The Final Fantasy: An Inside Look at Anime and Cosplay Conventions

Categories: Whatever

Photos by Jeff Balke
We don't know who this character is supposed to be, but she was killing some Japanese opera.
The costumes are expected. The fanciful, the extraordinary, the bizarre, the obscurely referenced, the painstakingly planned and the larger than life weren't surprising -- after all, this was a cosplay (short for "costume roleplay) convention. What was unexpected, however, was the gender-bending everywhere that we looked.

The most gorgeous men were dressed as exotic women, while the most beautiful women were dressed as Bowie-esque men. And we suddenly found ourselves questioning our sexuality. Perhaps this is how Tim Booth felt when he wrote "Laid": "Dressed me up in women's clothes / Messed around with gender roles / Dye my eyes and call me pretty." But we're pretty sure Tim Booth never attended a cosplay convention.

We didn't think pumpkins could be hot. We were wrong.

The rampant androgyny was only one fascinating aspect of a world in which we had no foothold or prior understanding aside from our own passing knowledge of certain graphic novels, video games and anime series. Our geekiness, it seems, only goes so far.

Upon entering the Marriott Westchase on Saturday night, we were immediately stunned by the sheer volume of attendees at the 2009 Oni-Con -- around 6,000 over the course of the weekend, it turns out, despite its smaller venue this year -- which is one of the largest anime and cosplay conventions in Texas. (Ed. note: We apologize for the incorrect attendance figures that were posted earlier. We received incorrect information about the convention and have made the correction.)

You don't mess with Kratos, God of War.
After wandering the halls of the hotel for a bit, perusing the colorful merchandise tables and running into not only one but two giant, brown internet memes -- an enormous walking Pedobear and an equally massive Domokun -- we headed over to the main event: the cosplay competition. Along the way, we passed a few Darth Vaders, one God of War, one excellent Silk Spectre and many others, including a woman balancing a bright yellow Casio keyboard on her head as she walked.

The audience at the competition got excited about free Japanese fans. They kind of got excited about Japanese anything, really.
Once inside the main convention hall, we took in the sight of the hundred or so competitors who were preparing their costumes and skits for the night. They each only had 30 seconds on stage to impress the panel of judges (and the audience) or three minutes if they were doing a skit. We chatted with James (who wouldn't give his last name, as he was "in character") -- a giant, bright blue vampire with a friendly if fangy smile. "This is my character's Halloween costume," he told us. "The costumes change each time, but the character you play always stays the same."

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