I had the pleasure of sitting in on Charles Dunbar’s Con-vergence panel at Otakon Vegas, in which Charles addresses the issues around why other fandoms seem to be taking over anime conventions. Charles’ conclusion is that anime conventions are more welcoming places, that the anime fandom is just more accepting of other fandoms. Then there is the more bleak side of things, the theory that anime fandom is just a secondary or lesser fandom than some of the more prevalent media represented.
The chief cause of the weakening presence of anime at anime conventions is that anime is a medium, not a genre or a single show. So where a group of ten thousand people may not have that many shows in common, three thousand of them have all seen Doctor Who and the other seven thousand has seen the Marvel film adaptations. So the Iron Man cosplayer is going to have more positive attention than the Lupin cosplayer sitting in the corner. Anime is a unique beast in this respect. Single media conventions, like a Star Trek convention, assume that all attendees share at least a common cannon. Even the old school science fiction conventions were dominated by the mass media properties like Star Trek, Battlestar, and the like. With anime there can be almost zero connection between the forty year old fans drinking in a bar discussing the tape trading days and the fourteen year old girls running around in Hatialia cosplay.
The element that made anime so appealing was that it was an entire world of media waiting to be explored, but that allows individual fans to go off into a million directions. This issue can be visibly seen at conventions. There are people who go to the conventions just to cosplay, play dress up and hang out with their friends. There are people at the same event who want to seek out academic programing in order to learn more about the medium they’ve come to celebrate. The latter is a much larger and younger group, one that may never make the transition to going to panels about anime. So if their friends shift over to dressing up as a non-anime fandom that is where most of the group will go. Anime fandom on the Internet is similar. I can write my essays all I want but the mass of people looking at screen caps and writing fan fiction isn’t going to care.
It may be that having an anime convention or claiming you are a fan of the entire medium is just as silly as saying you are a fan of “TV Shows” or “Video Games”. It’s almost meaningless to simply say you like such a broad range of content. The person who can sit around and watch all TV Shows equally exists, but not en mass. Even the least discerning person is going to develop their own individual tastes. This is why I’ve become disillusioned by limiting myself to Anime blogging and podcasting over the last year. The subject is simply to big to have any single person claim to be able to write about all of it, to be able to tolerate all of it, and for most fans be able to care about all of it equally.
The future of fan conventions has to evolve in order to take into account that the border between mediums is breaking down. With the internet, fandoms have an equal chance of developing around nearly anything. It’s an equal playing field between American media, British Television, Japanese Animation, or someones silly youtube channel. The culture of the internet is all inclusive and while there will always be hardcore fans who devote themselves to specific things the average geeky person is going to have a diverse range of things they love. Anime conventions are going to have to evolve into what they are already becoming: Internet Culture Conventions. Or Geek Culture Conventions. Or a celebration of the rising idea of the “Pangeek,” where a person approaches everything they are interested in with the fervor of a dedicated geek.
It’s already happening now at the big anime shows. At Anime Boston the anime presence in the dealers room is still dominant but the rise of other huge fandoms in Internet Culture are growing. Adventure Time, Minecraft, Bravest Warriors, Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Marvel Superheroes are slowly growing in presence in the dealers rooms of the biggest Anime shows in the country. It is only a matter of time before the culture forces them to change the mission statements completely.
It’s a change that I find welcoming, to be honest. Anime convention culture is unique among the other nerd conventions. I am able to, as a fan, go into an anime convention and give a panel about a specific topic that I’m passionate about. That happens to a much lesser degree at PAX or Comic Cons around the country because of the presence of professional industry guests. Why would they give a room to me when they could give it to someone from Giant Bomb who already has a huge following? The style of fan convention that Anime Conventions have championed need to be applied to other types of fandom so we can spread the good academic programing, the open discussions, and empowering fans to get up and express their love for Culture.