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It’s that time of year again. Anime and gaming conventions are happening all across the country, many of them one weekend after the other. So what actually happens at one of these conventions? Are those crazy stories you hear actually true or did someone just make it up? As a convention goer myself – and fresh back from the largest anime convention in the Midwest; Anime Central – I’ll be spilling all of the details of what really happens at the con…and if the saying ‘what happens at the con, stays at the con’ is really true.
Before we get into any debunkings about cons, the first thing you need to know is register as early as possible! This is crucial if you want to actually have a good time and not spend one of the three or four days of the convention waiting in line to fork over $55 to get your pass for the remaining days. When I arrived at Anime Central, there was a line wrapped around the convention center and leaking into the hotel’s garden on Thursday night (the day before the convention even started). I kid you not! Friday – the official start of the convention – wasn’t much better. From 5am to probably 5pm there were people lined up hoping against hope to be able to make it through the elusive doors to the convention hall and purchase their sought after badge. That’s a long ass time to be standing in line waiting to buy a pass when you could not only be hanging out with friends, but cosplaying and going to panels. However, once you get your shiny, shiny badge, the world of the convention is finally within your grasp.
Once you step through that not-so-glossy concrete archway leading to the dealer hall, you’re transported to what seems like a different world. Cosplayers galore, artists you stalk on DeviantArt and even weapon dealers are milling around. You’ll occasionally hear several vendors beckoning you to come look at their wares or offering commissions. But here lies the tricky part. Do you shop around and see what there is to see, or do you blow all of your hard-earned spending money within the first hour? A word of advice: leave shopping for the last day of the convention. You’ll have plenty of time to look around and more often than not, vendors will have a dozen or more of each item (sometimes even hundreds!) and it’s very unlikely that they will run out by the end of the convention. So not only do you get to drool over figurines of scantily clad anime characters and real katanas, but you also have all weekend to decide what you really want to get and what you only think you want. Impulse spending at conventions is hard to overcome, but if you can, it will be well worth the agony of waiting. If you have to, do what I did; don’t bring your money with you! Stick your ID in your badge holder and leave the cash in the hotel room.
While you’re busy trying to overcome your desire to blow every penny you have on merchandise, you’re bound to run across some amazing cosplayers. And likely, more than a few not-so-great ones as well. It’s incredibly fun to squeal like the rabid fangirl/boy you are and rush up to them, gushing about their costume, but don’t. As a cosplayer myself, it’s rather awkward when someone bum-rushes you and asks you every detail about how you made your costume. Of course, that might just be me and the fact I’m rather socially awkward regardless of the situation. Some people are more than happy to tell you how they made an element for their costume. But if they start giving you that odd “OMGCREEPER” look and start backing away, you’re likely coming on a bit too strong. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to nicely ask a cosplayer if you can take their picture; 9 times out of 10 they’ll happily say yes.
Then…then there’s the panels. Some will feature famous voice actors and directors from major companies such as Funimation, some will be fan panels. Some just sound hilarious and yet wrong at the same time (take note of “Girls Who Like Boys Who Punch Boys”). But among the random fan panels and big fancy panels, you’ll run across panels made by cosplayers for cosplayers. One such panel I went to this year was titled “Cosplay for Fat People, By Fat People!” Not only was a panel that was cheerful and overall hilarious, but it was informative too! (Did you know you can get a giant bag of fabric at Salvation Army for around $2? I didn’t!) Sometimes you’ll get odd panels that have you walking out halfway through and others where you don’t feel like it’s been two hours and you don’t want it to end. However, the panels aren’t the only fun thing. Waiting in line is half the fun! While waiting in line for a panel on how NOT to write a lemon fanfic, the entire line suddenly burst into song; everything from Disney to video games to anime to show-tunes were sung during the hour and a half wait. Needless to say, it was one of the best waiting lines I’ve ever been in. Unfortunately, not all lines are like this. Some are dead quiet where you feel odd for talking to your friend that you’re a mere half-inch away from due to the crowded hallway and others are so loud that you may develop a headache from the sheer stupidity floating around. Either way, panels are a fun way to spend the day at a con as well as seeing a few cosplays while you’re at it.
However, panels aren’t everything when it comes to conventions. Many will host masquerades where cosplayers can put on skits and compete for a trophy or a dance. Anime Central happened to host not only a masquerade and dance that lasted until 3am, but also hosted a concert by FLOW and a fashion show by Japanese designers Sixh and h.NAOTO this year. Granted the line for the concert was wrapped around the hotel and I didn’t feel like waiting in line, but that’s besides the point. Every convention is different in it’s form of entertainment, but masquerades and dances are the most common from what I’ve noticed.
If you’re planning on cosplaying, heed my warning: you will be sleep deprived. Between the late-night 18+ panels and getting up early for breakfast and to get your makeup, hair and costume done, coffee and energy drinks will be your best friend. If you can, sneak up to your hotel room for a quick cat-nap when no one is looking. Other than that, plan on hooking up an IV filled with coffee and sugar to keep yourself awake. Also, plan on being stopped in the vendor halls every two seconds for pictures. While it’s fun and quite flattering at first, it does get annoying if you’re trying to hurry to a photo shoot or panel. Also, beware of creepers and stalkers. Sometimes you’ll unknowingly gain a stalker at a mass photo shoot and as you’re leaving with a friend to grab some lunch or attend a panel, they’ll run after you shouting the name of whoever you’re cosplaying. Not only is it a bit awkward, but can be a bit scary if you don’t have anyone with you. In my case, I had a friend with me who rescued me by informing said stalker that something had come up and we had to leave. When in doubt, use the buddy system!
Now, for that frequently asked question “Does what happen at the con stay at the con?” The answer is no. Typically people returning from conventions can’t wait to see friends and dish about what crazy stunt they saw or the amazing merchandise they saw. Unless you’ve done something really, really embarrassing, chances are you’ll tell everyone you know what happened at the convention. In my case, it was the fact that six ambulances were called in a three-day period because people kept trying to do crazy stunts.
All in all, conventions are about having fun, being stupid with your friends and going to panels that may or may not rock your socks. But so long as you go in prepared and ready for anything, the wonderful adventure that is an anime convention will quite possibly be the best thing that happens to you all year.