Anime fans are their own universe.
Prior to this weekend, I had never entered the world of Anime fandom. And honestly, I’ve probably rolled my eyes a few times in my life at fans of Anime and role-playing. Sometimes I’m not as nice a person as I should be, and in truth I judge more often than I should.
But in truth – who am I, really, to judge?
Let me start at the beginning.
What the F is Anime, you ask?
Anime: Japanese Animation. It is also largely consolidated with Manga, which is Japanese comics and print cartoons. Some popular examples of anime are Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Dragonball, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Cowboy BeBop.
Honestly, I’m relatively new in my new nerdiness, though I’ve long been a nerd in other respects. (Dont get me and Bob started on musicals. Just don’t. We might as well speak Portugese.) I’ve only recently begun reading graphic novels with any real interest, and have found myself with a new developing appreciation for Superheroes. But I know nothing about Anime.
While my husband has an appreciation for Japanese culture, and enjoys some various aspects/pieces of Anime (Pokemon, Gundam) he is not by any means what I’d call a fan of Anime.
All that aside, Eric and I headed out to the Hyatt/Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont yesterday to spend a day at the three-day Anime Central Convention. Anime Central is the Midwest Anime and Manga convention. It’s affectionately known as “ACen,” and has been happening in the area for the last twelve years.
It wasn’t Eric nor my first time at a big convention like this, so we came prepared with comfortable shoes, clothes that could be layered, water, etc. A quick rule of thumb if you ever plan to attend a big convention: Just realize that you’re probably going to spend 8+ hours in a room with thousands of people. It might be freezing in there, It might be roasting, you’re going to do a ton of walking, and if there’s food available it’s probably going to be much like a trip to Six Flags. (You want a bottle of water? Five dollars, please.)
So, on Saturday we took the blue line to Rosemont, and immediately upon exiting the CTA station knew we’d arrived in the right place. How did we know? By the Cosplayers walking down the street.
Cosplay: (From Wikipedia) short for “costume play”, is type of performance art in which participants don costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea. Characters are often drawn from popular fiction in Japan. Favorite sources include manga, anime, tokusatsu, comic books, graphic novels, video games, hentai and fantasy movies…Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture centered around role play.
Yes, there were people in Costumes. Tons of them, actually. Being a Cosplay novice, I didn’t know what most of the costumes were, but I could occasionally point out a Pokemon character, Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass (Woot!), a Doctor Who, and a great deal of Lollies.
Let’s talk about Lollies, shall we? As they were probably the most interesting thing about the entire day for me.
“Lolly” is short for Lolita, and in anime it is most definitely a thing.
I had only vaguely heard of this prior to this weekend.
Lolita Fashion: (thanks, wikipedia!) a fashion subculture originating in Japan that is primarily influenced by VictorianRococo period. Lolita has made this into a unique fashion by adding gothic and original design elements to the look. From this, Lolita fashion has evolved into several different sub styles and has created a devoted subculture in Japan.
Devoted subculture, indeed. There was an abundance of girls wearing lovely frilly dresses and carrying beautiful dolls. Many of them had colored wigs. The overall effect was one of hyper-youth and femininity, almost as if they wanted to be little, exquisitely-dressed, girls forever. The overall effect was rather fantastic, I thought.
But I digress…
After about an hour of waiting in the registration line, which wasn’t as terrible as it sounds largely thanks to Jack. We met Jack while standing in line, and chatted with him as the rope lines wound us back and forth to the front of the line.
(Jack. Who, when someone asked him about his costume, replied “I’m just cute.”)
Finallly, we got our badges/lanyards and headed into the show.
And I quickly realized how much I didn’t know.
(Apparently this is quite a few characters from Bioshock.)
Back in April, Eric and I attended the C2E2 convention at McCormick Place, and I actually felt like I fit in. The majority of featured things there were comic book and video games, and I feel like I held my own. I mean, I’m no expert or superfan, but I know some things about superheroes, grew up on Mario Bros., and enjoy both Doctor Who and the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so I could hang at that show.
Very little of that applied at ACen.
I was in over my head. You know you’re in over your head when you exclaim over a Pikachu.
However, I was relieved to see some familiar Nintendo faces wandering around.
Another indication that I didn’t know WTF was going on were the tons of panels taking place. We attended part of a panel on “Special Moves,” and got to watch anime fans acting out their favorite special moves from their favorite series. Some of them take this very seriously. Like this gentleman in the photo below.
One of the events we were most looking forward to was the Khaotic Kouture fashion show, and honestly everything about the show except the fashion was a bit of a train wreck. All these nerds (including us) were sitting happily waiting for the show to begin, and at about 30 minutes before the show is to begin pushy ACen volunteers begin circulating telling everyone to stand up and basically smoosh together to accomodate more people in the rope lines for the show. So, for a half-hour we wind up standing claustrophobically close to people, and then the show doesn’t even begin on time. It was past the starting time when they even let us in the doors.
(Also – Though the fashion on display was really interesting, the narrator/host of the fashion show was dreadful. She fumbled with her cards (which she’d obviously never looked at before) and wasn’t even looking at the models. Eric says she was the host of the fashion show the year before and did exactly the same thing. I have to wonder who she is (she never mentioned it and none of the paperwork mentions her) and how she was this terrible two years in a row yet gets to narrate the big fashion show on the main programming stage. Seriously.)
However, like I said – the fashion was really interesting.
(This girl was my favorite Lolly that we saw. And there were a lot to choose from. I saw her several times throughout the day, looking adorable, and she owned it. Straight up.)
A huge part of any convention are the booths. Vendors and companies haul their stuff to the show to peddle their wares, as when are you (as a bookseller who focuses on anime and graphic novels) going to have a more perfect example of your target market. I was on a semi-hunt for Vinyl toys I recognized, but didn’t find a single one.
My shopping highlight: At a booth that had a trillion T-shirts, I bought a “Lucky Bag,” which is nothing more than a grab bag. These things don’t always turn out well, but fortunately my bag was awesome. I’d spent all day pointing at this T-shirt that said “Don’t make me go Zelda on you,” and lo and behold, one was in the bag! In addition, I now own a stuffed Kirby, and managed to get Eric some little Gundam figures. We considered that a win.
Around 6pm, Eric and I sat down by the perimeter of the show and just knew – We’d done it all. The events and panels continued well into the night, and the thing everyone was abuzz about was the Masquerade, which is apparently like Prom for Anime fans.
So — after all this, what did I learn?
First, Only at an Anime convention can you sit at the beautifully pristine O’H Grill in the Hyatt hotel eating lunch, and look to your left to find a man in a cape with a fake bat on his shoulder. (Awkard yes, but as we got our bill we noticed that – just for wearing our ACen badges, we got an “Animation” discount.)
Second, People who dress as the girl from Avatar are showing committment. More committment than I’ll probably ever possess. Full-body blue paint and a strapless bra for eight hours? Count me out.
The most important thing I learned, however, is everybody has their something.
The joy of these people is intense, because for one weekend they are the majority instead of a minority.
Jack (our friend from the registration line) mentioned that the previous year he’d seen a douchey jock yell an insult at a group of Cosplayers on their way home from the convention, and the subsequent fight had been won by the Cosplayers. In the “real world,” in a battle between one douchey jock and one nerdy anime fan, the battle isn’t ever going to be even and is rarely going to be won by the nerd.
There’s a power and a safety in numbers, and I couldn’t help watching the excitement of the folks attending this convention and thinking about my own Broadway/Musical Theatre fandom.
And I realized, I understood them.
I know what it’s like to have most of the world know nothing about something you care so deeply about, and the freedom that comes with finding kindred spirits who, if nothing else, get your references. That’s why Bob and I are such good friends. I can make that obscure Anything Goes joke (the one about the “pants of Russia”) with him, and he gets it.
I ended the day pretty much spent from over-stimulation, but.. appreciating all of it. I mean, I get it – even if I don’t get it. You know?
So, in conclusion, the next time I see a Cosplayer or overhead an intense conversation about Manga, I won’t judge. Nor will I bat an eye.
Because everybody’s got their something.
(Thanks, Eric, for all the photos in this post.)
One last note: As we were leaving the show, we realized that not only was ACen happening at the Hyatt, along with some sort of international gem show, but there was also a prom happening.
I can only imagine being seventeen and at prom, dressed for the biggest night of my young life, and stepping out of the limo to come face-to-face with a dude dressed as Naruto.
It made me chuckle.
The geeks will inherit the world, you know.