Cosplay for the Manga Masses 

Last month, downtown Say-Town was invaded by frolicking, cartoon-costumed vigilantes. The anime-inspired rock concert and an Alamo-anime costume photo shoot were the first salvos in a live manga wave that’ll land on the River Walk’s banks this weekend. San Japan, the city’s first annual Japanese Culture and Anime Convention, is expected to draw more than 2,000 visitors, including vendors, artists, cosplayers (costume-play enthusiasts), and anime fans for screenings, panels, cosplay contests, and the premiere U.S. performance of popular Swedish band

SA’s San Japan group first organized in 2005, said convention chairman Dave Henkin, but has been seriously planning the event since last year. They tested its potential popularity with Zero Day Anime in November ’07 and were surprised when more than 800 people showed up.

“We realized that we needed a lot of space `for the convention`,” Henkin said. “There are a lot of people interested; it’s a silent majority. Once they have a place to come out to, a lot of them will come out.”

Anime, a Japanese cartoon-drawing technique used in everything from manga to films, became popular in America in the 1990s with programs like Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and shows featured on the Adult Swim line-up, but it originated in post-World War II Japan with Osamu Tezuka, who was inspired in part by Disney cartoons. His influence, along with others’, can still be seen in the genres and characters in modern anime.

One fan, Michael Aguire, who dressed as Allen Walker from the anime D.Gray-Man for the July concert, said anime changed his life at a pivotal point in high school. He was often depressed, he said, and found anime’s morals and Eastern ideals comforting.

“Japanese anime is kind of hard to explain,” Aguire said. “They have different anime for different genres: There is horror, there is comedy, and there is romance. There is anime for boys, anime for girls. It’s basically like a grab bag, anybody can get into it; it’s just a matter of if they can open up their minds.”

Although anime originally represented deep-rooted symbols and ideals in Japanese culture, today it has been consumed by consumerism. Japan is producing more manga and anime that follow popular formulas, with content that will push ratings and sell comics and DVDs. The original emphasis on new ideas and groundbreaking visions seem to be disappearing. San Japan wants to spotlight aspects of the art form that represent the underlying Japanese culture. Geoff and Kim Greer, who are running the cosplay events at the convention, said they are working to create a balance between business and cultural significance.

“There is this term we like to say in the anime fandom, called “weaboo,” who is an anime fan who is, while very into anime, completely retarded about Japan,” Geoff said. “Their knowledge of Japan only goes as far as color characters on a screen babbling Japanese that they think they understand, but they don’t. We want more educated anime fans, we want them to be aware of what’s going on in the industry, and we want them to be aware of the country it comes from.”

The Greers became involved in anime during the ’90s boom. Their favorite manga currently is Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures and, being cosplay fans, they decided to create costumes for the major characters in the series. For the San Japan-sponsored concert last month Geoff dressed as Jotaro and Kim as Kakyoin. Kim, who has been sewing since her teens, makes the pair’s costumes, and has created more than 20 in the past three years.

To her, and many other fans of this misunderstood expression,
cosplay is basically like Halloween over and over again. Half the fun, she says, is just talking to other cosplayers at events about how they made their costumes, and she doesn’t understand the stigma sometimes attached to the players.

“There is the idea that we are somehow stranger than the average anime fan, which isn’t true,” Geoff agreed. “A cosplayer is an average anime fan. What makes cosplayers unique is not so much how much they’re into anime, but also how much they are into making things, because we’re crafty people by nature.

“There is no way to describe the experience that truly lets you get it,” Geoff added. “And that’s the reason I think people are starting their own conventions all the time. Once they go, they think, ‘This is amazing. I never expected it to be like this. I want to do this too.’”



San Japan
Aug 8-10
Holiday Inn El Tropicano

110 Lexington Ave

San Antonio Municipal Auditorium
100 Auditorium Circle

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