Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
The surging popularity of anime in America is attracting more and more avid fans every year as evidenced by the growing crowds at Anime Expo. But the fervor of fans, who dress up and masquerade as their favorite characters, is what sets conventions like the AX and anime apart from more casual entertainments.
AX: It was never for kids (Part 1)
AX: It was never for kids (Part 2)
AX: It was never for kids (Part 3)
AX: It was never for kids (Part 4)
AX: It was never for kids (Part 5)
AX: It was never for kids (Part 6)
Part V: Otaku Maintain
Being so unmoored from reality here is considered a prime virtue, true evidence of one’s otakuhood. The Everyman view of otaku is usually that they are weird folk, spending wheelbarrows of cash on that perfect animation cel, or listening to anime background songs on an iPod, or indeed, dancing to such songs in a hotel lobby. And though these actions and people are harmless, one gets the impression that these otaku might view themselves with a little more self-interest than necessary.
The attitude is best exemplified in a documentary on otaku entitled -- fittingly enough -- Otaku Unite! The filmmaker -- or camera operator would be more appropriate in this instance -- asks various otaku and cosplayers why they do what they do, all while reassuring his target audience that otaku are much more “understanding, considerate, and sensitive” human beings who will all achieve success. AX Chair Donald Higa has been quoted as saying that, “if anime fans ruled the world, it’d be a much more peaceful place -- much more embracing of new cultures.” The idea that all otaku are more intellectually rigorous and emotionally stable souls, simply by their virtue of obsessing over Japanese cartoons, is the most silly and infantilizing of sentimental pap. To revise a musty canard, it reeks of the idea that the Geek shall inherit the Earth.
This idea of the abundance of otaku sensitivity though, however farfetched, is not totally misplaced. For some reason, there is a strange sense of safety and calm when walking the halls of a packed anime convention center or carousing about the movie show rooms, in comparison to, say, the L.A. Auto Show. There is virtually no visible security, and there seems to be no need as there are few if any confrontations. In all my years of attendance, I have not witnessed one physical fight, not even a single open argument; for such a large event, burglary of hotel rooms is amazingly minimal, and public drunkenness is also a rare sight. The stereotype of otaku as being anti-social or immature is at least partially misdirected. Hostility one might encounter in American daily life is absent at the AX, and while I can’t speak for those guests outside of the con, while they are here, though most are shy, nearly all are quite open and friendly. For the most part, the AX is an eccentric but orderly and, despite the pretenses, a very civilized bunch.
This is hard to explain to my friend who is staring at a circle of attendees who are dancing in complete synchronization to random anime pop tunes. The utter surfeit of dance moves perplexes him; such lengthy and elaborate choreography would take weeks of practice. They have gone on for hours seemingly without repetition. To the left, Anime Boy plays songs on the hotel piano from classic videogames that everyone will recognize. Usually the piano is staffed by a professional, but during the convention there is no need since there is practically a queue of otaku who want a showcase for one’s febrile talents (another way the organizers manage to wiggle out free work out of the very customers that support the convention). Sitting around exhausted are a group of friends discussing their purchases, while browsing the schedule for the next day’s plans.
I think this is a representative sample of the individuals who make up the expo, and it is in all probability that they come as much to see each other, to see others who pursue anime with the same degree of zeal, as they do to parade around in a pastel frock. And I must admit, if I only felt disturbed at the sight of such weirdness, I would have stopped going long ago. Deep inside, there must be a part of me that is charmed by the spectacle of Anime Boy, while also expressing, somewhere, that sense of camaraderie of anime fervor that is shared by those who feel they are partaking in the clandestine pleasures of a subculture. Few will claim that being an otaku, like being a Trekkie or Lucas-whore, is entirely normal, but most attendees here enjoy coming because they couldn’t care less.
Date Posted: 7/21/2005