12 November 2009

A word about friendships

Ok, so I am well aware I said this post would be a blow-by-blow review of Nekocon, but it's not. It's not because I don't have anything to say about Nekocon, because my previous post spoke as to why I enjoy that convention, indeed it is my avorite of the entire year. It's just that while I was mulling over what I could possibly say about Nekocon that I haven't said already, a few new ideas and thoughts popped into my head.

I mentioned a few times about how much friendship and intimacy plays into choice of conventions. Those words pop up quite frequently in my questionnaires, and are usually the main reasons cited as to why small and medium size cons are preferred to large ones. Since I am definitely one of those congoers who supports the idea of smaller is better, I decided that I would like to chip in my two cents about why I feel that friendships make the cons more satisfying. I'm not saying that larger conventions are any worse than smaller ones, mind you, because there are always definite pluses to attending one of the larger conventions, I am simply stating why I prefer smaller ones. Hopefully, those who have answered similarly will agree with my ideas.

Being a fan of anime is all about community. This much is obvious. There will always be solitary fans, usually people who live in out of the way places who find themselves alone in their fandom. I have met plenty of them over the course of my congoing. But they all give me the same answers when asked about how they experience their fandom: they do it alone, in private, and have nobody to talk to. Some of the ones who live in more isolated or conservative areas have told me about how they are the subject of bias from their neighbors because of misconceptions associated with their fandom and what they choose to spend their time doing. Granted, every one of these people I have met at conventions in the past three or so years. And I feel sympathy for them. One of the hallmarks of joining a fandom is to share it, either by comparing "war stories" about experiences associated with the fandom, or to just sit and philosophize about what they have just seen. The lack of ability to do this more often than not leads to the fan feeling very much alone, perhaps even scared, because they have nobody to talk to or lean on. Those fans that come under fire from those around them have it doubly worse, because they face negative opposition without comrades to take shelter with.

This is why the ideas of friendships and conventions are so strong and important. There are plenty of times I have been to a con where I never attend panels, never buy anything or watch anything, I go simply because my friends are going. And at every con I attend, I make new friends. (Take a look at my Facebook post on and there will always be at least one new friend on there.) Larger cons, for all their flash and pomp, seem to strip this aspect out of the fan experience. Let me explain further by comparing two of the cons I went to this year.

I attended Otakon this past July. For those who aren't aware, Otakon is the largest convention on the east coast, boasting a growing attendance rate over 25000. And for a good deal of the respondents to my questionnaire, this was their first con. It is both a good and bad choice for a first con. On the plus side, Otakon has what could be deemed as "everything:" enormous dealer's room, dozens of panels, dozens of viewings, premieres, gaming, multiple concerts and a huge crop of fans to talk to. However, this comes at the cost of intimacy. It is crowded. It is extremely hard to just sit in the halls and talk. There is always a lot of noise. Navigating the halls proves to be a chore. While this can excite some neophyte otaku, to a growing number of veterans, it becomes something of a hassle. You often cannot hear yourself think. You get shoved around a lot. Panels fill up extremely quickly. The line for the vendor room snakes all over the second floor. Stopping to chat with people is practically nonexistent by day, and proves to be a chore at night. While it can be a wonderful experience for some, it is not for all.

Now look at Nekocon. Light programming schedules. Interesting panels that you have a chance to get into. Large convention space for a medium sized crowd. Plenty of room to stop and talk. Ok, so they don't have the big name guests or flashy premieres. I have made friends at every Nekocon I have been to. These friends I see a few times a year at other cons. We can sit in the convention center for hours talking about nothing. We come away feeling satisfied. In addition to this, I have a set group of friends I travel to the convention with. We spend 7 hours sometimes sitting in a car cracking jokes and comparing experiences. And we have a wild time there. We look forward to the next year's experiences. Nekocon is such a fascinating and wonderful time, that I personally come away with a sense of such euphoria that I tend to view my year as "Pre-Neko" and "Post Neko", everything that has happened to me up til that point is swept away and feels so distant compared to what I just underwent. And I know I am not the only one: many of my friends feel this way too. Neko, at least for us, is the true definition of a vacation: it renergizes us and melts away the woes of the world.

I guess in a way this entry is a bit of a blow-by-blow. I know I said I would speak more to the effect of friendships, and I will. But I think I need to order my thoughts first. As with all academic, or simply ruminatory, discussion, things can go off topic once the words start flying. At least I have something more to talk about.

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