As you get deeper into anime as a hobby, you will probably want to find like-minded people to share your interests with. Web forums and social media are a good start, but sometimes, nothing can replace the experience of physical contact and spirited conversation. So, for the next two chapters, we will be discussing venues for meeting other fans. This chapter will cover the most prominent gatherings for many anime fans: conventions.
What is an Anime Convention?
Anime conventions are events with a primary focus on anime, manga, and Japanese culture in general. These events can be either single-day or multi-day events, and are usually held in hotels, convention centers, or college campuses. Many are split up into multiple events, from guest Q&A sessions to workshops on cosplay or even a bit of video game action. Attendance to conventions can range from a few hundred attendees for smaller events, to over 44,000 for a giant-scale con, like Anime Expo.
Conventions in general have been portrayed in the media as geeks in costume, acting like geeks and discussing the minutiae of pop culture. Most will probably recall the old “Kirk vs. Picard” conversation that refers to sci-fi conventions. And, to be honest, there’s a good chance that you will see this. After all – geeks do gather, and many of us do enjoy a good, spirited debate.
I can recall one incident during Anime Boston where the exact situation occurred. A peaceful lunch from Flamers Grill was interrupted by a pair of cosplaying con-goers were loudly debating the meaning of the ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
In reality, though, the typical anime convention is more akin to a large party. People are chat and chatter, old friends chat in the hallway, and the occasional crowd chant ripples through the lines in larger events.
You Mentioned Events. What Types of Events Are There?
An anime convention is more than just a gathering. Most events have a full schedule of programming and events, which focus on a range of interests and topics. These can typically broken down into a few basic categories at their lowest levels: Programming, Panels, Guests, and Workshops, and Main Events.
Programming is typically used to describe the non-live events. Video games, broadcast anime episodes, and films, and live-action content typically fall under this umbrella term. Most of these are typically held in a small-ish, darkened room with a projector running.
Panels are split into three categories: Guest, Industry, and Fan Panels.
Industry Panels are panels held by members of the industry, like FUNimation, Section23 Films, and the like. These are the events in which companies show off their newest licenses, and build hype for the current features with trailers or promotion announcements. In addition, the industry members use this as an opportunity for feedback from the fans, in the form of questions or comments from the audience in a Q & A session at the end.
Guest Panels are events hosted by guests to the convention. This is typically a Q&A session with a prominent figure like a voice actor, a member of a show’s production staff, or a musical guest.
Fan Panels are the most common events at any convention. These are events run by fans, for fans. They have no real set format, and can range from lectures on a show, to open discussions of a particular theme or feature of a given genre, to anything in-between.
Workshops are how-to events on various aspects of anime fan culture, or Japanese culture in general. This could range from a Cosplay workshop, in which experienced cosplayers offer tips, demonstrations, and secrets to those looking to improve their technique, to a lesson on Japanese calligraphy. Some of these events have a small “cover charge” to take care of materials used. However, they all ensure that something new and potentially useful will be learned.
Main Events are the biggest spectacles of any convention. Opening & Closing Ceremonies, musical concerts, the Masquerade, and larger events like Game Shows fit into this category. For example, At Anime Boston 2010, the main musical event was a concert by the Video Games Orchestra. As a special surprise, Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu joined in on the last piece. The video for this segment can be seen below:
Aside from events, there are numerous other attractions for fans to enjoy. The most popular secondary attractions include the Artist’s Alley, the Dealer’s Room, Karaoke, and other high-profile, convention-specific events. For instance, Anime Boston hosts its annual formal ball, and Otakon has Otaku Idol.
The Dealer’s Room is a bazaar, of sorts. Anime fans. Dealers present their wares, which range from DVDs and T-shirts, to toys, to rare artbooks and production cels for fans to peruse and purchase. Deals are plentiful, and there are often opportunities to obtain items that you would be unable to normally purchase elsewhere.
The Artist’s Alley is a section of the convention in which artists display and sell their own creations. Be it a piece of art for your favorite character, or a custom commission, you can find it here.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
With so many events and people, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There’s a lot to see, and a lot to do. So, as you prepare and attend the event, consider the following advice:
Plan Ahead: Conventions often publish preliminary schedules a few weeks before the event. While changes to certain programming can be, and often are made, the base schedule does not change drastically between the schedule’s release and the event. Schedule changes can be found at the convention’s information booth every day, so be sure to alter plans accordingly. When planning, be sure to account for meal times, and other needs (including sleep!). Nothing is worse than missing your favorite event because you forgot to eat lunch!
Account for Lines: There’s a 90% chance that you will want to go to at least one of the larger events at the show. Unfortunately, these events fill up quickly. Unless you’re a VIP or a member of the press, you can’t exactly mosey into the door and expect a seat. Lines often begin forming at least an hour ahead, and extend several hundred people deep. Some events can have the line wrap around the entirety of the floor of the convention center! So, in your planning, be sure to account for the fact that you will have to get to certain events early, and plan to wait in line for certain ones. As a hint: Industry panels, concerts, and Guest of Honor panels often have the longest lines.
Keep a Budget: There’s a lot to see, and a lot to buy in the various storefronts of the Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley. It’s easy for a con-goer to get overwhelmed, and spend everything on day one. Keeping a budget ensures that you, dear reader, keep your finances in the black, but remain able to buy a few nifty things.
This may sound like a silly, common-sense warning. However, on two conventions, I’ve had con-goers beg me for money because they blew everything at the sellers’ booths. By everything, I mean everything: room money, food money, even bus fare. Take this as a cautionary tale.
Pack for the Event: Packing properly for the event can be save a lot of frustration and a lot of headaches. For example, keeping a backpack, a few bottles of water, and a few granola bars would save the need for frequent room trips, and trips to convenience stores for snacks, respectively. I like to consult a checklist when I start packing, and encourage others to do the same.
Get Some Sleep: During the event, there is a lot to take in. With panels that could run until 2AM and video rooms that can run later, there are many that decide to forego sleep to stay at the convention as long as possible. Unfortunately, this also leads to numerous cranky attendees by the middle of day two. It’s highly recommended that you get enough sleep – at least six hours per night, to keep from becoming a tired, angry mess.
For the Love of God, SHOWER: This should go without question, but remember to maintain proper hygiene. Far too many attendees already forego the daily rituals of showering and brushing teeth. And, unfortunately, this leads to a small, but still-too-large population of con-goers that smell like rotting whale carcass, and hurt the overall experience for everybody else.
Anime conventions can be fun events. If planned for properly, the events can be an excellent chance to make new friends, and make memories that will last a lifetime.