See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's gallery “Tomo Neko Maid Cafe.”
Sunday afternoon, we went to a maid cafe. Well, we kind of went to a maid cafe.
No, we still haven't made our way to Tokyo. Instead, we were inside the Miyako Hotel in Little Tokyo for Tomo Neko Maid Cafe, an event hosted by L.A. fan group Addicted to Manga with proceeds benefiting the Yoshiki Foundations fundraising efforts for Japan.
Right now, you might be asking, “What's a maid cafe?”
For those unfamiliar with the subculture surrounding anime and manga, let's explain. Maid cafes are restaurants typically associated with Akihabara, a neighborhood in Tokyo that, from what we've heard, is something akin to paradise for folks with geeky interests. At a maid cafe, one is served by cute girls in maid outfits. There's entertainment involved and the maids will play games and pose for photos with the patrons. The are also butler cafes, which are geared towards women. The cafes are derived from anime and manga culture, but the phenomenon has also seeped its way into newer works. Check out Maid Sama!, Hiro Fujiwara's manga series about a high school girl who moonlights in a maid cafe to help support her family.
In L.A., there's Royal/T, which is frequently called a maid cafe, but isn't exactly the same thing. Royal/T is a restaurant and art gallery where the staff wears maid uniforms. While the venue hosts many events, there isn't the same level of interaction between the staff and patrons. You aren't going to be playing games with a maid while you're sipping a beverage and checking out a new show at Royal/T. More likely, you'll see the U.S. version of a maid cafe at anime conventions with groups like AniMaid Cafe, who are part of AM2 in July.
Tomo Neko Maid Cafe is new to the game. Event organizer Rachael Klinger told us that they began playing around with the idea of doing a maid cafe back in September of 2010. Two months later, they threw a small, friends-only gathering, with another anime and manga club in Orange County.
“We called it our beta event,” she said.
Right around the time that they had begun planning their first big event, Japan was struck by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
“At first, we were going to do it for fun, but then when we started to see the disasters in Japan from the tsunami, we decided that we could actually use this originally fluffy idea to do some good,” said Klinger.
The event had some cool touches, like the maid and butler trading cards. Each staff member had a card with their manga-fied likeness on the front and stats on the back. Patrons automatically got one from their server and had opportunities to collect more throughout the afternoon.
We didn't catch all of the day's entertainment, but we did get to see a gorgeous geta dance performance from Miyuki, as well as the comedy portion of the event.
The TNC Genki Otaku Comedy Block was the highlight of the day. The comedians– Anton “TheAnton” Torres, Matt Johnson and Geraldo “G” Paz– have previously appeared at Anime Expo. Their comedy was nerd-centric. Jokes about fan-favorite series and parents who just don't understand your need to cosplay were big hits. Our favorite moment was when Torres brought out his guitar for his tribute to anime, a song that nailed both the stylistic conventions of the genre and quirks of the fandom. It was comedy that few outside of the community would understand and that's what made it so much fun. How many times in your day-to-day life do you meet people who will laugh over Pokémon jokes?
Since we've never been to an Akihabara maid cafe, we can't say whether or not Tomo Neko Maid Cafe was like the real thing. Even if we had that reference point, it would be an unfair comparison. This wasn't a theme restaurant experience. It was an anime fan gathering, something to bring together like-minded individuals in between conventions. It may be inspired by Akihabara, but it's for people hanging out in Little Tokyo.
“I wanted to, more than anything, instill a sense of community,” said Klinger. “We're all in this together for one reason or another.”
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