Japanese genre inspires participants to dress as favorite characters at local convention

Emily Brown, Opinion Editor

Thousands of people dressed in costumes influenced by Japanese anime and manga, video games, TV shows and Japanese fashion, crowded the halls of the Overland Park Convention center. Those in the most intricate costumes were swarmed by people wanting to take photos, and strangers asking them to glomp.
A girl with choppy, blue hair and sapphire eyes made her way down past the line of hundreds of people waiting to buy passes to enter.
As she walked, a person called out “Aqua.” She smiled and turned.
On Feb. 10 and 11, senior Jessica Becker cosplayed as Aqua from the video game “Kingdom Hearts” for the second time at the 2012 Naka-Kon anime convention.
One of the first anime conventions of its kind in the Kansas City area, Naka-Kon hosts panels, costume contests and a variety of vendors selling everything from manga-inspired artwork to pocky.
Becker first stepped into the world of anime and manga after her sister encouraged her to watch the first season of Naruto. She said she immediately fell in love with the series.
“I was thinking, ‘Why haven’t I watched these before?’” she said. “I just love the characters. They are so easy to get attached to. You pick your favorites, and they continue on for the rest of the series.”
The first manga series she read was Shaman King, and the connection she felt with the characters inspired her to continue reading other series like Beauty Pop, Bleach and Wallflower.
“[Manga] is like a story with really good characters, but you also get to see what they look like and see their actions,” she said.
Later, she discovered a role playing video game called “Kingdom Hearts” that had both anime and Disney influences. Aqua, one of the main female characters in the game, quickly became one of Becker’s favorites.
“When I first started playing, I was like ‘Oh, my gosh, an actual girl heroine,’” she said. “I was very excited by that. I started playing as her, and I liked how powerful she was. She had a lot of confidence.”
When she decided to cosplay at the 2011 Naka-Kon at the Hyatt Regency, Becker chose to dress up as Aqua.
Rhiannon Riesenmy, Becker’s friend and fellow cosplayer, said Becker’s cosplay selection was a good choice because of Aqua’s reputation in the gaming world.
“Aqua is a character who has a strong sense of justice, cares for people and is optimistic in the face of adversity,” Riesenmy said. “Aqua is very popular among the ‘Kingdom Hearts’ fan base.”
Becker started preparing her Aqua costume months in advance.
After gathering all of the material needed, Becker’s grandmother, a former professional seamstress, sewed it all together.
Still, Becker needed one last accessory to finish off Aqua’s costume: a keyblade.
When she first looked at keyblades online, she saw that some of them cost hundreds of dollars. She found an aerial view shot of the blade and realized that she might be able to make one instead.
Becker and her father went shopping for wood, and Becker drew the outline of the keyblade onto the wood. Her father cut it, and she sanded and painted it.
Becker said there are two main benefits to making a costume rather than buying one online.
“You definitely save a lot,” she said. “I’ve also been told that my costume looks better than any of the ones you can buy online because the coloring. Sometimes the color that they use doesn’t exactly match what the character has. I was dead set on trying to match my character to try to make it look really good.”
An average Aqua costume without the wig costs $80-$155, not including shipping. The price of the blue wig varies from $20-$40.
Finally, the day to show off her costume came. With several friends, Becker traversed the hallways of the Hyatt Regency in her Aqua cosplay.
“It felt so good when you are walking around, and you get stopped by people commenting on your costume and wanting to take pictures of you,” she said. “It is a good feeling knowing your hard work paid off.”
Riesenmy said Becker was the most realistic Aqua she has seen in her three years of cosplaying.
“She fits the part very well, and her accuracy on the cosplay speaks to that,” Riesenmy said. “Her keyblade is perfectly accurate as well.”
After shopping and attending panels, Becker and other “Kingdom Hearts” cosplayers met up and took photos at a scheduled photo shoot.
“There were four other Aquas, so I was kind of intimidated,” she said. “But I felt good about mine after seeing others. Some people when they cosplay, they don’t really care if it looks exactly like the character. I felt like mine was more realistic looking.”