I stood in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel on Jan. 4, dressed in a borrowed ankle-length black dress with a fur collar. I was 2P Russia from “Hetalia.” Not only was I confused about what my name meant, I was also confused why people were there.
It was my first time at an anime convention, and I was utterly clueless.
For the uninitiated, anime is a Japanese style of animation (think “Pokemon” or “Speed Racer”). Though the convention was called SacAnime, it covered all of nerd culture: manga (Japanese graphic novels), children’s TV shows, webcomics and video games.
Apparently, the big thing at these conventions is cosplay (a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play”). Most attend- ees dress up as their favorite anime/manga characters.
“Aww, man, are you a predator?” a man yelled from across the lobby. He was talking to another guy dressed in brown fish scales with shoes 3 feet long made of duct tape.
As I nervously waited near the ticket counter for junior Grant Miner (I wasn’t going to do this alone), a girl with neon- orange hair in pigtails licking a rainbow lollipop the size of her face skipped towards me.
“I have a dress like that, that I used to wear to choir years ago,” she said with a laugh.
I saw a shirtless man wrapped only in bloody rags, dragging a 5-foot sword. His head was a large metallic pyramid. He was Pyramid Head, a character from “Silent Hill 2.”
When Grant finally arrived, we bought our tickets and walked down to the convention center.
Blond, brown or black hair was a rare sight. Ahead of me stretched a sea of blue, pink, yellow, green and orange heads.
We walked in circles before I saw a sign announcing a panel with the voices of “Legend of Korra”—a show that I had actu- ally seen. Leaving Grant in line for the panel, I went to explore.
For the most part, people congregated in the hallways talking about anime shows and impersonating their characters.
I soon found myself in Dealer’s Alley, a bazaar-like collection of anime merchandise stands in one of the exhibit halls. “Don’t you wish you could morph and teleport?” a man
with a green vest and a hat pulled over his ponytail asked me. “Um, sure,” I answered and hurried away, ducking my head. I next spotted a crowd of cosplayers surrounding a vendor selling swords. At registration Grant had been told he couldn’t bring his baseball bat inside because it could be used as a weapon.
But the swords were only some of hundreds of items for sale, including posters of anime characters, video games, J-pop (Japanese pop) music, anime artwork, keychains, puzzles and costumes.
Grant later explained that what looked like decorative sleeping bags were actually Dakimakura, person-sized pillows, and that hardcore anime fans use the usually scantily clad characters printed on them for…private activities.
Looking at the people purchasing them, I wasn’t sure how to react to this news.
We hurried to get seats because I didn’t want to get stuck behind someone with 8-foot wings or a 4-foot headpiece.
As we settled into the second row, I decided to be proactive and ask the man next to me what his costume was.
He laughed and introduced himself. “I’m Quentin Trembley, eighth-and-a-half president of the United States. I froze my- self.” He then pointed to the “No Pants” sign he carried as if that should make it clear what he was talking about.
“He’s from ‘Gravity Falls’!” was Grant’s exasperated reply to my blank look.
After about 20 minutes at the panel, Grant and I left to check out an event on the balcony a floor above.
Along the way, we ducked into a side room where people were playing board games.
“Hey, can I take your picture?”
It was Pyramid Head guy and he liked Grant’s costume. Grant was Ness from “Earthbound” with a blue-and-yellow striped T-shirt, baggy shorts, a backpack and a baseball cap.
“So many people ask to take pictures of me that I have to split my time between cosplaying and participating in activities,” Pyramid Head complained.
He went on to share the details of his custom-made sword and head, all made with skills he learned in Boy Scouts.
According to his Instagram he’s the “premier cosplayer of Pyramid Head in northern California.” I suspect this is a niche in which he may be the sole inhabitant.
When he finished, I continued to the balcony.
“I am the messiah!” a teenage boy chanted as he ran past wearing all black and a crown of colored flowers on his head.
Chuckling, Grant and I finally reached the balcony.
In the corner were guys in suits and various headgear and girls in red-and-black dresses from the anime show “Black Butler.” They were playing a game of Truth or Dare.
“Incest! Twincest! Incest! Twincest!” group members cried. I guess “Black Butler” has a lot of love affairs within the family.
Immediately a 12-year-old boy got down on one knee and, holding out a red rose, proposed to the girl next to me.
She blushed and stammered a hesitant yes, and the rest of their group cheered and clapped.
“Now we’re going to ship people,” said a girl clutching a 7-foot pole topped with a skull.
So I joined in the circle.
“Aishwarya, shipping is where they pair you up with one of the people in the group and then you act like you are dating them,” Grant explained with a laugh.
“Shipping,” along with “dere dere” (lovestruck) and “chibi” (little one), is part of anime vocabulary.
I followed him out, catching sight of a woman with a red dress and an elaborate paper mache head.
“Take a picture of me with her,” I called to Grant.
Again Grant pulled me back, explaining that the lady was, in fact, a man. A lot of the “women” wearing these fake heads were men, he said.
So we headed down to watch the Masquerade, the day’s biggest event.
And then the lights went black, a spotlight appeared on stage and the fashion show began.
I felt like I would need some Dr. Seuss words to describe the costumes.
A couple walked on in matching costumes. As they posed, the guy got down on one knee and proposed.
The crowds cheered in a deafening roar. The girl shook her head, yes.
Two proposals in one night! Not what I had expected when I arrived at the anime convention. But then nothing else was either!