Anime conventions, once the domain of older men and fanboys of the often sensually charged art form, are now drawing a new type of fan: underage girls dressing as the overtly sexualized characters featured in various series.
The Washington Post‘s J. Freedom du Lac recently attended Otakon, an anime convention held annually in Baltimore, where he saw a 16-year-old girl dressed as Madoka Kaname (pictured), wearing “a Day-Glo pink wig with pigtails, white knee-high stockings, a red choker and a short pink-and-white dress that Little Bo Peep might have worn on a day she wanted to alarm her parents.” Freedom du Lac writes, a man “in his mid-30s pointed his digital camera at the make-believe Madoka, snapped a photo .‰.‰. and then stared. And stared.”
In response, the unnamed teen told du Lac, “It can sometimes be very weird, but they really don’t mean any harm.”
du Lac argues that because teenage girls are increasingly drawn to the “fantastical” world of anime, “Conventions that were once cult gatherings attended almost exclusively by VHS-trading college-age (and older) males are now overflowing with young females, many of them sporting various iterations of anime’s popular doe-eyed, scantily clad look.”
Anime fans have begun taking note of “con perverts” on message boards, and it seems not all of these men are innocent on-lookers. According to the Post, “Last month, a 34-year-old Silver Spring man admitted in federal court that he had sex with a 13-year-old girl he met in February 2010 at Katsucon, an anime convention at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor in Prince George’s County. Michael A. Alper, who had previously been convicted of raping a 13-year-old in Virginia, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to coercing and enticing a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity.”
Ugh! Ugh, ugh, ugh. First of all, why was this Mr. Alper free to attend an anime convention if he had already been convicted of raping a 13-year-old? Secondly, his two convictions make it clear that Alper is not just a “con pervert” who got swept up in a horrific moment of lust for a girl dressed as his favorite anime character – he is a pedophile who is actively trying to rape minors.
In response to this news, organizers of the Katsucon event “might begin checking their convention pre-registration list against sex-offender registries.” The Post reports, “Under the proposed policy, anybody listed on a published sex-offender registry would be denied entrance to Katsucon.” Sounds like a good idea to me.
As for Otakon, “no decision has been made to introduce a similar policy at their convention,” but producers are “tak[ing] precautions to protect minors.” Anyone under the age of 12 attending Otakon “must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times, and adult-themed programming is presented late at night, for those with 18-and-over wristbands.”
Jennifer Piro, a member of the board of directors for Otakon, says, “We want to do everything we can to keep our attendees safe. But there’s only so much you can do. .‰.‰. There are definitely sketchy people out there. They could be at the mall. They could be at McDonald’s. This is still the real world.”
True. There may be no real way to protect girls ages 13-18 from becoming objects of lust at anime conventions – or anywhere else. Some might argue that these girls, in their manga-inspired short skirts and cupie doll makeup, are asking for the attention. Says Jamie Blanco, a 20-something fangirl, “There’s a little bit of perviness” at anime conventions. “The majority of people who attend… are there because of a pure love of the art form, but there are definitely a small percentage who come here to hug up on some of the younger girls — and younger boys.”
The rub (no pun intended) for parents here is that (I imagine) it has to be difficult to have as strict an influence on your children once they’re old enough to drive. I don’t want to imagine my daughter as a teenager being leered at by older men, but perhaps that’s all just a part of growing up, even if you don’t dress like a Japanese schoolgirl. This issue is obviously a broader one, since anime cons aren’t the only places teenage girls like to wear too-revealing clothing and where unscrupulous men hang out.
What do you think? Should anime cons be 18+? Should they screen attendance lists for sex offenders?