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Manga Madness

Otakus glomp at bookstore con

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"The lingo is a little nerdish. Sometimes it's a little hard to follow what these people are talking about. Sometimes even I have trouble," said April Crenshaw, the founder of local anime/manga fan club Animatics. Keeping that in mind, we put together an anime glossary that will fast-track you on your way to becoming an otaku in no time.

Cosplay--verb/noun: donning costumes and acting out skits as an anime character

Otaku--noun: avid anime/manga fan

Con--noun: gathering of otaku

Chibi Con--noun: from Japanese chibi meaning little or small; a miniature con

Glomp--verb/noun: an enthusiastic grapple, somewhere between a hug and a tackle; a customary greeting between otaku

The fan base that appreciates anime and manga--the Japanese style of cartoon illustration--isn't the largest subculture in Boise, nor the most apparent, but they are growing. Laura DeLaney, owner of Rediscovered Books, has given Animatics a place to meet and possibly flourish.

"It's really under-served," DeLaney said. "They're often viewed as outsiders, and they really don't need to be. They're just people who are amazingly passionate about the books that they read."

And they aren't really any different from the Jane Austen Society or Harry Potter fans who dress up in costume.

"It's really just about people who love their characters," DeLaney said.

Animatics are unabashedly enthusiastic--the club slogan reads "Where it's OK to be obsessed." In the back of Rediscovered Books, beneath hanging Japanese lanterns with Kanji text, the club meets once a month to discuss manga, plan for cons and create costumes. For the group, numbering some 30 strong and growing, manga and anime are a way of life.

"It's amazingly popular. It has kind of blended into mainstream society and become more recognized and accepted," said one fan, dressed in black clothes with black eyeliner and lipstick, who identifies himself only by the pseudonym Veg, short for Vegan, because of his dietary preferences. "They at least get the references whether or not they give a damn," he said.

In January, Animatics will celebrate its one-year anniversary. While the club traces its origins back to 2006 as a book club, the current incarnation took its form when founders Eric Smart and April Crenshaw took over management and expanded the aims of the club.

"Originally they were just discussing books. That's wrong for this genre of people," said Crenshaw, describing how active the club members are. Hopped up on caffeine and sugar, the Animatics don't like sitting still or taking turns to speak. Often, their dialogue includes sound effects, such as you'd expect between panels in a comic book. Due to the nature of the fans, Smart and Crenshaw decided to model their club more after a con than a book club.

"It's a chibi con environment, but don't worry. We're all here for the same purpose. We're all nerds, we all love anime. You don't have to hide yourself here. Be who you are," said Smart.

One year in, the list of achievements for Animatics includes hosting a Japanese-culture event, throwing a cosplay contest, but most of all prepping their members for Anime Oasis, the annual big con in Boise. This functions as the Superbowl or Woodstock for the local anime crowd, where hundreds of costumed otaku gather for anime-related activities.

Costumes are big in the world of anime. While commercially made costumes are available, to truly be considered legit, an otaku must construct his or her own. This is where Animatics gives its club members an advantage, both by offering constructive criticism and by pooling the various skills the club members possess--skills such as sewing, woodworking, doing makeup, making wigs--to create masterpieces.

"One of the things [members] really like is to do the cosplay. Before Animatics existed, the only time they ever got to do it was at cons. This gives them another reason to do it," said Smart.

Animatics' cosplay involves skits and competitions, providing a chance for club members to get their con fix on a monthly--instead of annual--basis.

Manga goes far beyond cartoons, and achieves a new complexity in art and storytelling. Manga, the drawn form, and anime, the video form, trace their current form to post World War II Japan and their origins to centuries before. Characteristics of the artistic style typically include large, over-sized eyes and wild hair styles. And manga books are read right to left. Anime and manga cover a gambit of themes and genres for all ages from sci-fi, romance, magic, pornography, horror, history--name it and there is probably manga about it. Manga fans insist that the form enters a new level of depth.

"There's so many weird, completely out there stories that you'll never hear anybody come up with over here. The Japanese are just crazy. You've gotta love it," said Crenshaw.

"Its a style of illustration and storytelling that's very different from Western style stuff," said DeLaney. She is pleased that manga is gaining more critical acclaim, and has begun to cross-pollinate with Western graphic novels. For now, anime remains on the fringes of the mainstream, but in the future, it may well become more commonplace. For now, though, places like Rediscovered Books and Animatics will continue to champion the cause.

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