A masked figure putting on the Ritz reaches through his tuxedo jacket and under his top hat for his dance partner and shuffles her across the floor.
His dance partner – a petite young lady in a white petticoat dress – also is wearing a mask. They are among the faces of San Japan, San Antonio's largest anime convention, which drew more than 14,600 free-wheeling nerds downtown over the weekend.
“We're very excited to continue growing with the help of the San Antonio community,” convention chairman Dave Henkin said.
The masquerade ball has all the traditional markings of a formal affair. But it is cosplay ("costume play"), and these characters of San Japan help create a festive flavor. A mixture of activities greets the cosplayers, whose costumes range from anime, manga, movies, video games and even the traditional “camouflage” technique.
The theme for this seventh rendering of the convention ( or "con") was Samurai 7, named for the 2004 anime TV series, and it brought an explosion of East-Asian culture to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and Grand Hyatt Hotel. The con expanded this year to also take over the Lila Cockrell Theater.
“The merchandise room is another favorite, because of all the cool items you can find there that you normally don't see anywhere else except specialty websites,” said Nick Schirmer, a web developer who attended the con with his girlfriend. “She's a fan of a lot of different anime series and video games, so it's cool to see the characters. And a lot of them are cute.”
The Artist's Alley section is known to cater to special artwork and decorations that are either custom made or extremely difficult to find.
“I've been to San Japan twice,” local make-up artist Amanda Gleason said. “And every time, I head straight towards Artist’s Alley. I shop for wall art, jewelry or sketches.”
Some con attendees are attracted to the vendor rooms that specialize in Japanese fan fare and nerd culture. Others are drawn in by the panel sessions addressing matters from LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) themes in anime and manga to the increasingly popular video game Silent Hill.
Akira Yamaoka, composer of the first seven Silent Hill video games, headlined at the con on Saturdayevening alongside the Silent Hill Band. The band featured female vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, with drums performed by Israel Ulloa.
Another panel session, “Ocarina 101,” discussed, naturally, the ocarina, a vessel flute with four to 12 finger holes and a mouthpiece. The video game classic, “The Legend of Zelda,” introduced David “Docjazz4” Ramos to the ocarina. Ramos has since gained an online fan base with more than 40 million video viewings on YouTube.
Another subculture that has become a sensation is K-pop, a mixed genre of South Korean popular music that has taken social media to worldwide charting success. In the year after Psy's "Gangnam Style" video posted on YouTube, K-pop artists were viewed more than seven billion times on the video site, with 91 percent of those views coming from outside of the Koreas, according to a YouTube blog post.
Nerd culture aside, San Japan is not just about cosplay and K-pop. The con continues to give back through a partnership with the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center.
“Last year, more than 90 donations were collected over the course of the weekend, almost 12 gallons of blood,” San Japan spokesperson David Ramirez said.
The con also included a charity auction this year to help raise funds for the San Antonio Battered Women and Children's Center.