From the first step I take into the Wisconsin Center, I’m immediately transported into another world. To my left is a con-goer with a pyramid for a head, capturing the attention of anyone who dares to cross their path. To my right, a girl in a blood-red cape brandishes a scythe that’s almost as big as me. I’m surrounded. Looking down at my simple black t-shirt and jeans, I realize that I look like I don’t belong anywhere near this place, but the magic of Anime Milwaukee (or AMKE for short) is that costume or no, everyone is always welcome with open arms. Ever since its humble beginnings in the UWM Student Union back in 2008, AMKE has been an annual safe haven for both passionate and casual fans.
Over 6,000 people attended Anime Milwaukee last year, with the numbers rising annually. Joining me for this year’s adventure were the members of Daikon Cosplay, a group made up of Bryar, Euphey, Rioso, Snowy, and Tyto, the alter-egos of five of my friends spread around the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin. My friend Rioso had recruited me last year to join forces with Daikon and participate in a large group cosplay for Saturday’s costume contest. To cosplay means to simply dress up and pretend to be another person or thing, be it a character from an anime, manga, or from a movie or television show. Already I have seen multiple Princess Leias and Daenerys Targaryens standing side by side with Studio Ghibli characters and Sailor Scouts alike. I’ve even spotted multiple Baymaxes and a group from Guardians of the Galaxy.
This year we are going as Pokémon, specifically Eevee and her evolutions dressed in typical attire from different Magical Girl anime. Put briefly, lots of skirts, some jewels, ribbons, and endless glitter. Daikon Cosplay has been competing in conventions all over Wisconsin and Minnesota for two years now, but this is my first time ever. The idea of performing a skit in a costume for over 2,000 people makes me more than a little nervous, but one of the members, Euphey, has been competing for three years now, and she reassures me fairly quickly, saying that even she still gets nervous on the stage.
If you’re ever considering entering the costume competition, here’s a head’s up. Preparing for it is an all-day event. On the day of the contest, the Daikon team is up at 7:00 a.m. Our judging time is at 10 a.m. and not a minute is wasted in getting the seven of us (the five Daikon members, me, and another guest cosplayer of ours) ready. I quickly put on my tights, vest, and jacket combo. But I’m not done there.
Beneath that is a plain skirt with a bow tie hanging from my neck. My hair has been pulled and pinned carefully under a wig cap, perfectly styled chocolate brown curls replacing my naturally wavy light brown and pink mess. And of course, I’m also wearing ears. Everyone else is carrying some kind of weapon prop. Snowy in particular has a gigantic hammer that is twice the size of my head, but when I hold it I find that it’s surprisingly lightweight. Curious, I ask her what she made it out of.
“Pad and tampon boxes!” she exclaims, and I can’t help but burst out laughing. In the world of cosplay, I realize, anything can be turned into a prop. Resourcefulness is an essential character trait for any would-be cosplayer.
For those not interested in performing, there’s plenty to do over the weekend, from purchasing trinkets in the dealer’s room or art from artist alley, to attending panels on nearly anything (“Fan Parody Face Punch” sounds like a very educational panel, wouldn’t you agree?) and jamming out at Saturday night’s rave, but the most popular activity is definitely watching the colorful characters walk up and down the halls. From judging until the time of the competition itself, we roam the halls of the convention center, checking out other costumes and swapping both crafting secrets and admiration with the people we meet. Since it is Valentine’s Day, many people (us included) hand out valentines and candy to people who approach them for pictures of their costumes.
Another rule of the convention is to always to support your fellow cosplayers. Never criticize or tear down someone’s costume. Instead, support and compliment them, helping to improve their work for the next time instead of discouraging. Backstage at the competition, instead of tearing down our competitors, we found ourselves gushing and clapping the loudest over the excellent craftsmanship and hilarious skits that were being performed. At the end of the day, it isn’t about who wins or who loses, it’s about celebrating the people who create beautiful costumes and have the courage to share these creations off in front of thousands.
When it is our turn to perform, the Daikon team and I stand nervously off to the side. I run my lines over and over in my head while characters from Team Fortress 2 hilariously use body props to cut and eat a cake on the stage. The crowd is laughing. I am sweating harder than a person in a fur suit, but it is almost time to go. I look over my shoulder at my teammates and receive warm smiles. We’ve worked tirelessly over the past year to prepare for this exact moment, and their confidence in me makes the worries fade away.
Showtime! And while we did walk away with a pretty sweet first place trophy for our skit, overall the real reasons we go to Anime Milwaukee and other conventions around the area are to express ourselves, befriend likeminded people with similar passions and interests, and most importantly… to have fun! The entire weekend we found ourselves dancing and singing along to Uptown Funk and other tunes as we got dressed for the day, and when we wound down for the night.
While AMKE may seem like one big intimidating get-together, at the end of the day it is just about being with your friends and making new ones. Whether you want to dress up or not, or whether you’re a big fan of anime or completely new to it, Anime Milwaukee has something for everyone. Come on down and give it a go. Maybe we’ll see you on the stage next year!