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East Peoria anime convention hosts fun, fundraising and fights depression

Anime ZAP in East Peoria started in 2011, and has since grown to the largest winter anime convention in the state.

Founder Ryan Koph had so much success with East Peoria, he’s expanded to host seven other conventions across the Midwest.

“When I went to one of these conventions, I just had the best time ever,” he recalled fondly.

“So I decided I was going to run anime conventions, to bring this magic and all this fun to more people around the world.”

Even if you don’t like Japanese animation, there’s something for everyone.

Between Marvel, DC, television shows, video games and pop culture, ZAP covers all the bases.

Con-goers aren’t just raising the bar on costumes – they’re also raising funds with donations to St. Jude.

“I think nerds like to come together to do something fun for the community,” Koph said.

“Nerds always like raising money for something that’s good and important, and that’s big for us, too.”

The convention is also a way for people to fully express themselves in ways they usually can’t – outside Halloween.

Voice actor Greg Ayres is running a panel on how to deal with depression.

He says it’s at anime conventions that he can really get through to people.

“Most of us know what it’s like to feel like an outsider,” said Ayres.

“It’s important to make kids feel like they’re not doing this on their own. Whatever you’re struggling with, we’ve all done it to.”

“You just have to have that perspective, that perseverance to keep going,” he continued.

ZAP’s goal: to let fans know it’s okay to let their nerd flags fly.

Anime ZAP runs through Sunday evening at 6PM, with events throughout the days and nights.

Tickets are $40.

Mason Dowling

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