Two things to know about anime: first, it is popular among teenagers, which means they try to keep it secret from adults. Second, it’s huge, and that defeats number one. The open nine-story high main concourse of the Renaissance Hotel in North Austin was filled with teenagers and others in the elaborate, full costumes of their favorite animated characters. The 2018 event was its 13th annual production in Austin. Every meeting room and the ballroom offered screenings of popular anime series and presentations by anime stars talking about their voice work in stories and writing their own series. An obligatory panel session of this and all other arts conventions is the “how to break into the industry” session. The genre celebrities sit at a long table and explain their success to audiences of those who want to follow in their footsteps.
Anime is simply Japanese animation, and it can tell many stories and look like many things. Every set of animated stories that makes it into distribution launches immediately in a full-media blitz of podcasts, DVDs, books, magazines and cable shows. Along with the media blitz comes the merchandising blitz. Each series markets its own fashion lines with wigs, dolls, make-up kits, plastic swords and other characteristic U-name-its. The aficionados usually follow several series at once. At Ikkicon, the merchandising (“merch”) hall was immense, stuffed full of material and packed with young characters.
For those who care little for cliché-ridden young adult stories, the cosplay at the convention is at least as important as the anime. Cosplay is short for costume play, and it has become grafted on to every science fiction, comic, fantasy and anime convention in the country. Professional cosplay actors follow a circuit of conventions around the country, strutting their stuff in their repertoire of costumes and trying to stay one leap ahead of the local creative costume talent. The Austin local costume creatives are a large and talented bunch. The halls of Ikkicon 13 writhed with fluorescent wigs, elves, sexy maid characters, super-heroes, swords, LED-lit power staffs, wizards, smurfs, warlocks, witches, little lost waifs, dolls come to life with magical powers, fighting monks, demon magicians, just plain demons, samurai and ninjas.
Anime and cosplay make a great match artistically, and they aren’t trending away anytime soon. Rather, they are becoming distinct categories within popular arts and culture. Anime in particular is rightfully called a global art form, emanating from Japan, and it is still common to view animations with Japanese soundtracks and English subtitles. The famous animator Hayao Miyazaki has been called the “Japanese Walt Disney”; he is the subject of the biographic documentary film Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki and the creator of the classic animations Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro and others.
Cosplay has been in existence since kids raided closets at home to play like pirates, knights, Superman, other superheroes and to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. As a formal “hobby art” the activity probably came to prominence in the 1970s at Star Trek conventions where fans made the costumes of their favorite characters. Cosplay is a democratic and diverse form, cross-cutting ethnicities, genders, age-grades and social classes. Anyone is welcome to play, to express imagination. Most of the costumes on display at Ikkicon and other conventions reveal the colorful hopes and dreams of the wearers. A few reveal the passionate vision of the future of the wearers themselves. Those few will become the artists of the future, unveiled today at Ikkicon.
A final note: Don’t pronounce the name like “Icky-con.” A demon robot will approach and fire destructor beams from its eyes. The term is closer to “IK-uh-con.” Just sayin’.
Feature photo: BIGHEAD