The Anime Expo grows exponentially each year. Attendance soars, and so too do the emotions of newcomers. That first experience is a treasured one. A rite of Cosplay passage. Here’s an exclusive look into what Anime Expo is like through the eyes of a teenager, who attended the 2014 Anime Expo for the first time as a cosplayer. She is 16 years old and calls herself Lapin, Queen of Bunnyopolis, a magnificent megacity populated by bunny rabbits. She herself is not a bunny, though she dons floppy ears -- the requisite accouterment for rabbit eligibility. Perhaps the fact that she is a 16 year-old human girl is how she got to be queen. Here is her edited summation of Anime Expo 2014:
"So where to begin? Shock and awe, maybe. Shock at the 3.5 hour line it took me to get into Anime Expo on Day 1, even though I had pre-registered online a month in advance. I was also in shock at the amount of planning and the 2.5 hours of dressing it took me to get ready to leave the house for Day 1. I was in awe at everything I got to see, gape at and experience in my 4 days at Anime Expo. Thanks, Anime Expo!
"Day 1 is an anime zoo. My immediate impression is that most attendees look to be somewhere between 12 and 35 years-old. It’s extremely strange and full of unexpected twists and turns. I attended Anime Expo before, but not as a cosplayer. It was when I was little. I took a lot of pictures, bought some really cute merchandise from Japanese vendors and felt left out and confused about what this was all about.
"This time, fully costumed -- all the terms and conditions of Anime Expo and cosplay were new to me. Thank the anime gods for my BFF, who was my Anime Expo spirit-guide and protector. Since I don’t live and breathe gaming, anime or cosplay, some attendees can be hard on you, though most were open and accepting of people (read: me). Anime Expo attracts a wide spectrum of people, including Japanphiles, photographers, sci-fi freaks, and, of course, anime fans and curiosity seekers who just want to experience it all, like me. Watching throngs of costumed players walk off the Metro Rail and walk in hordes through the streets of downtown was definitely an experience. One might be fooled that a zombie apocalypse had ensued.
"My BFF has gotten many gigs designing for others because of her expert approach and workmanship. She’s even been hired as a model. She’s very clever at building costumes that are creative expressions of characters – and doing so with minimal expense. She designed and helped me build my various costumes – and I am grateful to have had the mentoring from her. It made the experience all the more fun. Ask around and find a friend who will help you with your first cosplay. It’s a great way to start cosplaying and creating your own style. She also gave me the ‘in” that I needed since I am not a passionate gamer. Anime Expo attracts people who find a Superman t-shirt an acceptable uniform for cosplay, while others go full tilt with spandex and spot-on outfits that have been souped-up and customized to reflect their expression of the character and working accessories.
"What prompted me to go all out and immerse myself was the realization that it is more common to be the odd one out if you're not dressed as a character. So I guess that would be cosplay peer pressure. Because of the nature of the people attending, including many of my friends, I dubbed the expo Nerd-Con.
"It’s amazing how elaborate so many of the costumes are: many spend months designing and building their customized takes on their favorite anime character or sometimes just the most obscure, yet recognizable character they can find. It gives you and your costume more play and attention. The discussion about costumes is a perfect place to start with providing tips to future Anime Expo attendees.
"Personalizing your costume is cool and accepted. It's not about imitating the character, but how creative your execution of the outfit is. It’s all about YOUR impression of a character, versus a spot-on detail-for-detail re-creation of what you see in games, anime graphic novels and films.
"It is also not uncommon to gender-bend characters, which leads to lots of fun interaction. People notice and respond, as it expresses your inner creativity, skill and commitment to anime. Don't expect a common skill level as you are pushed through the aisles of Anime Expo by throngs of characters. Use that insight as inspiration to not be intimidated by the experience. Some people buy off-the-shelf costumes, some design their own – either poorly or really well. Some are pro costume designers who use the Expo to showoff and attract future business.
"If you use color contacts in your eyes, prepare to cry putting them in.
"Plan your outfit, then prepare the materials and schedule to process making your costume. Try on wigs in advanced, style them, and wear shoes you can comfortably walk in. Think of clever ways to theme your comfortable shoes.
"Bring a ZÜCA so you can pack your stuff and wheel it around and have a place to sit. It also forces people to give you space and clear a pathway.
"Remember your costume does not have to be genre-bound. Anime Expo branches out to include mainstream comics, international movies, and pop culture iconic characters.
"The long lines can be overwhelming when you approach the venue. Try picking up your ticket in advance on the day before Anime Expo opens.
"Outside the Los Angeles Convention Center is largely un-sheltered. It gets hot and sunny, so prepare to be uncomfortable if your dressed like Chewbacca. Wear sunglasses if your costume permits it.
"Food and drink are expensive inside the convention hall, plus there is not a large variety of food choices. I recommend going to the food truck area outside or bring your own eats. Be sure to bring a water bottle and keep yourself hydrated.
"If you can, travel in packs and be aware that your stuff is constantly under threat of being stolen or broken.
"If you carry weapons that look too authentic or dangerous, you may be asked to go to the Weapon Check area to have your weapon be taped-up or orange-tipped.
"It’s quite common for people to ask to take your picture. Not all photographers that attend are pros, so be sure to take your own photos by having a member of your meet-up take the images. Or recruit an agreeable passerby.
"Sessions and events fill-up swiftly. Even showing up 90 minutes in advance, you may end-up being disappointed and not get in. Similarly, there are not as many contests as I expected. So when you see one and you feel like you’ve got a chance, go for it!
"Official meet-ups fill up and you may feel like you’re being processed and not really a part of anything. These meet-ups are perfect to plan out your day-to-day schedules. Photographers also come to the meet-ups to book you for professional photo shoots.
"Attend some unofficial meet-ups, too, by keeping your eyes peeled and ears open to find characters from your anime property and be apart of that group, for an alternative experience.
"There’s a prejudice against people who don't game and aren't into the show. If you’re just a casual cosplayer, don't let anyone in on it. Or go with someone who is all-in so you’re protected from being considered an interloper.
"Overall, attending Anime Expo as a cosplayer is a wonderful experience and a great place to examine and purchase rare and exclusive entertainment products, and meet engaging people. It’s more corporate than I thought it would be, but that’s also one of the reasons there are so many vendors, which makes the entire show rich with an assortment of anime merchandise. By following these few recommendations, you'll be able to feel more in control so that you can Rock the Cosplay!"