Gimme a Glomp, Sweetie

Imagination carries you just as far as cute and sexy at the Anime Super Con

In this odd, burbling crowd of alien species, I felt as if I'd stepped into the cantina in the original Star Wars. But wait. I was in Fort Lauderdale at the Inverrary Resort, surrounded by hordes of spastically enthused teenagers dressed in costume for the Anime Super Con.

Thankfully, as I was initiated into the culture, I had "Reiko" as a guide. The high school sophomore gave me the 411 as we navigated through the ninjas, schoolgirls, space sluts, zombies, animal-eared samurais, and futuristic military characters. Dressed in a style she called "goth-loli," a term for "gothic Lolita," Reiko could don the sexy-cute black clothes and lacy hair ribbons and take a Japanese name, just like the anime characters she admired, but her freckles and blue eyes still said "all American" to me. To her peers, perhaps, she was a bishojo, but to me, she was just a pretty girl.

I knew there'd be lots of kids, but with late-night hentai (animated porn), which had an "adults-only" restriction, and the lineup of local bands on the schedule, I had expected to find some grownup fans, not just exhausted parents collapsed on lobby benches. I made the most of things by exploring the subculture, starting with the costumes. Some were obviously store-bought garb of popular characters from manga (also known as graphic novels but really just long comic books) and animated TV series. Others, like the blue foam globes that orbited a young woman's head and a blue outfit that included harem-like pants, were more DIY in spirit. I didn't have to know the source to appreciate the character. But some were hard to fathom.

"What's up with the bandages?" I asked Reiko, nodding toward the teenager in front of us.

The clean, white gauze wound from her ankles up to her knees. In fact, many had similarly wrapped extremities.

"She's a ninja," Reiko said matter-of-factly.

Not like any ninja I'd ever seen, and not just because of the khaki short shorts.

"Ninjas wear high heels?"

"If they are hot like her...," Reiko shrugged, shooting me a sweet smirk. "You are so cute and uninformed!"

Yup, that's the thing about this community. Even their condescension is cute, or, as they call it, kawai. Instead of beauty and conformity reigning supreme, as they do in mainstream teenaged culture, cute and sexy rule peacefully alongside imagination and tolerance. It's nerdtopia — for all ages, even if mostly teenagers are the ones taking advantage of it. I felt like a bigger jerk than usual for noting that some of the kids (especially those in the gaming room) were so ugly that they looked practically deformed.

Frank Edwards, the karaoke host popularly known as Frank-E-Oke, remarked later: "I thought one kid had a forehead prosthesis, like he was dressed as an alien or something,"

Like I said, practically deformed. But it wouldn't be kawai to say so.

No, the shojo (girl) in the red satin jacket was more in the spirit of things. Instead of hawking her wares in the shopping area, she had an offer many couldn't refuse.

"For five cents, we'll make out with each other!" she egged on passersby. Her accomplice, another shojo in an aqua kimono and orange cat ears, held a bamboo hat full of offerings for the kissing exhibition.

A cute couple dropped a nickel in the hat, and it quickly slid down past the chow mein noodles and Pocky soy snacks others had contributed and settled with a clink in the loose change at the bottom. Then the hawker and the hat-holder began kissing as an androgynous teenager in an orange beanie (bedecked with cat ears, of course) stood on a chair holding a poster-board sign announcing "Will Yaoi-Yuri-hetero 4 Pocky" cheered them on.

Reiko translated: Yaoi and Yuri are gay and lesbian romance, respectively, in the otaku (obsessive fans of Japanese culture, particularly) world.

So much I didn't understand. And not just all the Japanese.

"What's 'glomp'?" I asked the young lady who had donated the nickel and had the term printed across her T-shirt.

"It's easier if I show you," she replied.

She backed up a couple of feet to get a little running start and then flung herself with affectionate enthusiasm against her boyfriend, embracing him tightly.

"Glomp!" she said grinning, like a nerdy Cheshire cat, thanks to the shiny black ears on top of her head and the matching eyeglasses. Evidently, it's the preferred method of greeting among anime conventioneers. It looked a lot more fun (and potentially dangerous) than a handshake.

Reiko wandered off, and later I saw her booty-shaking with a ninja and a dark fairy whose iPod was nestled in a hotel planter. When they weren't assuming the personas of their anime heroes, they just seemed committed to having fun.

So now that I was on my own, I decided to seek out those my own age. I stumbled into an apparent photo-op with some guys who were seemingly important. At least, they had warm beer on hand.

"That's Master Shake," convention organizer Mike Broder told me when I asked who the big guy in the trucker hat and the Buddy Holly glasses was.

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