A few years ago I treated my younger sister with a trip to Anime Expo. When we arrived at the hotel, it was a scene I was all too familiar with – cosplayers showing off their props, teenagers carrying around signs that said “free hugs”, domo-kun plushies and declarations of “Glomp me and die! In short, an anime convention – the collective incarnation of an awkward teenager. I took a deep breath, these were my people! As I recently passed the big 3-0 however, I begin to wonder if this, like all good things, must come to an end?
First a little history regarding my experience with anime conventions. When I first started attending conventions about 15 years ago, I was always a little put off by the older crowd. Sure, there are tons of older anime fans. After all, Matt Greenfield wasn’t a spring chicken when he founded ADV. Still, I wondered what had drawn the older fans to the convention culture more specifically. Convention attendees seemed at the time to be largely younger (14-18), and attended not necessarily for industry panels, but for the cosplay competitions, artist alley and dealers hall. They largely engaged in hijinks, shouting random phrases and playing games like glomp the domo. Fanime after 10 PM looked like a huge slumber party and I began to wonder: what did this convention have to offer the older fan?
The thing with time is that it always travels just slowly enough for you not to see it coming, but fast enough so that the day you celebrate your “dirty thirty” seemingly comes out of nowhere. As the years marched on, and I with it, into my mid and later twenties, I began to see that the convention scene doesn’t peak when you’re young, but that older con-goers begin to see their priorities change in a big way. Rather than fight for first-in-line spot at the dealers hall, they might line up to have a panel discussion with up and coming manga artists. Rather than attend an elaborate cosplay competition, they might spend a day taking their own pictures to compile an extensive cosplay photo album. You may find them in the asian film room, or generally exploring other genres or independent film projects. They haven’t removed themselves from the mainstream, but primarily utilize conventions as a means of networking with other older fans, finding out which blogs and webcomics might be fun to follow, and generally keeping their finger on the pulse of the industry.
Personally, I found that I went to a lot more panels in the last couple years at conventions than I ever did when I was younger. I also have been able to be more financially flexible at conventions, no longer relying on scrounging together money from part time jobs in an attempt to survive off cup of noodles seasoned with the salt of my tears. Purchases and experiences that would never be possible in my younger years now come as standard fare, and since my companions and I are close in age, we are able to enjoy these experiences together. A good example of this happened just this last year at Fanime: my friends were telling me about this cool new place called The AFK Lounge that featured an impressive lineup of board, card and video game offerings combined with great bar-food. If this were to be offered say, 10 years ago, I’d be clutching the last $20 I had (which was supposed to last me another 48 hours) and be unable to enjoy such an experience. Instead, a party of 15 Millennials went out and enjoyed numerous cocktails, gaming and overall had a great time. As you get older you begin to find that a lot of the fun isn’t confined to within the convention walls; it’s in the experiences you can enjoy as a result of the convention, and the people that it attracts.
A fandom doesn’t go away because you get older, you get older when you let your fandom slip away. I’ll be attending Anime Expo again this year, with the illustrious Premiere Badge no less, and look forward to some late night networking with older fans in the 21+ lounge. While I’m sure there will be a few moments when I find myself looking around at the attendees and thinking to myself “What the heck are you doing here?”, the moment will pass and I’ll remember why I’ve been such an engaged anime fan for the better part of 15 years now: a dynamic and thriving base.
For all of you older con-goers out there- sound off in the comments below. How has con-going changed for you over the years? Do you think the younger generation approaches conventions differently these days? We want to hear from you!
(This article is mine, but was originally posted on Geektrum)