A week from now from I leave for L.A. & the mother of all Anime convetions -- Anime Expo.
This will be my third anime convention ever. The first was ACEN (Anime Central) a large-ish regional convention held in Chicago each May (attendance last year 12,000), and the second AnimeIowa (attendance last year 2,300), a much smaller regional con held in, you guessed it, Iowa!
According Anime Expo's own calculations, 41,000 people attended last year's con. Even if that number is really, really inflated that is a helluva lot of people in once place, attending one single event. This year's schedule alone is enough to give me a panic attack -- so, why am I doing this again?
This post is too remind myself why I do it and maybe even why I shouldn't.
Actually, by going to the con I'm conducting dissertation research on manga and anime fandom in the U.S. This is technically my "research year" (from Nov of 07 - Nov 08, although I'll probably extend my research into Spring of 09) so I figured if I was ever going to go to one of these ginormous cons this was going to be the year.
I could have gone to the San Diego comic-con, particularly since there is a LOT of manga coverage going on there these days (in fact as far as I can tell, Viz isn't even going to be at AnimeExpo, and is instead focusing its resources on SDCC). Both are absolutely major cons but in the end I went for AnimeExpo, figuring that whole darn thing would be my oyster, research-wise.
While I dread going -- travel and crowds suck big time in my book -- I can't help but be a little bit excited about it as well. Do people actually enjoy these things? Like *all* the time? Or even the majority of time they are there? Maybe I'm just a big ole' cranky homebody when it comes down to it.
Number one, cons are exhausting. First, they are physically very demanding, as one is running around all day, trying to figure out where panels actually are held, attempting to not starve to death and, struggling to navigate thousands of other people, who are scurrying about just as you are. Second, they are also intellectually draining, since as a researcher I'm constantly trying to figure out how to best document the event itself. Third, the fan in me just wants to play but the "academic" is supposed to be in charge at these things. Meaning, I have to responsible and pick the panels that linked to my actual research instead of hearing some publisher talk licenses.
There's also the fact that I never really feel like I "fit" in at these things -- I haven't embraced my inner-otaku and you will never, ever see me in some kind of costume (first of all, I'm at least a decade too old for that kind of thing but even if I weren't I never would have had the chutzpah to dress up like a fictional character anyway). Sidestory: At ACEN 07, the convention site was split between the anime folk (dressed up all manner of crazy dress -- one girl was wearing a CLOUD and, frankly, not much else) and optometrists. Who really seemed to think they had fallen down the rabbit hole and had NO IDEA what to make of these really strange-looking beings known as anime fans. And for the record, these optometrists were incredibly strait-laced (such a shock, I'm sure) and, seriously, really seemed like the biggest joy-kills imaginable. Having the fantastical and the mundane sharing the same space was really bizarre and was probably the funniest thing I saw the entire time I was there, but those professional folks clearly did not appreciate the situation.
Finally, I don't really seem to get the point of going hundreds or thousands of miles to sit in a dark room and watch anime with other people.....in silence. I get the panel aspect of it -- at least there folks are communicating and sharing their experience of fandom with each other. (Although I really despise panels about really specific aspects of fans' obsessions, as I can not stand to hear people go on and on about minutiae related to one property, franchise, character, pairing. and so on. There's a certain kind of otaku-ness that makes me a die a little inside).
So. Um. What the heck do I do at these things?
I try to go to panels that consider the role of not just anime and manga in our culture, but the role of anime and manga *fans* in our culture as well. The best panels I've been to have historically been run by grown-ups for grown-ups. For examples, panels run by librarians are usually really fantastic, since these are folks who *get* manga and how kids relate to it. I've even had a good time at panels run by parents for parents, talking about what it is like for them to watch their children have this, often, distancing imaginative life via their reception of anime & manga.
Oh before, I forget, don't ever go to a fansub discussion held by Greg Ayres (when I went to the panel I didn't even know that a voice actor was running it, but, dear god, that is one piece of information that would have actually been helpful). What I thought was going to be a serious discussion about fan practices ended up being a lecture about how fans shouldn't download and the ways they are killing the industry. Which is a perfectly reasonable position to take but there is a reason they call them "panels" and not jeremiads. Now having been to the panel I can never ever listen to this guy's work in dubbing, which is a shame because I believe he plays the main character in BECK. Blerg.
One thing I do like to do (too much probably) is shop. I usually don't spend a lot at these things but I always try to buy books from small publishers who attend (like Erica Friedman's ALC Publishing at ACEN) since I try to support these niche titles as much as possible. I'll try to do that AnimeExpo as well (although I don't know how many "small publishers" will actually be there). While I've never bought anime at cons Katherine Dacey's coverage of Further Adventures in Voice Acting at Manga Recon really makes me want to pick that up that DVD set if at all possible.
Another thing I'd like to try to do is going to one of the big "events" at this convention. Like the big AMV show or something, since I've really been exposed to that aspect of anime conventions (I find it incredibly difficult to manage my schedule at these things -- I'm hoping having some pervious experience will help me navigate my way through Anime Expo. Also, I'm planning to attend all four days, which should allow me to pace myself. One hopes. I've been known to send 40 minutes looking for a room only to discover it wasn't the room I wanted anyway at one of these things).
But more importantly, will I see any of you there? What will you be doing and why? What should *I* be doing and why? What should we do together?! For veterans, how crazy does this thing actually get? Advice and/or pitying looks would be gratefully accepted!