Japanese pop culture can often be a bit colorful and imaginative, to put it mildly. Maybe we're showing our gaijin (or foreigner) by saying such things, but it seems that much of what constitutes entertainment by denizens of the Asian isle -- be it video games, TV shows, movies, literature, or animation -- tends to be splashy, flashy, fanciful, or even a little weird.
So it stands to reason that an event like Saboten Con, the yearly event that's arguably the largest Japanese pop culture convention in the Southwest, would be just as colorful and imaginative. And it was, particularly the costumes worn by its attendees.
See also: Saboten Con 2014 in Photos
Thousands of Japanophiles and geeks in the otaku vein ranging from tweens to 20-somethings armed themselves with fantastical-looking faux weaponry and donned outfits inspired by anime, manga, video games, and other bits of J-culture for the three-day event over Labor Day weekend at the Renaissance Glendale Hotel.
We were also on hand for most of Saboten Con and witnessed the nonstop cosplay fashion show. While anyone who is willing to get their geek costume-wise is aces in our book, there were five standouts amongst the attendees that we'd like to spotlight because each caught our eye in some way or was flat-out fun.
Few things in the history of ever have been as pimp as the voice casting of Samuel L. Jackson as an ass-kicking, katana-wielding bushido warrior in the popular anime Afro Samurai -- and local geeks Charles Brown and Clarence Miller would definitely concur with that statement. "Samuel L. Jackson and anime. That's all you need," Miller says. "That's a win right there." As such, both have been fans of not only the five-episode TV mini-series from 2007, but also its sequel Afro Samurai: Resurrection and the associated manga and video games. Oh, and they dig on gearing up as the titular character and his profanely ultra-talkative alter ego Ninja-Ninja.
"I've always liked how Samuel L. Jackson goes for the whole stoic warrior thing in the series," says Brown, who participates with local cosplay groups as Chiba Kaito and attended Saboten Con as Afro Samuai. "I also like the contrast between Ninja-Ninja and Afro and all the other great characters in the series."
And Miller, who came as Ninja-Ninja, feels the same way. "Afro is more of a serious character, then you've got Ninja-Ninja, who is the Samuel L. Jackson that people are more used to seeing," he says. "He just kinda cusses and speaks his mind and is pretty much Afro's subconscious, so all the emotions that he shoots out are the ones that Afro wishes he could, but just doesn't."
Cyrah Brewster and her cosplay pals Chuck Maize, Alison Stuckey, and Dana Friend are all big-time devotees of BioWare, to say the least. Along with a few other fellow gamers, they've bombed around geek-oriented conventions throughout Arizona (such as Kikori Con in Flagstaff) adorned in costumes inspired by the Canadian-based video game company's many franchises, including Mass Effect and Baldur's Gate.
When we encountered the four at Saboten Con, however, they were rocking highly accurate recreations of some of the mages, rogues, assassins, and other characters from the blockbuster fantasy RPG saga Dragon Age. That included Hawke, the badass warrior protagonist of Dragon Age II that was portrayed by Brewster, as well as the white-haired elven swordsman Fenris, the female assassin Tallis, and the apostate mage Bethany Hawke. "We really love these characters," Brewster says. "We wanted to do a group thing, so we ended up just picking the ones we loved the most."
Team Fortress 2's Payload Cart
Under normal circumstances, seeing a group of weirdly dressed and highly armed people wheeling around what appears to be a large atomic device would probably result in mass panic and frantic calls to the police. At events like Saboten Con, however, such an occurance resulted in plenty of kudos being thrown toward Colton Leasure, Nathaniel Fackrell, Angela Pepe, and Dane Ewing for their amusing group costume. The foursome were portraying characters from Team Fortress 2, the first-person shooter video game that involves different combat scenarios, including rolling a "Payload Cart" filled with ordinance that resembles World War II's famed "Fat Man" bomb into the opposing team's territory.
According to Leasure and his friends, they crafted both weapons and costumes for various TF2 characters (such as the Sniper, Medic, and Spy) and decided to take things a step further. "We both play the game and it's something we've really enjoyed," he says. "And we'd already made the weapons from the game. So we were like, 'What should we do next? Let's make the Payload Cart.'" Hence, they took cardboard, expanding foam, papier-mâché, and drywall compound and built the bulbous prop. Here's hoping they weren't stopped by any nosy cops either going to or coming home from the 'con.
As lifelong fans of the Transformers franchise, we easily spotted this epic rendition of the iconic Dinobot leader from the crowd at Saboten Con -- probably because it measured around 7-foot-6. Surprise resident Christopher Moreno and a few friends spent upwards of 40 hours a week over the last few months creating the enormous silver, red, and gold costume, which was inspired by the original Generation One version of the character from the '80s and the 2009 Masterpiece toy. "We did a few things to make it simpler or just easier to move around in," he says, "Like Grimlock's G1 legs are not very fun to move in, so we decided to change 'em."
It's probably for the best, since Moreno hopes to do a lot of walking around upcoming geek events in the get-up (which sadly doesn't transform into Grimlock's alt-mode of a mechanized tyrannosaurus), such as next year's Phoenix Comicon. He won't be alone, however, since Moreno says that more than 30 of his friends are each planning on rolling through the 'con dressed as equally impressive-looking Transformers, including Shockwave and Megatron. In other words, better start stepping up your group costume plans for Comicon unless you wanna get schooled by a horde of Robots in Disguise.
Izanagi & Yu Narukami
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Speaking of costumes that towered over the Saboten Con crowd, it was hard to miss Brian Polak when he was stomping around the Renaissance Glendale Hotel as Izanagi, the lanky demon-like deity from the video game and anime series Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. The Las Vegas resident donned stilts and a complicated and gorgeous costume that included LED lights and an elongated Japanese weapon known as an amenonuhoko.
Frankly, it was one of the most attention-grabbing costumes of the entire weekend that was even more impressive when paired with the outfit and gear sported by Pollak's cosplayer friend Angelic Threads, who came as Persona 4's protagonist Yu Narukami. The pair collaborated on their ensembles, with Threads fittingly taking care of the sewing and Polak handling the props, including building a motorized and handheld "persistence of vision" device equipped with lights that resembles the flaming playing card Narukami often wields.
Also remarkable is the fact that the pair pulled it all together in about two months while still maintaining day jobs and active social lives. "We started right after [Anime Expo] which was in July, so it took about two months," Pollak says. "We were very, very rushed." Can't argue with the results, though.