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Tokyo comes to Tulsa

Sheila portrays Soah, a character from a manga (a Japanese genre of cartoons, comic books and animated films) called “Bride of the Water God.” This month’s Tokyo in Tulsa convention will feature other cosplay, or costume play, enthusiasts portraying characters from Japanese cartoons, comic books and animated films. Photo location courtesy of Philbrook Museum of Art.

Sheila portrays Soah, a character from a manga (a Japanese genre of cartoons, comic books and animated films) called “Bride of the Water God.” This month’s Tokyo in Tulsa convention will feature other cosplay, or costume play, enthusiasts portraying characters from Japanese cartoons, comic books and animated films. Photo location courtesy of Philbrook Museum of Art.

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Show up at the Tulsa Convention Center July 15-17 and you’ll find one group of people perusing original artwork, others looking to catch live music and children in search of games.

But this isn’t your typical event. After all, people don’t usually come to conventions sporting floor-length blue hair, wearing furry cat ears or wielding ancient swords.

They will be at the Convention Center for cosplay — short for “costume play” — where performance art meets dress-up. It is also a major component of Tokyo in Tulsa, a three-day Japanese and pop culture convention.

“Imagine it as Halloween all the time,” says Saif Khan, director of gaming and volunteers for the event.

While a cosplayer can embody a number of different entities, ranging from a historical figure to a character in a video game, many are inspired by Japanese animation, otherwise known as anime.

Tokyo in Tulsa will also feature live music, prizes, giveaways, vendors, a game room boasting more than 50 consoles, artists and exhibitors from all over the country, industry guest speakers, anime voiceover actors and dozens of panels ranging from “Raising a Geekling” to “Low Budget Beginners Skit and Filmmaking.”

“Tokyo in Tulsa is exactly as it sounds,” Khan says. “We bring in western culture and Asian culture in a fusion of one event.”

The 2011 event theme is “Worlds Collide,” taking the world of Steampunk and pitting it against Spellcasting.

If those terms are Greek to you, Kahn offers an “anime convention 101” guide to Tokyo in Tulsa’s mulitculti theme.

Spellcasting, he says, encompasses anything dealing with magic, including the wizardry found in “Harry Potter” novels and films and the teen girl stars of the popular anime series “Sailor Moon.”

You’re on the Spellcasting team if you lust over wands, can talk to animals or spend your days wishing for powers of invisibility.

A subculture that idealizes the Victorian era of steam power, Steampunk is inspired by the science-fiction writing of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

“With Steampunk, you find a lot of brass along with other Victorian aesthetics that we’ve kind of lost as a society today,” Khan says.

Not willing to sacrifice technology for romance, you fall into the Steampunk camp if you dream of acquiring a spiffy monocle and modifying your computer keyboard to look like an 1830s typewriter.

Anime genres and quirky subcultures may be somewhat overwhelming for first-time visitors, but the myriad artistic outlets Japanese culture makes available is one of Khan’s passions.

“Our creativity is based on what we can take in,” Khan says. “Of the animation companies, Disney won out and they just happened to be family friendly, so an entire creative medium of animation was put into a children’s genre.”

Khan says Americans have been creatively stunted because of our preconceived notions regarding animation. He’s quick to point out that other countries have animation styles completely unrelated to kids.

“There’s serious drama, serious action and everything in between,” Khan says.

Although it has been around only since 2008, Tokyo in Tulsa has a large fan base, and Khan says preregistration is up 200 percent from last year, with an expected 3,000 visitors at the family-friendly convention this month. During a time when some of the largest anime conventions in the region are dying off, Khan credits Tokyo in Tulsa’s success with its enthusiastic organizers and grassroots history.

“In the end, we were built by the community, for the community,” he says. “People want to discount the value of local events, but those events are what Tulsans look forward to. The more events we have, the more value we have as a city and the more reasons people enjoy living in Tulsa.”

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