Anime fans mass in Japan for cosplay fest

TOKYO (Reuters) - Women in breastplates, men with swords, and blond vampires paced the staid halls of Japan’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.

People in costumes pose during a news conference ahead of the World Cosplay Summit 2007 in Tokyo August 1, 2007. Fans of anime and manga comics gathering for an international Cosplay Summit, part of Tokyo's efforts to raise its world profile and promote a "Cool Japan" as admirers of its pop culture increase rapidly. REUTERS/Michael Caronna

They were fans of anime and manga comics gathering for an international Cosplay Summit, part of Tokyo’s efforts to raise its world profile and promote a “Cool Japan” as admirers of its pop culture increase rapidly.

“Manga is an international language,” said Michio Oguri, the chairman of the fifth annual event which is being held in the central Japanese city of Nagoya this weekend.

“Every year our festival is more and more accomplished.”

Cosplay, which originated in Japan, is a combination of the words “costume” and “play.” In cosplay, people dress mainly as characters from Japanese anime, as well as graphic manga novels and video games.

Cosplay fans gather at a growing number of festivals around the world to show off their elaborate costumes, the products of hours of loving work, and enjoy their shared passion.

Some, like Brazilian contestant Marcello Batista de Andredo Fernandez, even go as far as to wear colored contact lenses to give their eyes an otherworldly glow.

“I love anime,” said Alejandra Rodriguez Rivera, 18, from Mexico who wore a flamboyant kimono and parasol as part of her costume.

“Becoming an anime character is like being in a dream,” she told a news conference.

Contests give enthusiasts a chance to act as their characters do, either as soloists or in pairs.

This year, some 14 pairs from 12 countries -- ranging from Denmark and France to Brazil and Thailand -- survived hard-fought preliminary rounds to win tickets to Japan.

“Up until about five years ago, people in Denmark didn’t know manga or anime,” said Marie Mortensen, 26, a designer with vampire fangs who wore harem pants and a blond wig. “But that’s changed. Now manga are the best-selling comics.”

Following the news conference, five teams visited the Foreign Ministry, one of the contest’s sponsors.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso is such an avid manga fan that he is known to read comics in the back of his official car between appointments, but he was away at a meeting of Asian foreign ministers in Manila.

His place was taken by Vice Foreign Minister Katsuhito Asano, who clumsily imitated classic anime moves when asked to pose and smiled wryly at the crowd of reporters packing the room.

“My boss is a total manga geek. He must be sorry to miss this,” he said, adding: “When we talk about serious foreign policy, we don’t get this kind of media response.”