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Originally published April 7, 2012 at 7:12 PM | Page modified April 7, 2012 at 7:35 PM

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At Sakura-Con, come as you aren't for fun and attention

At Sakura-Con, a huge convention for Japanese animation enthusiasts held in downtown Seattle this weekend, you might say that "cool" is measured in clicks of a camera.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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At Sakura-Con, a huge convention for Japanese animation enthusiasts held in downtown Seattle this weekend, you might say that "cool" is measured in clicks of a camera.

"Mind if I take your picture?" It's a way for one fan of the genre, known as anime, to say to another, "Hey, cool costume."

Indeed, while the exhibit hall is massive, the video-game lounge popular, and the Japanese cultural displays well-rounded, one look around reveals that the real fun is dressing up like your favorite anime character. Fans call it "cosplay."

"Depending on how good your costume is, you can really stop traffic," said Elmira Utz, publicity director for the event.

In its 15 years, Sakura-Con has grown from a 300-person niche event in Tukwila to an all-encompassing conference drawing an estimated 20,000 fans to the Washington State Convention Center.

On Saturday afternoon, there was armor and gauntlets and giant cardboard swords; there was cutesy princess attire and full-body Spandex and Pokemon underpants; and hair in neon orange and electric blue. There were boys dressed as girls and girls dressed as robots and weary-looking parents wondering, "Is it over yet?"

Katie Beeman, 23, looked a little worn out herself, what with a massive costume that took her nearly six months to make. "I'm Ashlotte from Soulcaliber 4," she said. Being Ashlotte — apparently — required that she weld a cage-like skirt, line it with sheet metal and fabric, then create shoulder armor, gauntlets and a headpiece. It weighed 20 pounds, at least.

"I saw it as a personal challenge," she explained of the project, before being interrupted.

"Mind if I take your picture?" A resounding success.

By midafternoon, Kaiulani Alegre, 17, figured she'd been asked 30 times. She was beaming, dressed as a video-game character called Link. But she wouldn't dare breathe a word of this back at her high school, in Portland.

"Most people would think this kind of thing is weird," she said, "but nerdery is awesome!" She surveyed the scene around her. "And these people are awesome!"

Katarina Pearson, a 17-year-old senior from Gig Harbor, said everyone was so friendly, it feels like "you're talking to family." As GLaDOS from the video game Portal, she wore white, with four eyeball-looking things stuck to the top of her head — "personality cores," she explained.

The uninitiated can't help but ask: Why?

"Well, I have pretty low self-esteem," she said. "Coming here and pretending to be somebody else and having people say, oh you look so pretty, it gives you a little confidence boost. And its just fun to be somebody else for a while."

With that, she had to turn away.

"Mind if I take your picture?"

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

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