Arts & Entertainment

The AnimeUSA Convention: Cosplaying in Crystal City and Much More

By Mark Dreisonstok

AnimeUSA, a large three-day annual convention dedicated to anime and those who enjoy it, took place this past weekend at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. The event drew cosplayers (those who portray their favorite Japanese-inspired Anime characters) from all over the United States.  Yet the event was much more than simply a gathering of Anime enthusiasts dressed up in costumes.  Before we discuss the convention, however, we will meet a few of the cosplaying attendees.

One cosplayer, Lilac, dressed in black and lace, portrayed Yuri Katsuki, a figure skater who is the protagonist of “Yuri!!! on Ice.”  Lilac, like many visitors to the convention, found herself attracted to anime from early childhood; events such as this one allows her to embody her favorite character more fully. Another AnimeUSA attendee explained: “Artistically, I was drawn to the cuteness of anime characters’ look with their big eyes, long voluminous hair, and spirited character. The time here brings back many fond memories of watching many Studio Ghibli movies such as ‘Spirited Away,’ ‘The Cat Returns,’ and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle.’” 

Groups of friends were attending together as well, sometimes wearing costumes oriented around a common theme. We met one such group in which each person of a trio represented a literary personality from the same series: Madeline Schmidt portrayed Russian author Nicolai Gogol, Ford L. was Japanese man-of-letters Osamu Dazai, and Ceclia S. represented, simply, Elise. Madeline explained: “I was Nikolai Gogol with the white hat and cape. All three of us, Cece, Ford, and I, are cosplaying characters from the manga and anime series “Bungo Stray Dogs,” which takes real-life authors from primarily Japan, the United States, and Russia throughout the nineteenth and the United States, and Russia throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and gives them ‘gifted abilities’—superpowers of sorts. These abilities are tied to the personal history of the authors and analysis of their works. Nikolai Gogol, and Osamu Dazai are two of the characters, and Elise, Cecelia’s character, is actually a manifestation of another character, Mori Ogai’s ability, so no last name for her.” 

Anime character Tohru Honda, heroine of the “Fruits Basket” series, was particularly popular this year.  This character is imbued with almost contradictory personality traits:  sensitive and insecure yet brave and assertive; at times a naïve schoolgirl dressed in Japanese sailor suit school uniform and at other times independent with clear managerial skills.  (Many characters of the series also embody the characteristics of the animals of the Chinese zodiac.) One attendee, Danielle W., dressed as Tohru Honda, with her friends Chris C. as Kofuku from the “Norugami” action series and Rachel C. as Marin Kitagawa from “My Dress-up Darling”—the last series based on the idea of cosplay itself!  Tohru Honda was also the costume donned by Allison Cook, who was accompanied by Ian Brennan as Chrono, associated with the series “Lyrical Nanoha.”  Allison informed us that she loves such conventions because of the atmosphere and being around people with the same interests.

As mentioned earlier, however, the AnimeUSA convention is not only about cosplay!  This year there was a cultural room in which one could learn how to wear a kimono, see miniature reconstructions of rooms in a castle of Edo-era Japan, and learn how to make porcelain bead dolls under the tutelage of Anne Cox. Also featured was a Japanese tea ceremony demonstration by Chado Urasenke Tankokai. A performance of the koto (a traditional Japanese instrument somewhat similar to a zither)  by Yuriko Gandolfo.  Gamers, too, were not disappointed: there was a large video game room, chess matches, and Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts running campaigns.

Academically-inclined attendees enjoyed panel discussions on topics such as “Pulp Science Fiction, H. P. Lovecraft, and Their Influence on Anime” and “Hunting the Forest Spirit: Mythology and Anime.”

We also met artists, in particular Akiko Meigetsu and Li Izumi of the Comiku Studio. Akiko, who studied under a Chinese master artist, is a painter in both ink and watercolor, while Li, who studied under a Japanese master calligrapher, is an artist in calligraphy.    

AnimeUSA has been occurring annually for some twenty years, though the in-person 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled due to Covid. This year marked the resumption of the convention, with attendees reveling in a wide variety of interests, including Japanese anime and manga (graphic novels), cosplay, gaming, as well as cultural explorations of Japan and other cultures.