The man behind the blue-haired girl

When Orlando's Yoshiki Tokushu was only a lad, a friend offered to give a demonstration in Eastern discipline. The friend made Tokushu stand very still as he swung a pair of numchucks -- two pieces of wood connected by a short chain -- closer and closer to Tokushu's face. "He told me that fear would cause me to move," Tokushu recalls, sitting on his mother-in-law's couch last week. "He said, 'Don't be a chicken. Trust fate and don't be scared. Don't fear fear itself.'"

Tokushu passed the test. He didn't flinch and went on to learn other fine points of martial arts, like how to release a bow quietly, between heartbeats, when shooting archery. For a self-described 80-pound weakling, these experiences were profound on several levels. "Martial arts taught me that mass and spirit were two different things," says Tokushu, now a 34-year-old man who still retains some of the shy geekiness of his youth. "Spirit can move mass."

Such observations have helped Tokushu as he enters another Eastern world, the art of anime. For four years Tokushu has drawn characters, mainly female, that have large eyes, large breasts, a futuristic look and an air-brushed sheen -- each of which is a quality of anime, the Japanese word for animation. He has made a 30-minute film, "Nullbinder," and a just-released comic strip on CD-ROM called "Yu-go-girl" that includes self-produced club music. "You have to know how far to push the realism, how far to stay in the cartoon zone," Tokushu says. "We find that it's right in the middle for us."

Tokushu will open this weekend's second annual Anime Festival Orlando with a electronica music show and a computer demonstration. He'll also have a booth Saturday and Sunday, signing posters and other merchandise for the 1,000 otaku (fans of anime) expected to attend. This year's festival has moved from a Kissimmee hotel to the Hilton Orlando-Altamonte Springs.

Some of anime's heavy hitters such as Viz Communications and Manga Entertainment won't attend the Orlando conference. But there will still be opportunities to learn more about anime from industry experts Steve Bennett, a well-known American animator, and Chynna Clugston-Major, who has illustrated for the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" comics.

While still under the radar of many Americans, anime has grown to a $500-million business in the U.S. The art dates to 1943 with the Japanese animated film, "Momotoro: God's Soldier," which has never been shown in this country. Several cartoons, including "Atom Boy" and "Speed Racer," introduced anime to U.S. audiences in the 1960s. But it wasn't until the full-length "Akira" achieved success in 1989 that anime became well-known in America. "Akira," a post-apocalyptic tale set in Neo-Tokyo, represents the sci-fi side of anime. The other side is best represented by the mild hysteria surrounding "Pokémon" -- a children's anime that has helped bring the art form up from the underground.

Even so, many Americans will never learn to appreciate the nonlinear, complex narratives or the low-budget look of anime films. Unlike Hollywood animation, which uses 24 cells per second, Japanese anime shoots only eight cells per second. The differing techniques mean that Japanese characters' movements are much jerkier. The sophistication in anime films involve the use of sound effects, camera movements and narration. But characters are rarely, if ever, capable of the subtle emotions that American characters, such as those in "Toy Story," can display.

That doesn't mean, however, that people can't relate to the characters. At the Orlando conference, as at others in Los Angeles and New York, otaku will dress in the attire of their favorite character. Otaku are known to spend months preparing costumes, down to the last detail. It's Halloween without the candy; it's Mardi Gras without the booze and nudity. "No breasts are exposed," says Nahid Avaregan, Tokushu's wife and business partner. "That's a big difference."

Adds Tokushu: "Adults dress up like women and 'Pokémon'" characters.

The role playing isn't limited to the otaku, however. Yoshiki Tokushu, which is Japanese for "unique Western style," is also playing a kind of character. His real name is Tony Chaplin. He hails from Jacksonville and remembers Japan only from his travels there as a little boy. Chaplin is best known in Orlando music circles as Fitzgerald Mystique, the producer of three underground techno, house and drum-&-bass records, dating to 1996. (The group later morphed into R.A.V.E.) Up to that point, Chaplin held odd jobs around Orlando; he was a telemarketer and worked construction on one of the additions to the Orlando Convention Center.

Chaplin was introduced to anime by Avaregan, who brought home a rented anime film, "Crying Freeman." The film mesmerized Chaplin and sparked his creative drive. "I was amazed by the realism," he says. "I had a revelation: This is where the true artists are."

Chaplin was impressed by the many talents anime requires: 3-D drawings, geometry, costume design, sound effects, music. Chaplin himself possessed some of those skills. He has been drawing since childhood and taught himself fashion design. Plus Chaplin had taken some computer classes and could play the keyboards and saxophone. He was a Renaissance man who had found his artistic medium.

Chaplin knew he would receive little backing from Japan since its anime industry is closed-mouth and close knit. "They don't let their secrets out easily," he says.

But Chaplin had a few tricks of his own. Instead of working as the Japanese anime artists do, tediously drawing scenes on cells (plastic film), Chaplin jerry-rigged computers together. He hand draws characters directly onto his computer system. Then Avaregan colors in the background. "I'm the fill queen," she says, smiling. Their process decreases the need for extra animators and expensive equipment.

His first foray into anime was the 30-minute film "Nullbinder," a movie Chaplin says he hopes nobody ever sees because of its inexpert artwork. It is the tale of two detectives investigating a disappearance that leads them to a government cover-up of an extraterrestrial being. Chaplin expects to rerelease "Nullbinder" as a manga, the Japanese word for comic strip.

After "Nullbinder," Chaplin decided he wanted to draw a prototypical Japanese anime character. The result was Kimiko, a blue-haired girl who became the icon of Chaplin's company, AnimeKomix. Chaplin has yet to include Kimiko in a story. But he's offered her on T-shirts and posters at anime festivals, enhancing the AnimeKomix name. She will be included in future "Yu-go-girl" comic strips.

Chaplin's latest project, the first in the "Yu-go-girl" digital comic series, was released last month. It begins the story of "a young genius outcast [who] gets recruited into the world of espionage and multidimensionality," according to Chaplin's website, Chaplin doesn't know where the story will go just yet. He says he's willing to take into account story lines from fans.

Expect more additions to the "Yu-go-girl" series as well as "Pet Passions," Avaregan's project in which a dog swaps brains with a computer. "They each realize the other side of things," Avaregan explains.

Thus far, Chaplin has been able to juggle his identities without arousing too much suspicion. An older Japanese anime fan called several months ago to tell Tokushu how much he liked his work. "I don't like American comics," Tokushu recalls the man saying. "Americans don't know how to talk to me."

Ah, but this American is Yoshiki Tokushu, who has learned to move people as much with his art as with his spirit.

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