The 2011 Anime Convention, or “Why I Wish I Had a Costume”

By - Feb 22nd, 2011 04:20 am
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Photos by Brian Jacobson.

A crowd of roughly 4,000 manga enthusiasts gathered in downtown this weekend for the 2011 Anime Milwaukee Convention. Moved from the UWM campus, AMKE was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel to accommodate its ever growing group of attendees.

Now for those of you not in the know, “anime” is short for “animation,” but it more specifically refers to animation of the Japanese variety. Already hugely popular in Japan and many European countries, anime’s popularity and presence in American culture is slowly but surely growing. Its prevalence can be seen with the commercial success of many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films (including the Academy Award winning Spirited Away) or television shows like Pokemon and the Dragon Ball series; Quentin Tarantino even went so far as to include anime style animation in Kill Bill: Volume 1. That said, it should also be noted that anime is vastly misunderstood — it’s not just for kids. Although various incarnations are geared towards a younger age group, there is such a wide range of anime comics, including ones that deal with more mature, often poignant subject matter.

While this particular con is made up of mostly high school and college aged attendees, there were still a large number of adults in attendance (and not just the adults chaperoning their kids), as well as entire families.

I went into this fairly excited. I admit, I’m a fan, and my only regret is not having had more time to hang around the convention. Entering the Hyatt, I saw groups of people dressed up as various comic book, and video game characters milling about. I won’t lie:  one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was “I wish I had a costume.”

People that dressed up were involved in cosplay, which is a sort of performance art meets live action role playing, where participants dress up as and take on the personas of specific characters from the aforementioned sources. This also includes those dressed in full on animal/creature ensembles, referred to as “furries.” (Note: not to be confused with or put in the same category as those who dress up as such for sexual reasons).

One of the highlights was the Cosplay Competition, in which characters are judged based on the authenticity and quality of the costume. During the half time there was even a Character Auction during which you could bid on characters to take with you to the Rave (the big dance party held Saturday night), with all of the proceeds going to the Penfield Children’s Center of Milwaukee.

Though it’s true that cosplay has become extremely popular in Japan (especially as part of their street culture), it has existed in Western culture long before and unrelated to anime’s popularity. It has been more common for Western cosplayers to recreate characters from live-action series such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, The Lord of the Rings, even something as contemporary as Harry Potter; it would be neglectful of me to not mention also those who participate in Renaissance fairs or the Society for Creative Anachronism and historical re-enactments such as Civil War battles. Even if you are not participating, it’s still fun to see!

Aside from all the bright and colorful characters, AMKE had a wide variety of things to do. One room was set up with mostly local vendor tables, including ones that sold little Japanese trinkets, plush toys/key chains, Asian snacks, mangas and DVDs. I was a bit disappointed that some of the DVDs I was interested in were not present or more expensive than I personally was willing to pay, but if you are a collector, or otaku (the English version, not intended to be used with the negative connotation that is common in Japanese), then it would have been a good time to buy, as most of the DVDs were discounted.

There was also a table that was selling anime of the hentai (read: pornographic) variety that was surprisingly close to the entrance. Once I realized what sort of selection it was, I decided to go look elsewhere, but not before catching glimpse of a DVD called “Mr. Sexual Harassment.”

There were also a number of panels that had to do with all aspects of anime and Japanese fandom, including ones on Lolita fashion (I was bummed to have missed this), script writing, how to run an anime club, and even one on dance moves and how to comport one’s self with the utmost coolness at the rave.

In addition to all of this, there were two rooms that were open 24 hours for gamers (video and table top), an anime screening room, and the Hyatt’s famous revolving Polaris restaurant was converted into a “Maid Café,”  serving sweets and tea, modeled after a very popular trend in Japan in which the servers are dressed in French maid and butler uniforms.

I think one of the more interesting aspects of AMKE (and other such conventions) is the camaraderie that exists in the anime and gaming community. One of my old bosses (who was a big gamer) once told me he didn’t understand why everyone assumed that people with such interests were incapable of social interaction, because the whole point of gaming and these conventions is, in fact, to be social. It affords people an opportunity to meet and spend time with others who share similar interests and hobbies, people who many not find such acceptance or companionship on such a large scale in their day to day lives. Whether you’re a fair weather gamer or a total nerd for comics, the AMKE is a positive and interesting experience, to say the least.

So before you decide to scoff at anime, maybe stop and ask yourself: Am I too uptight to have fun? If the answer is no, then maybe consider giving AMKE a chance.

TCD’s Photo Editor Brian Jacobson captured the scene on Friday afternoon:

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