A few weeks ago, the University of British Columbia was invaded… invaded by a horde of squeeing, cosplaying anime fans, a military force of which I was a proud grunt. This was Anime Evolution, Vancouver’s biggest anime convention. Although Anime Evolution is a bit on the small side compared to mega-cons like Otacon, Anime Expo and Anime Boston, there’s still a huge amount to see and do… which can leave even the most stalwart geek reeling on their feet.
In my experience, anime conventions are a unique experience among the various types of geek conventions, and even seasoned con goers can be a bit overwhelmed by their first anime con. So, if you’re planning to check out the scene any time soon, let me give you a few pointers. Whether it’s your first convention ever or you’re a grizzled veteran of other geeky cons, this advice should keep you in good stead.
Make a plan
This is a good rule to live by for all cons, but particularly anime conventions; they’re notorious for having a huge number of things to do at any given time (e.g. 5 panels, the AMV room, the games room, multiple showcase rooms, video games, board games, RPGs, dealer rooms, artist rooms, workshops, etc etc). Do not go in without a plan! Check out the schedule ahead of time and mark down what panels you want to attend, what games you want to play in, and what time is free for all. While spontaneity is all well and good and certainly has its place within the con, there is simply so much stuff going on that it’s easy to miss out on interesting things if you don’t work out your plan ahead of time. For example, there’s usually a group playing pen-and-paper RPGs, but they’re often blocked out for a few hours; you can’t just waltz into the middle of an existing game, and leaving midway through to see another panel could suck for you and the GM. Think about what you want to see and do, then work out your diabolical plan of panel-viewing and merch-shopping.
Related to the above point, be sure to leave yourself some free time, and take regular breaks. It’s tempting to try and stuff in as much as possible in every second you’re there (because there’s so MUCH going on), but though that’s fun and all, it can leave you feeling utterly drained. So if possible, try not to spend every waking minute running to the next panel on your list. Leave some time free to wander the vendors or check out the cosplayers. If you’re really finding yourself exhausted and need some time to unwind, you can always check out the AMV rooms or the anime showcase rooms; nothing like sitting in a darkened room with a host of fellow nerds watching Japanese cartoons to make you feel at ease. Joining one of the pen-and-paper RPGs is also a good way to ensure the next few hours are not spend madly dashing from room to room.
Artists’ Alley FTW
Like other geek conventions, an anime convention usually has an active and varied vendor room. Unlike many other geek cons, though, the Artists’ Alley is almost as big and important, if not moreso. This is a chance for all the deviantArt divas and quirky doujinshi writers to shine, bringing out the best of their fanart and original works to sell to the eager masses. While some of the artwork is admittedly amateurish, a lot of it is absolutely incredible and easily stands up to “the real deal”. There are also plenty of artists who take commissions, so you may be able to find someone to draw that sexy Sephiroth/Sailor Saturn picture you so desire. If you are looking for posters, fanart of your favorite characters, or just a bit of high-falootin’ art appreciation, check out the Artists’ Alley.
Bring water and food if possible
Whether your con is being held in a swanky convention center, a sophisticated hotel or on the grounds of a university, one universal constant remains; the venue’s endless attempts to gouge the heck out of you and take advantage of your pathetic mortal need for hydration and sustenance. Expect to pay up to double prices on food and drinks, even when they come from a vending machine. To frustrate their evil plans, bring your own water, and throw in a couple of snacks or sandwiches if you can get away with it.
Be ready for the squee
Every convention has its own populations of sorts, a quirky audience unique to each genre and medium. Anime is definitely no exception. Most anime conventions draw a slightly younger audience than other conventions, with a lot of high-school and university age attendees. There are also a lot of girls; although there are plenty of boys running around, the gender balance feels a lot more, well, balanced compared to some conventions. The thing that stands out the most, however, is the sheer excitability and silliness of the con goers, even relative to general cons. Fans will bounce up and down squealing in glee at even the silliest costumes and most banal ruminations from voice actors (for example, Cathy Wesluck mentioning that she liked playing Cybersix elicited piercing squeals and near-tears from several members of the audience). Of course, the crazy and over-dramatic behaviour of the average con-goer is, in fact, part of the charm; there’s something deeply refreshing and charming about the sheer exuberance, and it’s very infectious! Rather than shaking your head in disdain, just go with it; it’s a lot of fun.
Bring a camera for the cosplay
The ratio of cosplayers to mundanely dressed congoers is unusually high for anime conventions; you’d be forgiven for thinking that cosplay is a requirement for admission! Anime cosplay is highly varied in every sense of the word: tons of different anime and video game characters, tons of body types, and tons of differently constructed costumes. Some people just throw together something with a few stitches and a bit of glue as a tribute to their favorite character; other cosplayers labor intensively over elaborate and picture-perfect costumes and pick their character based on look-alike potential. Definitely bring a camera and be ready to enjoy the fashion show. Whether it’s a devastatingly accurate Deedlit, a perambulating Death Note, a cardboard Gundam or a full Moogle plushie suit, there’s always something around the corner to make you smile.
And of course, the number one piece of advice for an anime convention?
Tell me your trials and tribulations of anime conventions! What advice would you give to first-timers?