Cosplaying the Field

Bringing a new kind of cultural flair to an otherwise average March weekend, Anime Boston is a three-day convention located at the Hynes Convention Center and Sheraton Boston.

As I step onto the T on the morning of March 26, I notice the car is a little crowded. The normal Boston commuters and weekend brunch-goers are replaced with a very different kind of traveler. Armed with scepters, wigs, props, and carefully crafted homemade costumes, these T riders are all headed to the same place: Anime Boston.

Bringing a new kind of cultural flair to an otherwise average March weekend, Anime Boston is a three-day convention located at the Hynes Convention Center and Sheraton Boston. The largest anime convention in the Northeast, it boasts an annual turnout of more than 22,000 people, with estimates ranging up to 25,000. The convention itself includes shops, art galleries, contests, panels, and more.

Many convention-goers choose to dress up as characters from various TV shows, movies, comic series, and other media. Called “cosplaying,” this practice results in thousands of real-life cartoon characters roaming the streets of Boston, and makes the convention and its surrounding areas colorful, eclectic, and exciting for participants and spectators alike.

In one of the multiple block-long lines that lead into the convention center, I meet Dark Magician and Dark Magician Girl from “Yuh-Gi-Oh.” Punk versions of Princess Bubblegum and Marceline from Adventure Time stand a few spots back in line. Rushing out of the Shake Shack on Newbury Street, I run into Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler from the musical “Hamilton.” The more I explore this phenomenon, the more I begin to realize that the convention-goers are extraordinary—at least, when it comes to their skills with a glue gun.

“What I like most about it is just how enthusiastic the community is,” says Cassie E. Lowell '17, who attended the convention dressed as both Pearl from the TV show “Steven Universe” and popular Internet character Rose Lalonde. She highlights the seemingly tedious nature of cosplay—it involves spending tons of time and effort on outfits that will only be worn for a few hours. Yet the people's enthusiasm more than makes up for it. “Everyone else is really excited to see you dress up, and they ask to take pictures of you,” Lowell says.

The frenzy to take photos with characters is certainly widespread. In the middle of my conversation with Dark Magician Girl (alias Hannah Cousins of Newburyport, Mass.), a man approaches our group with the level of enthusiasm usually reserved for celebrities, exclaiming: “Dark Magician, Dark Magician Girl, can I take a photo?”

“It’s hard for us to get more than ten feet without taking a picture,” Dark Magician tells me afterward. When I ask them apologetically for a photo of my own, though, the group doesn’t seem upset. On the contrary, they light up and quickly assume their characters’ signature poses, brandishing wands and props and appearing startlingly like anime characters themselves.

Although most people can’t quite articulate how they became involved with anime or convention-going, they all agree how quickly these things become life-long passions. Lowell says she first attended a convention in Baltimore, Md. during middle school. Eight years later, she has created and worn more than 30 costumes to events like Anime Boston. “You go to your first ‘con,’ and then you never stop going to them,” Sharanya Pulapura '19, another convention-goer from Harvard, says.

Sharanya Pulapura '19 and Davis M. Lazowski '19 pose as characters from the web comic "Homestuck" outside Matthews Hall after returning from their third day at the convention.

The convention’s website cites its goal as "celebrat[ing] and promot[ing] Japanese animation, comics, and pop-culture.” Yet Anime Boston actually promotes much more than one specific culture. Costumes from all types of genres are represented (I spot both an Aladdin and a Rapunzel), but one uniting theme is acceptance.

“I like being able to be myself more often than I usually am in my day-to-day,” punk Princess Bubblegum, alias Miranda Cummings of Providence, R.I., says. People seem focused entirely on the creativity and enthusiasm of fellow convention-goers, leaving behind any prejudices or biases and instead accepting everyone as a member.

According to convention-goers, the anime community has been a safe haven for members of the BGLTQ community, as well as various other minority groups. “A large portion of people got into the anime community because they didn’t feel accepted,” says Davis M. Lazowski '19. “They know they want to make sure everyone feels accepted to carry the community forward.”

Themed panels, some of the convention’s main attractions, consistently examine issues of gender and sexuality. Panels discussing gender identity at conventions join various others on everything from classical mythology in anime to engineering electronic costumes. With the enormous amount of people attending the convention, no issue is left undiscussed.

“All around, it’s just a really nice melting pot of individual expression,” Cummings notes. “And just having a fun time.”