This past weekend Steve and I had seven girls sleeping in our basement. Before you raise your eyebrows, let me say two words: Anime North. Mean nothing to you? It didn’t to us either until a couple of years ago when our now 15-year-old daughter made the jump from avid Asian manga reader and online drama watcher to real-life participant in what is probably Canada’s largest show for… well… people like Fiona.
Fiona likes to cosplay — short for costume-play. Cosplaying is essentially dressing up in elaborate outfits to mimic favourite characters in Asian cartoons. That’s the Coles Notes explanation.
The long of it is that my daughter spends the entire year (358 days to go!) counting down to Anime North, a convention of animation devotees, vendors, artists, performers, and anyone else inclined to be part of three days of Halloween on overdrive.
For this event, my daughter and her friends spend months creating costumes, building props, perfecting makeup, practicing dance routines, and organizing accommodation. Which this year was provided by us. So along with Fiona there was Erin, Robin, Nicole, Isabel, Remi and Vanessa. They came Friday night; they left Sunday. And in between, there was lots of driving back and forth from our house in Mississauga to the Toronto Congress Centre, the event venue, which is next to the airport.
To give you an idea of how the weekend unfolded…
Friday afternoon The girls arrive home from school and each dons the first of three costumes ; they’ll wear a different one for each of the three days of the event. Steve and I are still at work, so their first trek to the show is via Mississauga Transit.
Friday night Steve and I pick them up at 11pm in two cars and bring them home again. They report that their cat-dance routine, performed by four of them, including my daughter, was a reasonable success. We order pizza and, after showering and getting into PJs, they eat and crash. One girl, Remy, arrives late following her prom night; she’ll join in for the remainder of the weekend.
Saturday morning Steve and I hear them at 6:30 in the kitchen below us; we’ve left muffins and fruit out for them (thank God). I stumble down and nurse coffee, watching in awe as they transform into otherworldly creatures with painted faces and green hair and carrying swords and guitars and, in my daughter’s case, an enormous black cannon (she is Black Rock Shooter, a character in the anime show of the same name). By 8:30am, we’re back at the Toronto Congress Centre, unloading them from the cars and promising a pickup at 8:30pm.
Saturday night By 9pm they’re back home and are in various stages of showering, PJ-ing and eating (a cold buffet with chocolate cake for dessert). Steve and I take refuge in the living room with drinks and Netflix. They eventually start to trickle down to the basement, and by midnight all is quiet.
Sunday morning I hear the voices again by 7, but the chit-chat is a little quieter this morning. The full-tilt, adrenalin-loaded weekend is starting to take its toll, though they remain enthusiastic and good-natured. On go their third costumes, and off to the Congress Centre we go — all but one, who has decided schoolwork beckons, so I drop her off on the way back home.
Sunday night Arriving at the Congress Centre for the final time, we find the gang in Tim Hortons next door. My daughter, I discover, has badly stubbed her big toe, and is limping around in one bare foot (the other still wedged in a silver stiletto). Everyone looks a bit disheveled and a lot tired as they hobble and shuffle their way to the cars. They all remark that while they’re sad it’s over, they’re also glad it’s over. They’re already planning their costumes for next year.
To the uninitiated, this might all seem a bit hard-core. But to someone who’s watched it evolve (and who likes Halloween more than Christmas), I get it. Personally I’d find it a bit tiring myself, though that might be my age talking. Either way, as a spectator — and chauffeur — I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Simply watching my daughter and her friends have so much fun is pure joy.
My 14-year-old son Simon doesn’t mind it either.
(See you next year girls!)