The otaku flooded downtown Saturday on their annual migration. From far and wide they came, like salmon in spawning season, to home: A-Kon. It was the 22nd year for North America's largest anime convention this past weekend, and like almost every year since it began, it was bigger than the year before.
This year organizers expected more than 18,000 attendees, and after taking over the first three floors of The Sheraton the crowd spilled over into the Marriott. The lobby of the latter smelled like a men's locker room either due to the heat outside or the disproportionate number of costumed folks inside. The otaku, or anime fanatics, came to buy, mingle and show off their cosplay-- the elaborate, often bizarre and erotic, costume recreations of anime characters.
Inside the Sheraton, the convention floor looked like what you'd expect if a giant Hello Kitty threw up all over a room. My convention tour guide and cultural anthropologist, Ellen, told me "Everything at A-Kon has a face." She was right. At one booth you could get plush beaming-eyed onigiri, the tasty rice snacks that form a staple of anime character diets.
Ben Hamby, who was hosting a workshop on Steampunk entitled "Delirious with the Delirium," summed it up best: "My first visual [was] a bunch of monkeys furiously humping a football."
Almost everyone was in costume, and every tenth person was carrying a giant fake sword like the ones in Final Fantasy or Bleach. There were dozens of Narutos, and characters from Full Metal Alchemist were everywhere. Wings were commonplace. People in Steampunk-inspired brass goggles rubbed elbows with Sailor Moons. Quite a few costumes were little more than bikinis, creating a constant collision hazard for distracted attendees like yours truly.
Video game cosplay is as popular, if not more so, as the anime itself. Operatives from the evil Umbrella Corporation of the Resident Evil game franchise patrolled the floor in paramilitary gear and gas masks, posing for photos with zombies.
There were also enough Marios and Luigis to field a baseball team. Spartan warriors from Halo posed with storm troopers while a nine-foot-tall devil growled and drooled as he stalked atop stilts through the crowd. His self-appointed assistant, wearing what had to be one of the simplest costumes--a black t-shirt with an orange "R" on it for Team Rocket of Pokemon fame--had taken to christening the demon with titles like "Master of Abortions."
Some costumes were spectacularly creative. One woman wore chain mail painstakingly made from soda can tabs. Spartan costumes, made from auto body filler and Styrofoam, took eight months and had detailed battle damage. A futuristic assault rifle was made from a Nerf gun and random bits of plastic. Those who didn't make their own costumes spared no expense buying them. A sexy storm trooper whose gleaming white armor ended where her fishnet tights began says that her partner's full set of armor ran $800.
In a simultaneously terrible and brilliant idea, someone set up a fighting ring where panting nerds with plastic swords hurled themselves at each other in fake combat. A girl with the decisive advantage of a foam shield humiliated a guy with two swords, and the loss of an eye seemed inevitable.
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Most of the vendors were selling prints, comics and manga. Antarctic Press had a huge table with lots of manga, popular Japanese magazine, and politically-themed comics such as Steampunk Palin, Time Lincoln and President Evil, which featured chainsaw-wielding President Obama fighting zombies. Cari Corene was among the vendors selling her own work, a comic called Toilet Genie, which is about a pug that falls into a toilet and awakens a genie.
Speaking of zombies, "Evil" John Mays had a small area set up where convention goers could have gory makeup applied. He had a slideshow of his work with pictures of various lacerations and abrasions. "Zombie bites seem to be a big thing," he said, flipping through the day's accumulation of gruesome bite wounds.
Finding food was a bit of a challenge. There was the food court across the street, or you could load up on Pocky or Hello Panda biscuits and Ramene, the Japanese soda with a marble valve in the bottle neck, a case of which costs $60 and is worth every penny.
In addition to the vendor booths and cosplay, there were art exhibits, a rave and even some late night hentai--anime porn with, it is safe to assume, some yaoi. If you've never heard of yaoi, wait until after work to do that Google search.