I Tried a Cosplay (NDK 2022)

Honestly, I was not really feeling NDK this year.

Leading up to the con, I was bummed out that I’d be attending alone again. It felt like Colorado Anime Fest had only just happened, and its advantages over NDK were still fresh in my mind. To give myself more to invest in, I tried submitting a panel (I planned to talk about VTubers), but it wasn’t accepted. To cap it all off, I found out that my friends Marcus and Kelly, the organizers of the Denver Anime Meetup group who I met at NDK 2021, weren’t going to be attending this year.

However, I’d played with the idea of wearing a cosplay (a costume of an anime character) in the past. At previous conventions, it had always seemed like I was much more of a bystander compared to the cosplayers who were actually participating in the convention. Part of me wanted to see how different the con experience would be if I was in costume.

Earlier in the summer, I’d discovered a second Denver-based anime-related Meetup group, Anime Fans 20s/30s of Denver, and attended an event with them– it was all about cosplay. Several members of that group were crossplaying (cosplaying characters of the opposite gender), and the meetup was initially focused on wigs, but it ended up drifting into a makeup deep-dive and a decent amount of general cosplay discussion.

After that event, I still wasn’t sure if I really wanted to cosplay, or who I would want to dress up as. But the meetup definitely planted a seed in my mind, and a few months later, I decided to go for it– after all, I didn’t really have anything to look forward to at this convention, so I didn’t have anything to lose.

Choosing a Character

Whenever I think about who I might want to dress up as, my mind goes to a few key places. When chatting with a cosplayer in a line at NDK 2021, I threw out Shirogane from Kaguya-sama: Love is War, although I probably relate more with Ishigami (in both physique and personality.) At the cosplay informational meetup this year, I brought up Kirito from Sword Art Online as a possibility, with Klein as a slightly scruffier alternative in the back of my head.

Left to right, top to bottom: Shirogane Miyuki (a.k.a. 会長 “kaichou”/president), Ishigami Yu, Kirigaya Kazuto (Kirito), and Tsuboi Ryoutarou (Klein).

The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of female characters with interesting outfits in anime, but male characters (at least in the genres that I usually watch) tend to be both less populous and less boldly dressed. School uniforms in particular are usually very identifiable for the girls in a show, with various color pallets, tie styles, and material textures; in contrast, boys’ uniforms are usually some variation on a suit. (The boys’ uniforms from Katawa Shoujo are somewhat an exception due to their green pants and jackets, although cosplaying as a dating sim protagonist or side character without any of the heroines present would have been pretty obscure.)

I was honestly impressed with the level of immersion the crossplayers at the meetup were shooting for, but I both wasn’t quite looking to do something that bold (especially for my first costume), and wasn’t confident I’d have the time or resources to do it well this year. That said, I was watching Season 2 of Sword Art Online earlier in the year, and I started to get an idea at the meetup. You see, when Kirito joins a game called Gun Gale Online, he gets assigned a random male avatar… and ends up getting one of the rarest ones in the game, a rather feminine outfit that quickly has people mistaking him for a girl.

Kirito examines his avatar in a shop window just after logging in (left); takes cover behind a pillar during a battle (right).

Kirito’s initially embarrassed at the confusion, but it ends up playing a pivotal role in the plot as he befriends a sniper named Sinon (who’s used to getting hit on in the game and wouldn’t normally talk to a guy.) Sinon introduces Kirito to GGO’s game mechanics and ends up helping with Kirito’s investigation later on. Meanwhile, Kirito starts using his feminine avatar to his advantage to rally crowd support.

Kirito plays the crowd before the Bullet of Bullets tournament.

This presented a pretty convenient opportunity: if I wore this costume, I wouldn’t technically be crossplaying, but I’d get to wear a slightly more exciting outfit than one of Kirito’s normal ones. My biggest concern was that, unlike the very dedicated crossplayers at the meetup, I currently have a beard and wasn’t too keen on shaving it off just for a one-weekend costume. But a few weeks later, NDK announced that they were bringing back their mask policy due to continued COVID-19 concerns. It wouldn’t be enough to pull off an actual crossplay, but for a male character like Kirito who just doesn’t have a beard in the show (even in his other outfits), I thought it might allow me to pull off the costume without looking entirely half-assed or out of place.

So with that, I decided it was now or never for Kirito’s GGO outfit, and I set off to source the costume.

Acquiring a Costume

Most of the people at the meetup event I attended make their cosplay costumes from scratch, acquiring fabrics and other materials and sewing, ironing, and gluing everything together by hand. This is a really personal and dedicated way to cosplay, although it obviously takes a lot of time, some extra tooling, and skills or practice.

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s also possible to order finished costumes online. Some people are against this practice because it means you’re not putting all of the same effort into the hobby as the people who make costumes themselves. On the other hand, there are plenty of folks who reason that time is money and it’s not necessarily a bad idea to outsource some of the more time-consuming aspects. Fortunately, the group I was talking with was in the latter camp and didn’t hold ordering costumes against anyone.

I scouted out a couple of different websites, but I ended up ordering from a website called EZCosplay. (Full disclaimer, this is a Chinese website, not a local Etsy seller or anything.) The website offered the main outfit, wig, and boots separately.

The EZCosplay product page for Kirito’s GGO outfit (click to view full-size.)

Somewhat critically, I was so wishy-washy about the entire idea that I waited longer than I should have to order. EZCosplay’s stated lead time was 1-5 weeks, and I left myself with only three and a half weeks until the convention. I messaged the company on Facebook to ask if they’d be able to give me a more precise estimate for this order, and they told me that it would likely get here on time if I ordered right away.

The main reason this is important to the story is because, in order to not unnecessarily increase the lead time, I ended up choosing one of the website’s predefined sizes for the costume based on my own measurements. If I’d had more time, I could have instead ordered a custom size fitted to my specific measurements, which I think would have made things easier for me when it came time to wear the costume.

In any case, I received a very small box a few weeks later, and the entire order was indeed packed and ready to go.

The shipping box for the costume was unbelievably small; as seen here, just the boots appear bigger than the entire costume’s box after being unpacked (click to view full-size.)

Adapting & Wearing

The costume obviously didn’t include a mask, and I wanted one that would match. I also wanted one that would cover as much of my facial hair as possible. I couldn’t find any that were as large as I was wanting, so I ended up ordering a six-pack of black cloth masks and crafting a larger one together out of two of them. To do this, I just cut the elastic bands off from one side of each mask, then attached them together with four large safety pins.

The safety pin fun didn’t end there, though. The one-size-for-the-entire-outfit model didn’t quite work for me; the jacket with chestplate was barely large enough to not constrict my breathing, but the pants were several inches too wide, and the belt didn’t really hold the “skirt” up even at its smallest velcro setting.

Taking the pants in with a safety pin was easy, but they still felt like they were going to work their way off eventually. I ended up also attaching them to the jacket with safety pins underneath a few of the belt loops (a risky move since it would make taking the costume off during the day extremely difficult.) I also had to attach an armband to one sleeve of the jacket with safety pins (the seller actually included a large silver pin to hold this on, but I ended up using my own smaller black pins instead.)

For the open-front skirt, since the belt wasn’t going to be doing any supporting, I placed three safety pins in the front to connect the two sides together (one at the top, one at the bottom, and one in the middle underneath the belt.) Two out of the three skirt safety pins ended up breaking throughout the day from sitting down and standing up.

Finally, this costume included a fake leather pouch that acted as a gun holster in the show. I used it as a pocket (since the costume didn’t have any other pockets) in order to hold my phone, wallet, and keys throughout the day (and my convention badge at times.) It clearly wasn’t meant to support so much weight, and the top of the loop that held it onto the belt (which was initially adhered with glue) had nearly broken off while I was still in my apartment getting other parts of the costume ready. I pierced a hole through the fake leather to hold the top of that loop on with a safety pin (but the loop would still require more attention later.)

After completing all of the safety pin shenanigans (half of which would have been sewing if I was more committed), I discovered I hadn’t even gotten to the hard part yet. The wig that I ordered was pre-styled with hairspray to part correctly in the front, but it was essentially flat-packed in a plastic bag. Interestingly, I didn’t have much trouble putting it on the first time, but after taking it off and setting it down on a hard surface (not owning a wig stand), I caused a lot of tangling the second time I tried to put it on and nearly ruined the styling while getting those tangles out. I ended up spending at least an hour just trying to get the wig looking good before eventually heading to the convention.

Attending the Convention

Backing up a little bit, I had a weekend pass for the convention. On Friday, I wanted to wear the costume, but I also wanted to arrive in time for the opening ceremonies (which I didn’t see last year), and I didn’t leave myself enough time after work to set up the costume. I eventually gave up on the costume, but missed the opening ceremonies anyway due to the length of the registration line. In the end, I picked up my badge and left, feeling too defeated to stick around Friday but determined to wake up early enough to put the costume on properly Saturday.

Less than an hour after arriving at the convention on Saturday, the bottom of the pouch’s belt loop also broke off, causing the pouch to fall off of the belt; I visited NDK’s cosplay triage room (more on that later) and added a second safety pin at the bottom of the loop. It held throughout the rest of the day (although I still made an effort to support its weight with my hand whenever it wasn’t inconvenient.)

Pacing the halls before any of the events had officially started, the day was still very young when I heard the first person tell me, “I like your cosplay!” It was a girl dressed up as a different form of Kirito. A little while later, I had a boy stop me to ask if he could take my picture. These events were basically the kinds of things that I’d imagined wearing a cosplay would unlock, and it was extremely gratifying (and a little relieving) to have people actually notice me and respond positively to the costume.

Relatively early in the day, I had one of the commercial photographers roaming the floor ask for a photo as well. I was glad these folks had noticed me too, because even though I knew they’d simply take photos of anyone they saw in costume, I also knew they’d typically post the photos to their websites or social media pages later (which is why NDK allows them into the convention.) So, here’s an early-in-the-day rendition of my Kirito cosplay:

The first couple of photo requests tripped me up because I hadn’t considered what pose I would take in advance! Not having a weapon, there was nothing in my hands, so I just had to take some sort of stance that looked semi-intentional. I usually went with holding my pouch (which I was already doing), trying to look like I was readying to take some game item out of it.

Pacing back and forth between panels, it took some time to get used to the feeling of everything. The wig and the skirt both felt like they were falling off basically the entire time, and I just had to learn to ignore it, because they weren’t. There were a few mirrors in the hallway leading to the panel rooms that I tried to sneak glimpses at when I walked by, but I figured that stopping for too long would simply draw more attention to myself.

NDK was supposed to have a “cosplay green room” according to its official map. I tried to seek it out, but it seemed to only be open periodically, and it was more geared toward the people participating in the cosplay contest. The same room was used for autograph sessions with the convention’s special guests at other times of the day, so it didn’t seem like a place I could just walk into when I needed it.

NDK 2022 map with the elusive Cosplay Green Room highlighted green and the more helpful Cosplay Triage Room highlighted red (click to view full-size.)

Fortunately, the “cosplay triage room” was more visible and more approachable. Aside from extra safety pins (which really saved my costume), the triage room also had basic sewing equipment, glue, makeup, and some other supplies. The one thing I wish it had was larger mirrors. There were some very small circular desktop mirrors at the makeup counter that I ended up using for a few seconds, but a full-height mirror to check how things were holding up from afar would have alleviated a lot of stress.

The Meetup group that convinced me to give this a try had three meet-ups throughout the day. The first one was half past noon. Still being relatively new to the group, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to recognize anyone. Luckily, the group’s own photographer, Luke, had a tripod to use as a landmark. (I later found out that several of the other group members hovering around the tripod were ones that I’d met before, but their cosplays were so elaborate that I didn’t realize who they were!)

You may notice that most people took their masks off in the above photos. That’s because the meetups were happening in the Gaylord Rockies lobby, which isn’t part of the “convention center” and thus wasn’t under the jurisdiction of Nan Desu Kan, so the NDK mask rules didn’t apply there. However, one unfortunate side effect of my mask being part of my costume (since it hid my facial hair) was that I didn’t feel very comfortable taking it off. I ended up skipping the group lunch simply to avoid having to deal with it.

Back in the convention, I learned some “fun” things about wearing cosplay. For one thing, every time I sat down on a chair with a back, I felt the wig get caught between my back and the chair, making me concerned that it would fall off. The video game room (which was laid out in a different orientation this year) still had one of the Starwing Paradox machines that I got to play at CoAF, but I didn’t dare try to board the mecha simulator with so many loose pieces of clothing hanging off of me.

I once again enjoyed the video room, ducking in to watch the first three episodes of Yowamushi Pedal, an anime about a prodigy bicycle rider who’s talked into joining his high school’s competitive cycling team. I wasn’t sure if I should really spend time watching anime at a convention when I can just do that at home, but honestly, this was a show I never would have picked up on my own accord. Discovering new things that I like is one of the best parts of attending an anime convention, so it was worth taking an hour to experience!

Both the art style and the audio design for “Yowamushi Pedal” evoked an early-2000’s feeling in me, although the anime’s first season aired in 2013.

The first three episodes basically just explained the backstory of the main character, Onoda. His parents gave him a bicycle when he was a kid, which he started using to get around the city (especially to visit anime stores.) Fearing for his safety, his parents eventually modified the bicycle to make it more difficult for him to go long distances, but this only had the effect of strengthening his cycling abilities as he continued using the bike for years. As he tries to recruit members for an anime club just after starting high school, a girl who’s a cycling fanatic takes notice of his skills and sets him up in a head-to-head contest with the captain of the cycling team. The captain is comically taken aback by both Onoda’s skill level on such a casual bike and how little effort he seems to be expending during most of their encounters. Onoda had just agreed to join the cycling team when the video room switched to a different show; I’ll definitely be looking this one up to continue watching it.

The second group meetup was at 3pm. This was just an hour before the cosplay contest started, so some of the more serious cosplayers (and their friends or general cosplay fans who wanted to see the contest) were either not in attendance or were in a rush. I showed up a bit early, and while loitering in the hotel lobby, I had another commercial photographer ask to take my photo, this time with scenery.

As you might be able to tell, my wig was starting to get a little bit tangled by this point in the day. Besides walking around the convention center and fighting with the chairs when I sat down, I also took a couple of trips out to my car throughout the day. One was to bring a print that I purchased from Artists Alley to my car so it wouldn’t get bent from carrying it around. The other was to drink a bottle of water in semi-privacy, because the wig got hot and it combined with the many layers of the costume had me starting to get concerned about overheating. Both of those trips cost me, though, because it was a fairly windy day, so everything I was wearing became slightly more disheveled every time I made that trek.

Back at the meetup, though, we ended up getting a sizable showing. While we were waiting for people to show up (and for Luke to decide a spot for us to pose), I noticed a very attractive Asuna cosplayer nearby. (For those of you not in the know, Asuna is the other main character of Sword Art Online, and is Kirito’s girlfriend.) She wasn’t part of the meetup group, but the group combined with my cosplay gave me a great opportunity to interact– I grabbed someone else from the group to hold my phone and asked if we could get a photo together.

Even though I’d gotten a few requests for photos from others, I’d never asked anyone else for a cosplay photo before, at this convention or previous ones. As expected, being in costume myself made it a lot easier to do! Having someone else there to hold the camera also helped it go as smoothly as I could have imagined.

Back with the meetup group, after a few more minutes of chatting and location scouting, we got the group picture on the other side of the room.

I actually had to look at the schedule again to remember what else I did on Saturday, because it was really a blur in hindsight. After the second meetup, I attended one panel with Kevin McKeever, the marketing manager for the Robotech franchise, who I saw in two panels last year. He was still a bit of a one-trick pony; he gave a new panel named “How to Get an Anime License” which he said he’d never given before, but it was nearly identical to the “How I Broke Into the Anime Industry” panel he gave last year, especially when it came to his stories about turning a “no” into a “yes” by persistently following up after a job interview, his emphatic explanation about how entertainment is an industry run entirely on relationships, and his quips about show business having an emphasis on business. He did add one new tip, that he basically blacklists anyone he sees speaking poorly of him online, which hopefully wasn’t in response to my positive-to-neutral coverage of him last year.

About an hour after that ended, I attended another live art demonstration with Amelie Belcher, who I also saw last year (and who’s almost worth the entry cost to NDK on her own.) She’s also a bit of a one-trick (aren’t we all, really?), but this first demonstration I attended was specifically titled “Anatomy for Artists,” and covered a lot more detail about how to handle proportions and such when drawing the human body. (On Sunday, I attended a more generic “Live Painting Demo” just before the convention’s closing ceremonies again, which was much more similar to her demo from last year.)

Towards the end of the day, before the exhibitor’s hall closed, I managed to find someone from the meetup group (the same one who’d taken my photo with the Asuna cosplayer earlier) and ask him for a second favor. The front-right corner of the exhibitors hall had a number of donated items on display that would later be auctioned off for charity. One of them was a used convention banner for Sword Art Online, which looked like it may have either been used at booths or hung from ceilings or walls at other conventions. Being in a Sword Art Online cosplay, I wanted to make sure to get a photo of myself next to it!

Around the same time of the day, I had something even cooler happen. When I was wandering around the exhibitor’s hall looking for someone to take those photos next to the banner for me, I ran into another gentleman who was also cosplaying Kirito– this one was wearing a casual take of Kirito’s short-lived Knights of the Blood Oath uniform (between the time when Kirito lost a bet and had to join the guild, and when another guild member tried to kill him and he left.)

This person asked me for a photo, which was appreciated to begin with. But unlike me, he actually went through the trouble of fabricating a weapon for his costume– and he had two of them! Kirito is able to dual-wield swords (it’s a unique, high-power skill he was able to attain while fighting in SAO), and this attendee had both of the swords that Kirito was using at the time he was in the guild. But he actually had the kind idea to hand one of them to me for the photo!

After all of that, I still had the final group meetup to attend at 8pm. For this one, we skipped the formal group photo and started by hanging out instead. I chatted with a few other members while we waited for the majority of the group to arrive. We eventually moved into a table in the hotel lobby’s restaurant area, and Jess (one of the hosts from the wig event earlier in the summer) brought some Japanese drinks and snacks down from her hotel room.

After the photo, a good chunk of the group broke off, and I eventually removed my mask to try Ramune for the first time. (This is a non-alcoholic carbonated drink similar to soda, but it’s held closed by a marble that you have to pop into the bottle to open it.)

A lot of the group stuck around to drink (yay America) and/or kill time until the burlesque show, but I opted out of that since I was already feeling pretty fatigued (and didn’t have much interest in a show half filled with “drag queens,” despite my own outfit being somewhat feminine.)

Animator Dormitory Panel with Jun Sugawara

Instead, I headed to the video rooms for another panel. Unlike the prerecorded panel I saw in the video rooms last year, this one was happening live (from Japan!) via a Zoom call. The main host was Mr. Jun Sugawara, founder of the Animator Dormitory, a company that’s trying to improve wages and conditions for Japanese animators.

Mr. Sugawara was joined by one of the animators currently employed by the project. Essentially, the company is using crowdfunding to provide animators with living quarters and/or a more livable wage than what’s commonly found in the anime industry. The panelists presented a video that explained how animators are usually paid by keyframe (the major illustrations that would make up a storyboard) and interframes (the parts in between that form the smooth motion). Unfortunately, growth of the anime industry has not made its way down to the animators, leading to long working hours on meager (sometimes illegal) salaries, lower animation quality, and some studios moving work (especially for interframes) from Japan to countries with cheaper labor such as China.

The panelists were exclusively speaking Japanese, and a translator in the room was translating questions and answers back and forth. Meanwhile, the animator in the panel was also connected to a video call on one of the local organizer’s iPhones, and was sketching portraits of volunteers from the audience who took turns holding the phone.

Since animators obviously need something to animate, the dormitory acts as a sort of mini-studio producing short pieces of content. The introductory video included a music video, which was the first project that the group had done. It was enjoyable– a little rougher than what I’d expect from most anime that I personally watch, but the style reminded me of anime movies from the 90’s.

The retro music surprised me with its English lyrics. A lot of the videos on the project’s YouTube channel have English dubbed versions available, and it seems like the studio is wisely trying to take advantage of a foreign fanbase that’s more likely to be sympathetic about working conditions (and at the moment, probably has access to stronger currency.)

Overall, I was very impressed with this panel. While it had also been given on Friday night, the attendance on Saturday night was very low, and I would consider it an underrated highlight of the weekend. One of my biggest disappointments with American anime conventions is that the special guests tend to be American dub voice actors, as opposed to any of the Japanese talents who actually create the shows. Having the opportunity to hear directly from an animation studio live was exciting.

Mr. Suwagawa had some interesting views on the Japanese economy and culture. When asked if he had any advice for Americans looking to work in Japan, he said that the Japanese economy is much weaker and its future stability is questionable, but that Japan is a beautiful place to live, so he would recommend living in Japan while working for an American company remotely, now that work-from-home has been normalized by the COVID pandemic. (Of course, Japanese immigration law does not permit that arrangement.) It makes some sense that he’d be more globally minded than the heads of governments and older companies may be, since he’s the founder of a studio based around working conditions in a country where few speak up about such things.

At the end of the panel, the local presenters handed out promotional cards for the studio’s upcoming second music video.

With that, I called it a night at 10pm. While I attended the rave at Colorado Anime Fest earlier this year, my costume was already on its last legs by now (I had several broken safety pins sitting near my waist) and it would not have held up under the stress of dancing. Not to mention, I was simply tired out from handling it all day!

The Rest of the Convention (Sunday)

I chose not to wear the costume again on Sunday. It’s funny– on Friday, I left early because I was disappointed that I wasn’t wearing the costume; but after a full day of cosplay on Saturday, I actually felt that I’d gotten my money’s worth out of that experience, and I wanted to attend in normal clothes again so I could enjoy the rest of the convention.

The first thing I did when the convention opened was drop into the two-hour AMV (anime music video) contest reshow. The voting had taken place the previous day, but all of the entries were shown again on Sunday, separated by category. At last year’s NDK, I didn’t have much interest in AMVs, but I enjoyed seeing them earlier this year at CoAF.

When the AMV show ended around noon, I killed a little time walking the exhibitor’s hall again until Dr. Alisa Freedman’s “100 Years of Train in Japan” panel. Dr. Freedman teaches a variety of Japanese culture-related courses at the University of Oregon’s College of Arts and Sciences. Her panel was structured almost like a very quick college lecture, with a 100+-page PowerPoint slideshow that she skipped around in.

I wasn’t sure that I would like Dr. Freedman based on her (slightly political) tone at the previous year’s closing ceremonies, but the trains panel was very interesting, and I actually really enjoyed Dr. Freedman’s presentation style. Dr. Freedman spoke based on some of her own research and time studying in Japan as well as historical documentation. Some aspects of the train system’s rise to prominence (such as the historical outlawing of using wheels for transportation in order to prevent commoners from traveling between major towns) were completely new information to me. The panel also touched on some of the social ramifications of people from different political and economic classes who hadn’t previously interacted sharing trains once travel became more commonplace.

An audience absorbs Japanese train facts from Dr. Alisa Freedman (click to view full-size.)

After the trains panel ended, I grabbed some food since I was actually able to take my mask off and eat now. The convention had food trucks and an indoor cafeteria again, but they were both located much closer to the rest of the convention this time (last year, I hadn’t even noticed the cafeteria until near the end of the convention.) The outdoor space where lawn games and food trucks had been last year was empty on Saturday and was being set up for another event on Sunday. The cafeteria shared a room with the registration tables this year, while the food trucks lined the main convention center hallway near the itasha car show.

A Mexican food truck outside of NDK (click to view full-size.)

I grabbed a quesadilla from a Mexican food truck. While I was waiting in line, I ran into my friend Cody, who also attends events with both of Denver’s anime Meetup groups (but is not in the 20s/30s photos shown in this blog post.) We chatted about how the convention was going. After I finished my food, we both grabbed a snow cone from another truck.

A snow cone truck outside of NDK (click to view full-size.)

Cody’s thoughts about the weekend were oddly different from mine. I started the weekend not caring for NDK, but ended up having a good time. Cody, on the other hand, seemingly went in expecting a good convention, but was frustrated at some of the programming decisions. We discussed the “Real Estate for Geeks” panel that I’d seen the previous day, which I didn’t even bother to recap earlier because it was basically just an advertisement for a buyer’s agent/mortgage broker duo who sponsored the convention with a paid booth. Cody also told me that he’d inquired with NDK’s staff why my VTuber panel wasn’t accepted, and they told him it “wasn’t related enough to Japan,” despite the industry originating with and continuing to be dominated by Japanese agencies. He seemed to be keeping more chips on his shoulder about the panel not being accepted than I was by that point, and offered to co-host it at future conventions (as panels with multiple hosts seem more likely to get accepted.)

Like I mentioned, the food trucks were near the itasha cars, which I’d checked out earlier in the day on my way into the convention. (Fun fact, itasha, or 痛車, translates to “painful car,” referencing the sometimes cringeworthy nature of the decorations.)

This year, I noticed a new Sword Art Online car featuring Sinon, who happens to be the sidekick (or at least occasional accomplice) of Kirito in the world of Gun Gale Online.

Like last year (and as mentioned earlier), I attended Amelie Belcher’s live painting demo as one of the last Sunday events, which didn’t run as long as it did last year.

Finally, I headed back to the main events stage. Before the closing ceremonies started, I saw the back half of the charity auction. Cody and another friend Abel were actually bidding on some of the items. I’d decided previously to throw in a bid for the Sword Art Online convention banner, but I wasn’t entirely sure what my maximum amount was going to be; I planned to bid at least through $100, and possibly up to $200 if I got into the moment. However, I was immediately surpassed by an immediate bid of $500, and I didn’t get to shout any numbers at all.

The Sword Art Online banner I’d posed in front of the previous day is auctioned off for charity; the bids immediately escalated to over $500.

While it was a bummer to not even get in the running, I wasn’t too bummed to pass on what would essentially be an oversized gag prop that I’d have no regular use for. I’d already spent my budget on the costume as well as the artwork print that I mentioned earlier; it was the Love Live! sparkle print that I’d eyed last year, which I later found a frame for to display in my apartment (shown at the end of the post.)

The charity auction eventually came to an end, along with the convention itself. The closing ceremonies were similar to those last year; the weekend was reflected on, the guests were thanked, and a Sanbon-jime (三本締め) clapping ritual was performed.

Closing Thoughts

Conventions can become stale or even stressful after the novelty wears off. However, despite a rocky start, I ended up having a really good time at NDK again.

I had previously assumed that in cosplay, making the costumes is the hard part, and wearing them is the easy part. That’s probably still true! However, I had no idea how much planning and energy it takes to wear a costume in public. It’s difficult to not butcher an elaborate character image when you’re not a perfect fit body-wise, and that’s exacerbated if you don’t prepare properly.

My primary takeaway from this experience was that if I’m going to cosplay again, especially a costume with a long wig, I’m going to get a hotel room at the convention so I don’t have to drive with the costume on. (Fortunately, I managed to get a parking space at the hotel every day for NDK this year, but if I’d needed to walk several blocks from a parking garage like I did at CoAF last year, or if I’d needed to take a shuttle from a private airport parking lot like some of this year’s NDK attendees did, then it would have been a bad time.)

I’m very grateful that the Anime Fans 20s/30s of Denver group was at the convention. Having continued attending some of their events, I find them a bit cliquey, and some of the regular participants have loud political and social views that I disagree with. However, they were absolutely welcoming with regards to cosplay. While it seems a little like they planted a crazy idea in my head and then didn’t do much to help with it, their photo gatherings throughout the day really helped me feel better about how I was doing.

I’ve decided to try wearing the same costume one more time at the upcoming CoAF 2023, since their mask mandate is still in place (so my beard will still be hidable.) I’m going to try and iterate on a few things: replacing the belt with a stronger and better-fitting one, along with finding a more realistic side buckle for it, and taking the pants in a little with a needle and thread so I’m not covered in safety pins. After that, cosplay might not be a regular activity for me– but trying it out was a lot of fun.

As for NDK itself, anime is still anime, anime fans are still anime fans, and Japan is still Japan. American conventions won’t satsify me forever, but I don’t see any reason not to continue attending as long as I’m in Denver.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *