This is a Blast Magazine enterprise piece.
Robert Scholz took a deep breath as he carefully walked backwards up the stairs. In the distance he could hear shouts from the eager audience and the sound of the MC trying to hold their attention. Scholz tried to move a little faster, but his pace remained constant while friends assisted him from all sides.
He had to walk backwards up the stairs because he was on 10 inch stilts and could not lift his feet high enough to get up the stairs normally. He was off balance because his hands were partially attached to animatronics that controlled arm body armor. He was clad body armor because he was Canti, the friendly robot from the anime series “FLCL.” Scholz was performing in an animation masquerade competition, and the audience wanted their Canti.
Scholz reached the top of the stairs. The attendants in charge of the competition quickly helped him readjust his costume before he walked out onto the stage. They tucked the part of his ponytail that had fallen out from behind his LED mask into his headgear and straightened the jacket that covered his red chest plate. Some of the other contestants for the “master’s level” of the masquerade muttered under their breath about the duct tape being used to hold together Scholz’s leg armor, but all that mattered was that he was finally at the stage entrance in one piece.
Duct-tape or not, he was Canti, and the audience ate it up. Scholz/Canti had been so rushed getting up the stairs that his fingers were not entirely in the animatronic hand armor, making it look like he was giving the audience the middle finger. They didn’t care — they still screamed when he finally took the stage.
Scholz was performing in Anime Boston’s most popular event, the cosplay competition, called The Masquerade. To cosplay is to dress up as a character, — in this case from an anime — and act in their character. This was Scholz’s fifth year cosplaying, and he decided to sign up for the highest level of the contest.
It was only fitting that he wore a costume that took him three years to design and create.
The 5,000 audience members roared as Scholz performed his skit with his two friends. They were pretending that were playing Guitar Hero, and Canti was losing. Scholz accidentally dropped the toy guitar out of his hand because his arm armor had been put on too hastily. Instead of letting it ruin the skit, he just switched to the costume guitar that Canti always carried in the anime series.
By the time the skit was over, Scholz could barely see out of the costume’s visor, which cut off most of his vision. He was not focused on the noise going on around him. All that mattered was that he had finally accomplished what he had set out to do five years ago; compete in his Canti costume.
It took his friends’ wild gesturing at him to make him realize the MC was yelling to him.
“Hey, hey you! Giant red robot! Stop!” cried MC Michael Lee.
Scholz turned around to once again face the audience, and the lights in the auditorium suddenly went black. The audience gasped in wonder as the 204 LEDs attached to his outfit suddenly lit up and created a dazzling light show. By the time the house lights were turned back on, the audience was on its feet cheering for him.
“That’s why I cosplay from anime,” Scholz said, “because of how complete strangers give you praise for your skills at creating them.”
Anime refers to Japanese animation, and is different from what most Americans view as cartoons. A popular example of anime is the smash hit from the 1990s, “Pok©mon”, which exemplifies what is broadly known as the anime “style.” The Japanese Times describes it as “exaggerated physical features such as large eyes, big hair and elongated limbs… and dramatically shaped speech bubbles, speed lines and onomatopoeic, exclamatory typography.”
Scholz said that he started watching anime when he was a kid. “But, like most of the US public we didn’t realize we were watching anime,” he said. “Rerun shows like â€˜Speed Racer’ and â€˜Battle for the Planets’ were some of the anime I watched back when I could actually willingly wake up before sunrise [to watch them].”
Scholz is the son of two German immigrants and a first generation American. He says because of that he tended to think “outside of the states” and that it was during his trips to Germany with his parents that he originally developed an interest in anime and manga. His parents supported his interest in a culture different from his own.
“I was the first person in middle school and high school to get onto the â€˜Sailor Moon’ and â€˜Dragon Ball Z’ kick,” Scholz said. When the animes were still aired on Sunday mornings, Scholz would set his alarm clock early enough to be able to watch them. After they were moved to weekday mornings, he learned to time driving to high school around them.
Anime originated in Japan in the 60s, but didn’t really begin to grow as a major cultural export until the 80s and 90s. While early hits began with “Robotech” and “Dragon Ball Z,” today’s American audiences are following hits like “Naruto” and “Bleach.”
These animes are more action-based, or “shonen,” animes and generally are geared towards young boys. They tend to focus around cultural aspects that are specific to Japan. “Naruto” follows the story of a boy who wants to be a ninja. “Robotech” and “Dragon Ball Z” both have to deal with select characters defending their worlds from alien invaders. They use advanced technology to achieve their aims.
Japan is well known for its advances in technology, and this obsession with machinery is evident in most animes. The weapons used in “Bleach,” such as the katana, mimick those used by samurai in feudal Japan. The fantastical elements and intense plot lines make it easy for young viewers to be drawn into the worlds created through these popular animes while accepting the subtle aspects of Japanese culture in them.
When animes are brought to American television, they are often altered in content to satisfy conservative television studios. The animes are dubbed English before they are aired, and the translation can end up being extremely different from the original dialogue.
For example, in one episode of the Japanese version of “Sailor Moon,” there is a scene where one of the characters is nervous about getting into a hot spring, but his parents convinced him it was okay because only family was in there as well. However, the English dub changed it so that the boy says the water smells funny, and his father replies with “That’s just the sulfur in the water, you’ll get used to it”, followed by his mother saying “It’s not so bad smelling like rotten eggs.” This changes the entire meaning of the scene.
Select scenes and even entire episodes can be cut from a series because the American distributors feel that it is unfit for children’s eyes. This was done infamously to Sailor Moon by the television distributor, DiC. In the first season, five of the original Japanese episodes were cut and two episodes were merged to one because of “excess violence”. Also, two of the characters who were lesbians in the original show became cousins in the American televised version.
Andrew Cocuaco, owner of the anime store Tokyo Kid in Cambridge, finds that anime addresses far more mature themes. “[Japanese] don’t have the same hang ups we do,” he said. “You see sexual themes addressed more in anime than you do in regular American television.”
Cocuaco finds that what tends to be aired on television stations like Cartoon Network are the more action-based and fighting animes, while the more intellectual animes like the movie “Five Centimeters Per Second” are left for viewers to discover on their own either from hearsay or via the Internet.
“[Anime] is written for adolescents with power fantasies,” he said.
Scholz watches whatever animes his friends introduce to him, be it the newest hit on Cartoon Network or an obscure title found on the Internet.
The UMASS Dartmouth student says that college life really increased his ability to watch anime. Not only did he have access to the internet on a daily basis in order to watch animes through file streaming and sharing, he also had the freedom to venture off to “indie places” in Providence.
He was first introduced to the idea of cosplaying in 2003 at the first Anime Boston convention. It was not until his friend suggested that he dress up for the next years’ convention that Scholz realized that anyone could cosplay, not just models hired for specific character advertisement. He decided to dress up as Vash the Stampede from the popular anime “Trigun”.
Backstage at the masquerade competition, Scholz was nervous about going out in front of the growing audience in his costume. When he peeked out from behind a pillar to look at the growing number of spectators, he was surprised at the screams of excitement his costume elicited from one group of girls.
After his performance, the masquerade coordinator took him aside from the other contestants and suggested that after he received his first award, he should run quickly from the stage because he would be receiving another. “This kind of took the fun out of waiting to find out if I won,” Scholz said. He received two trophies for his costume, as well as numerous prizes.
Anime Boston’s first convention in 2003 drew 4,110 people, including vendors and staff, and had only 14 exhibitors selling anime-related goods. The most recent convention in March drew over 14,000 with 66 vendors, including Cocuaco’s Tokyo Kid.
Scholz returned each year to Anime Boston with a cosplay costume bigger and better than ever. After over three years of working on the project, Scholz introduced his newest masterpiece: the robot Canti from the anime “FLCL”.
“Canti was an inspiration of both genius and insanity,” he says. “With the cosplay world increasing in talent and competing against my past creations I figured I’d go overboard. I decided on Canti because it was challenging. Oh, people cut out old computer monitors, but it wasn’t accurate in my eye and vision.”
Scholz pictured a Canti costume that was intricate and honored the anime’s depiction of the robot. In order to do this, he wanted to create a full body suit that would look similar to the metal body Canti had. Instead of the flimsy cardboard cutouts other contestants had used for heads, Scholz wanted to create a head mask that would be able to light up like Canti’s does multiple times during the series. He wanted to make himself into a robot.
The idea seemed brilliant when Scholz first imagined it in 2005. However, after being laid off from his job, he did not have enough money to continue working on Canti. The fiberglass, plaster, and electronics were all expensive. Scholz was only able to work on building Canti for months at a time because the amount of time and effort it took to put together the pieces of the costume as well as his limited funds. That is why Canti took so long to complete.
“My parents didn’t like my cosplaying until after the first win and I started off to make the next one,” Scholz admits. “My friends enjoyed it; some were amazed by what I put into it. … But when I came to Canti and strived over those years when I had time from occupation and responsibilities, [my parents] found it fun to see it arise from its pieces and were happy to help here and there with electronics and fitting.”
Scholz says that Canti is still in progress, but he presented the costume for the masquerade competition at this year’s Anime Boston regardless. One of the judges said that they saw him as “a walking accessory”.
What the Canti costume did consist of were 204 LEDs, 20 of which were blinking, contained in 14 different sockets on the body armor. Scholz was stilted on 10 inches of piping and plywood covered in foam and fiber glass. He used basic hand animatronics to extend the arm lengths to keep them in proportion with the rest of the body. The body armor was constructed by making plaster shapes and fiber glassing over them.
The final height of the costume rounded out at about 7 and a half feet.
The future looks bright for anime lovers out there. Nickelodeon’s 2004 release of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” produced a show that was an American take on Japanese animation and ended up being extraordinarily popular with a large age-range.
“This equilibrium of thoughts and ideas has influenced a majority of US film and in return has sparked Japan’s creation. I might be pushing it, but the world might be a better place when we have these medias intermixing,” said Scholz. “Not to say we’ll all become a bean pot, but I feel the growing generations in this time are more understanding and tolerant compared to past generations.”
“Maybe world peace will be found in the global sharing such as anime,” Scholz said. “Yeah, now there’s rambling.”