Fear and Loathing in Woodley Park February 24, 2008Posted by Lindsay in Anime, Commentary, Manga, Writing.
Part One: Getting In(to Character)
On the night of Friday, February 15, the day after Valentine’s Day, I took the Metro to the Adams Morgan station on the red line, with my flash recorder slung around my shoulder. It was in the early evening, and I was still dressed in the clothes I had worn to the office that day, but with the added accessory of the headphones on my flash recorder around my neck, the only place they would fit. The train hadn’t passed too many stops before I began to see teenagers dressed as pink-haired samurai and robots made of plastic and foil climbing on. They were clearly headed to the same place I was, the Omni Shoreham Hotel, for Katsucon – the biggest Japanese pop culture convention of the season.
As I rode the escalator up out of the subway, holding my coat closed in the cold, I recognized even more familiar characters from Japanese animation. At least four or five Uzumaki Narutos, ninjas young and loud; a gang of death gods from Bleach, their soul-sealing swords at their waists; Sailor Moon and the Supremes…I mean, fellow Sailor Scouts, ready to fight with love and honor against the insidious Queen Beryl. This wasn’t the first time I’d been to an anime convention – there was one every year at Smith College, just a few hours away from Amherst, my all-too-recent alma mater. But it was definitely the first time I’d gone as a reporter.
When I entered the lobby, I asked around and managed to locate the Operations desk, where I got my press pass, and with it, the right to enjoy the con for free, and to skip any lines for any of the events that were being held there. I walked around the first floor of the hotel, feeling in the convention but not quite of the convention, my microphone sending everything I heard through the filter of my headphones as I recorded the convention’s ambient sound. My Marantz seemed to serve as a small, solid state screen, that separated me from the rest of the patrons. But even if I had come as myself, and not a representative of National Public Radio, and paid full price to get in, I wonder if I really would have felt like I belonged there any more than I did.
I do enjoy anime and manga, but my fandom is nowhere near that of the young man I met late in the evening, who walked around with a printed list of nearly two terabytes of anime that he had access to. He was there hoping to meet other fans with similarly huge collections so that he could trade with them, but his collection had grown so large, there was no one who had anything that he didn’t. He admitted that the vast majority of the anime he had were shows he had not even watched yet, so in practice, they were basically a currency to him, valuable only within the confines of the hotel grounds for this one weekend, at least until next year.
If it weren’t for my focus on getting the story on webcomics, I doubt I would have had the courage to even approach most of the people I met that night. As a more casual anime fan, it is always complicated mixture of admiration and revulsion that I experience when I go to a convention. Sure, I’d love to talk about anime, but I can barely keep up with the more hardcore fans, and sometimes, their love of anime can be so zealous and uncritical that any reference to a show or movie as being sub-par can result in alienation. I see the people who come in costume, and part of me is in sheer awe of the amount of work and dedication put into creating them. I understand their willingness to take the stares they inevitably received on the way here. So rarely in my life could I say I had their bravery. But to what end? To put your love of character on display?
I’ve never dressed up as a character before, and I occasionally wonder if I am in denial about some inner desire to do so. I’ve searched myself, but I haven’t found such a need. Perhaps my appreciation of this form of pop culture is just one that requires no external layer in order for me to fully express it.