A place to be yourself – or not

Anime Prom at Brookdale Library May 2018

Hennepin County Library – Brookdale was closed on Saturday night. But as it turned out, the library was the place to be.

More than 80 teens and tweens attended the 10th annual Anime Prom at Brookdale Library. The teen-planned event is a celebration of Japanese animation, comics, fandoms, and all things geeky cool. Most of the attendees came in cosplay – costumes, for the uninitiated – imitating their favorite characters. Library staff chaperones also dressed up for the event.

“It’s so much fun,” said Samara Kusztyb, who has attended more of these events than she can count. “You meet so many people. You can be yourself – or you can be someone else because that’s what cosplay is.”

A library like no other

As a vacuum cleaner buzzed behind the library’s closed gates, a disco ball lit up a pounding karaoke lounge nearby. Partygoers with cat ears, tails, capes, ball gowns and a spectrum of hair colors milled in the lantern-hung lobby where a handful of boys also played a spirited round of Nintendo Arms.

But the real action was in the main conference room, where several teams of three or four used apps on their phones to participate in a real-time trivia smackdown on games, books and TV shows like Dragonball Z, Undertale, Death Note, Yuri!!! On Ice and Bleach, as well as more mainstream American geekery as Stranger Things and Doctor Who.

The library’s core work, in disguise

It all sounds like fun and games, said Morgan Wylie, a youth services librarian at Brookdale Library. It is both, but programs like Anime Prom also represent the serious work of the library to bring communities together, to develop youth leadership and to take library services to where patrons are, physically and in terms of their interests.

A teen who comes for the fun of the cosplay might come back to the library for comics or videos, and then might just come back for interview coaching or homework help. The teens who help with planning the prom build 21st century skills such as leadership, collaborative decision-making, and project management. Some of the teens’ suggestions get a regretful no, such as the inflatable sumo suits and wrestling ring. Others now are part of the event, such as all-gender restrooms.

A chance to showcase creativity

The highlight of the night was the cosplay fashion show. Teens marched and sashayed down a red carpet. Some walked straight, with their arms self-consciously at their sides. Others danced, twirled and added a bow or a dab in front of the judges’ table.

Best of Show winners Elliot Gunderman and Angelique Urbanski dressed as Miss Kobayashi and Tohru, from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Why? “It’s one of the animes we watched together,” Gunderman said. “It was the first one we finished together.”

Teens said they were there to meet new people and to see their friends, including some whom they knew mainly through events such as this one. It was easy to talk, they said, when they already knew that they had a lot of interests in common.

Eva Gunderman was a member of the Anime Prom teen planning committee. She said she hoped that teens would come and feel comfortable.

“We’re just there to hang out and be nerds,” she said.

Wylie continued the thought. “… in an environment designed to maximize nerdiness,” she said, laughing.