Nerd Culture

14 Favorite Costumes from Taiyou Con 2014

If your only knowledge with anime begins and ends with Pokémon, you've obviously got a thing or two to learn. First lesson: Anime is an ultra-diverse and highly respected art form of Japanese-produced animation (hence its name) that was first produced in the Asian nation way back in 1917 and encompassed every sort of thematic genre, from comedy to drama. Secondly, it's a counterpart of Japanese comics (a.k.a. manga), which date back even further.

And like any other form of animation, it's also quite colorful. And often times, it also can seem quite fantastical, spectacular, and downright bizarre. (Don't even get us started on hentai. Please.)

See also: Taiyou Con 2014 in Photos

If you require further education on the topic, be sure to leave the first weekend of next January free in order to attend the annual Taiyou Con -- one of the Valley's annual conventions devoted to anime, manga, and other parts of Japanese pop culture and geekdom -- at the Mesa Hilton.

As with any sort of convention, costumes are everywhere, and the majority of the stuff that's being worn is inspired by anime and J-culture. The most recent Taiyou Con was certainly no exception. (Other non-anime characters are also about, of course, as evidenced by the fact we ran into the likes of Deadmau5, Merida, and Deadpool within short order.)

We paid a visit to Taiyou Con with our camera in hand and chronicled some of our favorite costumes, including a few that weren't necessarily related to anime or manga.

Kayaba Akihiko/Heathcliff

Before attending Taiyou Con, Chris Jones was merely a mild-mannered Mesa resident. Once he stepped into the midst of other anime fans and geeks attending the event, however, the 29-year-old became Heathcliff, the digital avatar of equally mild-mannered character Kayaba Akihiko in the anime Sword Art Online. In the context of the series, Heathcliff serves as the leader of the Knights of the Blood and Akihiko's avatar in a virtual reality online role-playing game bearing the same title as the anime.

Jones, a big fan of the series, says it took two weeks to build his version of Heathcliff's red and white armor from play mat foam. "One of my friends was going [to TaiYou Con] as another main characters from Sword Art Online, so we meshed well," he says.

Hooded Figures of Night Vale A word to the wise: Be a bit wary when dealing with the Hooded Figures of Night Vale, whether its within the fictional and supernatural-friendly southwestern town or if they happen to be in attendance at your neighborhood con. These cloaked and clandestine figures, which are characters in the humorous and popular paranormal podcast Welcome to Night Vale, have been known to steal babies (well, one of 'em, at least).

And one trio of Hooded Figures were a little brusk when we chatted them up at Taiyou Con. "We don't have names," one stated curtly when asked. Maybe so, but they had their own fenced dog park (one of the places where their kind is sometimes spotted in Night Vale). It made for a funny sight as the three of them crept around the Hilton with their park in tow.

Super Mario Bros. Enemies If you've spent any amount of time mashing the gamepad buttons on any of the countless entries in the exhaustive Super Mario series, you might recognize the three enemy characters being portrayed by this trio. DJ Harding of Tucson, who says he "wanted to do a Mario cosplay because I really enjoy the games," dressed as the human version of Bob-omb, while his sister Sidney Harding donned a Shy Guy costume, and their friend Kyle Van Linden went to the con as one of those bitey Chain Chomps. They definitely earned a 1-Up from us for their efforts.

Lord Ghirahim Another Nintendo-inspired costume that caught our attention was Samantha Weeks' portrayal of this effete and ostentatious demon lord, one of the main villains in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on the Wii. The Queen Creek cosplayer and longtime Zelda fan says that she digs the character and chose to don his wardrobe is because Ghirahim is "a narcissistic brat," among other reasons. "He's hilarious," Weeks says. "He's the bad guy and one of those classy villains. He's also really, really cool." Thus, she's labored off and on over the past couple of years to put together the ensemble.

Panty and Stocking Gal pals Taelor Bartola of Gilbert and Alex Morgan of Tempe decided to attend Taiyou Con dressed as the cheeky namesake stars from the action-comedy anime series Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. In particular, they adorned themselves in the police uniforms worn by the characters -- a pair of fallen angels banished to Earth because of their wicked deeds -- during the segment entitled "...Of the Dead."

"In the episode we're cosplaying, there's a zombie apocalypse going on, and they're just dressed up in police outfits," says Bartola, who played Stocking. "It's really fun."

E. Aster Bunnymund Anyone who happens to suffer from leporiphobia might want to consider skipping ahead to the next entry, considering that Matthew Bafaro's epic costume depicting the wascally warrior wabbit from William Joyce's children's book series The Guardians of Childhood and The Rise of the Guardians animated flick it inspired.

While he ain't completely covered with bluish fur, Bafaro's recreation maintains the badass feel of the reimagining of the Easter Bunny, who's described as being part ninja, part sorcerer, and part chocolatier. It took a year to make ("We had the ears done for the last Taiyou Con last January," he says, "And I was just able to get everything else pieced together") and includes Bunnymund's enchanted boomerangs, which were created from "lots and lots of craft foam."

King of Hearts/Madame Red/Grell Sutcliff Cosplaying at cons with friends is often as fun as the con itself, if not moreso. That holds true if folks are either doing the group costume thing or just bombing around together while displaying pride for an individual film, TV show, or fandom. Such was the case when we came across this trio of anime enthusiasts in gorgeous outfits.

Amber Bernhardt (center) was showing off her love of the King of Hearts from the Cardverse portion of the Hetalia universe. Her friend Chase Swoboda (far left) went as Baroness Angelina Dalles-Burnett -- also known as Madam Red -- while Faith Kelter (far right) gussied herself up as the grim reaper-like Grell Sutcliff, both of which are from Victorian-era manga/anime Black Butler.

Chibiusa Tsukino/The Black Lady Anime plots can be, how shall we say, a bit complex for the unenlightened, to say the least. So when we asked Cassandra Roberts of Mesa for some background on the Sailor Moon character Chibiusa Tsukino (a.k.a. The Black Lady) that she was portraying at Taiyou Con, she told us the following:

"It's a big, long, confusing thing. She's the daughter of Sailor Moon [and] is known as Mini Moon or Chibiusa," Roberts says. "And at one point, a wizard convinces her that all of her family hates her, no one loves her, and they all forgot her birthday. And she uses the power of the dark crystal to turn into an adult and does his bidding for a short while until she gets turned back to normal."

Cool. Now you're all caught up.

Yoko Littner The red-haired heroine of the dystopian future-themed anime Gurren Lagann is what you'd call a major badass. Or, at the very least, well armed. She's skilled at handling a variety of guns -- including an impossibly long and decidedly wicked-looking sniper rifle -- and a deadeye as a marksman, as well as proficient at piloting huge mecha called Gunmen and wasting enemies like her enemies like Anti-Spirals. And she does it all while rocking a bikini top, shorts, and thigh-high boots.

Chailey Takinen of Goodyear also thinks that Yoko pretty badass, which is why she came as the character. "I cosplay her because I love her," Takinen says. "She has like a really awesome personality and totally turns down the sexiest guy I've ever seen. Spoiler: He dies."

Oops. Hope she didn't ruin anything for y'all.

Sadako Yamamura Like pretty much everyone else who laid eyes on it, we practically soiled ourselves in fear when creepy-ass tangled-hair moppet Sadako Yamamura/Samara Morgan crawled out of a television in any of various iterations of The Ring -- whether in the original Japanese film Ringu, its sequels, or the American remake. So we got some chills when we witnessed Phoenix resident Kaney Haskins faithfully recreating the scary scene at Taiyou Con, right down to slinking out of a hollowed out old Sanyo.

Haskins says she's a devotee of the original Ringu ("I like the Japanese stuff better") than its Americanized doppelganger, and thus was playing Sadako. Her setup was not without its drawbacks, however, as she claims it's a little uncomfortable cramming her legs and torso into the erstwhile TV. "This is a painful costume," she says.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.