Forget everything you thought you knew about conventions, anime cons are a different breed altogether. The first thing you'll notice is that the crowd is young, largely in their late teens and early 20s, with a roughly 50/50 ratio of males to females. While a studious lot (you can hear people practicing their Japanese everywhere at these events), they aren't lacking in the style department. In fact, some of the burgeoning trends of this year, most notably Lolita fashion, first gained ground at anime cons.
With over 40,000 people in attendance, Anime Expo is the largest gathering of its kind in the United States. The convention itself goes far beyond Japanese animation and comic books, incorporating a healthy dose of music and fashion into the mix. Over the course of Fourth of July weekend, we scoured the Los Angeles Convention Center to discern what trends are brewing in the otaku underground.
When "Pedobear", the offensively-named teddy bear character 4chan users often tack onto Lolita posts, made an appearance at AX, the hallway turned into a mob scene of people screaming "Epic win!" as they clamored for a photo opportunity. "We must all be /b/tards," one guy remarked, making a reference to the nickname for users of the popular, anonymous web forum. 4chan may be known as a meme factory now, but the site began as an anime image board, so its popularity at the cons is expected. A slew of college-aged males had shown up with some of the most popular references to the site scrawled on t-shirts or worn as accessories to their cosplays. We even caught a few wearing the Guy Fawkes masks now associated with the Anonymous protest group (one told us he was actually Anonymous and not cosplaying it). While this doesn't say much for anonymity, it does point to the incredibly blurred line between virtual life and real life. Just wait until Halloween.
Kuroshitsuji, otherwise known as Black Butler, is an incredibly popular manga and anime franchise in Japan. The story of the demon butler and his young master is now making waves in the US via import copies found in Japanese bookshops and fan-made English translations (called "scanlations" for manga and fan subs for anime) available online. Despite the lack of a U.S. release, Black Butler has become a major hit, primarily with young women. We caught a few dozen fans posing in their goth-y Victorian cosplay, a few even carried the limited edition Pullip dolls from the series, which were released last month. Black Butler is poised to be a hit with manga readers once it finally hits the US market.
Visual Kei Face Masks
By Saturday, we couldn't walk across a hallway without seeing at least one person wearing a piece of surgical mask-styled black cloth covered with the punk-goth designs favored by fans of visual kei across their mouths. Created by "Japanese-inspired" fashion company Lolita Kisama, the masks were the big hit of Anime Expo's exhibit hall. While just about everyone we asked brushed off the look as "just a style," one person offered a bit of insight into this new trend, saying that it could be connected to the decorated surgical masks fashion-forward Japanese girls wear when suffering from a cold.
Prompted by the forthcoming Tim Burton film as well as their association with Lolita fashion, the characters from Lewis Carroll's books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were all over Anime Expo. References ranged from full-fledged cosplays to oversized hats and Cheshire Cat stripes worn with regular clothing. The whimsical classics, which were adapted into the anime Fushigi no Kuni no Alice in the early-1980s, are ready for another round of pop culture phenomenon.
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One of our favorite places to hang out at AX is the courtyard between the Convention Center and Staples Center. This is the spot where cosplayers engage in group photo shoots and Naruto versus One Piece battles and where ravers will show up armed with a boom box and glowsticks. Saturday night, we stumbled upon multiple jam sessions involving cosplayers whose instruments were part of their ensembles and guys who claimed that they just happened to have guitars and amps in their cars because "that's what musicians do." Jam sessions are nothing new, but now if you run into Pokemon's Pikachu and Trigun's Midvalley the Hornfreak reinterpreting White Stripes on a street corner, you know why.