My lifelong obsession with Japan grew out of japanese animation.
It started very early. I would watch Sesame Street as a very young child, and afterward, Space Battleship Yamato (or Starblazers as it was known to Americans in general) would come on after. Then there was Macross (Robotech for Americans), which I had to watch on the sneak. My mom wasn’t really a fan of watching ‘military’ fashioned cartoons for many different reasons, so I have no idea why she even let me watch Starblazers to let the seed plant itself. After that, anime took a holiday for a while, because Duck Tales. While not Japanese, it held interest for quite some time. Right before Duck Tales though? Transformers (ripped from Japan by Hasbro from the original Diaclone and Microman toys in Japan). Optimus and the gang were kind of Japanese too, even if I didn’t know it. Other cartoons came and went. I watched a lot of cartoons (I would later go one to study in Philadelphia to become an animator). They were the thing I was known for in my circle of friends.
But everything changed with Akira.
Akira was my first ‘grown up’ animation. I gained cognizance of it about the time I was thirteen and it changed everything. I was well aware of cyberpunk and dystopian fiction courtesy of a steady diet of William Gibson’s sprawl trilogy books. I knew about post-apocalypse because I’d seen the Road Warrior enough times. And now, I had the sprawl, plus motorcycle combat plus cartoons all under one roof. It completely blew my mind. The next con I went to – a Star Trek con of all places – I found a ton of bootleg VHS of anime. It was the best day I ever cut school, and it was even with my father’s blessing and assistance (he kinda cut school too, being a teacher and all). The bins were full of stuff, and I walked away with the first eight episodes of Starblazers and Macross: Do You Remember Love.
I didn’t know it at the time, but around the time of that same convention, something was growing from a small State College event in Pennsylvania. Something I wouldn’t realize for another six or seven years.
My immersion began to fully realize the wealth of stuff that was out there. Akira became the original Macross series – even if it was the cleaned up, Maceked-to-hell-and-back version. That turned me toward Macross II (ugh, don’t watch that). After that I found Record of Lodoss War, The Slayers, and one of my personal favorites: Giant Robo. My friend Marc introduced me to that one, and then got me onto a personal favorite, Irresponsible Captain Tylor.
It was around this time that I got a job working for TV studio out West of Philadelphia. It was a shitty overnight gig, but it afforded me a lot of time to talk with a co-worker about Anime. Matt was one of the founding fathers of Otakon. I’d heard of it – but I was unaware of the scope of it. Matt would tell me stories, and it got me very interested. But I was a newly minted college grad with a ton of debt and a car payment. I didn’t have a lot of scratch. But, I’d watch him making the transitions for Otakon events late at night and dream of better days.
Then I got laid off from that job. Otakon was forgotten for another two years.
In college round two, I met up with more anime people as you’re want to do when thrust into an environment where a third of the students are animation majors. And after hanging out with with my friends Jay and Elena for a while, I found out they were going to the Mecca of anime nerds. Otakon 2001.
I told my dad about it. At this time, dad was doing well for himself after thirty odd years in public education. Dad was always very into science fiction and I’d brought him along with me on my anime experiences in the past (awkward watching Ninja Scroll with your dad in the room, but still). I didn’t exactly angle for dad’s financial support or not to attend, but dad took interest. A few days later we had our weekend passes and a reservation at the Wyndham in Baltimore.
It was magical.
For me, being involved with Anime was like belonging to a secret society. It was a specialized thing that not too many people knew about other than people who hung around the Japanimation aisle at Suncoast Video. I had no idea how wide the audience would be that first year.
It was the year that Cowboy Bebop had come to the states. Geneon was becoming the king of the industry and we saw so much new stuff, not just from the studios like ADV, Manga, Geneon, or (shudder) U.S. Manga Corps, but the stuff that wasn’t even licensed yet. I learned about fansubbing, fan parodies, Anime Music Videos, the old guard stuff like Mazinger Z (otherwise known as that show with the tit missiles).
We’d spend all hours of the night and day attending events. We’d stay til con close at 2:00 AM then hit the shady shack for cheeseteaks. Sleep was for chumps. When the dealer’s room opened, we loaded up with freebies and whatever we coukld get our hands on at a reasonable price. We toured artist alley. We’d have great meals in the Harborplace.
This went on for ten years.
And then, I realized that I just didn’t need it anymore. By that time, Geneon had collapsed. ADV was redirecting its focus. The animation houses and American studios converting the big titles were putting the kibopsh on screenings that were fansubbed. We just weren’t getting the new stuff unless the studios were poised to sell in the next twelve months. I was going not so much for the content – but for the dealer’s rom and to have together times with my friends in the anime community. The biggest reasons though were close to home – my newly born niece and nephew. I had a choice in the summer of 2010: go to Otakon, or miss their christening. Given I’m Jack’s godfather, it seemed wrong not to go. I also didn’t have the scratch for both.
This day marks the last day of Otakon 2014. I imagine folks are pouring out of Baltimore in droves, with some of the more hardcore folks staying another night for one last blast at Edo Sushi, or to hit the Aquarium, wandeing in post otaku euphoria uintil they come back down to Earth and realize that they won’t be able to eat for the next two weeks (that’s the way we played it – boxed sets at 50% off means food was relegated to second place in the hierarchy of needs).
I miss it sometimes, but honestly, I have the internet to get my my fanboy stuff, I have friends to watch my existing titles with (and the occasional new ones). Sure, no cosplay is involved, there’s no mad rush to see things on schedule. I don’t get signatures and don’t wait in long lines.
And, I’m okay with that.
But to the new guard. To the people who want to steep their children in the culture the same way I was. For the burning heart of the otaku soul, you owe it to yourself to go at least once.
Find out for yourself.
You won’t be disappointed.