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Xander (Austin, TX)

Photo: Kevin Lillard.

It was sometime in the very early 2000s, probably 2000 or 2001. I discovered the website A Fan’s View run by Kevin Lillard. He went to many, many conventions and took pictures of everyone in costume that he could. I checked it every week just to see more photos of these people dressed up in cool costumes. So if I remember correctly, I found out about Ushicon from A Fan’s View. I found that site from one web ring or another (probably the Anime Web Turnpike) and became obsessed with seeing the photos of cosplayers from conventions all over the US. Kevin Lillard went to so many cons and he listed one in February 2002 in Austin, so of course I wanted to go.

I told my friends about it and we organized a little group to go. I did cosplay, I went as Carcaptor Sakura in her pink cat outfit. My mom made it for me (I helped a little bit, but it was almost all her).

[The convention] was pretty small, around 200 total attendees if I remember right. I was 14 at the time, so my dad took us. Kevin Lillard was also the first person to take a picture of me! I was too shy to say anything but thank you, but he really made my day with a simple act.

It also cemented my love for cosplay right from the start. I entered the cosplay contest, which was not judged. It was purely an exhibition so people just went and did it for fun. As I left the stage, a pair of other cosplayers from Cardcaptor Sakura caught my attention (they were dressed as Yuki and Touya) and tossed me a piece of candy. It was such a cute little gesture and made me want to keep doing this. It was a very positive moment for me and gave me a chance to hang out with other anime fans and also meet some people I’d only seen pictures of online.

Growing up as an anime fan was pretty good for me. I had a group of friends in middle school and high school who were also anime fans. We traded tapes with each other and even series burned on CD-Rs when peer-to-peer downloads became more widespread. We started an anime club with a very kind English teacher as a sponsor — he had no idea what was going on, but he wanted to give us a place to be ourselves. Most weekends my best friend and I would have sleepovers and go to an anime store called Neko Neko Anime, where we’d rent 2 DVDs so we could play their free play Dance Dance Revolution machine for awhile, then go home and watch what we’d rented.

In 2005, the year I graduated high school, the anime club organized an outing to Ushicon where we rented a hotel room together and all of us cosplayed from the brand new anime Naruto. We all made our costumes and had a really good time together. 

Outside of my real life friends, I also had a decent amount of online anime friends, I was active in the Ronin Warriors Mailing List, mainly in their chat but also in the actual emails themselves. My dad, the incredibly supportive parent that he is, let me go to A-kon in 2003 with two friends from the RWML. It was such a cool experience to get to hang out and cosplay with them and I had such an incredible time. I still keep in touch with one of them now after so many years.

In central Texas specifically, there were very few cons prior to 2007. Ushicon was the only anime convention in the area. The DFW area had the bigger, longer running events with both A-kon and AnimeFest. More conventions started popping up after Ushicon stopped in 2006; the (temporary) death of Ushicon lead directly to the formation of both Ikkicon and San Japan. Ushicon was always smaller, but it felt very much like home — Ushicon 1 in 2002 was my very first con and I’ll never forget the experience.

The popular series at the time that I remember people cosplaying were Trigun, Vision of Escaflowne, Evangelion, Gravitation, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Gundam Wing. Later in the 00s (04-05), Naruto and Bleach got EXTREMELY big. Popular games people cosplayed from were Final Fantasy, King of Fighters, .hack, Kingdom Hearts, and Guilty Gear. Fate/Stay Night was popular around 2006-7 when the anime by Studio DEEN premiered.

[The cosplay scene was] Very localized, for the most part. Every area in the US had their own unique cosplay scene and vibe. It was also extremely clandestine — no one shared their techniques and there were barely any tutorials available. You were on your own as far as making went.

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