I haven't even steeped foot onto the premises, and already the mania and excitement of Anime was bursting at the seams. With everything going on with the news lately, a little escapism can do the psyche some good. Plenty of North Texas Anime fans came to the Sheraton Hotel on Saturday, costumed and all, to celebrate the nirvana that is AnimeFest. Short for "Anime Festival" it's a once a year celebration of all things Japanese animation thrown right here in Downtown Dallas.
A non-stop 4-day event filled with screenings of popular Anime films and TV shows, a marketplace of collectibles, manga, and merchandise, panels of some of the most popular animators, voice actors, and directors in the industry, cosplay galore and shenanigans every hour, on the hour. One thing is for sure, those that walked through the glass doors at the Sheraton this last weekend couldn't unsee it.
I got my press pass, and was given a 174-page program book and a pocket program book, complete with a schedule of programs that stretched out through the night, and a map of three floors that AnimeFest had taken over. Someone new to an Anime convention could feel a little overwhelmed.
My experience with Anime was so limited growing up in the 90's. I was lucky to catch an Anime film on TV, and the Anime shows on television were always English dubbed and edited. That changed thanks in part to networks like Cartoon Network in the early 2000's and a steady marketing campaign that fueled events like AnimeFest. Twelve years ago, I wouldn't have been able to tell you the difference between a Gundam and an Evangelion. But trust me, if I went into that explanation, your head would explode.
An Anime convention has the unique ability to speak to a certain audience. A Comic-Con convention appeals to many young kids and some adults because of its pop culture, and inclination toward superheroes. The battle between Good vs.Evil captured the attention of those that like the straightforward and honest. Anime is very different. With its many different genres with animation appeal, it lives in a universe of grey where themes are more grounded in the real world. Which is why a majority of Anime fans are much older than the pre-teen to adult range. Most superheroes storylines tend to shy away from real life issues, settling for metaphors, subtext, and allegories to send messages across. Anime embraces theses issues fearlessly and lets the audience be its own judge.
Mu Epsilon Kappa Society is, believe it or not, a mixed college fraternity. It's one of several vendors stationed in the Bizarre Bazaar section at AnimeFest. Their mission is to recruit new members in conventions like the one that happened this last weekend. Their other mission is to get a national newsletter off the ground. Now you would think that an Anime fraternity might resemble a skit from Saturday Night Live, but given to the fact that Mu Epsilon Kappa has 23 chapters across the country proves that there is a niche of Anime fans. As I walked up and down the halls of the Sheraton Hotel, I met and chatted with a wide array of patrons that ranged in demographics from male and female, white and black, young and old, straight and LGBT. The atmosphere was friendly, open-minded, and very free spirited. One trait that many of the people who came to Animefest share is, often these fans are very introverted outside of a convention.
Let's be honest, the real world sucks for an introvert. Life's not fair. Not everyone is created equal, and we don't always get what we want. That brand of negativity, close-mindedness, and blatant hypocrisy is what introverts have to tend with on a regular basis. Most of us desired to be the cool kid in school or be good at sports, go to parties and have dates and be the center of attention. Alas, that's never happened, so here we are. At conventions life is turned upside down and the social rules are set in reverse. I watched a mysterious person walk into the convention dressed as video game heroine Samus Aran from "Metriod" and she was treated like a rockstar with photographs, looks of envy, and questions about how she made that suit look so real. Down the hall, a hunky-looking guy dressed like Captain America walked by. He stuck out like Richard Simmons if he were at the 700 Club.
What poor Captain America didn't understand is that if he were at Dallas ComicCon, he would have been treated like a star, but at AnimeFest, it's the men and women who resemble characters from Chobits, Sailor Moon, Trigun, Attack on Titan, One Piece, and Space Dandy who are the real heroes. The other non-anime guys are just playing dress up. The best cosplay outfit besides Samus was the brave soul who made their walk through the convention dressed in a beautiful Mobile Suit Gundam outfit made of cardboard. The most offensive cosplay outfit was some guy hanging outside the arcade room dress as blackface character Mr. Popo from "Dragon Ball Z" (that was really awkward).
The main draw of this year's Dallas AnimeFest was a section called the Dealer's Room. People were willing to wait in line wearing their convention badge for an opportunity to check to see what was on sale. I was sandwiched between a group of cosplayers dressed as cops from "Resident Evil" and another chap really enjoying some food from Genghis Grill as we entered into the merchandise hub. It was really worth the wait. There were booths that offered volumes of Manga books. Scores of popular clothes from oversees, DVD collections of every anime you could name. Pachinko games. Its like pinball, but very elaborate and interactive. I wandered over to Kyoto Kitchen, the only food vendor inside the Dealer's Room that sells Japanese snack food and drinks. I tried Pocky for the first time. To the naked eye, it looked like a stick of incense that you would burn to freshen a room. You take a bite, and you get the sweet chocolate taste of a smore.
I ventured into the adjacent side of the Sheraton Hotel next. I passed a commissary desk called Prop Check, where cosplayers with accessories (guns, swords, etc) have their items inspected. A small price to pay to insure the safety of everyone here looking to a have a great time. The program book that was given to me made a lot of interesting points for the justification of a weapons check at an Anime convention. As important it is to people who like to dress up as a Anime character for its authenticity, and as open minded people are accepting individuality, and as available the numerous things to do at this convention for the whole weekend, all it takes is for one person to disrespect the rules of the convention that will cause blowback to the faces of everyone who follows the rules.
I only spent a couple of hours at the arcade room of the convention, where people can play a variety of video games with others. I realize that my skill as a gamer needs a lot of work. So after getting my butt handed to me several times, I checked out the Board Gaming rooms of the convention. The thing about playing the games that are being offered at AnimeFest is that depending on your personality, the use of your imagination, and your attention span, there is an avenue out there for you. I'm a visual guy and I like for the experience to be interactive. So playing in the arcade is a no-brainer. But if you have more of a refined imagination and have never outgrown the "Monopoly" or "Risk" games of yesteryear, playing in the Board Gaming rooms is your speed, where you can participate with rivals or frenemies for some instant bragging rights.
Now what if you're a Larper? Long story short, a person who dresses like a fantasy character in an real life RPG. Though there isn't much love for the larpers at AnimeFest, the next best thing are RPG events held by Pathfinders Society. People always make jokes about playing games like "Dungeons and Dragons" in a basement somewhere, but Pathfinders Society has been around for a while and has showcased some popular RPGs at AnimeFest the previous year. And given that it has a strong fan following and people willing to play some of the events into the dead of night, they're worth checking out.
Honestly, the best games being held at AnimeFest, are the games that are being played out of spontaneity. I came to the third floor of the Sheraton Hotel, where that have viewing rooms of the Anime TV show and films being shown. A game of "Spin The Bottle" was being played. I found the whole damn thing odd, but people weren't playing for kisses, they were playing for hugs. (Aww) Later into the evening, I found myself playing "Cards Against Humanity" with a large group of people at a table. Never played before and I never knew that I'm a vile and misogynist bigot. But playing this adult version of "Apples to Apples" in this atmosphere was an unexpected surprise. I got to know some interesting people and while spectators were laughing and gasping about the combination of answers that were provided in each round, you couldn't help but to love the sense of community that AnimeFest offers for the outsiders, introverts, and the socially-challenged peers in all of us.
J-Rock band "Flow" came to town. My feelings on Japanese music are mixed. But given to the way there were rocking out on the stage is a direct response to anyone's criticism of J-Rock music. They played to a packed crowd with people still crowding outside to get a glimpse of what's going on. If a band wanted to celebrate their 10-year anniversary by jumping up and down repeatedly to the point that the stage begins to wobble and shake and the music is so loud and deafening that no one is noticing that a fire alarm was set off and the theme song to "Dragon Ball Z" was the contributing factor to what may have been cannon fodder for a late night host, then Flow has succeeded its mission to making Saturday Night at AnimeFest an experience people will never forget.