Anime Festival Not Just For Otakus

This weekend, New York hosts a festival celebrating Japanese animation, or anime. Host Scott Simon talks to festival organizer and anime expert (or "otaku") Lance Fensterman, about the event.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This weekend is the third annual New York Anime Festival. Almost 20,000 fans are expected to converge in Midtown Manhattan to celebrate all things related to Japanese animation. Now, lots of Americans became familiar with anime when the Pokémon cartoons became popular. But fans say that anime really is a celebration of Japanese pop culture in all of its forms.

Lance Fensterman is one of the festival organizers and joins us from New York.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. LANCE FENSTERMAN (Organizer, Anime Festival): It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: So what makes something part of anime?

Mr. FENSTERMAN: You know, honestly, it's a wide net that we cast. But it's anything that is a celebration of Japanese pop culture. You said it well, but a lot of people are familiar with the concept of a Comic-Con, and this is kind of a Japanese version of a Comic-Con.

SIMON: People dress up, I'm told?

Mr. FENSTERMAN: They dress up. I myself am just wearing jeans, for the record.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FENSTERMAN: I want that to be clearly reflected. But that's part of the fun, is being with your peers and people that are into the same stuff that you're into. And you know, part of that is you got to look the part, and I mean that very literally.

SIMON: Now, I understand that characters play with each other.

Mr. FENSTERMAN: Absolutely. And you know, a big part of Japanese animation is it's obviously produced in, well, Japan. Therefore there are voice-over actors when they do the dubbing when the film is brought to the West.

SIMON: Oh, of course.

Mr. FENSTERMAN: So it's actually to some degree a game you can play along with. So you can dress up as the character and you can play along with the movie and say the lines. Maybe a little bit like "Rocky Horror Picture Show" back in the day. And so that's generally considered cos playing or costume playing.

SIMON: Cos playing, it's called? Yeah.

Mr. FENSTERMAN: That's exactly right.

SIMON: Are there, how do I put this nicely? Are there cos play hookups?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FENSTERMAN: We have a, you know, what you see here, what you say here when you leave here, let it stay here rule...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FENSTERMAN: ...here if you're at Anime Fest. So I don't want observe and tell. But, yes. Yes, there are cos play hookups. It's actually cool because these kids - and I say kids, but it's really 15 to probably 22 is kind of that age group. This is their community. They are not on the fringe when they come to the Anime Fest. They are amongst their friends, and so, you know, we joke about hookups. But it really is seeing people that are into the same stuff, that love the same things that they love, that will not judge them.

SIMON: What do the Japanese do or get about comics that is distinct and something just a step different from what we do in North America?

Mr. FENSTERMAN: Well, it's a widely accepted medium as a device for communication. And I think in the U.S. here, it's still, there's a bit of a stigma towards comics as being something for kids. But the Japanese really embrace the medium as an art form.

SIMON: Lance Fensterman, one of the organizers of the New York Anime Festival. Thanks so much and have a good time, sir.

Mr. FENSTERMAN: Hey, I will. Thank you very much for having me.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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