Sunday, August 5, 2012

John at Otakon 2012

Welcome to Otakon 2012, an Asian culture convention that greeted 32,000 attendees this year.

Behold! Acres of B.O.
The convention has been an annual retreat for me for years. In many ways it’s my TED Talks, even though I go to film and show screenings rather than lectures. I don’t have the knowledge to curate viewing myself, but in a weekend I’m exposed to more new plots and characterizations than I’d find in a year’s subscription to HBO or Asimov’s. That’s not a slight against our American media, but recognition that it is American media. Otakon prominently features Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Korean film and fiction.

We have cross-cultural similarities, but they produce different thoughts and norms, which broaden an imagination largely trained by just one media culture. Even the mundane tropes of their TV shows cast different light on what we could do in our stories but never think about. No U.S. police procedural or cyperpunk was like Ghost in the Shell; no Romantic Comedy I’ve ever seen stacks up to Delhi Belly; and the only filmmaker I can compare Let the Bullets Fly to is Quentin Tarantino. I sit through some of the most juvenile programs, simply studying how they handle things we never think about. I sketched out the first original novel I ever wrote sitting in the back row during a High School Comedy marathon.
Totoro reminds John to stop being pretentious.
There are many reasons to go to something like this. The Voice Actors After Dark panel, where I heard a vampiric butler read Go The F*ck To Sleep, was one. The Anime Music Video Contest, in which fans create music videos of spliced popular music and clips from shows, routinely beats the hell out of what I see on MTV and validates it as an artform. I’ve got no desire to see Final Destination 5, but the fake trailer one fan made from its audio and clips from the anime Another is something I’d pay to watch, if only it were real. And then there’s cosplay.

I’ve never been into costuming. I enjoy that other people enjoy it, and have a profound appreciation for the fandom. As an author, I’d love to create characters that audiences would spend months patterning costumes after. Yet at the show I ran into a new breed of cosplayer, which almost inspired in me a desire to dress up. It’s not merely satisfactory to create a good likeness of your favorite character. These characters created the likenesses of their favorite characters from specific moments in their favorite stories.

For instance, anyone can fashion a purple vest and giant foam sword. But what about recreating the time Final Fantasy hero Cloud Strife dressed in drag to sneak into a brothel?
If only I were capable of photographing
myself high-fiving someone.

Full Metal Alchemist has enduring popularity in fandom, but it takes real tenacity to pretend you’re dead for two hours to recreate the saddest moment in the series.

Yes. Yes, this is humanity tapping its full potential. My inspiration took me far enough to follow someone dressed as The Laughing Man for half a city block, until he was next to a payphone. If you know why, then you belong here.

Probably the only J.D. Salinger quote
that will ever appear on this site.
I didn’t bother too many people for photographs, especially as I only recognized a tenth or less of the characters. My favorite moments didn’t seem appropriate to photograph; people in intricate costumes at rest, hugging or chatting with friends they hadn’t seen in months or years. Once it leaves the individual experience, a lot of Speculative Fiction in any medium exists as an excuse to bond. Half the reason I photographed this group was just because they looked so happy to see each other.

For people with so many weapons, they were so cheery.
The other half was they looked like the bitchin’est version of the British Red Coats ever. Otaku and assorted anime fans get crapped on for liking such weird Japanese stuff. Why can’t they enjoy normal American things? You know, like...

It's Mysterio's hand gesture that gets me.
To be fair, both the anime-lovers and comics-lovers tend to get short shrift in our society. I endorse both the above-photographed groups, though, especially after they wore and carried all that stuff through a 100-degree city. Don’t bother asking why they’d want to go through such exertion - not the same week as the Olympics, my friend.

Fandom can get unnerving at such conventions. Craigslist fills up with roleplaying sex requests, and apparently in the Dealers’ Room one company set up a stripper pole for Panty & Stocking cosplayers. That grown women would do that for hours is entertaining to some segment. But for me, this is entertainment:

A stripper pole with a Gone Fishin’ sign. That’s all I can ask from any sales booth.


  1. Rather timely, these observations.

    1. Cross-cultural variety is something that preoccupies many of us. Also, stripper poles.

  2. Thanks for sharing...although I could have done w/o Daredevil's junk. It's called "cropping a photo." ;)

  3. Sounds like a lot of fun John and a good place to gather ideas!

  4. I haven't been to anything like this in years. I miss it! I'll need to find something soon and get my fix.


  5. That is a lot of people! Like the Trigun costume.

  6. Great pictures and story. Not sure how i missed this last year.

    1. If you see me there next year, please say hello! I try to be sociable.

    2. Well do and you do the same. Mysterio will be there again but I'm changing him up a little this year as there were some things i wasn't really happy with.


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