I am the proud father of a fifteen-year-old anime/manga fan, and last weekend I was her escort to Sakura-Con, a huge, lively, weird, wild, and cool anime convention here in Seattle.
I’ve been to conventions before, believe me. The first fan convention I ever attended was a Chicago Comicon in 1976, at the Playboy Club no less, but there was a bit of a dry spell until a very small event called IdeCon that was organized by the gaming club at Hersey High School in suburban Chicago in 1981. I still have the IdeCon badge pasted into the endpapers of my (second printing, 1978) first edition AD&D Player’s Handbook—and since then I’ve saved every convention badge from the old Chicago Wargamers Association (CWA) cons through my first Gen Con (#14, at the University of Washington-Parkside in 1981) and on through World Science Fiction Conventions, San Diego Comicon. . . . So if I’ve been attending fan conventions for thirty-four years, surely there were no surprises in store for me at Sakura-Con.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. I was very pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong about not being pleasantly surprised.
I also went in thinking I knew something about anime. Almost twenty years ago, my friend Gordon was in a local suburban Chicago anime club. In those days the members of the club would come to meetings with a new anime video they found somewhere and a blank VHS tape. The club meeting would then consist of everybody copying each others’ videos onto their blank tapes so they would all walk out with one new anime from each club member. Gordon was kind enough to dupe copies for me from time to time, too, which is where I first encountered anime (post-Speed Racer, anyway). I dug it. I saw Vampire Princess Miyu, 3×3 Eyes, and other “classics” this way: very bad VHS dupes of dupes of dupes . . . setting aside various copyright hiccups since no money changed hands—or so we told ourselves. That was a long time ago, but not that long ago, right? And I’ve seen a couple newer ones since then, like Planetes. I liked Planetes.
Surprise number two.
Turns out fifteen or twenty years is a long time, especially in as vibrant a scene as anime.
I recognized very little—and I mean very little of what was being shown, sold, and fawned over at this convention, and once I got over the initial disorientation I started loving every minute of it.
Having been to dozens of conventions over more than three decades, I’ve seen people in costumes before. I’ve had otherwise perfectly normal conversations with Klingons, tried in vain to maintain strict eye contact with women asking me questions while wearing less than the average Victoria’s Secret model, and accidently bumping into robots and aliens from the farthest corners of the cosmos. But the costumes at Sakura-Con really took it up a notch (or ten) in creativity, attention to detail, and sheer exuberance. Though not nearly as elaborate as some, the guy dressed as Toast was my favorite.
I didn’t ask him, “Why toast?” Would it have mattered? Could he have said anything that would have made my experience of Toast better than it was just accepting that he was dressed as Toast? Certainly not.
There was one person (gender unknown) dressed as Bonta-kun that blew my mind. The costume was huge, and perfect down to the most minute detail. All he/she was missing was a shotgun.
Here’s a picture of my daughter, Alex, with Mojo Jojo of The Power Puff Girls fame.
Alex loved that show as a wee tot, and this guy was great. He was on staff at the convention and helped keep the autograph lines moving.
Autographs, you ask? Who’s signing autographs at an amine convention?
Well, that’s what I asked myself, too, and was shocked by the answer:
I’ve always thought that being a cartoon voice actor would be the most fun job in the world, but other than a few cast members of The Simpsons or other actors known for live action stuff who go on to voice movie characters like the star-studded Dreamworks and Pixar features, the voice actor (I thought) was kind of a background player, toiling away in anonymity. I certainly couldn’t name a single person who’s ever provided a voice for a character in an anime or cartoon.
Well, I can now.
I was slack-jawed at the reception a few of these actors received at this convention. They played to rooms of hundreds of people, maybe even a thousand, who hung on their every word, literally screaming as though they were rock stars. I was particularly taken by Luci Christian, who was so nice, so cheerful, and gave exceptional advice in response to questions from the audience. We stood in line for her to sign my daughter’s copy of the Ouran High School Host Club DVD set then we got back in line for Todd Haberkorn (also from Ouran High School Host Club) and while we waited there, Luci kept on signing even though the guy on the microphone had warned the last third of the line that they wouldn’t make it before she had to leave to catch a flight home . . . but Luci stayed until the last person in line got an autograph That’s a class act. It is. And I’ve seen signings where that doesn’t happen, and shame on them.
Alex scored a perfect Ouran High School Host Club DVD autograph trifecta. I was as excited for her as she was excited to get it, even though, walking in Friday morning, I had never heard of these people before in my life. It’s weird, being in a room of rabid screaming fans and just shrugging, looking around, like, “Really? Who is this guy?” These might be cult followings, but this a big cult, and they’re following all right!
But honestly, you know what I thought was really cool?
All the girls.
I don’t remember there being any female humans at that 1976 Chicago Comicon (unfortunately, we didn’t even get to see a Playboy Bunny), and very very few if any at those first couple of Gen Cons. Even now, the male-female ratio at Gen Con is pretty heavily tilted toward the male. But not so at Sakura-Con.
I was also surprised by how old I felt, and not just because my feet hurt so bad from standing in line. At Gen Con I feel exactly the right age. At World Fantasy I feel young as when the world was new. At Sakura-Con I felt like the old fat bald dad trailing behind his daughter, totally agog at this bizarre sub-culture he never imagined had infiltrated his happy home.
Some dads in that position might get their dander up, but not me. I loved every blessed second of it.
Here was a community of girls just like the community of boys (gamers) that got me through high school, and they’re helping my daughter get through high school too.
In the past few years, so-called “Geek Culture” has finally penetrated the American psyche. People are starting to get that Bill Gates might look all “nerdy,” but in the end, he wins. Geeks win. The captain of the high school football team is still working construction somewhere and the guy he used to lock in gym lockers is the multi-billionaire.
But that’s boy geeks. Girl geeks have been left behind. We still value pretty and stupid over nerdy and smart when it comes to the fairer sex, and that’s something we need to get past as a culture. Sakura-Con may be doing more for that than anything else. Last weekend I walked past a future President of the United States, the next Bill Gates, and the woman who’ll cure cancer. I can feel it.
The nerdy girls are coming out, people, and I can’t wait for my daughter to be one of them.