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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012

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Kindred spirits: "Cosplayers" dressed up as "anime" characters pose for the camera during the World Cosplay Summit 2012 in Nagoya in August, which drew people from 40 countries. Cosplay events are held in numerous countries these days, and Australia is no exception. KYODO

'Anime' on the rise Down Under


SYDNEY — The popularity and availability of "anime" and Japanese pop culture have exploded in Australia with the rise of social media, online forums and specialty screening services.

The increase and improvement in technology allow fans to connect with each other, watch their favorite episodes and easily plan and attend events.

Recently, anime fans were out in force in Sydney to attend Animania, a festival celebrating animation, games, manga and Japanese pop culture.

At the two-day event, which included a "cosplay" competition, a game zone and karaoke, it was the commitment of those attending to dress up in costumes that made the show.

The majority of fans were dressed as characters from "Black Butler," "Pokemon" and "One Piece," as well as the popular blue-haired Hatsune Miku, a "vocaloid" virtual idol.

Even though many people attended in costumes, only three acts mustered up the courage to enter the competition — a disappointing turnout. Kayla and Jade, 16, both from Canberra, were dressed in full costume, complete with colored contact lenses and wigs. They chose, however, not to compete because "there are a lot of outfits here better than ours."

Despite the reluctance to compete, most fans gave the same reason — to have fun — for showing up. Animania was also an opportunity for fans to meet kindred spirits, check out each other's costumes and participate in some of the activities on offer.

Nikki and Keria, 23, said they took two months to make their cosplay outfits for Animania. "The most fun is meeting different people. We have been into anime since 2004. We started watching it on TV here."

Luke Halliday, an editor and anime specialist at Capsule Computers, an Australian media company that delivers video game, entertainment, anime and pop culture news, says the first anime appeared on Australian TV in the 1970s and '80s with "Astro Boy" ("Mighty Atom") and "Robotech." However, it really took off in the mid-'90s after "Sailor Moon" was broadcast and gained a cult following, paving the way for "Dragon Ball Z," "Pokemon," "Naruto" and "One Piece."

Like most young Australian fans, Nic Candido, 22, got into anime after watching it on TV. His favorite is "One Piece," which he eagerly says is the longest running series. He is happy with the availability of anime here but says "they don't show anime on TV here unless it's English dubbed. I prefer it in Japanese — the voices suit the characters better."

The language barrier doesn't faze him, though he would like to learn Japanese to understand his favorite shows a bit better and watch them without dubbing or subtitles.

Especially for fans, anime is an all-encompassing culture that extends far beyond the manga and cartoons.

Brad Merriel and Hansen Setiawan own the Anime at the Abbotsford — a specialty anime store in Sydney that focuses on action figurines. They opened the store in 2007 and have never looked back. Merriel says that the opportunities for anime fans in Australia are amazing and cosplay is growing at a rapid rate. "It's getting a lot bigger, cosplay is getting more popular."

Anime clubs can be found all over, from Facebook to universities. There are a lot of outings, get-togethers, cosplay picnics and treasure hunts, he says.

He believes the increase in popularity is due to a number of factors. First, there is a constant stream of new anime being released, so there is more content being distributed.

Secondly, the content has spread and is now more accessible in Australia.

Finally, the negative outcast image long associated with gaming and anime appears to have eased. Video game fans in particular have had a stereotypically unfashionable representation in Australia. However, this is fading and it is more acceptable to enjoy anime and gaming now.

However, things are not all rosy for the subculture. One recurring problem in the anime industry in Australia is the high volume of counterfeit goods. This is one factor that prompted Merriel and Setiawan to open their store.

"A lot of the places are selling fakes. I was having a lot of problems, I had to buy (anime goods) online or on eBay," says Merriel. The authenticity of these products is almost impossible to judge when buying online. Also, genuine items are unaffordable to many of the young fans the industry attracts.

Halliday echoes Merriel's concerns. He says the Australian anime industry has had many challenges in terms of piracy and that Australian TV has seen a decline in anime content.

He attended Animania but was not impressed. The sale of bootlegs at Animania, the costly price of admission and the lack of content and variety were some of his concerns.

Despite the challenging issue of piracy and bootlegs, the outlook for this growing industry still looks bright. Halliday is optimistic about the future of the Australian anime industry and its ability to combat piracy.

"The Australian anime industry has done an excellent job to counteract this (piracy)."

Madman in Victoria is an entertainment distribution and rights management company and has an online screening room that allows viewers to watch anime episodes legally and soon after they are first available.

DVDs of episodes and series not shown in the screening room, which product manager Sylvester Ip says began in 2009, are also available to purchase.

Asked about the waiting time before a broadcast, Ip states, "(It) depends on the title and when we get the rights, really. We are generally within the same week of the Japanese broadcast."

This highlights the efficiency and availability of anime for Australian fans, something Halliday agrees with. "Not only does this show anime fans that the industry wants them to watch anime, it also shows that they are committed to providing quality content at an affordable price and at a fast pace.

"It is safe to say that anime is at an all-time high in popularity here. What can I say? Australians love anime."

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