When it comes to embracing their inner geekiness, aficionados of Anime Expo are proud to tell you that pretty much nobody tops them.
More than 100,000 such fanatics of the distinctive Japanese animation style — most dressed as intergalactic ninja crime fighters, bug-eyed vampires, spiky-haired space cowboys, goth princesses and the like — will cram into the Los Angeles Convention Center beginning Friday.
What will follow will be four days of karaoke singing, dancing, movie watching, souvenir buying, autograph collecting and learning about the latest hot anime thing.
"We kind of call this our annual Family Geek Weekend — and we're proud to say that," laughed Melina Dargis as she, her husband, Marc, and their two teenage daughters prepared to travel to Los Angeles from their home in Minnesota for the event.
It's the family's sixth consecutive year at Anime Expo, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and this year Marc Dargis, a nurse at a Minneapolis hospital, will be trading in his medical scrubs for a flowing, white, spikey-haired wig and other accoutrements. He plans to transform himself into Jiraiya the Toad Sage (famous for his toad-like superpowers) from the colorful TV series "Naruto."
The couple's daughters will be Hirata and Sukara, ninja girls from the same show, which can be seen on Disney's XD cable channel.
They'll fit right in at a gathering where one of the biggest draws this year is a concert by pop star Hatsune Miku, a green-haired, saucer-eyed singer with more star power in the anime community than Lady Gaga, even though Gaga is real and Miku is not.
Miku is a hologram that performs on stage with a live band and possesses a computerized vocal range that is wider than Gaga's. Or any human's for that matter. This will be the U.S. debut for Miku, who sells out stadium concerts in her native Japan.
While the better known Comic-Con, which will take place in San Diego later this summer, has morphed over the years into a more mainstream gathering of pop-culture promoters, Anime Expo has grown by catering almost exclusively to a niche audience of nerdy fans of esoteric Japanese animation and comic books.
Almost all of them are proud to arrive dressed as their favorite characters and to act out those characters' personalities, something known in the anime world as cosplaying.
"I assume a lot of people think it's nerdy to dress up as an anime character, but it just comes down to having a lot of fun bringing that character to life," says Lulu Brinkley of St. Louis, who is also attending the convention.
She's bringing a different costume for each day, while her husband is coming as vampire hunter Zero Kiryu from the anime series "Vampire Knight." It will be his first time in costume.
"It just came down to a point where after I'd taken him to four or five conventions he finally said, 'You know what? I'm going to cosplay now just so I don't look like the only odd guy with just an anime T-shirt,'" she said.
Like many fans, Brinkley, 25, was introduced to anime and manga (comic-book art) as a child through books and television shows like "Sailor Moon" and "Dragonball Z" that had begun to be more widely distributed in the U.S. in the 1980s.
As the stories and their characters' popularity grew through trading cards and videogames, increasing numbers of fantasy lovers found themselves drawn to Japan's more colorful animation style and the wider range of characters that populated its films and books.
"If anybody says they don't like anime, they haven't found the right show. There's everything from cutesy weird stuff to super violent to thrillers to shows with very in-depth plots," said Kari Lane, 25, of Los Angeles, who is coming to the convention as Rin Tohsaka, the sword-wielding, raven-haired sorceress in the bright red tunic, black mini-dress and tights from the anime series "Fantasy/stay night."
Indeed, conventioneers have a choice of characters that ranges from risque fallen angels Panty and Stocking (from the series "Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt") to the more innocent, all-girl, intergalactic crime-fighting force led by Sailor Moon.
For men, there's Spike Spiegel, the flashy dressing Martian bounty hunter from "Cowboy Bebop."
Or some might prefer Rin Okumura, the angst-ridden, conflicted teenager from "Blue Exorcist." Although a son of Satan, Rin actually isn't such a bad guy. He's got great hair, too.