New York Anime Fest ’08
Photos by Paul Crispin Quintoriano
“Make tea parties, not war” might have been the secret slogan of this year’s New York Anime Fest, as the colorful parade of “Lolita” fashion dolls outdid the hordes of Samurai and military team warriors roaming the Javits Center this weekend. The humor in this juxtaposition was not lost on attendees, since humor—whether light, black or satiric—has always been a big part of the manga/anime scene. Fans delight when the comedians in their midst speculate about the homicidal logic of the Faustian drama Death Note being applied to Facebook; the cuteness of Hello Kitty is funny by default; and the con screening room erupts in laughter at every sexual sight gag or verbal innuendo in the already wacky scenario posed by the high school harem spoof Negima!. But no matter how “cute” the Sailor Scouts or Pokemon monsters might appear, they really only exist to kick butt—which is why the iconic triumph of Lolita gentility over the weapon and witchcraft wielding adventurers that dominate this pop subculture seems pretty much miraculous.
Friday’s screening of the live-action movie Kamikaze Girls predicted this victory. This unorthodox teen buddy movie, about the unlikely friendship between a combative Japanese gang-girl and a solitary dreamer who dresses like an aristocratic hedonist from 18th century Versailles, introduced the world to the anachronistic philosophy of Japanese Lolita fashion, which has nearly nothing to do with Nabokov and almost everything to do with Alice in Wonderland. The lead character’s use of custom made rococo-period clothing to telegraph her alienation from a “vulgar” quotidian reality was engineered by the real life Tokyo boutique Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. The shop was founded in 1988 after Vivienne Westwood, Adam & the Ants, and Prince had already tested the contemporary power of vintage ruffles and lace.
As a featured guest of this year’s Anime Fest, the “Baby” store brought visual elegance and high-concept to various panels and a Sunday afternoon fashion show that rivaled anything in Bryant Park this fall. These women in bloomers, bonnets, petticoats, corsets and parasols embodied the independence, wit, and creativity Kamikaze Girls protagonist Momoko uses to make the female biker gang abandon their narrow-minded, brutish conformity.
So although admiring crowds fought via aggressive video games or cheered daily combat demos by light-saber crews and genuine kendo masters, even katana-shredded targets failed to eclipse the gentler pursuits promoted by the Lolita sensibility. It even seemed to suffuse Saturday night’s concert, full of female vocalists and the androgynous “visual kei” posing of boy rockers like Quaff, who blend glam-rock fashion with arena-rock showmanship. I suspect a new era in fannish taste has begun… one in which the parasol is mightier than the sword.—Carol Cooper