As November began, the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit played host to a loosely controlled chaotic maelstrom of fashion, fandom, acting, comradery, nerdity and the kind of energy only felt in the heart of a supernova. This explosion of color, excitement and geekdom was the wholly unique experience of an anime convention.
More than 10,000 people attended Youmacon, the largest anime and video game convention in the state of Michigan, including a sizable number of Western Michigan University students. But what exactly is Youmacon?
From a packed room full of professional dealers of anime and video games merchandise to a lane of booths where artists sell posters, stickers, plushies and other crafts that they made, including a 20-foot scarf from the British television series Doctor Who or photographs from a booth set up to take pictures of people in costume. Dozens of meeting rooms house panels from topics ranging from the analysis of particular storylines to exploring deeper issues like the statements video games make about political systems and situations and LBGT issues in anime fandom.
But at a glance even a complete outsider to this type of occasion can see one of the most interesting factors of an anime convention: the outfits. Called cosplay, a portmanteau of the words “Costume Play”, the art form of crafting costumes and embracing a character straddles the barrier between performance and visual arts, and a surprisingly large number of people who attend these gatherings participate.
Cosplay as an art form is almost as individual to the artist as the costumes themselves. While some people, like Amanda Kelley who portrayed a character from the video game Final Fantasy VIII, focus on the design and personal craftsmanship, others like Macomb Community College student Alyssa Glover, buy their costumes and instead focus more on the acting and character development.
Glover remarked that once, in order to portray a character who sang, she learned several songs and dance routines to accurately bring her character to life. Kelley, on the other hand, considers cosplay the opportunity to wear her artwork. Many participants in cosplay find themselves somewhere between the two, both crafting and acting to create a wholly unique art form.
It can be a costly art form, however. While some cosplayers, like Garrett Perks who portrayed Link from Legend of Zelda, put a lot of money into their costumes others, like WMU’s own Becky Suman, challenge themselves to make costumes as cheaply as possible. As such the price spent on putting things together can range from $25-$300, and time put into it can range from days to months. Perks learned to play ocarina for his costume and Suman plans her costumes out months in advance to develop them properly.
But like all artists, the goal is to be proud of your creation and share it with others. Suman said, “All of the hours, worry, ripping out seams again and again to get them exactly right... they are worth it when just one person points, exclaims your character's name, and smiles!”
Not all the costumes or interesting outfits come from existing media, however. Some other fashion trends present at anime conventions are prevailing, one of which being the Lolita fashion trend. Not to be confused with the Nabokov novel of the same name, the trend dubbed Lolita is a Japanese modernization of Rococo and Victorian styles, among others.
Cai Evers characterized Lolita fashion as frills and modesty. “It's a nice break from the micro miniskirts and midriffs,” said Evers. The idea behind the more classical notions of Lolita fashion have inspired a growing subculture around Lolita fashion, including a panel on “Lolita Fashion and Lifestyle” at Youmacon and meet-ups organized by Evers.
As for the convention itself, there’s a certain energy in the air that’s hard to really qualify. It’s more than the bright costumes, innocent frills, fascinating panels and wonderful artwork. Outside of places like panels, the charity ball, or even in general hallways people sit and talk, just getting to know one another. Many people pulled all-nighters over the weekend in hotel rooms and the food court in the Renaissance Center’s basement.
Granted, these events are not for everyone, but it is something that is wholly remarkable. No experience is quite like it, and no energy quite matches it. Even knowing nothing about the subject of these events it can be very entertaining and even rewarding to experience them.
“I have met a lot a good people through this hobby and do not plan to stop anytime in the future,” remarked Kelley, “I met some of my closest friends through going to conventions and it’s not something I could easily give up.”
This excitement and fascination was so hard to capture in just a few pictures, so this week's HC WMU Photoblog continues sharing the tale.
Kelley added of the convention; “I adore it.”
Editor: Helena Witzke