By Gavin Arucan | Staff Writer
From Friday to Sunday, anime fans from around Oʻahu flocked to the Hawaiʻi Convention Center to attend Hawaiʻi’s largest annual anime convention, Kawaii Kon. The 3-day convention celebrates anime and the rest of pop culture through local artists and vendors, video game tournaments, community panels, and guests from the industry.
The biggest attraction at the convention aren’t the celebrity guests or video games, however. The hundreds of attendees in colorful, complex costumes are the the most fascinating part of any anime or comic convention. These cosplayers dress up in either homemade or bought costumes as their favorite character from anime, comics, television shows, and movies. Some even cosplay as their own original characters.
Michael Lau, a 33-year-old who moved to Honolulu from Minnesota just one week before Kawaii Kon, spent the convention in a homemade costume of Rufio from the movie “Hook.” Lau chose to cosplay Rufio because Rufio was one of his favorite characters since childhood.
“He was this awesome, strong, teenaged, Asian-looking kid and I really identified with that,” said Lau. Lau knew he had to cosplay as Rufio when he found out that Dante Basco, who played the character in 1991 film, was going to be at Kawaii Kon.
When making his Rufio costume, Lau bought and collected many of the pieces he needed, including the main clothing.
“I spent a lot of hours cutting things up and putting on each bead,” said Lau. “It took a long time to collect the different bracelets and necklaces that I have, and of course the hair took half an hour.”
Lau has come a long way since his first cosplay at No Brand Con, a small convention in Wisconsin, where he cosplayed the character Yakumo from the manga “3×3 Eyes,” which only required easy-to-obtain pieces of clothing. Since then, Lau has improved and evolved his cosplay especially through crafting props.
To Lau, “cosplay is a bunch of fans getting together and just showing their artistic and creative side, getting into character, and just enjoying a sense of community knowing that there are other people who like the same things you do.”
For 19-year-old college student Trisha Nagasawa, Kawaii Kon is a place for her to “meet people who share the same passion [she] does.” Nagasawa cosplayed as three characters over the three days. She dressed up as Natsu, the lead character in the anime “Fairy Tail;” Hatsune Miku from “Vocaloid;” and Marluxia from the “Kingdom Hearts” video game series. Nagasawa sees cosplay as a “way [she] can show [her] appreciation and love for the characters that have touched [her] soul.”
Kawaii Kon and similar conventions can feel unreal since dozens of fictional characters are walking around, browsing the Artist Alley, sitting through panels, and, of course, waiting in lines to meet their favorite voice actor. While other conventions such as the Amazing Hawaiʻi Comic Con focus on inviting the creators and artists that make up the comic book industry, Kawaii Kon features mainly voice actors from anime and cartoon television shows and movies. One of the most popular events at Kawaii Kon is the “Ask an Anime Character” panel, where all the voice actors answer questions and riff off each other for the audience’s entertainment.
Some of the most notable guests at Kawaii Kon 2017 are Dante Basco, the voice of Zuko in “Avatar: The Last Airbender;” Zach Callison, the voice of Steven Universe; DeeDee Magno Hall, the voice of Pearl in “Steven Universe;” and Kanae Ito, the voice of Yui in “Sword Art Online.”
Each of the guests held panels for answering questions or discussing their shows or acting life. After each panel, most of the guests held autograph sessions for attendees to meet them in person, get autographs, and take photos. Some attendees would line up an hour in advance to ensure that they would be able to meet their favorite voice actor.
Kylie Tamaki, 18, was able to meet DeeDee Magno Hall and Janet Varney, the voice of Korra in “The Legend of Korra.”
“My hands were shaking so much when I took a picture with DeeDee and got Janet to sign my drawing of Korra,” she said. “I remember the same thing happened at the last Kawaii Kon when I met the voice actor of Azula. They’re all so nice and really amazing to meet in person.”
As an artist herself, Tamaki also enjoyed walking through the Artist Alley, where local artists sell original prints, often depicting famous anime or cartoon characters.
The celebrity voice actors themselves are enjoying their time on Oʻahu. Basco spent some time at his favorite Oʻahu beach, Lanikai Beach, and hiked the Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse trail. During their “Steven Universe” panel, DeeDee Magno Hall promised fans that she would introduce first-timer Zach Callison to malasadas and Spam musubi before they left the island.
Another popular attraction was the video game room, in which attendees could play various computer games, fighting games, and even musical games. Attendee Casey Takane’s favorite part of Kawaii Kon was participating in a “Super Smash Bros 4” tournament in which he played against one of the top 10 players in the world. Although he “lost horribly,” his opponent complimented him, making him “feel more confident as a player.”
Kawaii Kon also featured concerts from local bands, a “Cosplay Cafe,” and a section for tabletop games. While Kawaii Kon 2017 is over, more information on the convention and its future events can be found on its website.