Over Fourth of July Weekend, Anime Expo brought in 61,000 fans to the Los Angeles Convention (the turnstile numbers were over 161,000, including repeated visits). Like a lot of other fan conventions in the U.S., Anime Expo is experiencing a surge in attendance.
As attention on such events grows, so is the focus on the costumes. Cosplayers, fans who dress up as pop culture figures, have become the stars of the convention circuits. Their eye-catching outfits are photographed by fellow fans, as well as the press. Some cosplayers, like Yaya Han, who we featured in last year's Anime Expo coverage, have achieved something akin to celebrity status on the convention circuit. Plenty of others, who might not be as well known, have turned their love of costumes into business ventures.
This year at Anime Expo, I followed Jimmy Sherfy, a San Diego-based cosplayer who is an Anime Expo regular. During the course of four days, Sherfy provided a glimpse of what it's like to be a cosplayer attending one of the most popular conventions in the country.
Thursday: Retro Anime, Rose of Versailles Style
It's getting late in the afternoon on the first day of Anime Expo and Sherfy is hanging out in the intensely crowded lobby of Los Angeles Convention Center's South Hall. Sherfy has been here for at least an hour, maybe closer to two. He hasn't gotten a convention badge yet -- the lines are still too long. In a little bit, he'll queue up for a pass that grants access only for the convention's exhibit hall. While there, he'll be on a search for a prop sword to use tomorrow.
Right now, though, he's standing in the lobby, amidst the crowd, as his boyfriend, a cosplayer who goes by the name Nintentoys, poses for photo after photo. Nintentoys is dressed as Mario, and he put together a superb rendition of the famed video game character. He's also hanging out with someone dressed as Princess Peach. The folks with the cameras -- just about everyone here at Anime Expo -- are loving it.
Sherfy and I head outside to chat. He's dressed in a red velvet top and is wearing fake eyelashes and a long blonde wig. So far, only two people, two girls, have recognized his costume. He heard one shout "Lady Oscar!" from afar.
Sherfy is dressed as the heroine of the classic anime The Rose of Versailles -- a woman dressed as a man.
It's not the androgyny of the costume that's going over the attendees' heads, as genderbent costumes and crossplay are fairly common in the convention world. It's the anime series that people don't really get. Here at Anime Expo, the focus is often on the new. Inside the venue, there are hordes of fans dressed as characters from a series called Attack on Titan, something so fresh that, right now, it's only available online and with subtitles. The Rose of Versailles is one of the hallmarks of late 1970s/early 1980s anime. In anime cosplay years, that's ancient history.
There are a few different ways you can categorize anime cosplays. There are the costumes from the new shows -- those that haven't had a U.S. television or DVD release yet -- that keep the less up-to-the-minute obsessives scratching their heads. There are the old standards, many of which even people outside of this community will recognize. Those are things like Sailor Moon, Pokémon and Studio Ghibli films. Then there are the retro cosplays, outfits inspired by shows that are now far removed from convention kid radar, but inspire fanatical reactions from those who catch the reference. Sherfy chose the last category. The relative obscurity of the costume doesn't matter to him. The Rose of Versailles is one of his favorite animes.
Sherfy is a baby-faced 30-year-old from San Diego. He's been going to conventions since his pre-teens, but only started cosplaying a few years ago, when he and Nintentoys decided to dress up as mascot characters from Super Mario Bros. When he started going to conventions, Sherfy spent a lot of time on the convention floor beefing up his collection of Disney and anime dolls and assorted toys that date back to the 1980s. These days, his convention experiences revolve around costumes. He spends months planning the outfits. Sometimes he makes his own. Other times he pays for someone else to make it.
Sherfy cosplays frequently, but Lady Oscar is the first anime-centric costume he's worn. He debuted the ensemble a few months back in San Diego, at an event called Anime Conji. He spent a pretty penny on the piece, around $300 to commission a friend to make it, excluding the price of the materials he provided. Cosplay can be expensive, particularly if you're a stickler for details that will wow the crowd. Sherfy is pretty good at capturing the crowd's attention. He doesn't make it onto the convention floor much anymore. Frequently, he's busy posing for photos with friends and strangers.
While we're outside, a passerby with a camera asks if he can take a photo. He says his friends are going to "lose their shit" when they see Lady Oscar. That was, more or less, the reaction Sherfy expected today. Mission accomplished.
Up next: Legend of Zelda