Unlike the typical USF student, whose weekend agenda is to explore the city and take on its many adventures, Steff Scholl, 20, has a different recipe for weekend excitement.
When Scholl, a senior English major, is not rigorously studying for her literature exam or writing original screenplays, she can be seen creating a garment masterpiece for an upcoming anime convention in Las Vegas, Sacramento, or even in Japan.
Instead of meandering through the city’s many bars or clubs, Scholl is most likely at a large gathering with thousands of other fans, wearing a detailed costume, which she spent several weeks sewing by hand.
Scholl is part of a mega subculture known as cosplay—a type of performance art where large groups of people dress in self-crafted, elaborate costumes (that are created from specific characters, usually from the Asian media. Cosplayers unite in conventions to reenact scenes or adopt the behavior of their chosen characters, whether to compete or simply to enjoy the fantastical environment.
Scholl, who is also known by her cosplay alias Anti Ai-Chan, has been an avid anime cosplayer since 2003. Scholl has attended over 10 “cons” in the past seven years, four of which she competed in and won.
“I have always been really into Halloween,” said Scholl. “Ever since I was really young, I always looked forward to it, plus my Mom was very into our costumes. It was huge in our family.”
Steff Scholl began developing her costume making technique with her mother when she was 14 years old, and together they partook in the cosplay mania, until 2006, when Scholl began to fly solo.
Although she is not of Asian descent, Scholl is frequently asked where the strong influence of Asian animation originated, and—like any person proud of their childhood would admit—it all started with cartoons.
“I was really into anime after watching shows like Sailor Moon in elementary school,” Scholl said. “At that time, though, I had no idea that there was a specific name for what I was watching, I was just really into the cartoons and the comic books.”
Today, Scholl could be considered a master of the anime subculture and is extremely adept in the intricate craftsmanship of making the ensembles, having made 41 costumes to date, and she is in the process of making four more.
Her expertise is evident and has been praised in many anime expos, but that was not always the case. Scholl jokes about those first few stabs at making costumes.
“Oh, wow, those were awful,” laughs Scholl, blushing and covering her face. “No one will ever get to see those.”
Scholl need not worry, however, for her critic-approved costumes are the ones that are strewn all over the Internet—under her alias, Anti Ai-Chan, of course.
In fact, Scholl is so highly esteemed by her fellow cosplayers that she now holds many positions as a judge in anime conventions.
“I judge on the obvious.” Scholl said. “Craftsmanship is really important, such as the materials used and if there are frays in the outfit. I also am a fan of props and the creativity of them, whether they are made from Styrofoam or wood.”
Scholl is planning to move to Japan after graduation to teach English to Japanese high school students as a part of the JET Program at USF.
“That means I won’t have enough time to create as many costumes as I would like,” said Scholl. “So really, I am doing as many as I can at the moment.”
Having had anime cosplay be such a large part in her life, Steff Scholl has realized that there are many common misconceptions of the subculture in today’s society.
Scholl is a huge advocate of the beauty of anime and dressing-up, and disapproves of the stereotypes that she has been categorized under, merely for participating in the subculture.
“There are so many misconceptions about people like myself,” Scholl said. “There is so much more to cosplay that just dressing up and wearing costumes. People shouldn’t judge you based on one of your hobbies. I am so much more than just anime.”
It may be seen as a hobby, what Steff “Anti Ai-Chan” Scholl does in her free time; however, when one truly sees the mastery in cosplay, the word ‘hobby’ does not come to mind. It is a true talent that not every person is capable of.
Steff Scholl spends weeks designing her ensembles, patterning them and sewing them. In the end, what is left is a professionally crafted piece of art, which she then reveals to thousands of admiring fellow cosplayers.
“Going to conventions and dressing up is the coolest part for me,” Steff Scholl said. “It’s a high when all of these people ask for your autograph and your picture. It really makes you feel like a movie star.”