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"I think it's a safe way to work out their sexuality in a safe, funny way," she says.
The contingent of high school kids and parents from The Woodlands took up half a floor at a hotel. Cassie had a lot of fun, but she didn't get a chance to take part in the cosplay competition because it was too crowded. Cosplay involves her two favorite things: acting and anime. She's got three -- no wait, four -- costumes, which she sewed herself. She and her friends are in the drama club at school, and it shows. They are loud and clamor to outdo each other as the center of attention.
On the ride back from A-kon, the girls decided they should do their own convention, and started Chibicon, chibi meaning "small" in Japanese. At the end of June, they rented a room at the Woodlands Community Center and strung strands of Christmas lights to mark the stage area. They brought a karaoke machine and microphones. All in all, about 20 people came.
Some 11-year-old girls brought their drawings and hung them up on a screen with other fan art. They signed up for the first cosplay of the evening, acting out a scene from Utena. Another group of friends came in costume. Candice Boyles, 15, dressed as the demon Xelloss from Slayers, complete with a cape and papier-mâché staff. Her friend Matt Covell dressed as Vash from the futuristic space-travel epic Trigun. Matt got his costume from eBay, after winning an auction to have the Vash outfit tailor-made.
"He's a tough guy, but really just a nice man inside," Matt explains. He identifies with that.
Throughout the evening, Cassie emceed, babbling on in what her mother calls "The Cassie Show." Candice, Matt and another friend acted out a funny skit involving characters from different shows. Katy Ferrier delivered a crowd-hushing a cappella from Macross Plus. Matt Reynolds, 20, did some stand-up comedy about Dragon Ball Z. He wants to start a real convention like A-kon in Houston.
Varela made one appearance in a skit about the absurd confusion that was A-kon, but for the most part she kept to the kitchen area, selling chips and soda with her friend Tara Stewart, whom she dragged from work.
"If it keeps them from doing drugs, I'm happy," she says. Just as long as Cassie stops speaking to her in Japanese, which drives her nuts.
"She had a hard time fitting in, and here she found a group of kids that are a little odd and offbeat, and I think she just fit in and grasped it. This was really good for her," she says.
"I think a lot of these kids, you meet them and they are more the awkward kids. They're not the cheerleaders, the mainstream type, but they're not brainiacs. They're kind of something in between, and I think that's why they bond together, and anime is what bonds them together."
Varela doesn't know if Cassie will outgrow anime, like she did the Spice Girls. Actually, she wouldn't mind if Cassie remained a fan. As long as she watches anime and cosplays instead of smoking and doing drugs, that's fine by her. Varela even calls herself the animemom.
Andy Kent knows, though, that once you're a fan, you're always a fan.
"It's generally not a fad type thing," he says. "I don't know many people who get out of anime, you know what I mean? There are people who are not as rabid as they were when they first started watching. But it's kind of like saying, 'Did you stop watching TV?' I'm sure it's happened, but I don't know anyone who has."