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AKB48 in NYC: Idolmaster Cosplay

Steam rose off the city streets as we partook of a Takoyaki stand a few blocks away from Webster Hall.

“It was a lot like Idolmaster,” fellow anime journalist Omo noted, drawing a parallel to the infamous Japanese game.

“Idolmaster cosplay,” I shot back.

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AKB48, an Akihabara-based idol group, had their US debut at Webster Hall following the New York Anime Festival. While initial enthusiasm for their preview performance was great, the Sunday evening show time coupled with the location – across the city from the convention – thinned the crowd of con attendees considerably. Not to be deterred, AKB48 had cleverly rallied a separate fan base of non-conventiongoers, and a large throng of overwhelmingly middle-aged men clutched email printouts rather than tickets in line.

With an opening act performed in thigh-high stockings and school uniforms, and a subsequent song involving various animal costumes, AKB48 left no doubt as to their target audience. While they did perform briefly in black leather outfits (stripping away the jackets to reveal bra-like tops underneath), for the most part their dress consisted of variations of girlhood staples. These were not limited to Japanese stereotypes – at one point the band donned the plaid skirts commonly associated with Catholic schoolgirls. Frank Zappa, no doubt, would have approved.

What is it that Americans find compelling about barely pubescent Japanese school girls? The most rabid fans were not the lovers of anime that had gone to the convention and wanted to see a live Japanese pop act; they were the aforementioned middle-aged men. In contrast to the mixture of ages and races at the convention, the fan group was almost uniformly white and appeared to be in their forties.  When it came to screaming the loudest, applauding the most wildly, waving their handkerchiefs and glow-sticks, or even shouting for an encore, these balding men were at the forefront of the action.

A great deal of analysis has been written on the concept of moe. It was at the AKB48 concert, however, that I discovered moe was hardly limited to 2D girls.  With their impassioned lip-synching, well-rehearsed dancing, and clumsy English introductions, AKB48 used moe to generate a ferocious audience response.

Moritheil’s liveblog of the New York Anime Festival, Day 3:

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