Honestly, when I started my anime blog and podcast in 2010 I really didn’t know what to expect. I thought I would write about Cartoons, then talk about them on the Podcast. I figured people who liked anime would listen, everyone would get along great. It was extremely quickly that I realized that it wasn’t that simple.
There is an underlying problem in anime fandom: There is so much anime. I’ve written about this a hundred times but I keep coming back to it because it remains a barrier to new fans who attempt to come into the medium. Fans looking for an action show, they get turned off by the fans who watch high school romances. Fans of high school romances quickly get turned off by the people who are obsessed with science fiction. The fans who skirt the line and try to be “anime fans,” fans of the medium at large, are few and far between. I remain one of those fans, I simply watch the things that look interesting to me. I go from Kill la Kill, to Cowboy Bebop, and back to Toradora. I did not expect the in fighting and drama that followed.
The biggest was the complete paranoia of Moe fans who, at the time, were just coming up as the most vocal group in the fandom and many of them fight attacked from anime fans who didn’t like little girl cartoons. There were thousands of words written about how Anime News Network was a biased cesspool that wanted to destroy Moe because they prefer other shows.
It’s difficult enough to try and justify a love of cartoons without having to deal with some of the most horrible stereotypes of Japanese Animation. How can we escape from the visions of tentacle monsters, exploited little girls, and screaming muscle men? Well, it’s when great story strands on it’s own apart from the trappings of the medium. This is one of the reasons I was so excited for Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma. The show is about Soma, the son of an excellent chief who has worked his entire life to try and beat his father. It has all the markings of a show that could break out into mainstream success. Food is a universal passion no matter which culture you come from, on top of the excellent way the show exploits the shonen formula to keep the viewer gripped while Soma goes on and on about the beautifully food that he has crafted. It’s almost a show that I would recommend to a lot of my non-anime fan friends who love food and cooking. Almost.
I decided to watch the first two episodes while on the treadmill in the gym. I thought it would be safe, an anime that I might not be embarrassed to watch in public. But the trend of shocking the audience to grip them with the first episode has entered an exaggerated stage with Food Wars. Only a few minutes into the episode Soma offers a disgusting dish he created, Peanut Butter octopus, to one of his friends. The visual representation the show uses to describe the feeling is the woman girl being raped by tentacles. Almost immediately a show that’s presence should help break into mainstream made itself completely inaccessible. It took minutes.
Anime conventions carry almost the opposite culture of a Megacon like PAX East, and Anime Boston is one of the best examples of the perfect fan convention. Yes, there are big anime companies who take up a large amount of space in the dealers room and have some of the largest panels at the convention, but the control and presence of those companies is easily drowned out by fan and convention culture. Anime Boston is purely a fan convention. The majority of the programing is created by fans, the tone is dictated by the fans, and the atmosphere is generated by the attendees absolute love and passion for their hobbies.
Anime conventions stopped being about anime a long time ago and I’ve written about fan convergence and sat on panels discussing it. Anime Boston still has mostly anime programing, a mostly anime themed dealers room, and it does of good job of maintaining the theme of the convention. But, being a fan run convention, looking around at what the fans are cosplaying and listen to what they are talking about is where the true culture of the convention arises. The dealers room features a ton of anime themed art but sitting along side it are League of Legends prints, Steven Universe, American comics, and a ton of other representations of pop culture. You can see the same mix of interests among cosplayers, and even in the dealers room. The majority of the sales space is dedicated to Anime merchandise but scattered among the booths are Video Game and US Comics toys and collectables, board games, art supplies, and a booth giving out samples of Mountain Dew’s newest beverages . Anime Boston’s dealers room space is so big and the taste of their attendees so diverse that you can turn one corner and be surrounded by Anime plushes and turn another and feel like you are in an entirely different place. It’s the greatest nerd flee market in the world, second only to Otakon.
We currently live in a world where Nerd culture has become pop culture. Fans who have used their love of Marvel comics as an identity for all their lives suddenly find themselves surrounded by millions of fans. Millions of dollars are being thrown into marketing to make sure everyone knows who the Guardians of the Galaxy are. So much of the comic con culture is dominated by who owns the biggest booth, who has the best celebrities show up, and who spends the most money. An anime convention is a place where people can celebrate whatever they wish. They don’t have to be steered in one direction or be drummed up by sales people to overhype the next blockbuster film. The fan convention is something alien to the normal public. It’s where the hardcore fans, the people who can still be classified as nerds for liking nerd things because of how much time and energy they put into it, can express themselves and be celebrated for that expression no matter how obscure. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing to be a part of.
But the show is still about anime. There are critics who point out that while anime conventions are attended well most of the fans there consider anime a secondary hobby to something else. Be it gaming, or Marvel movies, or a hundred different things: that is where the feeling of the fan convention truly takes over and develops. Anime in the title gets people in the door, once the fans are inside it’s up to the individual how they wish to express themselves. Anime is a weird beast that way because of how diverse the content actually is. It draws people who have wildly different interests together under the same banner.
The feeling of Anime Boston can be summed up by the Jojo’s Bizarre adventure panel that I attended. The panel wasn’t very good, it was a half hour of basic information on the show that I could have gotten from Wikipedia and the second half of it was calling fans onto the stage to make silly poses. However, the majority of the attendees loved it; shouting along and cheering. They most likely knew all the information being presented, yet they still cheered: Because someone was talking about Jojo’s. That’s really all it takes for anime fans to feel like they belong. Anime fans so rarely can connect with people about their hobbies that to see a few hundred people sharing their passion is overwhelming.
The one great change I saw to this year’s Anime Boston was a bristling Video Game room. Touho, ahead of it’s North American release, had hosted six machines to allow fans to try it or show off their skills. There were Katamari tournaments, a constantly running eight player Smash Brothers game (that I truly regret not taking part in) and every one who was playing was having a fantastic time.
Which is a theme to Anime Boston: Everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves. From those screaming fans in the Jojo’s panel, to the groups of Cosplayers doing photoshoots, and even the exhausted bundle of teenage girls laying on top of each other in the mall corridor. Every one looked satisfied. Every one looked like they belonged.
I’ve reviewed and talked about Anime Boston four or five times now. Nothing is too different. It feels like coming home every time I go back. Most of the attendees are awkward teenagers, some of them are scary sexless thirty year olds. But they are my people. They will always be my be my people, no matter how much I believe to have out grown them.
ideo Game fans go to PAX East for a dozen reasons. They want to see the latest games. They want to get swag. They want to meet people they only knew online. As far as I can tell there is only one real reason that PAX East exists:
PAX East is a place to play games.
I fear I won’t be returning to PAX East for the same reason I won’t ever be going back to New York Comic Con or the reason I will stay away from San Diago Comic Con forever. The convention is a place to show people what will be coming out in the next six months. I don’t need a place to learn what will be coming out in the next six months. I know what will be coming out in the next six months. I have the internet.
There is a specific class of people who simply are not internet people. Who don’t bother to look up games, only scratch the surface of their hobby online and spend the vast majority of their time actually playing games with their friends. Those are the people who the PAX East Expo hall is for. Those are the people who the big gaming panels are for. The last New York Comic Con I visited had a panel that just showed gameplay of the then upcoming Batman Arkham City. Just gameplay, maybe a little discussion from the developers. I would rather not spend $60, wait in long lines, spend a fortune on food, and deal with an awkward hoard of nerds just to watch a gameplay clip of a game that will be coming out in a few weeks. A clip that I can find online and watch in the comfort of my own home.
Japanese games used to dominate the western market. There was a time when Nintendo, Sega, and later Sony were the only names in mainstream games. As the PS2 and Xbox era matured Western games quickly overshadowed their Eastern counterparts and since then they have not been able to impact the market like they had in the past. In ways, Wonderful 101 is a beautiful reminder of why Japanese games are fantastic and at the same time why they will probably never have the impact in the west that they used too.
Wonderful 101 has its roots in a Super Sentai style aesthetic and narrative. A group of normal citizens transform into powerful Super Heroes called the Wonderful 100. Each individual hero has their special powers and weapons but when they come together and unite their powers multiply and lead to more powerful and effective attacks. The game starts you off with “Unite Hand” and “unite sword” but as the game goes on they add whip, hammer, bomb, boomerang, and more. Specific abilities are required throughout the game to defeat monsters and solve puzzles.
Culture is a word I haven’t used much when talking about media, which is odd because no better word exists when discussing art and entertainment. We are all consumers of culture. We all give back to culture. Culture is defined by what people choose to consume and what they choose to ignore. It is used to define groups of people who consume a certain type of media that detracts from the mainstream: sub-culture. These are cultures that exist inside the larger cultural body. They are in ways isolated from normal culture but what they consume and create also gives back to the main culture as a whole.
Members of subcultures become blind to the fact that they are part of a subculture. There are a couple of key factors that lead into this kind of thinking. The chief among them is they start spending so much time and energy living in the subculture that they start to believe that everyone else thinks like they do. This happens, especially in the age of the internet, because the deeper they dive into the subculture the more they find and interact with people who think the way they do. This cements them into the subculture, gives them a feeling that they belong, and establishes a world view based around the subculture. Giving people a sense of community is great! But what this breeds is group think; the community becomes an echo chamber because the members of the community are surrounded by the people most likely to agree with them.
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.