Living Conventionally: A Reflection on Attending Anime Conventions

So here’s what my writing style looks like when I’m not cramming an episode review!

What is a geek? Someone knowledgeable and interested in something to the point of obsession. I’m an anime geek. I’ve been into anime since childhood when I was first exposed to anime with shows like Voltes V and Digimon. There was something about their fantastical plots and outlandish characters that appealed to me. There was that exaggerated acting that live action shows could not deliver but anime always seemed to have more intricate plots and more valuable lessons than American cartoons.

Recently, I’ve been going to anime conventions. Mainstream media has always portrayed geeks as being anti-social and awkward. These conventions are supposed to be a slap on the face to that negative portrayal. In conventions you’re supposed to find geeks interacting with each other. There are some donning costumes, some selling merchandise, and some displaying their anime figures. There’s usually a stage in the center for games and performances. Definitely, one who engages in these activities can’t be anti-social. A geek such as myself would enjoy these conventions to the point I’d come back to them as often as I could, right?

When I was young, I saw anime conventions as something wonderful. It was an event where I could meet people with similar interests, buy toys and other goods not sold anywhere else, and see people in costumes role-playing their favourite characters. Oh, I was so simpleminded and naive…

The second anime convention I went to (Don’t mind the first. I went there to stalk a friend) was a big event focused on cosplay which is the act of donning a costume and portraying a character. The quality of their costumes ranged from cheap cardboard armor to beautiful and elaborate dresses like something out of the wardrobe of a fantasy world’s goddess. Some cosplayers were in revealing outfits and they seemed to enjoy being the subject of their spectators’ arousal. I’ll admit, back then, I was one of those aroused spectators but in my defense, I didn’t come for those whorish coslayers.

Actually, what did I come for? I remember that I only found out about this convention when I saw it shared on Facebook by the girl I stalked that one time. So maybe, once again, I came to see that girl. But at least I got to get a good feel of what goes on in a convention. I knew what to bring and how to act. I brought a camera and a wallet full of money this time. The first time I went to a convention, I had absolutely nothing. While everyone around me had their big cameras and bags full of money, I had a cheap camera phone and just enough money to buy a measly wristband. Now in the second convention, I had my grandmother’s cheap digital camera and enough money to feed a small family at a fast-food restaurant. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures. The camera I borrowed ran on AA batteries and died in less than an hour after I stepped into the convention hall. It didn’t really matter. I was still shy and hesitant to take photos anyway. At least I got to spend my money though. It was in this convention that I got to buy my first anime figure. It was a posable figure of a certain pink haired, virtual pop idol.

I like to classify anime figures into three types. There are mini figures which are, as the name implies, small. They’re also cheap and nothing to brag about. The second type is the action figure. They’re posable like the superhero and wrestling toys kids play with but they’re not as common. The most expensive type of figure is the scale figure. They’re bigger, not posable but more intricately detailed like renaissance statues. They are the fancy ones on the most exposed areas of the figure displays in conventions. After my second convention, I got more into figure collecting. By the fourth convention, my collection increased from a single action figure to three action figures and a mini figure.

The fourth convention was a figure special and it was at this convention that I got to meet the people running the figure display. This convention was also very much like the first convention I went to. It was held at the same venue and held by the same hosts. What was different this time was me. I was a more experienced geek, a better geek. I brought the right camera, I brought the right amount of money and this time I wasn’t so shy about taking pictures. I bought another action figure and I got to take about a hundred photos of the cosplay and the figures there. Also, this was probably the first convention I went to on my own accord without the intent of stalking somebody.

The first time I volunteered to contribute to the figure display group was during my seventh anime convention. At that point, my interest in anime grew to a point that I started a blog about it. I was informed that I would have to go to the convention hall a day before the event to hand over my figures and help with the preparations. I had met the display group members before through an online forum. It was casual and fun there, but when I met those people in real life, I was struck with awkward muteness. All sense of socializing had left me. Maybe because I was a first-time contributor and felt small, or maybe I was just that socially awkward. The point is that it had me contemplating on my socialization skills. It dawned on me that for the whole time I went to conventions, I never went with friends or chatted with anybody. I was always alone. I just went, took pictures, bought things, and went home. Why, I was only playing the stereotype of the socially awkward geek! What happened to conventions being a slap on the face of that stereotype? It was up to the convention goer, not the convention, to do that and I had that wrong all this time.

My eighth convention was themed on Vocaloids, voice synthesizing programs personified with an anime-style appearance. Around that time, I was struggling to convince myself that I wasn’t going to conventions for the sake of being a geek, that I was into it because it was fun. There wasn’t anything notable about the fifth and sixth conventions save for the fact that it was in one of those two that I bought my most expensive figure yet. It was also this figure that I lent to the figure display in the eighth convention.

I tried my best to make friends in this convention. I had an interesting chat with a total stranger. He was a photographer on a business trip from Canada and was looking to expand his portfolio with coverage of the convention. We shared a lot of things in common. What kept him constantly at my side was the fact that he barely knew the native language and I was fluent in it and English as well. I also met someone from my high school who was interested in the Vocaloid fan culture more so than I was. This was also the last local convention the friend whom I stalked would go to. She would leave for Singapore the weekend after. I thought that I would give her a gift as a send-off. It was my first anime figure. I remembered how she envied me for it so I gave it to her. She hugged me warmly before leaving me for her other friends at the convention.

Later that day, I lost a vital piece of the figure I lent to the display as I was placing it in its box. The other members of the display group helped me find it to no avail. It was this incident that got me to be more open to the others at least. I lost a plastic peg, but I received something of a self-granted permission to be their friend. That day was great. I took hundreds of photos, made a few friends, and for once, I actually enjoyed the stage performances. It had me brush off my doubts about the enjoyment I get from these conventions. When I returned home, I contacted the people I met there via Facebook and greeted farewell to my friend. After that, I never talked with them since.

My experience in these anime conventions shed light on various aspects of both myself and the world around me. Ephemeral friendship does exist and is shown by the people who befriend me in one convention, and ignore me in another. Still, these feeble relationships are caused by my own weakness in communication but I believe that I’ll grow out of that weakness in time. I will not allow myself to fall under the negative stereotype of the socially awkward geek. When I first started going to these conventions, I was quiet and shy. I preferred to observe the people around me such as those scantily clad cosplayers. About a year later and about a dozen conventions after, I’m still quiet and shy, but a little less. At least I manage to make friends who I talk to once and never again. Hopefully, I learn to rectify that latter part. Maybe by the twentieth convention…

This essay was for an assignment in English. I’m open for suggestions on how I can further improve it. So…Professor, if you’re reading this, I’m that guy on the second row, third column by the front door. Also, Like my Facebook page.

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