SAN JAPAN DRAWS 10,000 JAPANESE ANIMATION FANS TO CELEBRATE ART, WORLD CULTURE

Originally published on August 21, 2013 (Rivard Report)

She can barely lift her red, velvet stilettos in the simmering South Texas heat. However, the teenaged girl dressed as the classic cartoon character, Jessica Rabbit, still scrambles across the pedestrian crosswalk.

She may lack the graceful swagger of the popular animated character that appeared in the 1988 film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, but this young teen is a near-perfect replica of her chosen cosplay character. She wears a one-size-too-small, red, backless, silk dress with a provocative slit down the side. Her long red hair – courtesy of a wig – is swept to the side, just like her animated counterpart. She’s only missing the long, white gloves that her cartoon idol uses for accessorizing.

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If you were driving downtown last weekend, you may have stumbled across similar scenarios with a sense of wonder.

This Jessica Rabbit impostor joined more than 11,000 cosplayers, “costume players,” for San Japan: Sinister 6, a japanese animation convention, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Grand Hyatt hotel last weekend.

San Japan, LLC, is a self-described fan-run organization that focuses on providing the yearly Japanese culture and animation, “anime,” celebration.

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The three-day event, held downtown every year, includes table-top, role-playing game (RPG) rooms, interactive screenings, vendors, speakers, cosplay contests, game shows, industry panels, dances and concludes with a themed masquerade ball.

San Japan has a culture all of its own and it floods the River Walk and downtown with thousands of costumed attendees.

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During its six-year run, the convention has grown from about 3,500 attendees in August 2008 to more than three times as many this year – bringing more than 11,000 fans and vendors to the heart of downtown.

Originally held at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Japan has moved between the Municipal Auditorium (future Tobin Center), the El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel and the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel. Growing popularity allowed San Japan to fill its permanent location in the largest hotel and convention center in San Antonio in 2012. Future conventions have been contracted through 2015.

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“We are very widespread and we have all ages and all walks of life that attend our event,” San Japan Spokesperson David Ramirez said. “This year, we have a larger representation of countries and states … we (became) an international convention this year.”

Most fans plan months ahead of time to attend, but conventions like these (comic/graphic novel, movie genre, and video game fans organize conventions of a similar nature that often intertwine with one another) have a way of enticing people of the street, too.

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Luis Martinez of Houston admitted that he stumbled across anime cons by accident while shopping at a mall. Last weekend he was joined by his younger brother, Ivan who dressed as his favorite video game character, Link, from the video game Legend of Zelda.

Costumes are key elements to a majority of attendees as it allows fans to role play as their favorite characters and show off their skills and dedication. Careful care and maintenance of these uniforms is crucial, so it’s not surprising to see a repair station much like San Japan’s at most conventions. These stations provide crafty supplies for fixing costumes and broken props as well as a sewing machine manned by a skilled seamstress at all times.

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More and more characters from cartoons, movies, television shows, subcultures, and video games are inducted into cosplay with every convention – from retro to contemporary pop culture.

K-pop and steampunk in particular are growing trends that seem to have struck a chord with many teens.

K-pop, or Korean pop, is a music genre from South Korea exemplified by its biggest star, Psy, and his “Gangnam Style” video, which was so catchy and disturbing at once that it became the first video in YouTube history to reach one billion views.

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On the rise since the early 2000s, the genre has seen double-digit growth rates, thanks largely to distribution through the Internet and YouTube. According to Time magazine, it is now “South Korea’s greatest export.”

While K-pop is imported from Asian culture, steampunk hails from England – though built to its own historical revisions. Following an alternative history of the 19th century Victorian era in Britain, this post-apocalyptic sub-genre of science fiction follows a timeline in which steam power is the only source of energy and the use of rudimentary gears and levers are the primary means of mechanics.

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Most notably, the subculture brings alive the “fathers of science fiction,” H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

While some first-time con attendees opted out of cosplay and the non-traditional panel discussions, they still recognized the need for costume.

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“Cosplay gives a sense of fantasy, a sense of being that character or that villain that you really like,” 15-year-old Miguel Rodriguez said. “You get to walk in their shoes.”

Rodriguez’s older sister, Alyssia, 17, a returning veteran of the con, offered some last-minute advice for those attending San Japan.

“Be prepared for crowds,” she said. “Things can get really expensive and hectic. And be prepared for panel cancellations.”

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Next year, San Japan will be held earlier in the year, July 18-20. The con hopes to see more growth and perhaps the involvement of more San Antonio tourists and residents.

“Next year will be the year where we show our true colors,” Ramirez said. “Our theme will be ‘Samurai 7′ and for the first time we will also be picking up the use of the Lila Cockrell Theater.”