Kay Richter

“To adventure!”

The young boy shouts, thrusting an imaginary sword into the air as he jumps out of a late model Toyota Sienna.

His companion immediately seconds the notion and they run across the lawn. A hammer protrudes from the boy’s skull as they enter the sixth annual Mizuumi-Con at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU). Mothers of the allegedly human boys unloaded their van and patiently follow their sons.

A large selection of characters from books, television, animation (“anime“) series’ and video games – largely from Japanese culture – were in attendance. Some costumes revealed elaborate detail and surprising accuracy to the fictional characters’, some some were simple – but all were in respectful homage to an artistic expression. Kids of all ages wearing hyper-accurate costumes of this sort, costume players (“cosplayers“), slowly took over the campus last Saturday for an entire day of panels, discussions and anime-themed activities from 10 a.m. until midnight.

The convention (or “con”), organized by volunteers, was sponsored by members of OLLU’s Mizzuumi Anime Club and by OLLU staff.

Two young women dress as nurses from Silent Hill. Photo by Kay Richter.
Two young girls appearing in cosplay as nurses from Silent Hill head in the direction of the outdoor food court. Silent Hill is a survival horror video game series. The popular franchise has spread to printed publications, two feature films, and several video game spin-offs. Photo by Kay Richter.

These cons are well-attended by crowds of anime junkies – mostly teenagers – not only because of their admiration for Japanese art and culture, but it’s also a chance to meet up with those that share a similar passion. More than 2,000 enthusiasts attended Mizzuumi-Con 6 last weekend and organizers expect even more next year.

For New Braunfels resident Amanda Rayburn, the con offered an event where she could talk to people with similar interests. “When you go to conventions you are with people like you. Usually when you talk to other people about anime … they think you are weird,” Rayburn said. “But when you come to a convention, you fit in.”

[Video: Interview clip with cosplayer Amanda Rayburn. If player does not appear below, please refresh your browser window.]

She’s not the only one. A growing audience is helping this subculture emerge into more mainstream venues. Another con veteran, Megan Ramos, offered her experience of attending cons.

An especially detailed costume gets extra attention at the anime convention.
Friends and fellow cosplayers admire the pink “Lolita” dress of a young girl at the con. Her dress was one of the more elaborate costumes at the con, many other participants kept their costumes simple, some were in casual clothes. Photo by Kay Richter.

“It’s just a warm-up for me to be able to go to other bigger cons. This is the start of convention season, so I might as well start with small things,” Ramos said. “My first convention was actually when I was 12 and I’m 19 now. The first (con) that I went to was San Japan back when it was in it’s infancy stage.”

While events like Mizzuumi-Con offer smaller-scale events catering towards anime fans, events like San Japan compete with national conventions. Last year, San Japan brought more than 9,000 people downtown to the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center. The sixth annual San Japan is set for August 16-18th this summer.

This overdose of nerd and geek culture is now bringing in serious revenue for the city with events catered towards the Japanese subculture. These conventions also bring in a large set of vendors that specialize in the art of all things cosplay.

“Our goal is to be a family-friendly, safe event for adults, teens, parents and children to enjoy everything about Japanese culture, gaming, and Anime,” reads the Mizzuumi-Con website.

[Video: Compilation of scenes from San Japan 2012]

One artist that was set up as a live event at Mizzuumi-Con  specifically specializes in spray painting portraits of those characters that cosplay helps bring to life. Michael Arguello, also known by the name, “Composure,” has been participating in these events for almost a year now. He says his work at events like this is especially enjoyable because participants are especially passionate about art.

Michael Arguello, aka "Composure," paints a portrait during the conference.
Michael Arguello, commonly known by the artist name “Composure,” begins spray painting his canvas during a live event session at the anime con. Using a colored photo of the character, he manages to create his own unique gray-scale. His e-mail address to reach him about his specialized portraits is marguello87@gmail.com.

“I’m a huge fan of anime and cartoon style work. I do a lot of portrait work,” Arguello said. “(But these remind me of) the love of growing up and watching Saturday morning cartoons.” Arugello said.

cosplay girls sit on bench anime conference
Attendees take a quick break from convention activities to enjoy a few slices of pizza. Many of OLLU’s clubs sold food and drinks to participants in an effort to help fund-raise for their own organizations. Photo by Kay Richter.

The underlying question that one might ask to anime and manga fans alike is the question: Why – what is the attraction to the Japanese art form that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century?

Jesus Cardea, a San Antonio resident and also a con veteran offered up his answer:

“I guess it is the rarity of it. I’ve been watching anime for a long time. I think it is all ages depending on what genre you like. Some like action, or drama, or slice of life. There’s a genre for everyone in anime just like there is in movies and music,” Cardea said.

Kay Richter is a native of San Antonio. She attended Texas State University – San Marcos where she studied journalism and history. She has been a reporter for several community newspapers in south and central Texas. To view some of her photography, you can visit her at http://bkayrichter.tumblr.com/ and follow her on Twitter @RichterKay.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org