This past Sunday I ventured into Little Tokyo to take part in the Tomo Neko Maid Cafe event benefiting The Trevor Project which provides suicide prevention and crisis intervention services to teenagers for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. This is Tomo Neko Production’s third year partnering with a different charitable organization to help raise awareness through a leisurely atmosphere filled with Cosplay, video games, entertainment, and Japanese food held at the Japanese American National Museum for the first time. This isn’t your grandma’s type of charity function.
It was refreshing to see an organization like The Trevor Project team up with Tomo Neko and showcase the diversity of anime and cosplay fans. My friends and I have always loved the array of characters and unique stories represented in many of the anime and manga series we love. Whether gay, straight, short, tall, shy, or a force to be reckoned with anime has always been a platform that showcases all the different aspects of the human condition. Whether it’s a girl who thinks no one notices her and talks only to her cat, or a boy who never fits in but strives to make friends even with his worst enemy, anime has taught us all, at some point, what it means to be different and accept ourselves for who we are on the inside, and outside.
To see a line around the corner of the JANM for this sold-out event with people of all ages and diverse backgrounds was surprising given the small niche audience that I presumed an event like this would appeal to. Not only was I amazed at the beautiful venue in downtown Los Angeles, I also geeked out over their special guests Kyle Hebert, Dino Andrade, and a special performance by Stephanie Yanez. A moment that made my geeky heart skip a beat was her rendition of the “Sailor Moon” theme song…in Japanese. It made my jaw drop, and I think I almost fainted with Otaku happiness. My friend who attended the event, but sat at a different table, made eye contact with me from across the room while we giggled with joy to hear one of our childhood favorites sung just for us…and everyone in the room.
The most memorable moment of the afternoon was the heart-wrenching speech given by Dino Andrade. He discussed being a “suicide survivor,” which is when a person loses someone they know to suicide. Many attendees know Mr. Andrade from the many conventions they’ve all attended over the years, but none of us knew that not too long ago his first wife lost her struggle with depression and took her own life. It was a poignant and touching moment to have someone be open and honest about mental health awareness, how our society still struggles with the stigma surrounding mental health, and his bravery in sharing this very personal story with everyone. Mr. Andrade is now remarried to his old high school sweetheart and has a three-year-old son because he “chose to embrace [his] life and continued to live it.” Which is why an organization like The Trevor Project means so much, not only for teenagers, but for all people who suffer in silence and feel there isn’t a place for them share their struggles or have access to the services they need, with or without medical coverage.
After a brief intermission the festivities continued with raffles, a silent auction, photos and autograph opportunities with all the special guests in attendance, additional performances by the Tomo Neko staff, the Darling Army Fashion Show, as well as a dazzling Geta Dance performance by Miyuki Matsunaga. Despite some of the obvious growing pains during the event surrounding the food services (some people never got the food they ordered, and the kitchen seemed to be understaffed) everyone kept their spirits up by reminding ourselves it was all for a good cause. Tomo Neko Productions has grown a lot in just three years, and they continue to do great work. However, it’s obvious they have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to continue to bring geeks of all shapes and sizes together for other charitable events in the future. Let’s be honest, hosting an event of this size and scope is stressful, and I should know I use to do it for a living! There are always going to be bumps in the road, but the Tomo Neko staff handled it with grace, a smile on their face, and their chins held high. It was a fun-filled Otaku event, and I hope to be able to attend their next adventure in 2014 and see what new organization they partner with. Cheers! ;)