Bugs Bunny it is not. Dressed in brilliantly colored, sometimes risqué, otherworldly outfits, and dawning pink, yellow, black and blue wigs, thousands of young Japanese anime fanatics converged in the capital on Thursday to pay homage to their favorite fictional characters.
The Convention of Anime and Manga in Israel, now in its second year in the capital, is an all-day event held at the Jerusalem International Convention Center and is dedicated to animation (anime), comics (manga), popular Japanese culture and gaming.
Featuring a variety of attractions involving costumed fans, including lectures, workshops, booths and a cosplay (costume play) competition, Boris Rodman, director of the Association for Manga and Anime in Israel, said the annual convention has become a relatively big draw.
“These conventions are for people who love manga and anime, and brings them together to hear lectures, meet friends, and just celebrate the things they love,” said Rodman at the Thursday gathering.
“Since the beginning of 2000, the Japanese culture of animation has been spreading throughout the world, and it has reached Israel as well. As a medium, it’s just very different than what we’re used to in Western culture – there’s something for everyone in Japanese animation.”
Similar to Comic-Con, Rodman said the convention has become a popular meeting ground during the summer, and on Purim, for Israeli manga enthusiasts who relish the opportunity to dress up as their favorite characters and express themselves among like-minded fans.
It also has become a successful commercial enterprise for independent merchants selling anime-related wares, including figurines, toys, posters, videos, clothing, stickers, stuffed animals, hats and jewelry.
Additionally, for an admission price of NIS 55, the estimated 2,500 visitors, ranging in age from 12 to 50, could attend up to 30 manga activities and lectures between 9:30 a.m. and 9 p.m.
However, the biggest attraction of the day was the cosplay competition, where participants dressed in elaborate costumes could strut and lipsync on a stage to their favorite manga songs in the convention center auditorium.
Inside the darkened theater, at least 2,000 young people loudly cheered on a procession of contestants, illuminated on a stage by an enormous television screen, amid glow sticks of all colors and pulsating music.
“People dress up as their favorite characters from manga video games and cartoons to bring them to life,” Rodman said. “It’s really like Comic-Con.”
Moreover, noting the festive and inclusive nature of the event, Rodman said it has become a safe venue for young people who may feel like misfits in expressing themselves.
“Sometimes kids have hobbies that just don’t fit in with the people around them, and suddenly they find this whole world where other people love the things they love, and they find friends here and feel accepted,” he said.
Indeed, dressed as his favorite character, “Roxas,” from the video game Kingdom Hearts, 19-year-old Dean Ginz of Ramat Gan, who sported a blonde spiky wig, black leather robe and enormous silver key with a yellow handle, said he feels uncommonly connected to other fans.
“I talk to people and they understand me – they relate to me, and I relate to them – and I just feel sort of at home,” he said. “When I was in school, I was the outcast and the nerd, and nobody really got me and thought I was weird. And here I feel like people get me.”
Ginz continued: “It’s kind of like Purim, and [the event] gives us a chance to be someone else to express ourselves.”
Dressed in a black mini-dress with white and red ruffles and plunging neckline, jet-black wig and a black heart-shaped necklace with devil’s horns, Looda Lina, 22, of Netanya, said she relishes transforming into her favorite character – “Gothic Lolita.”
“I always liked the dark characters, the gothic,” she said with a smile. “It’s a beautiful world. And I like all Japanese things – the culture, the food, the anime – it’s just perfect because it’s fun and colorful. You can have red hair and green eyes and wear wonderful outfits, and it’s just so, so cute!”
Topless and sporting a red cape, blue wig, a plastic sheathed samurai sword, and orange sunglasses in the shape of two triangles, Nathan Shtivelberg, a 25-year-old after-school activities instructor from Jerusalem, wore one of the more daring costumes of the day.
“I am Kamina, a leader of a group that used to live underground and fought to get to the surface to see the sun and the sky,” he explained. “They started from the bottom and they conquered galaxies. Kamina is a very motivational person. He’s very strong.”
That strength, Shtivelberg said, inspires him. “This character is inspirational, super passionate about everything he does, and very confident,” he said. “He’s always positive and confident, and I’m not. So today I am 100 percent that guy.”