Cosplay: Anime’s answer to Halloween

Some students choose to attend Northern Kentucky University for the academics or the student to faculty ratio. But freshman Scott Morrison came to NKU for the anime. “I admittedly became an NKU student so I could become a full-time member of ANKU (NKU’s anime club),” he said. “It was a very heavy influence between my college choices.”

Morrison and many other NKU students are part of the growing number of Americans who both appreciate, and love, anime. Fans are called otaku, which is simply Japanese for “fans of Japanese animation.”

Anime is the general term for animation from Japan, be it for TV, feature-length film or direct-to-video release, according to Britannica online. Anime is known for its unique animation style (big eyes, sweat-drops) and its variety of subject matter (both whimsical and serious).

In Japan, people of all ages watch anime, said senior organizational systems technology major Shawn Kenter, president of ANKU: “You watch Japanese anime, and people just think it’s, oh, another cartoon, mainly kid-based. What people don’t know is that most Japanese cartoons are for a wider range of people.”

Anime also covers more diverse topics than American animation does, such as romance, fantasy, comedy, drama, horror and even history, Kenter said.

“Anime can cover as much as an American sitcom can cover. They don’t have to be just for kids,” Kenter said. “I think Japanese animation has a unique flavor to it that we just can’t mimic in American animation.”

Andy Lavely, an undeclared sophomore, just likes the look of Japanese animation. “There are some anime in which the animation blows your mind,” he said. “Even if the plot is terrible, the animation is just so gripping, it can really tie you to a series pretty easily.”

The look of anime in respect to the human body is different from American animation as well, Lavely said. “A lot of American cartoon hero characters are drawn as big, muscular-looking heroes,” he said. “Whereas a lot of anime usually feature a hero, usually a male, who is just your normal person trying to get through life.”

Morrison, however, doesn’t care about the look of anime. “A lot of people really like the design of the characters; I don’t care,” he said. “I typically go for the storylines; I like the musical scores of several animations.”

The computer information technology major finds the subject matter of anime to be fresh and original. “To me, American animation seems to consistently be the exact same story converted for different characters time and time again over the past 50 years,” Morrison said. “Japan has a higher respect for what’s created, and has more thought out storylines.”

Lavely agrees subjects tackled in a typical anime are very different. “A student has a crush on his sweetheart from high school and the whole series might revolve around him trying to sort out his feelings for that person,” Lavely said. “You’re not going to find a cartoon like that over here in the states.”

Lavely also appreciates the realism found in Japanese animation. “There aren’t a lot of real-life scenarios in American cartoons, whereas in Japan, because older people watch it, their cartoons usually deal with more mature scenarios,” he said. “They’re like soap operas over there, and I think that that would be one thing that appeals to a lot of people, particularly myself, when it comes to anime.”

Aside from watching anime, fans can show their appreciation of the genre by attending anime conventions, an assembly of vendors, fans and artists.

“There’s nothing like it,” Kenter said. “There’s really no other kind of gathering of anime fans like that. It’s a general setting where we can find people with similar interests and meet new people.”

Conventions allow anime lovers to meet one another, buy new and rare anime merchandise, participate in gaming tournaments, costume contests, meet anime voice actors and participate in panels and demonstrations.

An anime convention can be surprising for a first-timer. “I was just astounded at how many people were there because I didn’t think there were that many people into anime,” he said. “I kind of knew it was growing in popularity, but I didn’t know it was on so large a scale.”

However, Lavely is cognizant of the danger an anime convention entails. “The anime convention is made to swallow the nerd’s hard-earned dollar,” he said, laughing.

“I learned that there was a great deal more to the culture than what I once thought,” Morrison said. “I saw how very deeply people got into anime with their costumes and art.”

A phenomenon sure to occur at any convention is cosplay, or costume play. Anime fans attend the convention in full dress as one of their favorite characters, either making or buying the costumes themselves in order to pay homage to one of their favorite characters, as Lavely did in his cosplay of Cloud Strife, the main character of the video game Final Fantasy 7.

“I’m a really big fan of the Final Fantasy series, but 7 really was just one of the greatest games of all time,” Lavely said. “I really liked Cloud’s character a lot. He has spikey blond hair, a big sword and a kickin’ ass, takin’ names attitude.”

Morrison chose his past cosplay of Squall from Final Fantasy 8 for much the same reasons as Lavely. “I did enjoy the game, but I also enjoyed his particular mission in the game,” he said. At the time period I was playing I had several traits in society that he shared: the quiet guy who found the girl he liked and changed a lot.”

But fans also cosplay just because it’s fun to pretend to be someone or something else. “A lot of people, even adults, do it once a year on Halloween,” Lavely said. “You dress up in costume, you act like whatever you’re dressing up as, and cosplay has that same sort of appeal.”

Kenter rates the notice of other fans as a draw to cosplaying: “If you’ve ever been to an anime convention, you know it’s a powerful experience,” he said. “And at a convention, if you cosplay, you’re going to get noticed by a lot more people, especially fans of the series (you’re cosplaying). It causes interaction.”

Lavely has enjoyed attention at past conventions because of the quality of his cosplay. “On the Cloud costume, I was definitely striving for perfection,” he said. “We wanted to make it exact, down to the tiniest detail.”

“At Ikasucon (a convention), my friend and I got a lot of compliments on how much like the original it looked,” Lavely said. “There’s a lot of pride when you go to conventions and someone says, ‘You were the best Cloud there.’ The feeling of appreciation you get when you’re doing a good job, it makes you feel good.”

Regardless of which anime fans enjoy or whether they cosplay or not, Morrison knows what all fans of the genre share: “The fact they have no money- because anime is so expensive.”