Around this time two months ago I made an announcement that I would be attending my first ever anime convention – Hibanacon 2017. In actuality this was my first convention of any kind. It will probably also be my last.
I can pinpoint a few reasons why I chose to go to this particular convention, none of which flatter my decision making skills. Honestly I think it was a fear of missing out more so than anything else. Embarrassing, I know, but a fair amount of my twitter mutual’s have been attending anime conventions within the past year, and seeing the great experiences they derived from attending made me want to join the exclusive fun club. Unfortunately travelling aboard to the US is far outside my price range, so I looked inwards to the UK scene and (shockingly!) stumbled upon a convention that I hadn’t already missed. That was Hibanacon, a first time con for all things Japanese, boasting three days worth of panels, screenings, cosplay and social events.
In a quick and not at all forethought moment of impulsivity, I booked my totally non-refundable trip to Milton Keynes, and removed any worries about it from my mind. I would go to an anime convention whether it killed me or not!
It was at a much later point, in the weeks leading up to the opening day, that I begun to realize that I didn’t really want to go to Hibanacon. I only knew one person going of whom I was familiar with, and the content being offered on that weekend didn’t have me hyped up at all. I do genuinely have a tendency to stress myself out unnecessarily though, so disregarding the miasma left me with me some lingering hope. I had no idea what to expect after all. It was my first time. But looking back on the whole ordeal now, it was unequivocally doomed from the get-go. The unavoidable issues I eventually had are about more than just event lists and familiarity. It’s about my place within the anime community, for as amalgamous and fuzzy as that term is, and how that limits the value these occasions have to me.
You see for the first two days of Hibanacon, I mostly just wandered around, poking my head around corners and sitting in on panels I had never originally planned to attend. It was firstly boring, and secondly forced. I hated not doing anything after exerting myself just to be there but at the same time thought that a facade of interest was even more detrimental to discovering any possible fulfillment. This conflict ultimately led me down a path of self-reflection, which initially had me come to conclusion that it was the nature of the convention itself that didn’t mesh with me. That perhaps a bigger con with more events that suited my interests was ‘the fix’. Less blank spots in my schedule to be standing around without purpose. That would surely be perfect.
However by the third and final day, I had given up. My self-reflection had turned to disinterest. I spent almost the entire time outside of the con, catching up with seasonal anime and wishing I had brought my laptop so that I could write blog posts. It is both a harsh and depreciating opinion to have on Hibanacon, which by and large, was almost universally praised. There is perhaps no more damning condemnation of a hobbyist excursion than to wish you could do what you normally do at home. But this juxtaposition meant that I’m the outsider. The responsibility for not liking Hibanacon rests with me. It’s my fault.
And I do agree with that last statement; with a ~ caveat ~. You see I don’t truly believe it would have changed much had the panels been different. If there was more events to fit my various niches. If the venue was bigger or the attendees from a different clique. Because none of those things represent why I am involved in the anime community to begin with. Interesting subjects are great, yes, but when I think about the people whose work I’ve connected with the most since my time on twitter and wordpress, it’s never really been about what they talk about. It’s about individuality and engagement and personal investment. That’s why the work I’ve loved the most from anime bloggers has often been about their time at an idol show or their experience writing haiku as examples. I see their evolution as creatives and I come to care about what they say as an extension of their personal identity.
I get none of that from a convention. It’s so impersonal by comparison. Countless strangers presenting powerpoints with pre-scripted notes is not the worst thing in the world, but it’s so clearly not what I’m looking to get from my engagement with the broader anime community. There’s honestly no shortage of anime fans with something to say, and providing a dedicated time and place for that still doesn’t furnish me with anxious enthusiasm.
“Oh? John Doe is hosting a discussion on One Piece and it’s links to cultural subpatriarchial theory, body realism and visual dysmorphism? Cool, but this person I care about is talking about the top 10 Love Live! reaction faces so I think I’ll go spend my time with that.”
I think the #12 Days project from last year (which is quickly coming back around) highlights this distinction best. Everyone involved committed to making as close to 12 full blog posts as possible within a limited time frame. Participation was first and foremost throughout the project and community was built around repeated engagement and encouragement. In the end the lasting connections I made and the involvement I felt wasn’t about the topics or about the timing. Instead it was about getting to work closely alongside impassioned people, and coming to understand their unique perspectives through collaboration and dialogue. The developing connections came from more than just that initial shared interest in anime. It represented a tangible and constructive side of the community that I could individually and collectively belong to.
And having said that, I don’t believe anime conventions could ever offer me a comparative experience. The infrastructure obviously isn’t there and the social dynamics are consistently skewed. You could argue that any one of the fans I didn’t talk to at Hibanacon could have offered me a unique perspective had I simply approached them first, but if that is what it takes, then why should it be a con attendee at all? Why not the personal standing in front of me at the supermarket? Or the tour guide at a museum? Where is the kick-start incentive for me to choose that avenue?
It plainly isn’t the community I seek out. So while I do regret going to Hibanacon, at minimum I’m thankful that the disconnect it gave me led me towards this awkward conclusion. I don’t want the closing sentiment of this retrospective to be that of a self-aggrandizing pity party condemning anime conventions as a ‘lesser’ entity, which it’s not, but I owe it to this blog and its readers to be transparent about my reservations. Since the circles I operate in right now are reliably worthwhile, then I think it’s safe for me to stick within the space I’ve already found. After all, that’s more time I get to spend with you lovely folk!
Thanks for reading.