You know what I hate? People who are younger, prettier and more talented than me. Which is pretty much Anime fandom in a nutshell; hordes of happy, adorably cute teenagers in brilliant costumes they made from scratch. Probably in between studying for their advance placement classes and volunteering at the local soup kitchen.
Or at least that’s how it feels every year when I look around at the Anime LA membership. The first time I attended, just a few short years ago, I had only a vague idea of what to expect. Of course, I knew the average attendee would be on the younger side, but mostly that translated in my brain as “No party floor, dammit!” I was familiar with certain aspects of the fandom from con reports, costuming and art websites or from things like Wondercon. But the sheer number of people in costume was almost overwhelming and a real treat; from individuals cosplaying their favorite videogame character or just dressed in a specific fannish subculture fashion, to groups all doing one series, movie or manga, pretty much everyone seemed to be dressed up. I am a big believer in hall costuming as a vital form of fanac and there is no question cosplayers have that down cold.
One interesting result of this is that one of the biggest activities at Anime cons seems to be taking and posing for pictures. Even compared to events with a similar ratio of costumed attendees like Steampunk cons, the anime crowd spends a lot of its time on photos. Any patch of grass is likely to be occupied from sunup to sundown with a stream of models. Which on the one hand I totally get wanting to have a good record of the hard work put into an outfit, and a lot of the photo galleries you can find online are amazing; the costuming, modeling and photography– all top notch. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if it’s a symptom of some degree of shallowness; are the kids who spend all day standing in front of cameras interested in the rest of their fandom at all? Are they the equivalent of the hipsters who go to clubs to be seen, have photos taken for their Facebook wall but don’t really care about the band, dancing, or talking to their friends? I suppose the answer is “Who cares?” There are plenty of Con-dom vs. Fan-dom discussions are general interest conventions as well, so, as long as everyone is having fun, the more the merrier I guess.
But back to the amazing costumes; A look at a website like cosplay.com will show you the incredible work that goes into some of these. A great deal of the source material for these costumes is extremely stylized, to the point where, if I had not seen the costumes personally, I would have said it was unrealistic to do a recreation; long, flowing tresses that defy gravity and the structural limits of human hair, props and weapons that stand two or three times the height of the person wielding them, and clothing that was designed in a animated or drawn world of selective physics in which wardrobe malfunctions only exist for comedic effect.
But, somehow, these Cosplayers make it happen; wigs in highly unlikely colors are cut, spiked, styled, and sprayed into drag queen-esque levels of artificiality. Styrofoam and paper mache are assembled into lightweight props that would otherwise be impossible to lift, much less carry, and the outer layers are worked on with such attention and care that even knowing the materials are faked up, it’s hard to believe you’re not looking at metal or stone.
The results are wonderful, and, although the Masquerade is a big part of the convention, the joy of running around in the halls in full regalia seems
to be half the point. Cosplay appears to me to be a social activity.
I remember walking the halls at the first ALA I attended and thinking how this fandom differs, at least from the outside, from the cliche of misunderstood outsiders that mainstream fans usually claim as their origin story. These kids all appeared to be healthy, highly social, and prettier than anyone in Nerdom has any right to be.
Am I exaggerating? Yeah, okay. Maybe a little bit. There are certainly also a whole lot of slapped together Naruto costumes, and delicious moments of second-hand angst in the elevator when you are treated to snippets of drama, gossip, or the occasional full-on meltdown. And I’m sure some of the kids are nogoodniks who should be
sent to military school, dammit.
And, to be fair, I am seeing them in their own environment, surrounded by their peers. But still, it was a great contrast to the combined ‘Greying of Fandom’ and ‘Fannish Kids Are Few and Maladjusted’ truisms that come up regularly in conversation most other cons I attend.
Yipe! Volume 2, Issue 9, October 2010