Otakon is the largest anime convention on the East Coast of the US, and has maintained its size and stature for years. It’s a celebration of East Asian media and culture, and gets its name from the pejorative, “Otaku,” which means anime, or Japanese animation, fanatic- as in, never leave your house, only watching anime, never seen sunlight type of fan. The word became a term of endearment, whether through the exportation and growth of the market, or just folks becoming less ashamed and more proud about it. Nowadays, everybody who loves anime calls themselves an Otaku.
When I went to the Manga Museum in Kyoto in 2007, I remember one of the hosts who taught us some drawing skills asked before the lesson, “Anybody here otaku?” And a bunch of us 15 and 16 year olds said, “Hai!” (Yes in Japanese) and he immediately burst out laughing. It’s not a joke. We’re here, we’re Otaku, get used to it!
Ever since I was into anime (around from elementary to high school) I’ve always wanted to go to Otakon.
I’ve always wanted to cosplay as Sango from Inuyasha. I wanted my Dad to make me a giant boomerang, and I’d handle all of the particulars of her outfit. For some reason, that trip to Baltimore never came to fruition. Years later, I’d drift out of the anime game, as I like to call it. At my peak, I watched anime all the time, knew anime studios, directors, and animators. I conned my parents into buying the Animatrix on pay-per-view, watched every channel’s Anime block, from the reliable Cartoon Network, to IFC and TechTv, and visited all of the main anime websites like Anime News Network like it was my daily dose of local news coverage. By the time high school was over, I was out of the loop.
Part of it was intentional.
Growing up in a “small town,” as a black girl with an inhaler and a runny nose, liking something as (literally) foreign as anime often comes with a few disadvantages. The image of the otaku still carries some stigma, because anime is rarely separate from Japanese culture. People into anime often know songs in Japanese (or in my case, gibberish), speak in terms that are not English (mecha, yaoi, gami, neko- nyan nyan!), and get into a popular culture that is not American (there is a huge crossover between fans of Japanese anime to Korean pop culture and beyond, for example). Some kids like me were teased for this, and it alienates you. You can’t relate to other students if you’re absorbed into something else, and it’s not easy to explain to other people, as I’ve tried to explain to you all. All in all, I started to get the impression that I was weird enough, and I could let go of this thing if I could fit in a bit better.
It didn’t work, but I tried. I’m terrible at hiding my nerdy passions.
Either way, many times I had felt weird alone. My friends and I weren’t a big enough buffer against other pressures, so as a survival tactic, I let the anime thing go.
Fast forward, what, 6 or 7 years? and BAM, I’m at Otakon.
I am immediately overwhelmed and excited beyond words. Otakon is practically everything I wanted and more. It’s three days of madness, panels, shopping, and lines. OH, the lines! Otakon is also called, “Line-Con” by fans, because some of the panels and events line up HOURS before they start. Combined, I’d say we spent about 5 hours in lines through the course of three days.
Panels I went to: One about cats,
(Some of these photos I took for reference, I think I wanna watch Nyan Koi based on the clips I saw alone!)
one about Japanese fetishes (HEE-Larious, but rated R and was declared a judgement-free zone, so no photos allowed), one about why your favorite anime is terrible, one about female ghosts in Japan,
and one with the voice actors of the Abridged Series.
Another anime that I think I need to watch, Sound! Euphonium, solely about high schoolers in a school band past its glory days, struggling to get back to competitions. It speaks to me.
In between this was eating from a Korean-fusion food truck called, Koco.
And around us all three days were tons and tons of cosplayers.
Cosplay, for the unfamiliar, is dressing up like a character from a tv show, comic book, or movie: coming from the phrase, costume play. Like I said before, Ashley cosplays often, and I even considered it, but there are different levels to it. Some people spend a WHOLE LOT of dedication and/or money and/or time and/or effort on their cosplay. I totally respect and adore it. I saw children dressed up as Sonic and Chung Li, and tons of Links and Attack on Titan characters (honestly, if they were to make winter-proof versions of the Survey Corps cape, I’d totally buy one!). Here’s some photos I took of some of the many, many cosplayers.
You know what I’ve just noticed? I’ve mostly taken photos of videogame characters! There were a lotta anime cosplayers I enjoyed, including, most imporantly, this duo.
You got that right! Sango and Sesshomaru from Inuyasha! The moment I saw that girl with her giant boomerang, I bolted into the room after her- not an easy feat with the density of convention-goers at Otakon. I felt like a giddy schoolchild again, this girl was literally living my dream of being Sango! To all my black cosplayers out there, keep doing awesome things and enjoying your passions! It’s so inspiring, because even the Otaku of the world can be super exclusionary when it comes to their anime. African Americans and people of varying bodytypes are often rudely told that they can’t cosplay because the original character wasn’t that tall, slim, dark or whatever! It’s awesome to see people go through the effort to pay homage to characters that they love, and I am all for it. These two I saw on the last day of the con, and I’m so glad I ran into them.
So yeah, Otakon was a great time. I wasn’t weird alone. I wasn’t weird at all there, in fact, I was quite tame. When you’re weird in a crowd of people all into similar things, you become just another friend.
Whew. Had to get a bit sappy there! In conclusion, here’s some thank you notes.
Thanks to Stephen and Ashley, who let me follow them around the ‘Kon. You guys were great guides, and I appreciate you letting me experience my first Otakon with you both. I hope my enthusiasm didn’t annoy you! I was so friggin’ into it!
Thanks to Cory who helped me out in line and kept me feeling safe through our ghost panel. Hope you come around next year!
And finally, the souvenir haul.
The water bottle and chopsticks are to accompany my burger bento box, or Japanese-style compartmentalized lunchbox.
And lastly, a Hunter Kigurumi.
Well, it’s this.
A LISA FRANK “HUNTER” ONESIE FOR ADULTS! AHAHAHAHHAAHAHA! I’m going mad with power!
See you soon! ahahahahhalenfgaoisrngoanirgjnaong’owngoanregoahr’lhawo’irhgoasnv’oianevoiahg!!!!!
P.S. – Since I ended the Magfest thing with a song, let’s end this one with one of my favorite anime songs. Here’s the pillows, with their song, “Ride on Shooting Star,” from one of my favorite anime series, FLCL.