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SK kids give library the big eye

Tonight, 15-year-old Crystal Welsh is going out with her friends. Before heading out the door, she will tell her parents she’s headed to the library.

And even though that’s a normally suspicious story made even more suspicious given that school’s out for summer, Welsh will be telling the truth.

She and dozens of other teens will be headed to the Anime Film Festival, kicking off its second summer at the Port Orchard Library tonight.

“Last year, it was big success,” said Kathleen Wilson, who coordinates the library’s programs for young readers, explaining that about 30 kids showed up for the festival’s first year.

Designed as free, fun event for local teens, Wilson said the festival offers popcorn, soda and two hours of Anime — highly-stylized Japanese animation featuring characters with big, doe eyes — that the audience gets to choose from the library’s carefully prepared selection.

“We tried to find films that they couldn’t just turn on The Cartoon Network to see,” Wilson said, explaining that media librarian John Fossett gave himself a quick education in Anime on the Internet, then previewed all the titles he chose “to make sure they were suitable.”

Wilson said the festival attracts a lot of “die-hard fans,” a label Welsh happily accepts. But although she easily gushes about Anime, she can’t easily explain why.

“I just like the style, and the Japanese culture,” the Marcus Whitman Junior High freshman said. “The stories are more like real life. The characters are like regular people — they have real problems and react like real people would. Plus, the good guy doesn’t always win.”

In fact, often these storylines are too realistic, Welsh said, and must be watered down for American tastes.

“Sometimes, when you’re watching it on TV, every other sentence is bleeped out,” Welsh said. “So you can’t get the full impact.”

There are American versions of Anime, Welsh said, but they can’t compare.

“It’s easy to spot the imitators,” she said. “Small things make a huge difference, like the size of the characters’ eyes.”

Introduced to Anime by one of her friends, Welsh said she was amazed to find out how many other kids in South Kitsap love the art form.

“It’s freakish,” she said. “I was sitting in class early last year and realized there were about 12 kids in the back talking about Anime. They said, ‘Sit back here — this is the Anime section.’ ”

Welsh said she likes the social perks of being an Anime fan, and admitted she wanted to go to the festival tonight not so much to watch the films, but to hang out with other kids who shared her interest in them.

In fact, Welsh said the library is pretty much her destination of choice these days — whether there are movies showing or not.

“I enjoy it,” said Welsh, who joined the library’s Teen Advisory Board, which will help create the look and feel of the building’s new expanded section for teen readers. “The library has a nice, quiet atmosphere and plenty of things to do,” such as reading, using the computers, or just enjoying the scenery.

“It’s one of the best spots in town,” Welsh said, explaining that the library’s waterfront location is easy to get to, and offers great views and easy access to the beach, ferry and downtown.

And although the library may not sound like a cool spot for anyone between the ages of 8 and 50, Welsh said she has no problem convincing her friends to go with her.

“If you ask most of my friends if they want to go to the library, they say ‘I’ll be ready in two minutes,’ ” she said, explaining that the biggest problem is finding a car big enough to fit everyone. “I’ll be the next one to get a driver’s license, so I know I’ll be the cabby then. But I don’t mind.”

Port Orchard Branch manager Linda Thompson could not be happier that the library is drawing teens, saying events like the film festival are exactly why she brought in Wilson.

“Teens are the hardest group to reach, because that’s when you lose them, around the 6th to 8th grade,” Thompson said, explaining that she hoped if the library can get bring them in for the festival, to borrow CDs or DVDs and use the computers now, they are more likely to become lifelong users — and readers.

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