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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/15/2008 Archived Entry: "Kumoricon 2008"

Kumoricon 2008

by Tom Good
Photography by Tom Good and Gregor Torrence

Kumoricon transforms an ordinary Portland weekend into something more magical, a gathering where costumed anime fans can wander beneath the trees of a city park, savoring the days of summer. Passers-by ask about the gathering in appreciative tones, admiring the workmanship of the costumes. The convention seems infused with a feeling of fan empowerment, which leads to enthusiastic participation in the events of the weekend, from panel discussions to contests and games.

In fact, it feels strange to even call the participants merely "fans," when in many cases they are more like craftspeople showing off the results of their skill and hard work. When I asked cosplayers how much time they had spent on creating their costumes, the time estimates ranged from a month to a year. That's a serious level of commitment.

When I tell people who have never come to an anime convention about Kumoricon, one of the hardest things to explain is how completely different it is from, say, the Portland Auto Show. Though fun, the Auto Show resembles a temporary shopping mall for cars, and the experience of going there is rather passive; few of the attendees will build their own car or drive in a race. Kumoricon is just the opposite: it's an event that celebrates creators of costumes, of artwork, of fan fiction. It's for performers of music, dance, stage acting and voice acting. It's full of people doing their own artistic photography, making videos, writing poetry, and playing games.

Another big misconception I sometimes hear has more to do with the type of person who would attend Kumoricon. Some people who have never been to the convention seem to visualize a horde of angry, grimy young men, huddled around in some sort of dimly-lit bazaar, trading pirated DVDs and hurling insults at each other. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I had to try to describe a "typical" fan at Kumoricon -- which is a challenge because the crowd is fairly diverse -- it would be an intelligent, artistic, thoughtful young woman wearing an elaborate handmade costume.

I have no official statistics, but from looking around it sure seemed as if more women than men came to Kumoricon this year. The percentage of women seemed higher than ever before. Some panels had so few men in the audience that people commented on it. At the "fangirls and fanboys" panel, the presenter asked the males in the audience to raise their hands (then clarified that she meant actual males, not women cosplaying as male characters). I would estimate that less than 25% of the audience raised their hands. This is not to imply that the men felt any less welcome, though; everyone seemed to be having a great time.

I also felt pretty sure that even more people came to Kumoricon in costume this year than last year. Last year those in costume made up a majority, but this year it felt like an overwhelming majority. People not in costume were the ones who looked out of place.

One of the big trends this year was the rise of the Death Note series. It seems to have taken over the role that the Fullmetal Alchemist anime had a few years ago, as a popular series that inspires costumes, skits, references, and jokes. Both have intricate plots that involve supernatural elements. The "L. vs. Kira" debate panel filled a fairly large room with fans who got to debate the ethics and morality of two of the main Death Note characters. In the end, the L side won by a score of 3 rounds to 2. This was such an interesting panel that I would like to see it happen again, but with more time for both sides to prepare their arguments and strategies in advance.

Death Note also hits a sweet spot for costumes, in that it has a good variety of choices for different kinds of cosplayers. The wild shinigami (god of death) costumes can be extremely elaborate and difficult to create, so they offer a good choice for veteran costumers looking for a challenge. But on the other hand, some main characters wear fairly ordinary street clothes, so these costumes are more accessible and depend more on attitude to make them work. Finally, the Misa character wears outfits that are sexy without being too revealing, which probably adds to her popularity as a cosplay choice.

As in previous years, the Cosplay Contest was one of the big events. The skits may prove nearly incomprehensible to outsiders, because they often presume knowledge of the characters and plots of many different anime. But the in-jokes can be quite funny when you do get the references. This year brought a more polished set of performances, with more sophisticated humor and better choreography. This reflected a general feeling of a growing community becoming more confident and experienced.

Kirk Thornton hosted a panel on anime and Shakespeare. He talked about his experiences as an actor at the Oregon Shakespeare festival, and explained some parallels between the two types of entertainment. Anime stories and Shakespeare's plays draw upon historical figures and events, as well as myths and legends. Both emphasize intense and somewhat stylized plots that center around themes like love and revenge, with strongly defined characters.

Thornton also explained how both anime and Shakespeare use language in a way that puts some constraints on the actors. In Shakespeare, the use of iambic pentameter creates a system of language that an actor must work with in creating his or her own interpretation of the script. With anime, the constraint is the timing of the lip movements of the onscreen character, which the voice actor must match.

He ended the panel by allowing volunteers people from the audience to perform their own line readings from an anime script. Some of these were amazingly well done, hitting the mark on both the required timings and the emotions of the lines, and once again demonstrating the skills of the convention-goers.

A panel on "religion in anime" covered topics from Christianity to Ainu creation myths. One of the most interesting things I learned all weekend concerned the popularity of anime in Muslim countries. One panelist said that the Japanese goverment had a contest for anime art by foreigners, and recently got 25% of its entries from Muslim countries.

I always see people sleeping in public places at anime conventions, and it never fails to remind me of Japan, where it's common to see passengers asleep on the subway. Some subway commuters even manage to sleep standing up while clinging to a pole. At conventions, there's something going on all the time and people tend to stay up late, which can eventually bring on a crash into exhaustion. Mastering the art of the nap can be very helpful.

The weekend's evening entertainment featured a dance, and a performance by the (mostly) Asian synth-pop group The Slants, who were also a hit earlier this year at Sakuracon in Seattle. Band member Simon Young wrote on the Kumoricon forums: ". . . I have a Kcon account, been on here for about two years fact, I was recruiting early members of this band a little while before Kumoricon 2006 via this message board!" (See Gregor's Kumoricon gallery for more photos, including pictures from the concert.)

2008 was a great year for Kumoricon. If you didn't get a chance to go this year, you should definitely check it out next year. Or if you can't wait that long, Sakuracon is also coming back around again in April of '09. [Update: Kumoricon announced that the 2009 convention will be held at the Hilton in downtown Portland, and that 2008 paid attendance was "4470, nearly 50% larger than last year."]

Even more photos can be found here:

Replies: 3 comments

Cool pictures! Death Note and Bleach seems to be the trend.. although is Lucky Star as popular over on the west coast as it is over here in the east?

Posted by Linda @ 09/16/2008 06:31 PM PST

It must not be. I haven't heard much buzz about Lucky Star. Bleach is also a big trend though.

Posted by Tom @ 09/16/2008 08:30 PM PST

Ahh.. well on the east coast here. It appears that the trend is Lucky Star.. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya seems to have fallen on the way side, but that is still popular. I love Bleach, but is on hiatus with that series.. at the moment. Forgot to say.. extremely cool picture of Mewtwo sleeping. I didn't realize it was him... so I was like.... o_O

Posted by Linda @ 09/18/2008 05:04 PM PST

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