with more than 100 vendors of relevant goods (toys, figurines, models, video games) from around the world and a gallery setting with some 100 artists displaying their projects. A Live Action Mario Party, Cosplay (wearing costumes), Youma Idol, Anime Name That Tune and a Charity Masquerade Ball are among some of the Youmacon favorites.
“There are activities that we have orchestrated ourselves, including guest showcases with themes, live-action parties and costumed characters at play in a game of chess.”
Kollin, who handles the contracts with business owners and unions for Youmacon, defines the event as only one phase of his professional commitments. He plans the Midwest Media Expo and runs both Anime Tailors, which makes costumes and accessories, and Detroit Leather Company, which designs and handcrafts leather goods.
“I love putting on community-based programming,” he says. “One of my goals has been bringing tourism to Michigan; and as I begin thinking of the next Youmacon, I think in terms of its celebrating its bar mitzvah year.” *
Youmacon 2016 runs between 8 p.m. Nov. 3 and 6 p.m. Nov. 6 at Cobo Center and Renaissance Center in Detroit. Tickets will be available at the door for cash only: $65 for a three-day pass, $35 for Friday only, $45 for Saturday only and $25 for Sunday only. Thursday evening’s activities are free. Some activities are for those 18 and older. Youmacon.com.
By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer