Marny Knopsnyder of Bedford recently asked her teenage daughter Samantha what she wanted to do for her birthday.

And Samantha, who turns 15 today, knew her answer right away.

The Bedford High School student and her friend Cory Weicht, also 15, came to Lancaster for this weekend’s costume-packed Zenkaikon convention.

“I really enjoy anime (Japanese animated productions), so, since it was my birthday, I figured it would be really fun to come,” Samantha Knopsnyder explained Friday outside the Penn Square Marriott.

The smiling teen was dressed in green as the well-known, elf-like “Ben Drowned” character from a “creepypasta,” or a short story posted on the Internet to unnerve or shock readers.

Knopsnyder was just of the countless outfitted characters swarming around  downtown Lancaster for this weekend’s Zenkaikon, which began Friday and runs through Sunday at the Lancaster County Convention Center.

“With some people, (when they see a costume) they’d be like, ‘What the heck is THAT?’ But here, they go, ‘Whoa, I know what THAT is!’” Samantha Knopsnyder said.

Eric Bezuhly, who’s 20 and comes from Watsontown, Northumberland County, explained how Zenkaikon “is not “just anime, it’s tons of other stuff — sci-fi, movies, games, cross cultures and everything.

“It’s a way of expressing yourself, really — something where you can live in the show, live in the game, where you can let your mind go (away) and get away from reality” in a harmless way, he explained.

You might think that an army of costumed characters dropping in on Penn Square would cause, if not a “War of the Worlds”-style scare, at least a “what’s THAT supposed to be” from non-costumed onlookers.

But most others found the visitors, most of them young, to be friendly and welcoming, and the costumes to be “something a little different, but overall pretty harmless,” as one woman said.

“As long as they’re not up to no good, why not?” she said.

Added another, Diane Hershey of Leola, “I guess it’s sort of out of the realm, so at first we might have thought it was maybe a little weird, but then we thought it might be kind of fun to dress up for the day.”

Added a woman who was visiting Lancaster from Baltimore and didn’t want to give her name, “It doesn’t bother me. They’re not hurting anyone.”

This is the second year in Lancaster for Zenkaikon, which began in the Philadelphia area eight years ago when two established fan conventions combined.

The convention drew more than 3,300 people last year.

It continues today from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., and again Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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David O'Connor is a Lancaster Newspapers reporter who covers suburban government, off-the-field news for the Lancaster Barnstormers and general-assignment issues. He also blogs about the Christian music scene at CrossRock. He can be reached at or (717) 481-6033. You can also follow @DaveOConnor_LNP on Twitter.