How many of you readers keep “bucket lists?” Things you absolutely need to do while on this journey of life? I personally have 2: experiences, and conventions. Stuff I want to do that is definitely out of the norm (like be a contestant on a televised game show, which I scratched off in 2005), or places I want to visit (like the time I spent $500 going to Stonehenge because IT’S F’ING STONEHENGE). I first heard the term at a con, actually, way back at Anime Mid Atlantic 2008, when some of my friends were commenting on which shows they want to watch (which I call my backlog) or which conventions they needed to attend. Back then, I only had one- Otakon- and had it in my head I would never get a chance to see it.
Today, my “bucket list” is considerably longer, focuses on regions more than conventions, and has a few stalwart events that I first heard of back in 2008-09, which I am giving the old college try to finally see. Some of them are unfeasible simply due to distance (Sakuracon, Fanime, AX), others due to expense (A-kon, Nan Desu Kon, Anime Fest), and others...well, no idea actually (Animazement, Yamacon, Anime North). For some reason or another, these cons are all ones I want to see, but combinations of factors have kept me from visiting.
Prior to 2014, Anime Central was also on that list. The largest convention in the Midwest, and I believe the third or fourth largest in the country, Acen assumed the position vacated by Otakon after I scratched that off in 2009. It was big, it was fun (at least according to people I know who had visited), and it had the largest Artist Alley of any con, anywhere (also according to friends...in this case, Kit). The biggest mark against Acen? It was located in Chicago, which is a bit far outside my travel zone, despite being the next “major city” west of me.
Well, fortune smiled this year, and I managed to finally get to Anime Central. It might be the first time I attended a con for the guests (in this case, Crispin and Helen), but as this was likely the only time I could manage to make the trip, it made sense to just throw everything to the Windy City, and experience something new.
Back when I started attending cons, there was always this sense of excitement to taking the trip. Going outside my comfort zone, or places that were familiar to me, satisfying that wanderlust I was raised with, those were stronger motivators for hitting the road than the fandom were. That was why I smashed myself into the back seat of a car to visit Anime Boston and Tekkoshocon, or why I stayed awake all night before the road trip to that first Neko. There was an excitement built into anticipating a new place, a new thing, which motivated me to experience it to the fullest. It was why conventions became so powerful for me, and likely for a lot of attendees through the years.
It was also lacking a lot in recent memory. One of the downsides to doing as many cons as I do is the monotony- after a time, every event starts to feel the same. Rather than getting excited about just being there, it became seeing certain people, giving certain panels, or making the road trip itself (I’ve gone on record saying there are cons I go to specifically because I like the drive). Time seems to smash together, and passes in a blur, which leads to confusion when I mistake happenings at a con two year ago for one I just attended, or forgot that awesome closing ceremonies video AJ and I spent a full weekend making was three events ago, not last year.
While I did manage to visit a lot of amazing places in 2014, Anime Central was the perfect mix of new and exciting. From connecting with friends who had moved away, to seeing a new city, experiencing a new event, making new friends, and spending time being all anime-nerdy with two of my idols, Anime Central had the kind of energy that I used to feel all the time back in 2007-2009, when cons were still somewhat new to me, and I was navigating through a fandom that was experiencing changes and transformation of its own. It felt nostalgic, but also refreshing, to encounter a convention vibe that I hadn’t felt in years, and get swept up in a new energy. No matter that Anime Central was different from what I was used to- that just made the weekend pass by differently, as I observed and took in how another branch of my fandom chose to experience community.
Last year, Tom Stidman wrote about how cultivating fandom identity often requires the fan to examine their own role in the community. I wholeheartedly agreed then, and I do now. One of the definite benefits of 2014 was forcing my old, stagnant identity out into the open, where I could actively critique the fan I had become. I often mention Kill la Kill as lighting the proverbial fire under my ass when it came to appreciating anime, but at the same time there were the new conventions, new audiences, and new experiences that flavored my year much the same. I went outside my routine, discovered new worlds waiting for me, and in turn managed to approach my annual events with a new light. It definitely made my entire year feel more productive, and more authentic.
Sometimes we can get swept up in who we feel we are, or in the expectations we believe others have of us. This is not living authentically, it is another form of conforming. One of the benefits of fandom is that it should allow us to be who we are, experience life as we want to experience it, and surround us with likeminded individuals who encourage our growth as people. Anime conventions that I’ve attended in the past were always those places for me, and for many of the attendees who commented on my surveys and interviews back when I was in grad school. But settling into routines, developing expectations of events, and trying to make everyone happy is a disservice to all involved. It distracts us from what’s important- community, friends, family, devotion, compassion.
Which, in this season, are values that are consistently hammered home. Love thy neighbor, love thy brother, love thy otaku.
On the 7th day of Anime...I went far and wide, to find something close to home.