This past weekend, I had the pleasure of once again attending the annual FanimeCon anime convention in my hometown of San Jose, California. Though I didn’t get the chance to re-experience the even greater pleasure of tabling at the convention’s Artist Alley exhibit as per last year, (to which I blame an unfortunate mishap and an irritable interaction with one of the convention’s staff members) I did get to spend some more time frequenting the plethora of activities hosted by the convention throughout its four day duration. Honestly, it’s a bit amazing I’ve never surveyed the program to this extent after four consecutive years of attendance.
If this year’s experience harmonized with past ones in any way, it was definitely the fact that the jointly hosted Music Fest alone was a spectacle that justified the cost of the FanimeCon badge. Japanese musicians, especially those attached to anime pop-culture, don’t tour the Western Hemisphere too often; that’s something that’s gradually changing thanks to the growing popularity of East Asian pop culture, but it is nonetheless a seldom occurrence. So you better believe that when a class act comes around your doorstep, you have the right to be appreciative; because they sure as heck are, as each act has expressed in the past each time I’ve seen them live. The adulation usually comprising of something alone the lines of, “We are so happy to finally be performing in America for the first time!” and then a “We love you!” and then a “Please look forward to the day we come back to perform for you again!” I wouldn’t even regard the gratitude as a citation of Japan’s well-known indoctrination for politeness and civility. There’s an atmosphere at live concerts that synergizes you, the audience, with the performers; and in this case, it’s enough to know whether or not they’re genuine practitioners of performance and mutually adherent to their fan-base, transnational or not. This year’s line-up of HOME MADE 家族, the well known Japanese hip-hop trio whose anime contributions are not limited to popular shounen series Bleach and Naruto, and Raj Ramayya, an award-winning singer and composer who is featured on the Cowboy Bebop and Wolf’s Rain soundtracks alongside renowned Japanese composer Yoko Kanno, didn’t quite match up to prior years’ guests including 7!! (Seven Oops), ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D, FLOW, and LM.C, in my opinion. Nevertheless, a crowd contributes a huge part towards the energy of a performance, and I definitely had no problem feeding off the energy of my fellow audience members, especially when one of my all-time favorite anime openings from one of my all-time favorite anime series started playing. Needless to say, three hours of good vibes, ardent cantillating, vigorous rocking out and the subsequent soreness in throat and body was plenty good for the musical soul. Excelsior.
As an artist, there’s always a striking jolt of inspiration I feel at least once walking down the aisles of Artist Alley. It’s not amazing just the work that is passionately pumped out by these artists, but also the Artist Alley scene itself and how it has progressively grown into a formidable commerce, in both size and operation. Half a decade ago, the main idea was prints, prints prints. Nowadays, at our shopping disposal are prints, shirts, bookmarks, buttons, art-books, plushies, ribbons, bags, stickers, key-chains, pillows, pillow-covers, auctioned-products, and more. Hell, they even have holographic printed work. Behind the variety of these customized products is the means of self-made creation and or third-party handling, the main point being that these people go the extra mile to establish a friendly marketplace where they can sell their works themselves and be as close to their buyer and admirers as much as possible possible, i.e. a place to have fun. It goes without saying that the feeling of admiration was all the same this year, if not more so, and I can only hope that my own lost opportunity of participating in the exhibit myself this year somehow means that I will fatefully be bestowed the opportunity next year, by the ruling of some god of entitlement. Until then, it’s hard, hard work fueled by the inspiration of like-minded artfuls.
With my chance at participating in Artist Alley a bust this year, I wanted to make a point of utilizing my possession of a camera as much as possible, in turn utilizing it as a means to reach out and connect to people. I don’t know what the hell happened. With camera on hand, I spent the first day taking no photographs. In fact, I didn’t snap anything on the second day either (my childhood days spent playing Pokémon Snap failed me, it seems), and it wasn’t until the Kill la Kill cosplay gathering on the third day that I finally felt compelled to catalog one part of the con experience in pictures. It was a necessary exposure, my first attendance at a cosplay gathering, enough to make me realize the things I was letting pass me by at least. Unsurprisingly, after another exalting communal activity, I scouted out the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure cosplay gathering and the cosplay masquerade subsequently; and while there were no note-worthy shots from either events, the lesson (and an additional note-to-future-self to bring better gear) is strongly ingrained in me for next time, that’s for sure.
For a three-day attendance, my con experience was definitely deprived, but you better believe there’s more than you can even imagine to do, something I realized far, far too late. Upon returning home from my last convention day, my computer screen and I were met with a wall of relevant Facebook posts, from friend-friends and “Who the hell are you people?”-friends alike recalling their recent and respective experiences. I tell you what, other than reminding me that I both have no new friends and have no idea how to stay in touch with the friends I already have, social network activity can effectively show you just how many different ways there are to experience an event. That night, I spent a good ten minutes watching a YouTube video upload of the Fanime 2014 Comedy Club, part four of five, enjoying myself quite a bit. And the relevant miniature epiphany I had thereafter was that if I can attribute ten minutes of my time at home, home, where I have my precious computer and my precious internet connection and the freedom to filter all my interests until they only consist of the most suitable forms of entertainment, watching a recorded video of one of the convention’s events, then I can sure as hell do the same at the time and place of the actual event at the actual convention, if not for twice, thrice or some other heavier multiplier as long.
I feel compelled to end with an at least partially-meaningful take-away here, so I’ll say this: I’ve been going to anime conventions for four years, and each time I’ve put myself in a bubble. Sometimes it was for the intentional better. The instance in which I spent all three days (save for the Music Fest) tabling at the Artists Alley was such an occasion, an appropriate sacrifice to thrust myself into that community of the art-minded and self-serving people I admired. But the rest were by all means opportunities wasted. An anime convention is a relatively rare event. It’s easy to tire of touring the same old Dealer’s Hall with the same old imported merchandise or the theaters showing the anime series you’ve already seen weeks, months, even years before, but do try to respect the culture and movement a bit. Anime and manga started out locally as a stunted art-form, so much so that these conventions were necessary get-togethers just to find fellow aficionados of the media. Albeit it’s completely reversed nowadays, with some of your most aphonic acquaintances turning out to be hardcore closet-anime-fans (I’m willing to bet, after witnessing over the years the most unlikely people coming out of the otaku’s closet through a simple Facebook like or comment on another’s anime fan-gasming post), the feeling of union is all the same. Our interests are still ever-so-peculiar, so grasp the opportunity and make a friend out of that guy offering you a turn at Muscle March in the Gaming Hall, the guy who flat-out smashed you at Super Smash Bros. (original, melee, or brawl), the girl who competed against you on the live game show, the person who asked to snap a photograph of you, the person you asked to snap a photograph of, the other who peeked your interest at speed-dating, the neighbor in line for the convention, the dance partner at the rave, the artist who you happily bought prints from, the panel host who taught you something about Japanese pop culture, the enthusiast rocking out at Music Fest who made you feel less insecure about standing up and going ballistic too, and rejoice with your fellow partakers. And if the con experience isn’t good enough or too much for you guys at any point in time, take a refresher outside. Grab a bite to eat together, catch a movie in the late hours, crash at their hotel. One of the best advances in friendship is reaching that point where you can break away from the obligations that fated your encounter in the first place. You know what, just befriend every single person you see. Hopefully you’ll reach me within day one and my own advice can become my own influence. How much I would love for that to happen, and to have an out-of-state-er’s hotel room to crash at during the con. Let’s fucking keep this subculture alive forever, yo.