Striking a pose at Anime Expo dressed in character imitating favorite anime or manga scenes is a part of the experience

Story by Kathleen Gasperini
Photos by Kathleen Gasperini and Tom Wallace

The Anime Expo 2009 hosted from July 2-5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center was the largest anime exhibition in the industry, attracting some 44,000 visitors and quantifying the growing importance of anime and manga among today’s youth culture. Hosted by the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), the Anime Expo is a consumer and industry-based event whereby manga and anime industry brands host exhibitions and fans get their chance to participate in a range of activities, including the ever-popular Artists Alley to feature personal anime drawings and sell artwork and crafts.

For the uninitiated, the Anime Expo can be overwhelming because it feels like you’ve walked into an animated cartoon of real people. The lobbies are filled with young people dressed in their favorite characters’ outfits and posing in various positions of action scenes from either their favorite anime film of manga comic. This is one place where people want to get their picture taken and everyone is shooting each other, complimenting on various poses and outfits, and basically sharing tips for creating that perfect character. It’s like a Cosplay Convention inside an Expo.

Maid cafe styles, Gothic Lolitas, and bunny ears are important aspects to the scene

On the one hand there are serious seminars about the state of the anime and manga entertainment industry with key artists, producers, and screenwriters ranging from Kun Gao from Crunchyroll to Robert Naption from Bandai Entertainment. “Guests of Honor” include famous anime creators, as well as J-Rock bands such as Moi dix Mois (headed up by Mana from Malice Mizer), to popular Japanese all-girl groups such as Morning Musume, and character designers such as Hiroyuki Imaishi. In the Exhibition Hall, rows of manga and anime brands are present selling their wares including the latest character dolls to T-shirts, Lolita and Gothic fashion dresses and accessories, to steampunk brass goggles.

Given how crowded each booth was with shoppers of all kinds, you would never know we’re in a recession. And when it comes to the various kinds of fashion presented, one thing that many designers in so-called normal fashion industries don’t understand is that while Anime does exploit the characterization and costumery of fashion, many aspects of the various subcultures within anime design are clearly influencing mainstream youth culture fashion today. For example, bear-ear or kitty-ear hoodies, Lolita and Fairy Kei bows, hair accessories, and Bo-Peep dresses, Gothic corsets, waistcoats, Visual Kei accessories, make-up, hair, and a variety of platform shoes. (More to come on fashion soon.)

What’s fun about Anime Expo other than people-watching are the various events available for attendees including AX Idol (a singing competition like American Idol but of anime songs), autograph signings by top anime and manga creators and pop culture icons from Japan, classes such as The Art of Glowsticking, Jrock Revolution panel and the influence on the music industry, Origami classes, Otaku Parliamentary discussions, the Masquerade Ball and Midnight Tea events, Anime Music Video Contest, How to Draw Manga classes, Japanime Belly Dancing, Para Para Dancing, Pop Shop Masquerade, Japanese Traditional Dance, and a variety of new anime and manga previews, tabletop and console gaming stations.

Manga shoppers

Some might argue that Anime Expo is similar or competes with Comicon, which is to take place in San Diego July 24-26. While there are a lot of similarities, Anime Expo comes across as the more authentic, Japanese version -not necessarily for general comic or video gaming fans, but fans of where anime and manga came from which is Japan. Otaku culture. With so many people attending (and it’s not getting smaller), it’s clear that anime and manga is an important aspect of American youth culture as well. Manga is among the fastest growing forms of favorite reading material, and the fascination with Japan and its heritage of using characters to illustrate emotions and ideas has become a global phenomenon and one of Japan’s greatest exports. This is one place where you’ll hear young people of all types speaking their practiced Japanese and sharing ideas for characters, drawings, and favorite prop weaponry poses -where virtual and real combine into an altogether different form of lifestyle.

Manga artist draws live

Maru Music merch booth. These guys are leaders in delivering Jrock bands to the USA. They also have an excellent Visual Kei primer DVD essential for anyone trying to understand the scene. Maru Music is known for promoting breaking artists in this subculture.

Of course vending machines and Purikura machines were on hand for easy shopping, cell phone charms, fortunes, and tiny stuffed animals.

Girls from the Artists Alley–big section of Anime Expo where artists draw live manga scenes and characters. Black masks are totally trendy.

Bad nurse from Trauma Team video game–there were several video game companies on hand which was a smart crossover move.

Character dolls are a huge draw

Fur hat ears and headband furry ears are popular. Watch Hot Topic carrying such anime/Lolita accessories soon, if not already.

Typical Lolita girl with corresponding pony purse and white pearls.

Teams of people would dress together and walk around striking poses. Total BFF synergy and “team anime” styles. Many competed in the Pop Shock Masquerade or Cosplay competitons in the evening.

Typical Princess Goth attendee. Pink satin and black corsets with lace umbrellas and platform shoes compete the look.

Styles also included layered dress trails and wide sleeves. Many outfits were hand-crafted as was this one.

Shoppers on site at Anime Expo choosing various character dolls. It%uFFFDs not just a girl-thing. Guys are major collectors in this realm (not to be confused with urban/vinyl dolls however which is more streetwear-oriented, but it runs along the same principal).

Character sexy dressing makes for excellent images. Love the yellow boots.

Prop weapons of mass destruction. It%uFFFDs amazing how knowledgable people are at Anime Expo about prop weapons and poses. There are conferences about this.

More poseurs.

Various top Lolita, Maid Cafe, and Gothic dress companies were on hand. Such booths were packed. The craftsmanship in these dresses is amazing, details, lace, buttons, bows, and fabric patterns usually of flowers, bows, and strawberries. More on the fashion scene to come.

Antics in the lobby makes this an unusual type of “trade show”


Blonde wigs for characterization

Capcom booth was packed

Bloody cat graphics and Gothic pandas with swords were hot on T-shirts in terms of top character trends.

Fairy Kei girls in their booth. This was in the Artists Alley where people could sell their crafts. These two create various pins and bows and princess crowns out of beads. All of which are quite popular in youth culture fashion in general.

Victorian Goth girl

Manga artist from Artists Alley

Brass goggles for that steampunk look

Lovely couple

Seriously, this brand is called Stinky Poo. They sell poo-plushy dolls and trinkets. So typical wierd Japanese-ness.