26 October 2010

going forward

In lieu of a formal report on New York Comic Con/Anime Fest (I am currently writing one for Real Otaku Gamer), I’ve decided to make this week’s post something of an exploration into one of the biggest “challenges” facing the anime community today. And by “challenges” I mean less of ‘this is something that needs to be overcome’ and more towards ‘how can we, as congoers, address this issue and incorporate it successfully.’ Please use similar discretion when looking towards any words framed in “” marks, as they will have dual meanings within the context of this discussion.

The following are the “minutes” of a conversation I had the other night on Twitter with a few of my colleagues. The topic is a familiar one to many of the “old guard” of anime fandom- how to “deal” with a changing landscape when it comes to anime cons in the 21st century. There are many sides to this debate, and this discussion only reflects one of them, but it is one of the larger, more prevalent arguments regarding what many see as a “dilution” of the fandom gathering.

Anyone who has been following me recently, be it on twitter or here, has noticed I do a good deal or arguing on the changing face of the modern anime convention. And anyone who has ever attended a con recently, whether or not they have done so in the past, would be hard pressed to not notice how much of it has skewed away from the “anime” in many regards, and jumped on the multi-fandom bandwagon. This can be seen as both good and bad.

On the one hand, it shows a level of unity that has emerged within the anime fan community. Whereas once they were seen as the “bastard child” of the fandom world, they have now taken their almost “mainstream” legitimacy and decided to extend a welcome to members of other fandoms. While hostility towards anime fans has been documented and reported at other fan gatherings, rarely are such thing seen at even the largest of anime cons. Otakon, for example, has photoshoots dedicated to almost any cosplayer, and Santa Claus has even been seen wandering the halls. Rather than seek to gain a sort of “revenge” on the other fandoms for years of mistreatment, many anime fans are welcoming, and indeed anyone can find a place there.

On the other hand, this does dilute the general idea of the anime con. How can a convention label itself as anime when it holds panels dedicated to other fandom pursuits? Case in point, AAC 2010 has scheduled not one, not two, but three panels dedicated to the steampunk movement, despite there being very little actual steampunk anime. Zombie afficionados are now present at every con, drawn in through ties to gaming series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. And Katsucon 2010 hosted a panel entitled “Why Batman is Awesome” that had no connection to the rich history of the Japanese incorporating the Caped Crusader into their media.

Now, the general argument here is that organizers are looking for more attendees, and thus by opening their doors to fandoms of all types, they are increasing their viable pool of attendees. Larger numbers mean bigger guests, which mean even larger numbers. This is a tried and true method of growing your event. But the question at hand is: “How much fandom can a convention get before it no longer has the right to label itself an anime con?” Or for that matter, what denotes an anime con in this new millennium? This conversation is part of a much larger discussion.

MBeasi- @patachu I'm sure things are changing w/younger generations, but still... Otakon is pretty heavily "Yay Japan!"

Ed Sizemore- @mbeasi In true, Otakon is morphing into just a "Yay teens" convention. More about hanging out than anime/manga.

VinceA- @edsizemore This brings up an interesting question. How do you stop your con from becoming just another "Teen meetup" con

Studyofanime- @VinceA One could argue programming: I've heard a lot about the Providence con being so great because of panels.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore Hasn't that been the trend with most anime cons of late? They've evolved beyond their original scope.

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime Unfortunately, yes.

Ed Sizemore- @VinceA Probably can't completely, but can start by not making having a rave & by getting rid of non-anime/non-manga panels.

VinceA- @edsizemore Getting rid of the rave would be nigh-impossible but the panel thing is a possibility.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore What then, would be the litmus test for "non-anime" panels?

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime The zombie apocalypse comes to mind, unless it's tied directly to anime featuring zombies.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore Makes sense. But then you also need to ask: are organizers willing to turn off potential attendees for the cause of "purity?"

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime Are organizers? No. Am I? Yes.

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime It's a tough call to make. Organizers like numbers because it's money and that means more Japanese guests.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore And such goes the schism. All comes down to personal preference, then. I don't mind the multifandom aspects, but the memes...ugh

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime That's the rub, how much anime content is needed for it to still be an 'anime con'. Guess we'll find out in a few years.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore One could also argue that merging fandoms is good for the fandom community as a whole, as it fosters unity and common ground.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore But at the same time, then they would have to stop calling it an "anime" con.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore Here's a point: while panels have shifted into J-culture and other multifandom pursuits, notice how VIEWINGS have not.

Ed Sizemore- @VinceA See the rave is the first thing I want gone. I think it's also what draws so many non-fans.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore It definitely does, I agree. Kids who can't get into "adult" raves find them at cons. But what to replace it with? Formal balls?

Studyofanime- @VinceA Raves aren't their own fandom, really, they're more an activity that has broader appeal...to those young enough to participate.

VinceA- @Studyofanime Hmmm, so you're saying that intellectual 18+ panels would help. Another good idea

Studyofanime- @VinceA Well I notice from my panels that there is a definite current of people seeking more from their con than choruses of "buttscratcha."

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime @VinceA I can attest to that. Both his panels at NYAF were packed to capacity with people standing in the hall.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore Last Nekocon, I was up against the masquerade, and I still had 75 people in there. And look at "Anime in Academia," it draws.

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime Good point. I don't mind J-culture panels, since they help us understand anime/manga better.

Studyofanime- @edsizemore But that opens another can: what about J-panels that do NOT focus on anime concepts. Like J-Rock/music panels?

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime Yoko Kano, The Pillows, and Asian Kung-Fu Generation panels are all perfectly fine ;-)

Ed Sizemore- @Studyofanime Of course, with Marvel commissioning superhero anime and manga, we are seeing a blending of subcultures on industry level too.

VinceA- @Studyofanime This begs the question of how does one advertise that their con isn't a meme-yelling con. Quality of attendee over quantity.

Studyofanime- @VinceA I think it might go back to the old standard of "Word of Mouth." If you want to keep your con small, don't advertise publicly.


  1. Nice use of Twitter comments. They make more sense when strung out sequentially. I hope to bring some of this to the ruling body of our con (AnimeNEXT)

  2. It took me an hour to order them chronologically, then contextually. But it was worth the effort.

  3. Very interesting and something I have been mulling over for the past couple years (as I've experienced SDComiccon, as friends of mine sway from one side of fandom to another, etc).

    A teacher of mine who does academia panels at comic conventions and I talked about NYAF/NYCC's whole ordeal, and there seems to be quite a bit of disagreement over just what the divide is between the two fandoms. They may be merging slowly, but the divide certainly still exists- we can see that much from some of the bitterness I've observed in the aftermath of that con (anime fans ticked off that their con got swallowed, comic fans annoyed at the influx of anime fans into "their" con). In the end I'm not really sure than anime cons are as welcoming as other cons- it's just that they merely haven't experienced as much 'takeover' as comic cons, for example.

    I do definitely agree the rave is one of the #1 problems when it comes not only to causing trouble for a con security/logistics wise, but bringing in people that have zero interest in the con itself other than the rave. But then I suppose at this point (as said) it's just quality vs quantity- and whether attendees will want the 'quality' con or the 'quantity' con. Tough call to make, sometimes, especially on the budget of the average congoer these days.

  4. I think that there will always be some kind of differential between quality and quantity when it comes to cons. Anime Boston is a great example: they are one of the few cons Ive been to where quality programming attracts large numbers of attendees who are less interested in the "quantity" based fare. But a good deal of why they can have this programming might be related to how large their draw actually is. Which is where quantity fits in. I'm sure most, if not all, con admins want their cons to succeed and grow, because otherwise what would they have. And when the con is smaller, it truly does embody a widening of the community as a whole.

    But in the case of the largest cons, there might always be friction and dissatisfaction for some. That's just the nature of the beast. I know from my own experiences that anime cons tend to be more welcoming of other fandoms than other types of gatherings, but by the same token there are plenty of anime cons that close off certain areas of their programming to non-anime participants. Be it that they would like for the "official" part of the con to remain true to cause or not. But I have never seen a con outright ban non-anime participants from attending, even if they disdain what some of them bring to the table.

  5. Hmm, funny thing that- Anime Boston was the first con I ever went to (my home con) and for the first few years of me attending cons it was my only. But now that I have gone to some other big-names like Otakon, ACen, and comic cons like SDCC, as well as smaller cons like CTcon and C2E2, I feel that your point about community/vibe is truer than ever. Otakon has never had a community vibe to it for me- it seems it's always been 'that out of state con' everyone goes to, much like I hear AX has been. In fact, the reason I personally go to Otakon was never for the community there, but rather to meet friends I met elsewhere- mostly at Anime Boston, and many from online- but I don't think I've ever really /met/ anyone at Otakon. Instead, aside from meeting up those met elsewhere, as a cosplayer I think of Otakon as an 'exhibition' con- where I go to take pictures of and wear my more extravagant cosplays- as well as for the big-name guests and commerce.

    Masquerade is a good example of an area of many anime cons that I see closed off to non-anime participants- I think this is by the nature of the competition. With something like that, you're going to get more complaints/drama popping up about non-anime fandom in the con than with something that has no competitive strings attached to it. I sometimes see complaints about Dealer's Hall having too many non anime-related booths as well- another competition, only for customers in this case. But in general I agree there's a more welcoming atmosphere.

    (That said I do remember one particular year, in 2008 I believe, that I saw complaints of 'too much steampunk' at Anime Boston. Those complaints seem to have been small and died out quickly, though, and funnily enough there was a quite large Batman gathering in 2009 which garnered no complaints at all.)

  6. In my eyes, Otakon has always been a sort of "nexus con," where the devoted of the smaller con circuits tended to meet and interact. I personally think it treads the line between exhibition con and community con, because the emphasis there is not solely focused on Vendors (despite the size of its DR), and it still has a vibe of its own. But like it was mentioned above, Otakon isn't the same type of con it once was. There are a lot of people who go simply because its Otakon, much like a lot of people go to Akon because its there, et al. I know for my own experiences, I've never met people at Otakon, I usually just hang out with the friends I see each year at Katsucon and AUSA.

    Smaller cons breed stronger communities, that much is a given. Even the better attended ones still have good ability to grow a fanbase that will eventually transcribe over. Connecticon is a great example of that, especially since it doesn't bill itself as an anime con per-se, but as a multifandom con. I think in the coming years we are going to see a lot more cons like take the same approach, especially if blending occurs. At the same time, I don't think its a stretch to see smaller, more "quality" based cons emerge, a la Providence, to cater to the growing number of fans who want more from their experience.