Anime convention goers on their passion — and the stigma attached to it

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

This Aki Con poster features its mascots, Fuyoko (the girl), Hibaki (the boy) and Happa (the panda). (Image by Tracy Nguyen/Manga Kissaten)

When asked how she first fell in love with Japanese anime, Nicole Pelham didn’t hesitate to answer.

“Sailor Moon,” she said. “I saw one episode of ‘Sailor Moon,’ and it was all over.”

“Sailor Moon” was a Japanese animated show (anime) that debuted in the early 90s. It dealt with a team of magical young girls who saved the universe from evil. It proved to be amazingly popular.

Many convention-going anime fans mention it as their introduction to anime appreciation.

Anime convention (or anime-con) fan Skylee Tilleson of Bellevue grew up watching the show. Tilleson recalled, “When I was younger, I had a stash of ‘Pokemon’ VHS tapes and ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ [by esteemed anime film director Hayao Miyazaki], but …‘Sailor Moon’ will always have a special place in my heart.”

A crowd of con-goers at last year's Aki Con (Photo provided by Nicole Pelham)

Pelham and her sister, Danielle Pelham, run the Aki Con convention, which runs Nov. 5 through Nov. 7 at the Hilton Bellevue. Nicole Pelham said the Fanime convention in Northern California inspired them to start their own convention in the Seattle area.

“Danielle and I sat around the kitchen table and talked it over with our parents and decided to do the convention ourselves with our own money,” she said. “This will be Aki Con’s third year. We pay for the convention out of our own pockets right now.”

A convention devoted to Japanese anime and manga (comic books) is often a complicated affair. A typical con features panels, presentations, merchandise vendors, and above all, hotel hallways full of anime fans engaged in costumed “cosplay” — dressing up as their favorite characters from their favorite anime and/or manga.

Operating a convention requires concentration and multitasking, not to mention fundraising. But the inspiration to put one on often springs from the simple but strong love for anime and manga, plus the love for like-minded fans. The willingness to work hard proceeds from there.

Anime fans come from all walks of life. Some are still a little nervous about discussing their avocation publicly.

Liz, a Bellevue resident in her early 20s who declined to disclose her full name, is a “Sailor Moon” fan.

“I’m just trying not to associate my name with cosplay these days because employers will be Googling my name soon. Cosplay hasn’t quite reached that stage of being socially acceptable for professionals,” she said.

After watching anime for several years, Liz dove into conventions starting in 2003 at Sakura-Con, one of the bigger Northwest anime conventions. “It was complete nerd heaven,” she said. “It’s like you could walk up to anyone and they’d have all the same interests as you. … Back then, I had to place special orders for manga at small bookstores, nothing like Borders today, so seeing so much at once was mind-blowing. … I’m also ashamed to admit,” she added, “that I took cosplayers too literally at the time and assumed everyone to be their character.”

Cosplay, the most outwardly flamboyant practice at anime cons, takes considerable work. Few cosplayers use pre-fabricated costumes, and many make what they wear. This involves intense struggles with sewing, makeup, and accessories.

“As far as challenges go, I could write you a novel,” said Tilleson.

“Running out of thread, fabric jams, wet paint, your sewing machine catching fire. … The planning is more fun than the actual construction, but if it’s something that you’re really excited about, those challenges seem a lot less difficult and the end result is all the more satisfying. Plus, it’s a learning experience and you never do quite stop figuring out new ways to do things.”

While con-goers love congregating and communicating with people who share their passion, they do feel that misconceptions about them arise.

“I’d love it if people stopped assuming we all live in our parents’ basement with the social skills of a rock,” said Liz. “Not all of us are so awkward.”

Jon Ravenscroft, who is in his late 30s and a veteran of many conventions large and small, added, “Not everyone who goes to these things is 13 years old physically or physically older but permanently 13 mentally. I’ve seen people of all age ranges and personality types at cons.

Not everyone who goes there is ugly. It’s like everywhere else. There’s a whole range of face and body types, including  some  stunningly beautiful people, also.”

Mira Utz, director of publicity at Sakura-Con, which is not affiliated with Aki Con, thinks some people misunderstand anime itself. “In Japan,” she explained, “animation has been applied to many kinds of stories, genres, and ratings — not just sitcoms and cartoons. This is hard to understand in America because our cartoons are mostly just that — cartoons, focused on comedy and rarely on drama or mystery or romance.

“While it’s true there are many anime titles that are geared toward younger audiences and many of them are funny, it’s important to realize that, unlike Western animated series, anime contains more variety in terms of genre and age appropriateness.”

Utz adds that watching or reading age-appropriate anime or manga with one’s children can be a wonderful way to bond with them.

Entire families can enjoy conventions, she affirmed. “My husband is also on the board of directors [at Sakura-Con], and my oldest daughter is a guest liaison at the event. My youngest daughter runs the youth craft room with her grandmother. Both the grandmother and granddaughter cosplay for every Sakura-Con.”
And yes, they all started out watching “Sailor Moon.” ♦

Aki Con takes place Nov. 5–7. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.akicon.org. For more information about Sakura-Con, visit www.sakuracon.org

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

3 Responses to “Anime convention goers on their passion — and the stigma attached to it”

  1. gullotine says:

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  2. Joseph says:

    For Tilleson not wanting her full name shown, you sure do a good job at using her first and last name. :P

    Neat article. I’d like to see what these people do for Halloween– it must be a riot.

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