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Anime Frontier brings global phenomenon to TX. Why the Japanese cartoon is not just for kids

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade began with a new 50-foot tall balloon floating through New York: a cartoon character with a large smile, a cut under his left eye and his trademark straw hat.

The character was Monkey D. Luffy, from the Japanese anime “One Piece,” the all-time best-selling manga with 516 million copies sold worldwide.

Anime, a Japanese cartoon, takes its inspiration from comics and graphic novels known as manga. But anime has become more than a cartoon. It has sparked subculture communities and influenced Western popular culture.

Christopher Nolan’s 2010 “Inception” was influence by the 2006 Japanese animated sci-fi thriller “Paprika.” “Black Swan,” a 2010 thriller starring Natalie Portman, takes many shots and themes from “Perfect Blue,” a 1997 animated thriller from Japan.

Musicians such as Megan the Stallion have talked and even dressed up as their favorite anime characters. Kanye West’s “Stronger” music video was influenced by the 1988 film “Akira.”

This weekend an estimated 20,000 anime lovers will descend to the Fort Worth Convention Center for Anime Frontier, an annual three-day convention with exhibits, voice actors, artists, video games, cosplayers and more.

Anime Frontier began in 2021 when LeftField Media, which runs large events like Anime NYC, asked anime publishers for their ideas on another convention. The consensus was Texas. Attendance has grown from 13,000 in 2021 to 16,000 a year ago.

Samson Rutkin, the marketing manager for LeftField Media, describes this phenomenon from a line by the creator of Anime Frontier who said, “Anime is mainstream in everything but name.”

This means you must step back to see its mark in what we see and experience every day, from collaborations in store brands, movies, music and more.

From the protagonists to the villains, people gravitate toward characters in which they see themselves.

Rutkin says people of color especially gravitate toward anime because the characters go beyond skin color. Anime understands people as whole persons, with a wide range of emotions and experiences. They’re pigeonholed into a stereotypical token characters.

“I think that’s what makes anime so popular within POC communities in America is that it does offer this vision of a world where now you are valued and now you are seen for the things that you can control versus the things that you cannot control,” Rutkin said.

On Friday afternoon, Anime Frontier brought out thousands of friend groups dressed as their favorite anime characters, including ninjas, witches, demons, swordsman, mages and pets. Families came with their excited children, some dressed as Goku or a fairy princess.

Lifelong anime fan Joel Thomas dressed as Sakazuki from “One Piece,” with a bright red suit, a long white Marine coat and a small rose emblazoned on his chest. Thomas first was introduced to anime by his brother when he was in elementary school.

He connected with the anime Naruto, a young ninja with a fox spirit sealed inside him who seeks recognition from his peers and dreams of becoming the Hokage.

Just like Naruto, Thomas was bullied in school and ostracized. But what what he learn from “One Piece” is that he could create a better version of himself through through perseverance and refusing to let your past define your future.

“There are ways that we all can connect to a character.,” Thomas said. “Every person I firmly believe connects to at least one anime character or cartoon, comic character, or manga character, at least once.”

Isaiah Chapple was dressed as Zenitsu, a character from the anime manga series “Demon Slayer,” with his familiar white, red, and yellow cape and his sword on his side.

Chapple got into anime when he was in middle school but didn’t become serious until COVID-19 allowed him more time to watch shows.

Chapple, who is Black, said Black cosplayers can cause uproar in the anime community when they dress as non-Black characters, such as Zenitsu.

This frustrates him because these characters are perceived as white and not as Japanese. This is his third time coming to Anime Frontier. He said he has gained a lot of his friends and said the gathering makes him feel like he deserves to be a part of the community just like anyone else.

“Whenever I see another Black character in anime it makes me feel more seen,” Chapple said. “Because we exist and there’s no reason as to why we have to make it as if we don’t exist. We’re part of the population.”

Kiko Blac has watched anime since she was 12, and fell in love with the characters, art style and the storyline.

Her cosplay at Anime Frontier included a blue top, a long pink skirt, and sunglasses to emulate Nico Robin, a character in “One Piece.”

She is a rapper who describes her music as “anime-trap.” She combines different intro and outro songs of different anime and mixes in character names to distinguish herself from other rappers.

“If we all love it we’re going to listen to it, but I also try to bring it into the club and make people more aware,” Blac said. “I’ll bring it everywhere with me, trying to make anime more known like how Luffy was in the Thanksgiving Parade.”