See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's photo gallery, "SoCal Cosplay Ball."
Back in January of 2009, when Shannon Cottrell and I covered Anime Los Angeles together for the first time, we met Ginger Burton. At the time, Burton was a student at California State University Northridge who had started a cosplay business.
We've kept in touch with Burton over the past two years and she's accomplished quite a bit since then. She finished school and has popped up at many of the conventions we've attended, oftentimes promoting her commission-based business, GNB Cosplay or sometimes helping with friend Ejen Chuang's photography book Cosplay in America . She also started her own magazine, Otaku Sanctuary, dedicated to the art of dressing as your favorite characters. Most recently, though, she launched SoCal Cosplay Ball, a one-day event where locals could come together for performances, dinner and a formal dance.
Though there are cosplay balls in the U.K., the event is still unusual in the U.S., where cosplay-oriented dances tend to take place at conventions. (We should note that this is slightly different from masquerade balls like Labyrinth of Jareth, where attendees aren't necessarily involved in cosplay.)
"I actually thought of the idea last year and talked it over with my friends Ellie, Deanna and Chloe," says Burton. "The major planning of it started in January."
Burton and her three friends, who also work on Otaku Sanctuary, organized the event together.
"They kept me sane," says Burton. "I probably called this whole thing off like ten times in the past month and just said, 'Forget it. Just refund everyone's money, call it a day. I don't care anymore.'
"They just kept encouraging me and telling me, 'We should just do it. It will be fun. It's our first time, don't worry."
One major hurdle was finding a venue that would allow them to keep the cover charge low, as the cost involved with hotel events would have likely raised ticket prices over $50, she explains. That's steep considering the amount of money cosplayers need to pay for costumes, as well as entrance fees and hotels, for the year's biggest conventions.
Burton and her friends, though, were able to rent out Nature Friends, an event space in Sierra Madre that butts up against Angelus National Forest. This allowed them to produce a day-long event that would only cost attendees $25. The venue worked out for more than just affordability, though, as the rustic setting provided an excellent backdrop for photos.
The event attracted an estimated 60 guests, which is a far smaller number than you would find at a convention, but was still enough people to fill the venue, a gorgeous, old three-story building with balconies and split-level patio space.
Throughout the afternoon, guests were treated to a variety of performances from Ani-Maid Cafe, Takeriya Samurai and Angel Hearts. We were particularly impressed with Mikarin and Hagi of cosplay duo Takeriya Samurai. Mikarin is featured in the second issue of Otaku Sanctuary.
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Dressed as virtual pop star Hatsune Miku, Mikarin performed a selection of anime songs (as well at least one Miku number). Despite the lack of a functioning microphone, she gave a good performance. She's a talented singer with a knack for making cool costumes and has a great rapport with the crowd.
As Burton pointed out when we spoke with her, Southern California doesn't have much in the way of anime conventions in spring. The year begins with Anime L.A. and San Diego now has Anime Conji in March, but, in between March and July, when Anime Expo takes place, there aren't any local, anime-specific conventions. SoCal Cosplay Ball helped fill the void nicely. It was more structured than a meet-up, but didn't have the same hustle and bustle of a convention. Whether or not the Otaku Sanctuary crew will organize another gala next year, though, remains uncertain.
"We'll definitely think about it," says Burton.
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