I’m racking my brains over what to say about the Animation-Comic-Game Hong Kong 2009 convention because I have never before found myself immersed in something so utterly foreign and bizarre. The manga fans I know in the States are mere wannabes compared to the 600,000 plus enthusiasts who flocked to this year’s ACGHK sporting imitation M41 carbines, full sets of samurai armor with matching katanas, and hair of every conceivable unnatural color under the sun.
“Cosplay,” short for costume roleplay, is the term for decking yourself out in otherworldly attire and behave like your favorite animated character. It’s not at all dissimilar from the Star Wars aficionados who dress up as Jedis and storm troopers and Sith lords while waiting hours in line at the box office. Or the legions of students who, under the spell of Ms. Rowling and the silver screen, transform themselves from muggles into wizards by donning robes and picking up Nimbus 2000s.
The ACGHK was held at Hong Kong’s Convention and Exhibition Center, five stories of concrete and glass providing 92,000m2 of rentable space, all built in only four years, artificial island included. Accompanied by two fellow HK interns and a Mormon guy from Utah (another story for another time), I made my way through cosplayers, tramboys, and prurient photographers.
We saw posters of Doraemon, a wormhole-traveling cat, and Panda-Z, a battery-chomping, robotic panda. Teenage males with permed, red hair took turns going head-to-head in a Street Fighter-style computer game while friends cheered them on. Across the aisle, Microsoft hired two women to promote its X-box 360 console– the breasts of one seemed to claw their way out from her cheongsam like Master Chief busting out of a Pelican dropship.
Further into the heart of the convention, stalls sold wooden katanas and Grass Mud Horses. Girls wearing military uniforms of a fashion-conscious Third Reich congregated in corners while adolescent males stood in circuitous lines for a chance to shake hands with members of a Japanese girl band called Scandal. At least these guys were still making an effort to touch real women.
At a booth selling T-shirts, a college-aged person explained to me the prevalent Japanese and Taiwanese influences behind anime and manga. He held up a T-shirt printed with the word “Tramboy.”
“It means a guy who spends all his time in his room playing video games and watching anime,” he said. “He doesn’t talk to girls at all.”
The T-shirt seller talked about the near religious fanaticism that anime and manga can induce. It got me thinking. The line between a strong interest/passion and an unhealthy obsession is rather fine. Certainly, a strong dependency on an activity and an interest’s interference on an individua ’s ability to function normally are both necessary criteria. Otaku are not the only ones who ve crossed it. Academics to politicians, tech fanboys to football hooligans, philatelists to storm chasers, all have respective members who’ve gone off the deep end.
I asked the fellow his name.
“Reno?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, Reno. As in Reno, Nevada.”
As we walked further into the heart of the convention, robotic cats and pandas gradually disappeared, anime characters traded cuddliness for curves, and admiration morphed into voyeurism. Past the convention’s heart and deep into its bowels, I paused next to a booth selling four-foot long pillows whose covers showcased young women in bikinis embracing palm trees with their thighs so firmly you’d think typhoon Morakot was about to make landfall any minute. A middle-aged gentleman stopped at the booth. He was piqued. He began looking through the pillowcases, and I felt the excitement at witnessing a member of a fascinating subculture in action only days after reading a New York Times article on these so-called 2-D lovers.
As we exited the convention center, we passed by yet another crowd of photographers swarming around yet another scantily clad female who elicited flash photography as if the Messiah himself had just materialized in the flesh. As I walked by, I wondered, “Where would a femme fatale like that holster her Glock? In her garter?”