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BEHIND THE SCENES / ORANGE COUNTY

Character Development

July 04, 1996

The procession didn't have supermodels, but it did have ordinary folks dressed up extravagantly as robots, ninjas and forest sprites. While not your average catwalk fare, the masquerade contest was still the highlight of the international animation and comic book exposition at the Anaheim Convention Center last weekend.

AnimeExpo '96 drew 2,600 fans eager to listen to filmmakers, haggle with vendors over souvenirs and compete in trivia battles based on their favorite--mostly Japanese--animated characters.

Some Japanese cartoon series, such as "Sailor Moon," "Kimba the White Lion," "Speed Racer" and "Star Blazer" appear on TV in the United States, but mostly it's an underground, imported operation, which requires true devotion from fans.

For the costume contest, 90 people spent a minute alone on stage in homemade outfits that duplicated their favorite characters from comic strips, TV or film. A few just stood in front of the mostly college-age crowd, which responded with cheers, chants and applause. Others were more elaborate, even performing brief skits that parodied or revered the characters.

Robots were a big hit. A truncated version of the robot from the "Gundam" TV series was one of the entries. It was squished to 4 feet high (it's normally double that size), and its features were distorted, just the way it happened during one episode of the popular show.

Some of the other costumes included Totoro, the forest spirit from the children's movie "My Neighbor Totoro," Ghost from the movie "Shell" and Batou, a comic book soldier with an impressive 7-foot-long gun.

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