Japan Disaster Strikes Home Among Anime Fans The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11 occurred nearly 7,000 miles from the annual Zenkaikon anime convention in Philadelphia — but for many of the passionate Japanese-culture devotees in attendance, the disasters and their aftermath feel intimately personal.

Japan Disaster Strikes Home Among Anime Fans

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Countless people around the world feel an intense connection to Japan through its popular culture, specifically its animation. In the U.S., fans spent about $200 million on anime last year. It can be anything from apocalyptic stories about aliens to Pokemon or to the Oscar-winning movie "Spirited Away."

(Soundbite of film)

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Unidentified Person #1 (Actor): (as Character) Haku, fight him! Come on! He's hurt.

SIEGEL: This weekend, NPR's Neda Ulaby visited an anime convention outside Philadelphia to talk to fans about their response to the catastrophe in Japan.

NEDA ULABY: This suburban convention center is crawling with kids wearing dragon wings and outrageous, neon-colored schoolgirl outfits. There's girls in Victorian dresses and boys in Victorian dresses. Joy Morrison of New Jersey is a mom, walking around shaking a gallon jar that says Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief.

Ms. JOY MORRISON: I'll take your cash. I'll take your credit cards. I'll take your food stamps. Come on.

Unidentified Woman #1: I don't have much change.

Ms. MORRISON: Thank you so much.

Unidentified Woman #1: I love Japan.

ULABY: The kids here are young. So they don't have a lot of money to donate, but Morrison thinks they're contributing by buying anime.

Ms. MORRISON: When you come to events like this, okay, everything you see in here is all from Japan.

ULABY: Almost 7,000 miles away, but immediate for kids like Miles Adams. The skinny 19-year-old in a flowing black cloak and spiky white wig is dressed as a character from a Japanese video game. In a funny way, he says Japan feels like home.

Mr. MILES ADAMS: I means, it's where I've gotten most of my enjoyment for all my life - the video games, the clothing, the shows and books. So it means a lot to me.

ULABY: And Japan means a lot to the fans piling into screenings of Japanese shows like "Bamboo Blade" or panels on giant robots and mixed martial arts.

Jeremy Volk is an anime convention regular. In the wake of Japan's disaster, he says the mood here is mixed too.

Mr. JEREMY VOLK: I think it's been hard on everybody. Like, everyone that I've talked to today has been kind of down, and it doesn't seem like your normal upbeat convention.

ULABY: A lot of people here have friends in Japan.

Ms. EVE PERUSSE: Yeah, I actually have a couple pen pals out there. One we still haven't heard back from because he lives in Sendai.

ULABY: Eve Perusse, 21, is working in a cavernous room filled with vendors hawking comics, action figures and vintage kimonos. She's selling Japanese rock CDs with a friend, Angel Brazier. Brazier describes her deep response to the earthquake and tsunami.

Ms. ANGEL BRAZIER: Like, versus Katrina, which was in my own country, I didn't feel it as much as what I feel in Japan.

ULABY: Brazier and other fans say they've been on Twitter nonstop, communicating about the safety of favorite studios and stars. Some quietly expressed concern about the disaster's impact on anime supply.

But Andrew Taylor, a freshman at Drexel University, is clear.

Mr. ANDREW TAYLOR: We're not just worried about our anime being cut off. Like, we're actually concerned for the people there.

ULABY: The convention was filled with fundraising efforts. Most of the vendors had signs saying they'd donate to the Japanese Red Cross. And convention organizers raised about $3,000.

Mr. EZRA KIDJO: It has pushed me to want to do more, to be more a part of these people.

ULABY: Ezra Kidjo is 43. To him, manga and anime are not frivolous. Kidjo says the tragedy inspired him to start seriously studying Japanese. He wants his connection to the country now to be more intense, more profound.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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