Anime conventions are when people celebrate their fandom for Japanese animation, comic books and other related media (1). Though starting in Japan, the practices were originally influenced from the West, namely American sci-fi conventions in the 1960s and 70s (2). That cycle has come full circle: anime conventions have become phenomenal in the US, and began sprouting in Europe since the first Japan Expo in 2000. There are more than 200 of such events per year in the US, drawing masses of people, as many as 192,000 in 2011 (3).
At the conventions, attendees would expect comic vendors, news panels, various contests and even celebrity guests (1). However, it is cosplay that draws the most attention at those anime parties.
Many scholars have pointed out the transcultural differences of this practice between different countries. Originally in Japan, the biggest anime events, usually attracting 600,000 visitors, do not focus on cosplay but rather on selling self-published magazines (3). An organizer of Japan Expo stated its emphasis on spreading Japanese culture, which includes various other aspects outside of anime. Nevertheless, cosplay abroad is much more popular at anime conventions, when 75% visitors spend at least a day in costumes (3). “Cosplay [is now] a more accepted hobby in North America than in Japan,” cited by Kelts – author of JapanAmerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US.
The presentation of cosplay at conventions also differs between countries. In Japan, it is often the case that cosplayers team up to take group photographs, or pose professionally as an individual for an official or unofficial photo shoot (4). The photographic practice at events is deemed serious, well-rehearsed with utmost dedication and professionalism from the cosplayers.
This strictly organized affair is much different from that in the US – which is called a “chaotic affair” (5). Cosplayers would roam the conventions in costumes and go about their normal activities.
Photographs are taken by other party-goers and there is no photo shoot or posing. An American cosplayer made his remarks, having attended conventions in both the US and Japan, that while cosplaying at American conventions is much more casual and relaxed, at Japan conventions “there is a particular etiquette that cosplayers have to follow” (5).
In a similar aspect, Wang (2010) (6) stressed the difference between cosplaying at Japanese and Chinese conventions: cosplayers in China add their own interpretation to original pieces and often perform in groups, while Japanese cosplayers stay loyal to the characters and prefer single activity. This is due to the fact that original works from Japanese authors are difficult to find in China, and also the collectivism culture in China poses heavy influence on how cosplay is practiced. He concluded that local elements have given new significance to an original culture.
The reason for this cultural acceleration, or better yet, cultural boomerang, is the interest it generates (7). Anime conventions and cosplay catch worldwide attention since they resemble something from the past (American sci-fi conventions) and as this practice moves, it changes while remaining recognizable to the original models. As put by Kelts and his partners (3), Japanese anime is vigorously accepted overseas because they appeal to both adults and children, and feed on the lack of entertainment for women in the US. As can be seen, this cultural movement is characterized by newness and novelty, when each country and region adds its own spin to the approach.
Consequently, cultural hybridity is apparent in the adoption of anime conventions across the globe. Cultural hybridity includes diverse intercultural mixtures (8) and requires a cross-cultural contact to happen. When anime conventions take place in China, cosplayers add their own cultural values, taking objective factors into consideration, to the practice and make it different from the original. Likewise, American con-goers are more interested in adding their creativity to the pieces while Paris fans respect the original work and emphasize on replicating the characters (3). In addition, it is asserted by Kraidy (8) that through the help of the mass media and exchanges of people, ideas and practices, cultural commodities move thus enabling a hybridization. In France, it is necessary for a manga/anime to be published in French before gaining popularity. However, the Internet is now playing a major role, with illegal channels for exchanging the work, and the rise of online community for people to share the same interest. This has explained the phenomenal movement and hybridization of anime conventions and the act of cosplay.
In conclusion, anime conventions have generated worldwide popularity and are now a common practice in numerous countries. The fact that the practice varies in each country and region with a local twist only adds to its longevity and influence.
(1) Ellis, G., n.d. A Parent’s Guide to Anime Conventions. AnimeCons [online], n.d. Available at: http://animecons.com/articles/article.shtml/1074/A_Parents_Guide_to_Anime_Conventions [Accessed 20 April 2016].
(2) Kelts, R., 2011. JapanAmerica: Cosplay in the USA. 3am Magazine [online], 16 December 2011. Available at: http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/japanamerica-cosplay-in-the-usa/ [Accessed 20 April 2016].
(3) Kelts, R., Sirdey, T., Perez, M. and Fukuoka, T., 2011. Evolving Cosplay, Manga, and Anime Sweeping the World. Wochi Kochi Magazine [online], 2011. Available at: http://www.wochikochi.jp/english/topstory/2011/12/cosplay-manga-anime.php [Accessed 20 April 2016].
(4) Peirson-Smith, A., 2013. Fashioning the Fantastical Self: An examination of the Cosplay Dress-up Phenomenon in Southeast Asia. Fashion Theory [online], 17 (1), 77-111.
(5) Benesh-Liu, P., 2007. Anime Cosplay in America. Ornament [online], 31 (1), 44-49.
(6) Wang, K., 2010. Cosplay in China: Popular Culture and Youth Community. Thesis (MA). Lund University.
(7) Urban, G., 2001. Metaculture: How culture moves through the world [online]. University of Minnesota Press.
(8) Kraidy, M., 2005. Hybridity, or the cultural logic of globalization [online]. Temple University Press.