The scene looked like a cross between Diagon Alley, Chalmun’s Cantina, Mardi Gras and … please feel free to add any zoned-out alternate reality of your choice.Giggling Japanese school girls and flouncy Lolita dolls mixed it up with jesters, superheroes, warriors, courtiers, cartoon characters and a motley assortment of creatures of indeterminate guise at Animazement, Raleigh’s annual anime convention.
The three-day festival of video screenings, panel discussions, classes, galleries and after-hours raves culminated Sunday in a spontaneous burst of outdoor dancing and until-next-year hugs at the Raleigh Convention Center.
This annual springtime exhibit of fluorescent hair, body armor and fishnet stockings never fails to turn heads and bring a blush or three. This downtown business venue is more accustomed to association meetings, home-show expos and other such quotidian proceedings.
Anime is a case of life imitating art. It’s a stylized form of Japanese animation marked by exaggerated conventions that have jumped off the screen and taken on a life of their own as a hobby, a lifestyle, an obsession and a cult. More than a half-century old, anime examples include Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion, Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z.
Tenfold growth in 15 years
The Raleigh festival goes back to 1998, when about 700 revelers turned out. This year’s event attracted more than 7,500 merrymakers and set an attendance record. The impresario of this modern masquerade ball and off-season Halloween party is one Bob Dockery, an ordained Southern Baptist minister at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pamplico, S.C.
Dockery sets out to make Animazement a family-friendly event, in contrast to the debauched reputations of some anime shows. Animazement rules prohibit any clothing more revealing than a bathing suit. Dockery’s effort, at least on Sunday morning at the Raleigh Convention Center, is validated by the presence of infants, children, preteens and the occasional retiree donning furry ears, lacy wings and floor-length gowns.
Still, parents take precautions and escort minors to make sure things don’t get out of hand. Jantzen and Regina Carlton, a Mebane couple, chaperoned 11 kids aged 12 to 18. The Carltons said the exotic character get-ups become alter-egos for the youngsters.
“It’s like a fantasy,” Regina Carlton said. “It’s a big playground.”
“It’s such a rich culture,” said Joshua Taylor Sullivan, their 18-year-old son.
Some – no, let’s make that many – attend multiple anime conventions a year, all over the country, and have been doing so for years.
‘This is my genre’
You will ask: Why?
The best answer may be: Why not?
Several said they’re into “cosplay,” a form of elaborate role-playing in the costume of a fictional character from comic books, manga or anime.
Ben Curtis, in his fourth year on the anime social circuit, attends 15 conventions a year. Here, the 21-year-old business and marketing major from Jacksonville, Ala., dressed up as Goku, the hero of Dragon Ball Z.
“Some people are into NASCAR, some like football,” Curtis said. “This is my genre.”
As it happens, Curtis is just one of several Goku characters here, donning what appear to be safety-orange surgeon scrubs and a Rastafarian wig that came out of the permanent-press cycle.
The characters in the most elaborate costumes constantly preen for the cameras of fellow anime fans, who compliment them on their craftsmanship and creativity.
The crush of costumes forms a nonstop swirling phantasmagoria of ruffles, lace, elf ears, masks, capes, hair bows, wimples, furry tails, pinafores, not to mention accoutrements such as tridents, swords and the occasional whip. Connoisseurs of footwear will find plenty to admire, from clunky waffle stompers to dangerously high heels.
Dreaming in steampunk
Several say their specialty is steampunk, the pre-industrial sci-fi genre suggestive of the Victorian era.
Nathan Love, a 25-year-old grad student at Appalachian State and instrument repairman, made up his own character using an old drape for a tunic and spare instrument parts for street cred. His musket, which shoots imaginary balls from a trombone muzzle, is called a “trombusket.” His jetpack is an old French horn, and his gauntlet is arrayed with old trumpet valves.
“A lot of people come to be with kindred spirits,” said Love, who expects to attend 10 anime conventions this year. “It’s a nice break from – I don’t want to say reality – but the normal.”
Another Steampunk aficionado is Taylor Filkins, a 20-year-old hair salon receptionist from Mooresville.
She’s convincingly attired as a Victorian saloon girl, complete with a genuine corset of spiral steel boning that took her a mere 10 minutes to lace up.
What does she like about the anime scene?
“The feel of it,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly and so accepting.
“It’s like being with a family that’s thousands of people large.”