Her costume included a Day-Glo pink wig with pigtails, white knee-high stockings, a red choker and a short pink-and-white dress that Little Bo Peep might have worn on a day she wanted to alarm her parents.
The man, who appeared to be in his mid-30s, pointed his digital camera at the make-believe Madoka, snapped a photo . . . and then stared.
“It can sometimes be very weird,” the teenager said of her convention encounters with overly interested older men. “But they really don’t mean any harm.”
This is a delicate time on the anime convention circuit, where a demographic shift has created an occasionally unseemly and sometimes dangerous dynamic.Spirited Away
Men have long been the foundation of the genre’s fan base, but they’ve been joined in increasing numbers by teen girls, whose embrace of the medium’s more fantastical side has helped launch anime to new levels of stateside popularity. Conventions that were once cult gatherings attended almost exclusively by VHS-trading college-age (and older) males are now overflowing with young females, many of them sporting various iterations of anime’s popular doe-eyed, scantily clad look.
The dark side of the new demographics has not gone unnoticed.
“The Con perverts,” read the title of a Web forum thread that catalogued alleged stalking of minors at anime conventions. “Ever happen to you?”
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Last month, a 34-year-old Silver Spring man admitted in federal court that he had sex with a 13-year-old girl he met in February 2010 at Katsucon, an anime convention at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor in Prince George’s County. Michael A. Alper, who had previously been convicted of raping a 13-year-old in Virginia, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to coercing and enticing a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity.
The news spurred Katsucon organizers to announce that they might begin checking their convention pre-registration list against sex-offender registries before their next event. Under the proposed policy, anybody listed on a published sex-offender registry would be denied entrance to Katsucon, which returns to National Harbor in February.
“We want to make sure we stay within the ethical and legal guidelines afforded to us in Maryland, but at the same time do everything in our power to protect our most vulnerable attendees,” Katsucon spokesman Chad Diederichs said.
Jennifer Piro, a member of the board of directors for Otakorp, the nonprofit group that produces Otakon, said that “no decision has been made” to introduce a similar policy at their convention.
Otakon, she said, has taken precautions to protect minors. All attendees younger than 12, for instance, must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times, and adult-themed programming is presented late at night, for those with 18-and-over wristbands. But, Piro said, Otakon “is not a babysitting service.”