There are still a few more conventions left for 2011, but it's not too early to begin the countdown of the best of the superfan scene. This week, I'm counting down a few of the most popular trends spotted at conventions this year. This list avoids perennial favorites (i.e. Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who). Some of the entries have been popular for a while, but the fandoms surrounding the franchises are more visible this year.
8. Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt
There was no doubt that Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt would be a hit. The 13-episode anime was produced by Gainax, the company responsible for fan favorites like Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL and Gurren Lagann. It plays like a parody of U.S. animation, complete with a dog that looks like Gir from Invader ZIM and animation that often resembles the style of artists like Craig McCracken and Genndy Tartakovsky. It's also an incredibly randy show about two angels who are kicked out of heaven. One is obsessed with sex. The other is really into sweets.
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt ran in Japan last fall with translated episodes streaming on Crunchyroll almost simultaneously. It was an immediate hit with U.S. anime fans. It didn't take long for people to show up at conventions dressed as sisters Panty and Stocking and the reverend Garterbelt. Soon, characters like geeky friend Brief and enemies Scanty and Kneesocks were showing up at the conventions as well. This year, Chocolate Covered Cosplay hosted a Panty & Stocking dance at Pacific Media Expo. Yes, it's popular enough to earn its own theme parties.
Funimation picked up the license for the series in the U.S., but the DVD release won't be out until next year. This can only mean one thing. Panty, Stocking, Garterbelt and the rest will only be more popular next year.
At E3 this year, I was sucked into the world of Skullgirls. The forthcoming video game, created by fighting game champ Mike Zaimont (a.k.a. Mike Z.) and artist Alex Ahad, is beautiful. It's innovative on both technological and artistic levels. It's also the one game that I noticed attracted larger crowds as E3 progressed. A few weeks later, Skullgirls drew the fighting game crowd at Anime Expo. Then it appeared at one of Giant Robot's Game Night events. The team behind Skullgirls has been touring with the game, now intended for an early 2012 launch, hitting up conventions and other gamer-oriented events. Their strategy seems to be working. Skullgirls is hot. In fact, it's already inspiring fan art and cosplay.
Durarara!!, the sci-fi anime based on Ryohgo Narita's light novel series, first made a splash on the convention scene in 2010, shortly after subtitled episodes began appearing on Crunchyroll. This year, Aniplex gave the show a proper U.S. release, complete with an English-language dub. By the summer, Adult Swim was airing Durarara!! as part of its Saturday night anime programming block.
By the time of Anime Expo, the series was a bigger sensation than it was the year before. Cosplayers dressed as Celty, Shizuo, Izaya and the rest of the game appeared at nearly every corner throughout the convention. Aniplex's Durarara!! panel was a hit (the fact that voice acting superstars Crispin Freeman and Yuri Lowenthal were on it certainly didn't hurt the fan reaction). But, this show's popularity isn't confined to anime conventions. You'll see the cosplayers at a lot of comic book and general pop culture conventions. Just look for the girl in the black catsuit with the yellow and blue motorcycle helmet.
5. Invader ZIM
It's been almost ten years since Jhonen Vasquez's short-lived cartoon ended its first run on Nickelodeon. Thanks to near-constant repeats, though, it's still remarkably popular. Gir hoodies and beanies are popping up all over convention centers and Vasquez's appearance at the inaugural Comikaze Expo in downtown L.A. drew throngs of fans.
This year, Wasabi Anime/Green Mustard Entertainment held what was supposed to be a one-time-only Invader ZIM fan convention in Atlanta. I, unfortunately, didn't get to attend. However, the con was enough of a hit that the group has announced a second convention to take place next summer in Torrance. The big announcement came shortly before the group's ZIM fan panel at Dragon*Con, which, I should add, was packed.
4. Adventure Time
Granted, Cartoon Network put a lot of effort into marketing the series at San Diego Comic-Con this year. They even hosted an Adventure Time-themed pizza parlor and daily costume parades. The show didn't need a huge push, though. No matter which convention I've attended, there have been loads of kids dressed as Finn, Princess Bubblegum and, my personal favorite, Marceline the Vampire Queen.
3. Gender Bent Justice League
Kit Quinn, Tallest Silver and pals are already well-known within the U.S. cosplay community. With Gender Bent Justice League, though, they put together their coolest project yet.
Gender Bent Justice League is straight up Rule 63, make the male characters female and vice versa. However, this group cosplay had a twist. The masculine versions of female characters — like Hunter, Wonder Man and Power Guy — were scantily clad. Contrasting with this were the gender bent female superheroes — Batma'am, Superma'am and more — who were almost completely covered. (The one exception, Martian Maneater, makes sense with the original costume.) The project illustrated the difference in the portrayal of male and female superheroes in the D.C. universe. Considering how much criticism D.C. received last summer for both its depiction of women and lack of female creators, Gender Bent Justice League hit at the perfect time.
2. Hatsune Miku
Hatsune Miku, the virtual pop star associated with Vocaloid software, has been a hit in Japan for several years now. And, to be fair, she's had U.S. fans for just as long. However, 2011 was the year for Miku in the States. Her first L.A. concert, held in connection with Anime Expo, was a rousing success. AX also debuted Miku-Kitty, a collaboration between Hatsune Miku and Hello Kitty.
Beyond that, Vocaloid fan panels have been popping up at anime conventions with greater frequency. The blue pigtail wigs are now a ubiquitous site at conventions. (I even saw one girl wearing a Miku wig at HARD Haunted Mansion. Could the anime con star become a rave star next?)
1. 1980s Nostalgia
The 1980s music revival may be coming to a close, but renewed interest in the toys, television shows and films that marked that decade continues. There is good reason for this. Shows like My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and ThunderCats have reinvented the decades-old franchises for a new generation of kids. News of a Hollywood remake of Akira has irritated fans, but it's also renewing interest in Katsuhiro Otomo's manga and film classic.
But new TV series and films aren't solely responsible for this. Those of us who were children in the 1980s are adults now. We're going to conventions, looking for collectibles. Undoubtedly, some people are sharing their love of the decade with their children. A convention revolving around Transformers may be kid-heavy thanks to an onslaught of newer media adaptations. However, the He-Man, She-Ra and ThunderCats convention we attended was geared more towards adults. They even had themed cocktails for the event. At less specific conventions, Ghostbusters costume groups appear to be growing in numbers.
Meanwhile, the new fandom surrounding My Little Pony is blossoming. Rainbow wigs and pale blue t-shirts, reflecting the character Rainbow Dash, have been all the rage with men and women at conventions. The franchise has become so popular with young adults that an art show based on the toy line/TV series will be heading to Los Angeles and Tokyo next year.