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At Anime Expo, cosplay is for families

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At Anime Expo, cosplay is for families

Post by momopi » July 15th, 2010, 10:05 pm

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At Anime Expo, cosplay is for families
2010-07-15 09:28:38

Like any good dad, Charles Figueroa is happy to dress up like a giant pig.

But Figueroa doesn't transform into just any pig. He's Porco Rosso, known in Japan as the Crimson Pig or "Kurenai no Buta." And his 17-year-old daughter, Emily, morphs into Tayua.

Every year, they dress in costumes – called cosplay – for the Anime Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Nerdy? You bet. But remember, geek is the new chic.

As my son, 22, made clear as we made our way (in civilian clothes) through a throng of costumed characters at this month's expo, "There's nothing wrong with being a nerd."

I also discovered there's more going on in anime than doe-eyed characters with spiky hairdos. There are worlds beyond the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (mostly a cartoon show) and Pikachu's Pokeman (mostly a Nintendo video game) where most anything that can happen in the real world happens (though often in flames) – and much more.

But, most of all, the anime show offered a glimpse into why something that may seem pointless and bizarre to an outsider is also so popular – and how a little openness can help create family bonds.


"The first thing I thought was it's going to be scary," Figueroa, 47, told me when his daughter first asked him about attending the Anime Expo five years ago. "I was very hesitant."

And Figueroa, a commercial emissions expert, wasn't new to the anime universe.

"I was the parent who played Pokeman cards with the kids. When they watched Power Rangers in the morning, I would watch because I wanted to be involved with them."

But the photos he'd seen of cosplayers looked just strange. Some were creepy aliens; others were dressed for cosmic battles and still others resembled creatures of death.

Finally, Figueroa agreed to go because, as with Power Rangers, the expo really was about "being able to share in something that (Emily) enjoys, and that's important."

So father and daughter headed from their home in Santa Ana to Los Angeles. Figueroa found something he didn't expect — a cool place to hang out.

"I understood how pleasant it was; how everyone was having fun."

The best part?

Watching his daughter "light up," as Figueroa put it. She was with like-minded people who got excited about the things she gets excited about.

Emily, dad explains, is a varsity cheerleader at Godinez Fundamental High School. She's also "cool by being different." Dad describes his daughter's look as more Punky Brewster than hipster.

And when they went back to the 2006 expo?

"I'm the type of person who likes to get in involved," says Figueroa, a UCI grad, "so of course I had to get dressed up."

But Figueroa was entering a world of – let's face it – mostly young, athletic cartoon characters. (Well, there was Mario, but he's plumber.) So Figueroa settled on Porco Rosso, a freelance bounty hunter from the 1992 film of the same name.

The instant Figueroa waded into an anime crowd as Porco Rosso, he understood cosplay.

"I walked by a person who said seeing Porco Rosso was like seeing a part of his past," he said, noting that fans asked to take his picture.

The delight, he added, became mutual.


Jeff Nguyen, 18, of Fountain Valley, almost didn't join his friends this month at what was his first expo. "I thought it would be too nerdy for my taste."

But Nguyen decided to tag along and take photographs. He found hundreds of people in costume, and more.

"You have a chance to be something that's not possible," said Nguyen, who will start at UCI in the fall and plans to become an attorney.

"You can do things you normally wouldn't do."

My son, Sean, explained the draw to anime. First, the variety of anime genres – child, youth, adult, humor, action – appeals to a wide range of people. Additionally, fans relate to the figures because there is complex character development over a long period of time (albeit, often through television series.)

Tiffany Van Over, a 22-year-old student at Cypress College, agreed. A fan of anime since age 7, the Buena Park resident said the major attraction for her is well-told stories that go deeper than movies or most TV shows.

"You can identify with them," Van Over said. This year, she dressed as Eva, a character from "Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater," an action video game.

But don't confuse action with serious violence or spacewear with sex. Anime is more about fantasy – and family.

Van Over designed her costume. Mom sewed it.


For a dad who has naturally gravitated toward the outdoors, anime in any incarnation was not my first choice of things to do with my son.

Like Figueroa, I watched "Power Rangers" with Sean when he was little. I also took him to a live show when he was 6, and admired the action figures. And I walked away from the rest.

But this month, at the expo, as we walked through the crowd, I only saw gentle souls. No one tried to grab anything off the often elaborate costumes, not even off the guy wearing giant wings made of real feathers, or off the dude with a glass vial holding glowing green liquid on his back.

Instead, when people saw a fellow character, they shouted in recognition or complimented their costumes.

"Nice panda," one guy said in a restroom as another guy, in a not-all-that-great panda outfit, washed his hands.

At a movie screening, hundreds waited in line; patiently. And as they squeezed through the tight aisles, they were polite.

Then, as he was stuck in yet another crowd, Sean suddenly shouted:

"The Black Power Ranger!"

And it was true. There he was, Walter Emanuel Jones, the original Black Power Ranger.

Together, Sean and I beamed, just a couple of geeks in the crowd.

David Whiting's column appears on News One on Fridays, Sundays and Wednesdays an in Sports/Outdoors on Tuesdays;

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