Ooples Anime, which bills itself as Houston's only store to focus solely on anime – Japanese cartoons – will have its grand opening this Saturday, from 9 a.m. to midnight, at its Greater Inwood location. And Houstonians are clearly more than ready to get their anime on: On the event's Facebook page, more than 1,000 people have said that they're “going” to the grand opening, while nearly 5,000 have indicated that they're “interested.”
“It's insane,” said Devin Groff, an Ooples employee. “And so we've just been pulling out all the stops. Turning it into a mini-convention.”
To accommodate everybody, Ooples Anime owner Franklin Moormann rented out a neighboring dance hall, where musical acts – including an anime cover band and a Japanese rock band – will play while anime voice actors sign autographs. In the parking lot, attendees can snack on treats from food trucks and listen to music blasted from itasha cars, or cars decorated with vinyl images of anime characters. Meanwhile, the Ooples store itself will be reserved just for shoppers.
“I went all out for this one,” Moormann said. “I don't do it expecting money back. I just do it because I like it and this is what I would like as a fan.”
Moormann has loved anime since he was a kid – he still remembers coming home from school, thrilled to watch the latest episode of the insanely popular series Dragon Ball Z. But don't expect to find that many actual cartoons on Ooples's shelves. The store focuses less on selling anime DVDs and manga, or Japanese comic books, than on merchandise associated with anime. That's because most people can already find free anime and manga online, Moormann said. He prefers to sell hard-to-find goods, often imported straight from Japan.
On a recent trip to the store – which technically has been open for two weeks but is still gradually adding merchandise to its shelves – shoppers could peruse through everything from Pikachu plush dolls to life-size body pillows depicting Sailor Moon characters. While trading cards and anime DVDs were available, they were dwarfed by Ooples's mountains of Japanese snack food. (And Ooples doesn't just sell merch from anime traditionally aimed at men. This reporter was delighted to find a T-shirt with images from Ouran High School Host Club, a romantic comedy series.)
Houston is now Moormann's third Ooples location, as he already has stores in San Antonio and Austin, with another soon to come in Fort Worth. He hopes to open an Ooples in every major city in Texas, since few cities have stores devoted to anime.
In 2010, Moormann was living in San Antonio and working as a Papa John's delivery man when he was robbed at gunpoint. “Having a gun to the back of your head kind of changes your life perspective on things,” he recalled. Having always wanted to run his own business, he realized he could turn his love of Japanese cartoons into his day job. Broke and living with his girlfriend at the time, Moormann scraped together just enough money to pay for the deposit and first month's rent on a storefront.
“We started off making our own T-shirts and hats and stuff. It was all homemade stuff. And then I ended up bringing up my whole collection of anime stuff to sell at the store, to have actual merchandise,” Moormann said. “But we were successful pretty much from day one.”
“Ooples,” by the way, is not a reference to a super-obscure anime. In fact, it's a typo. Originally, the word was just Moormann's online screen name. “It was supposed to be 'Oodles of Fun.' When I was a kid, I messed it up and put 'Ooples of Fun,'” Moormann admitted. “Honestly, when I was thinking of a name [for the store], I just couldn't think of anything else.”
If you miss this Saturday's opening, don't worry. Groff and Moormann said they have numerous events planned for the future. Avid gamer Groff will organize weekly video game tournaments, while Moormann hopes to hold events such as anime screenings and launch parties. Ooples will likely host at least one major event each month, Moormann said.
While Ooples will open at 9 a.m., the first event begins at noon. Cosplay is encouraged.