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Teens get wiggy for Japanese anime in West Jordan

Published August 23, 2013 9:35 pm

ToshoCon • Cosplay and other fun at valley's first anime convention for teens.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Jordan • In her normal life, Julie Johnson is a 19-year-old graphic-design student from Farmington.

But when she puts on a blonde wig, black shorts and a little attitude, Johnson transforms herself into Naruto, a powerful teen ninja.

"I was 13 when I first met Naruto," Johnson said. "I grew up with him."

Johnson's Naruto was just one of dozens of Japanese fictional characters who invaded West Jordan's Viridian Event Center on Saturday. They, along with non-costumed fans of the genre known as anime, took part in ToshoCon, the Salt Lake Valley's first anime convention for teens.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, senior librarian at the Salt Lake County Library's West Jordan branch, said that when she was organizing the event, she "knew it was going to be a good crowd. … Teens love anime — that's just how it is."

Anime covers a wide range of Japanese pop culture, including manga (comic books), animated films and TV shows, and web comics.

"Anime will connect to any genre or any person," said Alison Miller, who works with Anime Banzai, a convention held each October in Layton. "It's one of the most inclusive genres for fandom, because there is something for everybody."

"It's a little bit counter-culture, but they're very inclusive," said Rogers-Whitehead. She pointed to a variety of costumed teens, including someone dressed as Nintendo's heroic plumber Mario and a gaggle of "My Little Pony" fans (called "bronies"), as proof of the breadth of the genre's popularity.

At the West Jordan event, teens could learn the basics of cosplay (short for "costume play") or writing a graphic novel. They could play the card game Yu-Gi-Oh, trade manga back issues, watch videos of popular anime titles, or gush about their love for their favorite titles. A cosplay contest and dance party were scheduled as the evening entertainment.

Fan gushing was in full force in a panel discussion of the manga "Black Butler," a Victorian-era tale with a Faustian twist. About a dozen teens dressed as the story's characters talked about the show, with two of them entertaining the audience with a comically bawdy tango routine.

Camille Case, 18, from Layton, assembled her costume, of "Black Butler" character Ronald Knox, from stuff in her closet. In a "Cosplay 101" workshop she moderated with Johnson, though, Case admitted she has dozens of cosplay outfits — and planned to change into a different one, the character Latula from the web comic "Homestuck," later in the day.

Case said anime "is so much more gorgeous" than other science-fiction and fantasy genres, and often more in-depth. "It's an actual story," she said.

Johnson said that with many anime titles, "they tell stories and they teach lessons as well."

Johnson cited Naruto, who was introduced as a pre-teen and has aged as his story has progressed. "You're going through the journey with the characters. It's more like you're growing up with something, like with Harry Potter," she said.

Jessica Turner, 19, from South Jordan, turned heads with her cosplay character, Hatsune Miku, a humanoid persona for the singing synthesizer application Vocaloid (who is also featured in a spin-off video game in the style of "Guitar Hero").

People stopped Turner in the halls to have their picture taken with her, in her long teal braids and a strapless black evening gown, which was once Turner's prom dress.

Turner sings and plays the flute, so she connects with the musical Miku character. Dressing as Miku, she said, was a thrill. "It feels good that I can portray the character, and look good doing it," Turner said.

spmeans@sltrib.com