Japanese fantasy world fever grips young Cubans

By Sarah Marsh HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba may be one of the world's least connected countries but that is not stopping the Japanese subculture of animated movies, manga comics and video games from spreading feverishly among its youth. More than a thousand "Otakus," or fans of such fantasy worlds, descended on Havana this week for the country's third Otaku festival, defying the sweltering heat to sport the costumes of their favorite characters. Some performed scenes from animation movies on stage, while others belted out songs in Japanese with Spanish subtitles projected in the background. Still others did role playing dance choreographies. A prize was awarded for best cosplay, or role playing in costume, and for best manga drawing. "Every day, the Otaku community is growing in this country," said festival participant Juliette Fernandez, who was dressed up as the digital pop princess Hatsune Miku with turquoise pigtails down to her thighs. The 17-year old, who is learning Japanese and dreams of creating comics, said she started getting seriously into the subculture a year ago. "We started making the costumes, finding the wigs, designing choreographies and even trying to imitate the characters' voices," said Fernandez, whose Otaku group will perform a concert in September. Some Cubans said the role playing offered them an escape and the science fiction heroes encouraged them to overcome their own difficulties. "The anime heroes are people we can identify with, who have problems but manage to overcome them," said Yoel Pagola, 24. Otakus face challenges pursuing their hobby in Cuba. Internet access in the Communist-ruled island is restricted, meaning fans can not easily look up series and mangas on the web. "It's really thanks to 'El Paquete' that we're able to watch anime here," said participant Jose Cruz, 20, referring to packages of media on USB sticks that can be purchased across Cuba each week. Cruz, dressed up as anime pirate Trafalgar Law, said he took a 12-hour bus from the eastern city of Holguin to attend the festival. Accessories are not on sale in Cuba so Otakus make their own costumes, saving up for the materials. "It took me four months to make this costume in my spare time," said Fernando Gonzales, 20, sweating heavily under his full fake suit of armor. "Between the cardboard, the paint and the glue, it cost a fair bit, so I'm hoping to win the cosplay." (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Chris Reese)