Less than a week after octogenarian Hayao Miyazaki scored his second Academy Award, another 80-something anime legend, “Gundam” creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, greeted a packed auditorium at the second annual Niigata International Animation Film Festival (NIAFF). Striding onstage in a funky black-and-white jacket, billowing slacks and a baseball cap, Tomino urged the artists in the audience to surpass his longtime rival, who he said had raised the artistic bar for the medium — “Let’s beat Miyazaki!”

Tomino’s rousing ebullience kicked off this year’s six-day NIAFF in Niigata, a mid-sized city two hours north of Tokyo by train. Despite brisk winds and spurts of snow, the city’s welcome felt even warmer this year, with local restaurants offering specials highlighted in the program guide and a cosplay parade snaking through the central shopping district.