I feel completely naked in street clothes.
Oni-Con, one of the largest Japanese animation conventions in the South, was held this past weekend in Houston.
It feels like Halloween has come a week early. Everywhere I look, costumes abound. But these are no Carlotta Street block-party costumes. The people wearing these have transformed into the Japanese animation and video-game characters they are portraying.
James Torrico, community college student from Austin, lowers his five-foot blade and holsters one of his pistols to speak to me.
"I am Dante from 'Devil May Cry,'" Torrico says.
He apparently is cosplaying.
"[Cosplaying is] dressing up as a fictional character from anime, video games or any other parallel world," Torrico explains.
And from the looks of it, almost everyone at Oni-Con is cosplaying, which Torrico says is because "some compete, [and] some are delusional."
"I just like doing it," Torrico says.
And he apparently does. He tells me the construction of his trenchcoat alone took a month.
But it does not stop at cosplaying.
I walk into a room of the convention to find what I think are cosplaying attendees modeling their costumes, though I am quickly set straight by the crowd in the room as they chant in unison, "pose-offs!"
The overseer of the room pulls his microphone close and explains pose-offs as challenges between two cosplayers in which each must strike an agreed upon pose and are judged on who strikes the pose better.
I am certainly not in Kansas anymore. I am not even in Oz.
I am at one of the few pure Japanese animation conventions left in the United States, and I know nothing about Japanese animation.
Nicole Meyer, University of Houston communications junior, helps educate me on the convention.
"Conventions start based on anime," Meyer says. "Then suddenly it's Japanese culture as a whole. Since Oni-Con is kind of new, it is still about anime."
Though anime is nearly omnipresent in the rooms of the convention hall, there seems to be much more to Oni-Con, certainly more than my stereotypical idea of anime conventions hold.
I walk into the dealers' room past a sword selling booth, and I meet Jan Scott-Frazier, chief producer and founder of Voices For Inc., who is selling albums devoted to world peace.
The company sells "Voices for Peace," an album devoted to world peace. It includes several famous voice actors, such as Chris Patton and Greg Ayres, covering famous songs concerning war, such as U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." All proceeds go to charity.
"Our profits go to Doctors without Borders and C.A.R.E.," Scott-Frazier says. "We are trying to point our fingers at all war."
Scott-Frazier says she is not a pacifist, but she practices Satyagraha, a Buddhist concept.
When the violence prevalent in much of anime is brought up to Scott-Frazier, she says she must speak as an individual, not part of the company.
"With enough violence we become desensitized to it," says Scott-Frazier. "Violent games can be cathartic, but it can go too far and impress upon your world view."
I go from there, realizing my views on anime conventions were slightly skewed, to a martial arts demonstration, yet another event having little to do with animation.
Brian Tritico, a Shidoshi of the martial art Bujinkan Ninjutsu, is leading the demonstration with seven others, all dressed in black uniforms.
Tritico says the Hollywood portrayal of ninjas is completely distorted. He promises to show us where many of those myths came from.
"Most of what you see in the media has nothing to do with this martial art," Tritico says.
Tritico leads his students through several demonstrations with and without weapons to exhibit how battle took place in ancient Japan.
Tritico's students disarm each other using swords, knives, spears, bits of metal tied to string and giant hammers. They are quite rough on each other, which is quickly explained.
"We do hit each other in this art, but not maliciously," Tritico says. "It is how we show each other our art."
In one demonstration Tritico holds a piece of metal attached to a long string. He explains this is used for long-range attacks, and when correctly aimed, can tear one's forehead open, causing blood to drip into the opponent's eyes. He says this is where the myth of the ninja power of invisibility came from.
From the martial arts demonstration, I go to something both a little more and a little less authentic. It is called LARP, which stands for live action role-playing.
Rob Boyd, Pasadena, Calif., resident, sits down with me to explain why someone is hopping around a room on one foot while madly swinging a foam-covered sword at a man on his knees.
"They are basically sparring with foam weapons," Boyd says. "They simulate wounds by where they are hit."
But live action role-playing is not limited to conference rooms in Houston.
"They've been known to host entire wars," Boyd says. "They put on a spring war. I'm not really sure when it happens."
I am surprised it is only at this point, as I wander around the dealer's tables, do I sit down and finally see a man draw.
That man is Terrence Daniels, artist and aspiring animator, and he will draw you and your favorite character, or so says his sign.
Daniels says there is a problem in America - animation is dead. He says we have not yet developed our own anime identity.
Daniels says computer graphic imaging is one of the key reasons two-dimensional animation is disappearing in America. He cites Disney's major layoff of its two dimensional animators in light of its popular CGI films. But there is hope.
"I've been hearing a lot of backlash on computer animation with the furry CGI animal revolution," Daniels says. "I think a lot of studios will come back to 2-D animation."
One of the greatest hypocrisies Daniels sees is one he claims stems from our laziness.
"I don't understand the leap in logic where we like animation, but we don't want to work to make it," Daniels says. "It shows where we stand as Americans."
After a cosplaying competition in which awards are given to the best costumes, the first part of the convention - the art shows, demonstrations, question and answer sessions, autograph sessions and dealer's tables - begins to wrap up, and the lines for the night activities begin to wrap around a corner.
Those activities include a masquerade, a dance and Hentai, or hardcore Japanese animated pornography, viewings.
The most anticipated activity of the night, though, is a concert by Japanese rock band 12012. It is the band's first appearance in America.
The show opens with a light show that seems based off Hello Sushi's color campaign, and the band finally answers my age-old question: "What if Fuel was Japanese and had been inspired by Nine Inch Nails instead of Nirvana and looked to 'Ziggy Stardust' era David Bowie for its fashion sense?"
The band plays to a crowded stage, and its fans seem quite devoted.
Fans Portia Davis and Starr Tyler say they waited in line for the show for several hours.
"We'd wait until midnight to see them," Davis says at about 9 p.m. after having waited for three hours.
"They are awesome," Tyler says. "If they came again, I would be right in whatever arena, venue or street they played in."
I walked out the concert musing on what I had found throughout the day. I attended a Japanese animation convention with no prior knowledge of Japanese animation other than a stubborn idea that it was funny-looking drawings jerking around on screen. I leave with a knowledge of martial arts, Japanese rock music, LARP, cosplaying and much more.
I am not sure if this is a sub-culture that I could ever find myself a part of. I am far too inclined towards indie rock shows and "Futurama."
But now I understand. Once again a stereotype has been somewhat usurped in my mind. For there is a simple sentiment I must admit that I never thought I would utter about a Japanese animation convention without being both extremely ironic and miserably sardonic:
I had fun.
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-----Contact Travis Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org