Japanese anime and manga — animation and comics — are drawing a lot of attention in the United States. And, more than ever before, it's not just from its traditional male audience.
The art forms, defined by complex story lines and saucer-eyed characters, are also being made and enjoyed by young exuberant women, along with enthusiasts of computer-generated graphics from both genders.
A record 41,000 visitors, dressed in colorfully wild costumes — from blue-haired heroines to red-eyed vampires — recently attended Anaheim's Anime Expo, the nation's largest trade show of anime and manga, just across the street from Disneyland.
Sprightly 22-year-old animation student Angelina Leanza paused during her exploration of the expo to explain what she feels is the reason for this massive appeal.
"A lot of anime is very beautiful, and the story lines are great. Most American animation is one episode, and it's usually for kids. Anime is usually a serial, for older audiences," said Leanza, a waif in pigtails and fuzzy cat ears, who traveled with fellow students from Collins College in Arizona.
From Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning fantasy flick "Spirited Away" to the violent voyeurism of "Ghost in the Shell," kiddie fare such as "Pokemon," TV shows on cable's Adult Swim and video game offshoots such as "Final Fantasy," anime has spread its tentacles across American culture.
Women, surging ahead in the video-gaming industry, have embraced anime and manga in a similar way.
"It was more men before. Nobody knew what anime was. It was a small group of dedicated fans mostly in high school," said Tony Oliver, the voice of hero Rick Hunter from the famed anime television series "Robotech," which ran in the U.S. from 1985 until 1988.
Adapted from the Japanese series "Macross," "Robotech" detailed the intricacies of relationships set against a backdrop of Space-Age conflict and alien invasion. The show influenced scores of anime fans.
Oliver said the reason for the increasingly larger female base is the inclusion of more complicated, emotional plots.
Diversity, said robotech.com webmaster Steve Yun, also plays a big role.
"Back in the day, anime was all science fiction," he said. "Now it's everything: war, horror, romance."
That element of multifaceted fantasy pervaded the expo's high quotient of female visitors.
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