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  • Writer's pictureKristina Elyse Butke

Con in Review: Anime Japan 2019

Image sourced from Anime Japan's website

This post originally was originally written for Speculative Chic. I have decided to rewrite it from scratch, although there will still be similarities between the original article and this one.

✧・゚: *✧・゚:*    *:・゚✧*:・゚✧

On March 23 and 24, 2019, I experienced my first (and only) convention in Japan--Anime Japan! I went with a friend to the fabled Tokyo Big Sight where I spent two days surrounded by 146,500 people who all love Japanese animation.

One of my biggest goals was to cosplay in Japan, so I remade a cosplay from scratch that I originally wore to Colossalcon in the USA--a gender-swapped version of the Count of Monte Cristo from the anime Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. It was one of the most extravagant cosplays I have ever made and I knew Anime Japan was going to be a big deal, which is why I decided to make a bigger and better version of the one I had in Ohio. I wanted to impress people at the convention, knowing that there was going to be incredible cosplay, so I worked really hard to make sure my cosplay was memorable. It was a lot of work, but I think I succeeded (although I was sewing in the hotel at the last second).

A portrait of the author closeup and in profile as the Count of Monte Cristo from the anime Gankutsuou. Author has blue hair, blue skin, one red eye, one green eye, a long skirt, velvet jacket with flames going up the side, and trimmed red sleeves with gold spirals.
My cosplay at Anime Japan 2019.
The cast of Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo anime.
The characters from Gakutsuou; the Count is the character with blue skin.

Here's what was so different about cosplaying at Anime Japan versus cosplaying in the United States. (This section was sourced from an original article I wrote for Speculative Chic.)

Tip #1: You can’t wear your cosplay to (or outside of) the con.

Back home in the US, it’s common to already be in costume when you enter the convention center to pick up your badge. It’s perfectly normal to see people in the parking lots, walking down the sidewalks, streaming into the convention centers, fully geared up.

Not so in Japan! You’re outright discouraged from doing so. I can’t tell you the exact reason why, but I can make some guesses — to avoid attracting unwanted attention, disturbing others on public transport, respecting the 和, maintaining order and keeping control of the crowds. If you want to cosplay in Japan, you have to bring your cosplay with you and change inside the convention center.

A young Japanese woman cosplays in a two piece skirt and bralette with a veil with gold trim at Anime Japan 2021
Cosplay by @rinamiso0921

Tip #2: You must pay to ‘play.

Cosplaying isn’t free! At Anime Japan, it was ¥1000 per day to cosplay (just under $10). They understand that cosplay is pretty elaborate and people will be hauling luggage, so they have an efficient “bag check” setup where you get a ticket and can access your bags, or check additional bags, at any point during the day. Only cosplayers get this benefit. You get to check your luggage after you change into your cosplay — the baggage check and cosplay dressing rooms are right next to each other and everything is a quick, smooth process!

Tip #3: The private dressing rooms aren’t so private.

…or rooms, exactly. The changing area was a sectioned off part of one of the halls (it looked like an airplane hangar) with temporary panels set up to construct walls for privacy. There were blue plastic tarps set up on the concrete floor, and you went in a single-file line in rows of six or seven people to sit on the ground to do makeup and get changed.

So, yeah — you get dressed in front of everyone. You are elbow-to-elbow with them, and there is zero privacy. And zero mirrors! Not even a full-length mirror to actually see what your completed costume looks like! 95% of my costume was put on completely blind, because, guess who her forgot her mirror because she was too focused on sewing? Luckily my friend had a small hand mirror that she passed back and forth with me; but I just felt like I had to rush through everything because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. And when you rush, you make mistakes. My mistake: styling my wig so quickly that I didn’t remember I was wearing my prosthetic elf ears (which I had hand-painted!), and accidentally pinned the wig right over them, including hiding the large gold stud earrings that matched the Count’s exactly. All that effort on details, and…OOF.

Cosplayers in colorful magical girl costumes dress as characters from Precure at Anime Japan 2019
Cosplay by @11hero35, @lyric_sos, @mi_2ba, and @tatuki_03

Tip #4: You can only take photos of cosplayers in special, designated areas.

To control crowds, you’re not allowed to take photos of people in the actual convention center when they’re looking at booths, attending stage events, buying swag, or just good old-fashioned walking around. While the downside is that you might not get to see all cosplayers — or capture pictures of all the ones you like — the ability to be able to move without obstruction is wonderful. But bear in mind, if you want people to take pictures of you, you have to plant it at the Cosplayer’s World section and wait for people to come up to you. Same thing for taking selfies — you can’t do them outside the area, and they do have people telling you to move if you’re taking photos where you shouldn’t. The one and only exception to this is the booth cosplayers. These are the pros purposely hired by animation studios, game companies, etc., to promote their work, so as long as you ask politely, they are fair game and you won’t get in trouble for taking their picture. And because they are professional actors, you get to see a whole ‘nother level of cosplay.

So overall it was a very different experience for me to cosplay in Japan, but there are definitely some things I like better about it, especially when it came to photography. There were lots of professional cosplayers out to play, and it really was an amazing experience!

How did the rest of the convention go? Here's my play-by-play of how the days went (this is partially sourced from another article originally published at Speculative Chic):

Saturday, March 23

A map of the floor plan for Anime Japan 2019
Image sourced from Anime Japan's website

As you can see from the map above, this is a big event! When my friend Melissa and I stepped inside, the number and scale of the displays overwhelmed us. It hit me that Anime Japan isn’t so much a convention, but more like a trade show promoting all of the new TV series, movies, games, and music coming out this spring and into the summer. There were also booths showcasing Figma sculptures, and life-sized replicas of costumes, weapons, and props used in anime such as Sword Art Online, the Fate franchise (specifically Fate Grand Order, which sponsored this year’s event), and Attack on Titan. On top of that, there were booths devoted only to selling merchandise (T-shirts, acrylic figures, keychains, and more), much of it limited-edition and only available at Anime Japan. The biggest item was auctioned for charity — a custom Gibson guitar (because roku ‘n roll, kids!) featuring Kirito from Sword Art Online.

Given the enormity of the event, we only made it to the Cosplayer’s World section (because we cosplayed!) and about 3/4 of the main entrance area; basically only the far left side of the map before we had to return to Cosplayer’s World to participate in the parade. So, our highlights of the day consisted of some of the most visually interesting booths I’ve ever seen!

A collage of four different lifesize anime figures standing in front of scenery from each of the four season. From Anime Japan 2019.
The four seasons greet you as soon as you enter the convention hall.

The four seasons display tied in to different series; unfortunately I can’t recognize all of them above. I can point out autumn as The Saga of Tanya the Evil, and the summer display is Overlord. Of the four above, my favorite is the winter display because of the beautiful snow-covered trees against the bright vermillion torii.

We also visited the Bandai Namco Animation Airport booth, which, as it sounds, was an enormous, maze-like display of galleries modeled after an airport. At the check-in counter, we collected a passport, and each section was themed around a specific show, including Gundam, One-Punch Man, among others. For every room you visited, you received a stamp in your passport. This place was so crowded that there wasn’t a lot of space to walk or time to take decent pictures, so you can look at ANN’s coverage of the booth here.

Most of the entry hall was split between art displays or merchandise sales, but I held off on shopping and instead went on a crusade to collect all the free swag and promotional material as possible. This was my mission until it was time to do the Cosplay Parade, and after that we only had enough time to change out of our clothes before the convention closed for the day.

There were photographers there who took photos of the cosplay parade and at the end we were gathered in the photography area. Guess what! We made Twitter! Can you find me?

At left, cosplayers assemble after the Cosplay parade at Anime Japan. At right, a screenshot of the original Tweet sharing the photograph.
From Anime Japan's official Twitter account

Sunday, March 24

This day was bigger for us — given the time it took to assemble my cosplay, which ate up my convention exploration, I opted not to dress up the second day. This was a wise decision, because there was so much we missed out on the first go-around, and we were able to sweep the remaining rooms in the convention hall.

Figures of people frozen in stone and covered in leaves
The Dr. Stone display

There were two series that caught my eye mostly because their displays were so fascinating. First off was Dr. Stone, based off the manga of the same name (available in the US from Viz Media). The story centers on Taiju, a boy who wakes up several millennia after a mysterious, devastating incident: a giant flash of light appeared and all of humanity was turned to stone. As Taiju and a rare few start to wake from this terrible event, Taiju vows to save the rest of humanity.

The dramatic incident of Dr. Stone certainly caught my attention (along with the pretty stone characters from its display), and it's been on my watchlist since returning to the United States.

The next giant display that intrigued me was for Fairy Gone, largely because some of the visuals reminded me of the games Dark Souls and Bloodborne. This is a unique series made for television, so there is no manga available (although lucky attendees received a free manga prequel setting up the story for the show!). Once again, as soon as I came back to the United States, I added it to my watchlist.

A lif-size display of characters from the anima Fairy Gone, surrounded by swords and flames.
The display for Fairy Gone.

The basic premise: fairies reside in animals and give them special powers. Humans want those powers to create Fairy Soldiers to fight in battle, so they transplant the organs of the fairy-possessed into people, and in doing so they gain the power to summon and weaponize the fairies. After the end a long war, Fairy Soldiers are no longer needed, and reintegration into society is difficult. Many are listless and turn to crime. Of course, there are also Fairy Soldiers tapped to fight those criminals in organizations like “Dorothea,” and the series follows new recruit Maria and her adventures with the organization.

To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings on this premise (militarized fairies = does not compute), but nonetheless I will give it a go just because I love its dark fantasy aesthetic. The trope of the “decommissioned super-soldier struggling in the normal world” is something that comes up in both anime and speculative genre, and almost always makes for some fascinating observations on society and the human condition. I don’t know how deep into this Fairy Gone will dive, so at the moment I’m a bit more hyped up on the idea of how they’ll play with creatures of fae, folklore, and fantasy.

I have so many other things I can write about from Anime Japan, and hundreds of pictures from the event, so it’s quite difficult for me to narrow this post down to a managable bite. But I’d be remiss to not bring up Fate Grand Order in more detail, or share in a couple cosplay photos, so I’ll wrap the post with both!

I mentioned above that Fate Grand Order sponsored Anime Japan this year. Fate Grand Order is a mobile game-turned-anime that has recently exceeded 6 million downloads and $3 billion in revenue. What started out as a little eroge visual novel (Fate Stay Night) turned into a sprawling series with multiple games, TV series, and films (Fate Zero, Unlimited Blade Works, Heaven’s Feel, etc.).

At left a lifesize cutout of Gilgamesh; at right a display of his costume and weapons from Fate Grand Order
The Fate Grand Order display featuring Gilgamesh.

It’s because the premise is irresistible: heroic spirits from history and myth reanimate at the command of mages as proxy warriors fighting in the Holy Grail War. Arthurian myth serves as the backbone of the series, but all sorts of characters from different legends come into play — imagine Gilgamesh, Heracles, or Cú Chulainn fighting on your behalf to win the Grail (an object which grants the winner any single wish, regardless of horrific costs). Each heroic spirit takes on a specific fighting role — Archer, Lancer, Caster, Rider, Assassin, Saber, and Berserker — and the series is brutal with how it dispatches their characters. I’ve been a fan for years and the shows give me feelings, so it was a great pleasure to see all the displays for Fate Grand Order. One of my favorite displays featured life-size cutouts of the characters and real costume replicas with weapons.

There was a lot of other anime represented, like Demon Slayer (and I bought a figure of Zenitsu without having any idea who he was or what the story of Demon Slayer was--I have since watched the series and absolutely love it). There were also giant puppets, figures made entirely out of balloons, life-size plastic replicas of the lead characters of Promare, and more.

At the time I didn't know what would be a hit and what wouldn't be, so I wish I would've taken more pictures of stuff, because I've seen the shows and movies they were talking about at the time and didn't get photos of them, waaah!

Anyway, overall the convention was a completely memorable experience--memorable enough that I thought I'd flash back to it and post it on my personal blog. It's another glimpse into stuff that I did while I was in Japan, and I hope I can someday go back to Japan and do this again, with an even more impressive cosplay.

Thanks so much for reading!


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