Sunday, May 28, 2006

Postcard from Anime

I guess this one must have passed me by sometime.

This weekend in Boston has been illuminated by a particular phenomenon: Anime 2006. Everywhere you go in the Prudential Center area there are kids and not-so-kids dressed up in weird and wonderful costumes, some carrying swords, others bearing papier-mache crosses, flourescent lights, and, well, whatever else you might or might not be able to imagine.

There's what might be known here as 'Goth' styles, and also brightly-brittle costumery, and the wearers are equally of both sexes and in all shapes and sizes. It is all extremely colourful, and unexpected around every corner.

And much more. It is a love-fest with 'Japanese youth culture' as exemplified in a particular range of comics. There are no less than 15,000 participants at the last count. This morning you could see lots of them sleeping on couches and even the floor of the conference center in the Sheraton.

"They've also pitched in together five and six to a room," one of them told me, a seven years veteran of the movement, who says he knows people in their 40s who are still committed to the craze.

Though it started with comics and cartoons, the technological wave has added DVDs, computer gaming, and a whole raft of internet stuff to the thing. There's a music element too, though walking by the dance room last night, it seemed to have its own essence of weird.

"It became known in the late nineties, before that it was mainly underground. College kids would tell other college kids, and by and large you still have college age kids here. But it has got churned up on television too, and we're seeing younger and younger crowds."

The themes of the costumery and the gaming are based around a number of genres in the whole Japanese anime -- action, romance, period dramas, space operas and more.

Typical is the Kaiju Big Battel, described as a 'modern conflict of epic proportions'. Planet earth is under threat from a 'monstrous mob of maniacal villians', 'menacing alien beasts' and 'giant city crushing monsters'.

King Kong and Godzilla don't even rate in this company ...

The 'earth people' here are much nicer. Like Nicholas and Melissa Ricci, from Cranston, Rhode Island, who came along dressed in costume of their favourite 'bad' characters.

Both are in their late 20s, and this is the first time they took part in the dressing up bit, called 'cosplay' or costume playing. And they won first place in the Novice Division this weekend. They played respectively Naraku and Kagura, from some series I don't know anything about.

"The whole genre is just different," Nicholas told me. "It can be violent, very melodramatic, it's just a whole different kind of cartoon to the American type. This isn't Bugs Bunny, you know?"

Of a totally younger era were Sarah and Lauren from New Hampshire, and their friend Elina (centre above) from Finland, who is studying here. All got their interest piqued as in their early teens, with Pocamon cards. "Then I got into the television show, and started dressing like the characters," Sarah said.

"We can dress up different to be just like everyone else," Lauren said of the convention.

"Yes," Sarah agreed. "Where we live, anyone who dresses like this are considered to be freaks ... here we feel at home."

And the rest of us feel, well ... older. Superman and Batman, we remember. Even Dan Dare. And Bugs Bunny.

Brian Byrne.