Anime convention provides a much-needed outlet

The event acts as a place where fans can display their interests without fear of judgment


Bella Ortley-Guthrie

Cosplayers Dama, left, and Imani, right, dress up as their favorite characters from different animes.

Bella Ortley-Guthrie, Staff Writer

 A sea of vibrant red, purple and yellow hair is visible at Winston-Salem’s Benton Convention center. Adolescents, adults and families of mixed ages weave in between each other — some wield intricate silver swords, while others adorn glittery wings on their back. Upon walking into the convention center, some might think they had stepped into another world. In a way, they have — this is the distinct world of Anime Con.

The Triad Anime Convention (“Triad Con”) meets from Mar. 18-22, drew attendees from across the Piedmont Triad. Anime is a style of animation originating from Japan marked by distinct colorful graphics, flashy storytelling and rich characters. Anime acts almost as a sub-set culture with an extensive fanbase and community.

At these anime conventions, cosplayers, fans and artists gather because of their love of the genre. However, because of this unique subset of culture, anime is often criticized and stigmatized, called out for being childish, weird, and even “satanic”. What the stigma fails to recognize is the community and freedom that anime conventions provide. It’s a place in which people from all backgrounds and identities can come together to reckon with the best and worst parts of themselves.

Descending the escalators inside the convention center, tables line hallways leading to game rooms, expo rooms and dealer rooms. People crowd together outside the rooms and along the hallway walls — some posing to take photos by the entranceways and others awaiting entry into talks with guest artists. Service dogs accompany cosplayers, and groups of friends sit in corners of the long hallway, watching videos on their phones and talking.

Three blocks south of the Benton Convention Center, away from the convention hub and near the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, is a jagged rock pavilion. Lined with concrete steps and open in the sunlight, it’s a place in which people take prom photos and displaced citizens sleep for the night — but it’s also a place where anime cosplayers meet.

Posing on the rocks stood ten cosplayers. The cosplayers helped each other pose for photos, straightening each other’s robes and pushing back wigs against the harsh North Carolina wind. Sounds of laughter, Tik Tok references and compliments filled the space. Upon first glance, everyone seemed like life-long friends, but in reality, this was some of their first times meeting each other.

Of the ten cosplayers, I spoke with MC, Vi, Imani and Hannah. MC and Vi were Winston-Salem natives and siblings who created an Instagram group to find people to join their cosplay group for Triad Con. They stood beside each other, smiling and looking at the cosplayers around them. Besides MC and Vi, the group had only communicated in the months leading up to the event through text messages. However, no one could tell that, because they all blended seamlessly — a cohesive family. They watched out for each other — making note if a fellow cosplayer was off to the side or seemed tense. MC and Vi stood close together, helping each other with costume snags and keeping an eye on the time before heading back to the convention.“Can I take a photo with you?” A young boy asked, approaching Vi and MC.

Everyone looked like superheroes, especially MC. MC, dressed as Shinobu from the anime “Demon Slayer”, donning a white cape with decorative butterflies.

MC started attending anime conventions in 2017, buying their costumes mainly online. Now, they make a variety of their costumes on their own like their Shinoubu costume with an intricate butterfly clip crafted from a PBC board and spray glitter adhesive.

“I highly relate and identify with this character,” MC said. MC relates to Shinobu in being the protective sibling and keeping their family together. MC said that coming as a group to an anime convention is special and brings them a sense of power.

“I feel powerful. It feels like wow …we’re living our best life,” MC said. And they do look like they’re living their best life with MC and Vi looking happy, confidently posing for each other and the camera.

Vi stood next to MC dressed as another character from “Demon Slayer”, Mitsuri. Vi — an eight-year veteran of anime conventions — dressed in a white overcoat with a braided pink-and-green-streaked wig. Mitsuri is often made fun of for her looks and eating habits and often restrains her eating.

“I think it’s a nice message — to eat and just be yourself. I just want to tell her: eat, girl, eat!” Vi said. Vi later said that Mitsuri is really self-conscious like herself and that cosplaying gives her the confidence to feel and act free.

“Like Mitsuri, I need to tell myself to eat at times. Like, if I want to eat, to eat,” Vi said.

To the right of MC and Vi stood Imani, another cosplayer and South Carolina native dressed as Tokito from “Demon Slayer”. She stood beside her partner Damon, who was cosplaying as Tokito, wielding a samurai sword. Triad Con makes her 25th anime convention.

“In my real life, I like having fun, but feel kind of standoffish at times, like quiet and to myself. And that’s the same with this character,” Imani said. For Imani, the anime convention acts as an open space, one where making friends and being herself is easy.

“If you don’t know anyone at an anime convention, you can literally go into the video game room and start playing a game with somebody or literally scream at someone for liking their cosplay and knowing their character — and then build it from there,” Imani said.
Sitting on the rocks across from Vi, MC and Imani was Hannah, cosplaying as Sketchy the Fox from the anime “SK8”. She sat on the concrete with her hands running through her hair.

“It’s such a great atmosphere — especially for people who can’t be themselves at home,” Hannah said, her black eyeliner glittering in the sun.

For MC, Vi, Imani and Hannah, there’s a pattern of acceptance that comes about through cosplaying. Victoria Albarn, one of the head organizers of Triad Anime Con aimed to make the convention not only accepting of the attendees but to extend this motion of inclusivity to the volunteer environment, as well.

“Usually the way that it works is that [anime conventions] end up too much like a business. And it makes people feel like their voice isn’t meant to be heard if they have a suggestion, or if they have a problem. And we’re an anime con — we’re a bunch of people who’ve usually got bullied anyways, but we don’t want people to feel like that in a space like this,” said Albarn.

The workers at the anime convention aspire to facilitate a welcoming environment with volunteers stationed around the convention center — attentive to the needs and cosplays of attendees and complimenting each other’s costumes.

“And so we always try to kind of look around and if we’d see somebody who may not be feeling the most welcome like if they didn’t come with friends…and you can kind of see them standing on the outside. A lot of our staffers will say things like, ‘Hey — question — do you like to people-watch? Do you want to do a badge check with us because, usually, we have two people indoors?’ We want to make sure that this con stays a place to make friends because it’s such a niche community,” Albarn said.

The convention’s niche community aspect brings all humans together to celebrate their love for each other and anime. Walking around the convention center as an anime novice, I was in awe of the costumes and how cosplayers emulated specific details in their costumes. Cosplaying provides people a sense of agency — it gives them the means, power and space to express themselves and explore their identity. It provides a space for individuals to step back and view themselves through another lens and grow self-confidence to not only love others but to accept themselves.

In the hallways of the convention center, a group of cosplayers stood clustered in a circle. A man stood taking photos of another man in a wheelchair. The man in the wheelchair was decked out in a silver costume — his arms and legs detailed with silver spray and mechanical designs. With the help of his friend at his side, the man sitting down pressed a button on his chair, enabling himself and the costume to stand up in full form — a silver transformer-esque figure. Pride beamed across his face as people complimented his costume.

What I realized at this moment was that it didn’t matter if you knew the anime or not — people and children stood in awe at the superhero in front of them. This moment encapsulated the spirit of the anime convention and community — that while the anime characters might be fictional, they offer the power for anime lovers to become superheroes.