When I think about attending an event that begins with C-O-N, the letters to follow are usually F-E-R-E-N-C-E. But my twelve-year-old old, Jianna, speaks, lives, and breathes anime and manga, so this past weekend we attended a C-O-N-V-E-N-T-I-O-N, namely, Anime Central (ACEN).
A friend who has been attending the Con for twenty years was concerned that I might experience culture shock, but I usually attend creative writing conferences, so participating in an event with anime and other pop culture characters and furries really wasn’t that much of a stretch! However, I will admit that the vendor exhibit hall caused a bit of sensory overload for me at first. Fortunately, a gaming vendor was handing out free bubble wrap to pop for stress relief and free chocolate, so with that winning combination, I was soon good!
One perspective on this form of entertainment would have to be as symbolic of American privilege and consumerism, with member attendance numbers alone likely above 30,000 and participants as regular patrons of TV and film products leading to the Con as well as fortunate enough to be able to afford registration and often hotel, food, elaborate costumes, and product purchases. However, it is certainly not unique. I recently looked up Bruno Mars concert tickets and saw that the cheapest seats were $167.00.
That stated, I was amazed by the creativity of many costumes that were crafted by the wearers. Some outfits included crocheted beards and other elements, and both a panel on choosing sewing machines and discussion of “fine stitches” by a costume judge allowed me to see such efforts as a resurgence in art forms with modern-day applications – art forms that may otherwise have died with our grandmothers’ and mothers’ generations. Craftsmanship of accessories or, in one instance, the entire Howl’s Moving Castle (pictured, which won an award), often showed incredible talent as well. And to be fair, some costumes were completely homemade, inexpensively, involving such items as cardboard boxes and tin foil.
I did not enter Anime Central as a stranger to the media. My introduction took place almost twenty years ago, when my niece, Chyanne, and one of her college friends showed me Princess Mononoke. While I was initially taken aback by its violence, I was appreciative of its depth. Since Jianna was little, she and I have watched numerous additional Hayao Miyazaki films together, beginning with Ponyo. In addition to being astounded by the aesthetics of such productions, I also found the inclusion of such themes as parental illness/death admirable; such frank and realistic portrayals were refreshing. Jianna has continued to explore anime films and series on her own, introducing me to a number as she has joined the fandoms. While I disapprove of the sexual objectification of women that I have witnessed in some works (and Jianna and I have discussed this and why), overall, I’m a fan of the form.
At the Con, though, my admiration grew, in part because I learned more about what happens behind the scenes. For example, we attended a Yuri on Ice fan panel, and were told that professional costume designers imagine the costumes for the anime cast to wear and professional ice dance choreographers design routines for the ice competitions.
We also attended a panel on web comic production because Jianna is a budding artist and writer. I was delighted to hear one comic writer and artist tell attendees that they must read heavily and widely, so that the frame of reference they’d gain would inform their web comic creation. He also stated that if a web comic is written and drawn to the point that it is good enough to “get by,” then it really isn’t finished yet. In other words, he argued for high standards.
Equally so, in a panel on the female heroic journey in anime, voice actor Crispin Freeman talked about the power of stories to help audiences to reflect on life lessons, and he told panel attendees that if they do not take said lessons back into their realities and apply them, then they are cheating themselves. I felt very good knowing that the presenters were giving such invaluable advice to adolescent and young adult listeners.
At the end of our first day, Jianna said, “The whole world should be an anime con!”
When I told two twenty-year veteran ACEN attendees that, one replied, “Anime Central is the least judgmental place I’ve ever been.” The other individual added that she doesn’t see anyone as “weird” in everyday life. Anime Central helps all who attend to move past such restrictive thinking and to accept people for who they are. I could see it. Not only was impressive racial and sexual orientation diversity evident, but Anime Central also consisted of a large age and ability range as well. Once could say that I was CONvinced (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!) – which is good considering that Jianna asked, “Can we attend Anime Central next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year…”