Stephanie Estes as Reiko at NekoCon 2011

Stephanie Estes dresses as "Reiko," one of the mascots for this year's edition of Nekocon, a Japanese animation festival happening at the Hampton Roads Convention Center Nov. 4-6. (Joe Fudge, Daily Press / November 1, 2011)

Halloween has come and gone, but the masquerade continues this weekend in Hampton.

NekoCon 14, a Japanese animation convention taking place Nov. 4-6 at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, will attract hundreds — even thousands — of costumed enthusiasts eager to embody their favorite characters from books, cartoons, films and video games.

Wide-eyed, sword-swinging heroes will mix and mingle with cute, cuddly cat people. They'll dance, act, shop and show off in a frenzy of fantasy-soaked celebration.

"This is the oldest anime convention in Virginia," said 24-year-old Stephanie Estes, a Hampton resident who'll dress as a NekoCon mascot named Reiko for the weekend. "It just keeps getting bigger and bigger," Estes said. "It's really exciting to see people hyped up about the con."

Organizers expect as many as 4,000 participants. "The numbers are up from last year," said Brian Liivak, senior event manager with the convention center, home to NekoCon since 2005.

You don't have to dress up to enjoy the convention, but many do.

"It's a great people-watching event," Liivak said. "This whole place will be filled with people in full costume … The amount of time and creativity that people put into their costumes is just mind boggling. Many of them have spent months hand crafting their costumes."

A science fiction subgenre called "steampunk" has been picked as a theme for this year's NekoCon. That means folks attending are encouraged to put a Victorian-era spin on their costumes. Inspired by 19th century writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the steampunk movement imagines a world where technology and history unfolded in a very different way.

"It's as if electricity wasn't invented and you have to use steam to power everything," said Estes, a old-fashioned pocket watch chained to her waist. "I think that's where it started and now people are just having fun with it."

Steampunk — a label that emerged in the mid-1990s — now applies to strains in art, fashion and music. While still a subculture, it has seeped into the mainstream through television, rock album art and music videos.

Music is a key element for NekoCon. The convention will include a techno dance party Friday, Nov. 4. On Saturday, Nov. 5, rapper MC Frontalot will perform for the glowstick-weilding crowd. He's been credited with pioneering a musical style called nerdcore.

"Hip-hop can be about anything, as proven and embodied by MC Frontalot, a proud nerd who takes the stage in glasses, tie and pocket protector to rap about webcomics, computer games, blogs and picking up girls at Star Wars conventions," wrote critic Jody Macgregor on the website http://www.allmusic.com.

The Japanese rock band Born will also be part of the fun.

Art, of course, is at the center of NekoCon's appeal. Estes said that the "artists alley" section is her favorite part of any anime convention. "That's where I've met a lot of friends over the years," she said. Estes expects to run into many of her pals again this weekend.

"They're all kinds of people from all kinds of places," she said. "It's going to be fun."

Is she surprised that NekoCon has continued to thrive in Hampton?

Not really.

"It's a very well organized convention," she said. "They try to keep things fresh. And they keep it family oriented, too. It's something you can bring your children to. Kids tell their parents, 'I heard about this thing NekoCon. Can we go? Can we go? Can we go?' "

Want to go?

What: NekoCon 14, a Japanese animation convention

When: Noon-2 a.m. Friday, Nov. 4; 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 5; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6.

Where: Hampton Roads Convention Center, 1610 Coliseum Drive, Hampton.

Tickets: $50 for all three days, $35 for Friday only, $40 for Saturday only, $30 for Sunday only.

More info: http://www.nekocon.com or 757-315-1610