The wonder and joy that is an anime convention is not a concept immediately grasped by the general masses. The surface-layers of the subculturally significant event may appear laughable, ludicrous and even a little pitiable to the outsider. However, the monumental force that the anime convention has come to embody is as valid and as vested with importance as any movement so set in motion.
People in colorful and outlandish costumes, children and adults alike carried away with giddy energy – these are things that the disconnected observer may notice and find silly, but they are nothing if not corollaries of the anime subculture, beloved satellites indivisible from the bigger subculture.
To those who choose to include themselves in the often-annual festivities of anime conventions, these aspects are not just disparate strangenesses. To attendees, the costumes and the elated congregation are comforts in what is, for many, the sole source of haven. Outcast, overworked, downtrodden, bored with the day in, day out – no matter what forms life may take, the anime convention, as a subcultural staple, is a neutral zone. None of the outside stress need be brought in; none of life’s undesirable concerns need be remembered while there. Within the temporal and local confines of the convention, attendees are given the chance to access another world entirely.
Lovers of anime, manga (comics), video games, or simply Japanese culture all find places in the anime convention. At its best, the anime convention offers total immersion for its run, a few days when fantasy is reality and adored fictitious characters are given leave to walk the earth, not unlike the living dead or fabled pagan spirits through adorned familial shrines.
The costumes are an element that many con-goers plan and prepare months to years ahead of time. It’s the biggest symbol of the release and fantasy that anime conventions promise to bring with their yearly manifestations, and as such it is no wonder the lengths to which many cosplayers will go. Cosplay, as it is called, is the embodying of beloved characters from anime, video games, movies, and manga by way of costuming. For some, making the outfit is enough while others take the whole of that character on themselves, doing everything from styling wigs and constructing props to exercising to fit a certain physique, tanning and wearing contacts. Cosplay is an enormous part of the anime convention. Everyone either shows up to see or be seen, to appreciate and to be appreciated. This all stems from the core of the anime convention, the feeling that draws people in and keeps them returning year after year: the heart.
The con is central to the subculture because of the sanctuary it provides, and sanctuary is nothing without comfort or family. That is where the anime convention transcends a simple gathering; to those who love the whole subculture and keep attending, the convention becomes a sort of surrogate family. Friends who don’t see much of each other during the year (but keep in touch with via forums or the like) reunite, and newcomers are welcomed with open arms. The entire event emanates love and warm welcome. On the surface it may just look like people hanging out and watching anime in odd costumes, but it really is a different world. It is a convergence of people without borders or boundaries, the common interests that gather them outshining their varying differences. It is communion in its purest form. The fruits of Japanese culture are just its conduits.
Cosplay, anime, anticipation, joy, love, and excitement – all commingling elements in the whole convention experience. However it may look on the surface, anime conventions run much deeper than elaborate costumes and cute Japanese phrases. The anime-loving, costume-wearing, “kawaii”-screeching fandom – the Otaku – at the core of it all is a familial warmth that nothing else in the world can seem to rival.
If looking to get plugged in to a local anime convention, AnimeCons.com is a great starting place. For Oregon readers, the Northwest is host to several well-established anime conventions as well as several more up-and-coming ones. Sakura-Con and Kumoricon are the Northwest’s two largest, and when considering the younger conventions, there is always going to be something to either attend or look forward to.