Photo Gallery: 2013 Anime Expo
More than 50,000 fans had been expected to attend the 2013 Anime Expo, many decked in patent leather, knee highs and bright-colored wigs, to showcase their love for all-things-Japanese that is rooted in the country's anime -- short for animation -- industry to also include fashion and music.
But while many just see the skimpy, outlandish costumes of fans that swarmed the Los Angeles Convention Center over the weekend, organizers of Anime Expo emphasize the story lines of the popular cartoons and comic books can provide a deep insight into Japanese pop culture and is more than cosplay -- fans in "costume play" dressed as popular characters -- or child's play.
"We understand that our attendees are looking for a deeper experience and a lot of our attendees are older. It's not all 15- to 21-year-old kids," said expo spokesman Greg Hignight. "Anime fans have been going strong now for two decades so there are a lot of people out who are enthusiasts and aficionados of anime but are also interested in the cultural roots and significance it has had on the Japanese culture and the art world."
That is why the four-day expo, which kicked off on Independence Day, added what Hignight described as a "full-blown academic symposium." The AX 2013 Anime and Manga Studies Symposium featured speakers from colleges and universities from all over the country and abroad from as far as Europe and Japan. In its first inception, Hignight said it was important for Anime Expo to discuss women in anime and their growing role in the culture.
"Women, in many ways, lead the movement. As cosplayers, as artists, women are at the forefront," Hignight said.
Anime Expo's attendee base is 45 percent women, Hignight said, adding that anime fandom is more egalitarian than most perceive.
"One of the things that is fascinating is in Japan there are many women comic arts while in the U.S., it's sort of like a men's club," Hignight said. "It's inspiring to see women in Japan become famous through anime. They're literally shaping the content and telling the stories. Historically, comic books were made for boys, but with anime it's a very different art form in terms of how its expressed and consumed."
For 16-year-old Stephanie Lee of Walnut, anime characters are fun but can also be an extension of what a person dreams to be. While fantasical, the characters are not too far-fetched from common childhood role models and local heroes most boys dream to be, like police officers or firefighters.
Lee and her group of about half a dozen friends dressed up as giant-fighting heros from the anime television series "Attack on Titan," also known as "Shingeki no Kyojin."
"A lot of anime do it really well and empower their female characters," Lee said. "It's unlike many of the mainstream cartoons you see where women are pretty much just damsels in distress."
It's also something that one can grow up with because much of the plot in anime is based on very serious themes that Dee Skinner of New Mexico says are often too serious for mainstream American cartoons.The 47-year-old computer technology teacher has attended Anime Expo for more than five years now and said it really sparked her interested in Japanese culture and music.
"What's interesting is that within the fandom, you'll find girls that are more interested in science, literature, history and studying. It's much more serious than people think and I think it's because the audience anime targets are the more serious mind," Skinner said.
Anime Expo began in California's Bay Area in 1992 and it has since grown to become the largest anime and manga convention in North America, Hignight said. It is the second longest running anime convention after A-kon in Texas.