Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Anime Conventions, Part 3


The power of black people is an unstoppable force. Beautiful to see.

In such times, it feels weird to devote a weekend of my life to an anime convention, but also necessary. Anime is the realm of the imagination, which they cannot take from us, even if they kill us for having imaginations.

Today I'll talk about my latest anime con. I was overjoyed to see all the black folks at Tekkoshocon in Pittsburgh last weekend. Most surprising to me was that black dudes were running the LARP. I generally avoid LARP, as the idea of giant aggro white dudes hitting me with foam bats doesn't sound appealing. But apparently we've taken over LARPing. When did this happen? Am I gonna see cats walking down International Blvd. in armor on their way to the club? Will we start donning armor to bash cops? Anyway, loved seeing a multicultural crew handling the LARPing, which was really friendly to beginners.

Some notes:

There has been a complete generational turnaround in anime fandom. I saw maybe three people I recognized from my con-going days in college. Two of them were vendors, which seems a logical step for a fan. One of them was the old chair, who was visiting for the day. It was cool, as I felt like I was stepping into an entirely new space, with opportunity to meet new people.

Sometimes I wonder if I can call myself a real otaku since I've never seen Evangelion. I caught maybe two episodes when it first came out in the late 90s. Didn't strike my fancy. Then it became a seminal anime. The thing is, first there was Neon Genesis Evangelion, then Death, Rebirth, End of Evangelion, now Rebuild. And it's all THE SAME STORY. I understand not getting it right the first time, but the second? The third? I'm sorry, but a story so convoluted it has to be remade every five years sounds sloppy.

At some point, I'm going to have to watch End of Evangelion for the weird imagery alone. But I won't enjoy it. Shinji Hikari is pretty much designed to be the most loathsome character in all anime. The whole point seems to be that these characters are miserable and unrelatable. I wouldn't want to watch one show about Shinji, let alone several shows getting made until the end of time.

The only anime I sat down and watched in the Tekko video rooms was Space Dandy. Shinichiro Watanabe is a maniac. That is all.

I saw a panel about putting on cosplay skits that showed some examples of good ones. I've seen a lot of bad skits but there are people out there who think of it theatrically and pull out all the stops to put on a show. I particularly liked this one, a tribute to the classic Duck Hunt game:

Tekkoshocon taught me the true value of a good staff. All through the weekend, con ops was helpful as far as setting up equipment for my panels. They were easy to talk to, totally accessible. Around 10 pm Saturday night, there was a fire evacuation right as I was doing a panel on Leiji Matsumoto. Staff immediately got on directing people down the stairs and out of the building. Thousands of anime nerds made it outside just in time to see the fireworks from PNC Park. It was pretty magical. Then everybody came back inside (complete with a Daniel Bryan "Yes!" chant) and staff had to hold everybody on a bridge in David Lawrence Convention Center while they got the convention floor ready. This could have been a disaster, but we weren't waiting more than ten minutes before the con resumed. I went to con ops, which was already up and running, to see if I could get my panel rescheduled for the next day. I couldn't. You would have never known they'd just led an emergency evacuation, that's how professional they were. Amazing, especially considering so many on the staff are college kids. Competent staff can make or break a con, and these ones made it.

My Matsumoto panel getting scheduled at 10pm was kind of weird. Its a panel on old school anime and gender roles, not really conducive for the J-pop rave and porn that occupies that hour. Strangely, the evacuation actually helped, as my audience quintupled afterward.

In other nerd news: The new Star Wars trailer looks great. I noticed they focused a lot on the characters, both old and new. I noticed they didn't focus on CGI cartoons, not so subtly letting everyone know the mistakes of the prequels would not be repeated. I didn't like that J.J. Abrams used Star Trek as his demo reel for Star Wars, but they seem to be making all the right moves so far. I'm also genuinely intrigued by Justin Lin bringing his diversity-minded sensibility to Star Trek. I might have to start watching both series again.

Synchronicity. I did a panel on anime and black culture. I was inspired to do it by the police murder of Darrien Hunt, an otaku who got shot in the back by police for cosplaying. And I began to wonder what draws black folks to anime, product of a culture as racist as our own. The intersections between our culture and Japanese culture are just so myriad. Tekko had an educational panel track this year called Tekko Gakkou, which I got into.

I had an hour and a half for the panel and I was the only panelist, seeing as how I live in California and don't know too many otaku in Pittsburgh. This was not what I wanted, to sit up there alone and pretend like I am the All-knowing Authority on Blackness. I was thinking of just picking some people from the audience to come up and riff with me.

On the Wednesday before the con, I did a reading at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse. It went well. Beer, wine, sausage, poetry, etc. Only complaint is that Pittsburgh was too damn cold to be having an outside reading like that. I told someone at the reading what I was in town for and she said one of her advisee's at Pitt was doing his senior thesis on anime.

My response: "Hook it up."

I ended up doing the panel with Tom Bautista and it went great. He's doing his senior thesis on representations of blackness in Afro Samurai. Really smart guy; it was cool to give him that space to share his work. I went first, with some historical info on how anime has influenced black culture, and the other way around. Then Tom got into his part. The discussion afterward dealt a lot with what the audience got out of anime, how black people have related to it, and anime fandom as a potentially anti-racist space. Between AWP and Tekko, I spent two straight weekends in the company of brilliant black people having serious discussions. No complaints.

Okay, racism. I can still complain about that.

All geek culture is together now. When I was doing cons, plenty of people cosplayed western characters. But I genuinely feel in our globalized world that it all occupies the same space. You can put your Frozen meme on Tumblr right next to your Naruto one. Or combine them. I went to two panels celebrating the ridiculous of 80s cartoons and none felt out of place. I think all cons now are multimedia cons, no matter their specified purpose.

I met a girl who referred to the Nintendo Gamecube as something from the early days of gaming. I told her I had an original NES. She had no idea what I was talking about.

Cons are the realm of the imagination. I attended a panel where a bunch of college kids sat up front pretending to be characters from Attack on Titan. The audience asked them questions based on the anime. What is more fun than pretending to be a cartoon character? It was nerdy and niche and entirely worthless if you're not a fan of the show, but it's all good. I noticed the girl playing Sasha stayed in character the whole time. Kudos to her.

On that matter, there were AoT cosplayers everywhere. I was always interested by the uniform aspect of cosplay, especially military ones. Once upon a time everybody cosplayed Full Metal Alchemist, and when you saw somebody else in the blue military uniform you were automatically in a brotherhood. Now you can join the AoT army. When I cosplayed, I made a lot of friends cosplaying Naruto. The popular anime of the day creates an instant bond between cosplayers that goes beyond apreciation of the show.

Cosplay has gotten really good. With the internet, there's fame and fortune for those who do great costumes, and you'll see a flurry of professional quality outfits at any con. Get on enough Tumblr posts and you're a celebrity cosplayer. AMVs are also really good, with the editing software to seamlessly splice all kinds of stuff together.

I had four panels crammed into Saturday afternoon and evening. There was a ton of interesting panels about gender, doll-making, translation, video game design, fashion . . . so much educational stuff. I went to an awesome one about wielding a katana where the audience got to go up and practice in the end. (With wooden practice swords.) Just fun paneling all around.

Anime fandom is queer, sexually deviant, kinky, bi, trans, lez, sadist, masochist, furry and pony, and I would have it no other way. I definitely saw a girl cosplaying the Nazi fetish furry slave from Hellsing. There were your requisite gay girls cosplaying gay boys. There were your standard femme boy ravers in fishnet shirts. I'm trying to remember if I saw a single male cosplay Levi from AoT. Otaku subculture has always been welcoming to different lifestyles, and provides a friendly space for queer kids to celebrate queerness in all its yaoi/yuri/beyond iterations. For many kids, cons are their only safe space for some healthy genderbending.

What I found interesting was how kids (and yes, I mean teenagers) were dressing in some very fetishy costumes. It was like Folsom Street Fair: PG Edition. I'm betting many of them will get into kink as they get older, with anime as their gateway. And I wonder if they're fully aware of the sexual aspect, or if it's more about dress-up at that age.

Anime is really normal now. The popular new show is about Satan working at a McDonald's. It's called The Devil is a Part Timer. And I'm thinking: so Satan is in this. At what point does he die and get resurrected as a sex slave for an evil warlord who cuts off his hands and feet so he can walk on all fours like a dog? I think a lot of otaku nowadays would vomit at the weird shit I grew up on.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot you weren't allowed bags in the dealer room. Somebody said you had to check your bag and it was $12 and there was a long line to do so. Fuck that. I carried my bag all weekend.

Also, Tekko needs to do day passes again. Fifty bucks isn't steep for me, especially since the panelists got reimbursed. The day pass exists so kids without tons of cash, and who have school on Friday, can still have a solid day at the con. It could be that only weekend passes cover the rent at the convention center, but its still unfortunate.

Anime cons basically exist for young people to have fun, and that's what happened at Tekko. Not much has really changed since my con-going days, including the requisite scene drama that people would mutter about over the course of the weekend. Friends having falling outs, sleeping with each other's boyfriends, hating somebody for winning some cosplay award, etc. I was never into con drama, as I go to these things to have a good time. The drama feels oddly quaint and fun because the stakes are so low. It seems less like a stressful thing and more like a feature of the space.

Good lord, I wrote a lot. It feels good. Hopefully, generations to come with be finding their imagination stirred by the art of Japanese animation. I know I have.


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