Aliens and Pink-Haired Girls

I had an experience this past weekend that involved aliens and pink-haired girls.

I believe it might have some application to parks and recreation programming and is worth sharing with PRB readers and getting your input.

I had my first encounter with an “anime” conference called Seishun-Con in Atlanta.

For those who aren’t really sure exactly what anime is, join the club. I’m still trying to figure it out.

But essentially it’s a craze among many tweens, teens and even young adults based on Japanese cartoons.

I had heard the term anime for years and could even spell it, but I never really knew what the hype was all about and never gave it much thought.

It’s short for “animation,” and refers to Japanese stylized hand-drawn or computer-generated animation that has been around since the ‘60s, was very big in the ‘80s and is resurging among younger audiences now.

My 17-year-old son began to take interest in a girl who has an interest in anime, and before long my wife and I found ourselves chaperoning them and two of the girl’s friends and one of their 14-year-old nephews to Seishun-Con.

So it was that this past weekend we found ourselves spending time with costumed characters that sort of reminded us of that bar scene in the first Star Wars movie, where Luke and Han Solo run into all those weird aliens.

Costumes were optional, but 90 percent of the 800 or so attendees were in them. My son had even bamboozled my wife into making him one--he was bedazzling as some general in a long, braided coat complete with hat, wig and mask.

I can’t even begin to describe some of the costumes, which ranged from simple masks to detailed costumes, makeup and accessories. It was like Halloween in June.

The conference could have been a state recreation conference, with costumes. There were educational sessions (not sure if they issued CEUs) and panel discussions on issues from “A Brief History of Giant Robot Anime” to information on the newest shows and trends.

There were interactive workshops and demos and video rooms with the “latest and greatest alongside the classic oldies.”

At first I was ambivalent and thinking that the girl my son was courting better be worth all this; but then as I began to watch what was happening and talked with some of the participants, I began to see a deeper social experience occurring.

I saw people ranging in age from 14 to their late 20s or early 30s. Some younger moms and dads were there with their daughters and sons all costumed out.  There were people from all over the country, all over the world even, who had come there pretty much to join in one big dress-up party.

They appeared to be from a broad spectrum of society. Some of the guys looked like jocks, some looked like nerds. The girls were equally diverse, from shy wallflowers to flitting social fairies with lots of pink.

They would merge in ever-changing groups in the central gathering area outside the programming rooms. They were connecting with new friends and re-connecting with other anime veterans. There was lots of laughter and hugs.

As I watched, I realized this was just a fun--and by all appearances safe--way for young people to meet face to face instead of in cyberspace. I started to think this was actually pretty cool.

When I would venture into the fray on observation tours to make sure my charges were behaving, I talked with some of the participants to find out more about this anime. Why do they do this? What’s the attraction?

Some were young entrepreneurs, there to test a new anime gadget or trend. Turns out there is a whole market of products and services related to anime.

Some were there acting out the characters they were portraying. Turns out there is a related activity called “Cosplay,” short for “costume play,” which is a performing art form.

I talked with the parents of one of the event’s half-dozen organizers, who is only in his mid-20s.  They said he’d been into anime since he was a pre-tween, and that three years ago he and a few of his friends decided to start this event to connect with others with similar interests.

It grew from a couple hundred to more than 800 attendees in that time frame.

But for the most part, attendees were just young men and women having fun.

So the thought struck me: I wonder if any parks and rec departments are using anime as part of their programming?

Knowing that the 13- to 18-year old, non-athletic bracket is a programming challenge, this might be an interesting area.

You could have local anime clubs featuring character and costume development, amateur anime productions, anime film festivals or maybe create a regional club with other area rec departments.

These anime cons are held all over the country, all over the world, really. So maybe a local rec anime club could work on costumes and cosplay with the intent of traveling to a nearby conference. Awards are generally given for best costumes and other categories.

There are probably anime enthusiasts, like the young people who put on the Atlanta conference, who could be good instructors for a local rec program.

Or maybe these recreation anime clubs already exist and I’ve just never heard of any.

What do you rec pros say? Is this an idea worth pursuing? Is someone out there already doing it?  Share your thoughts and experience here…

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, who also served until recently in municipal parks and recreation, lives in Peachtree City, Ga., and can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.