By Jenn Czuba – Contributor
Otaku. According to Merriam Webster, this word does not exist. According to other sites, however, it is a Japanese word is used to describe someone who is obsessed with Anime (Japanese animation), Manga (Japanese cartoons) and video games. Many of us never give this type of culture a good look, but it might be worth looking into.
Anime (Japanese animation) conventions are usually stereotyped as geeky gatherings. What I found at NebrasKon is that there is more to it than that. It is basically a group of people who are just having fun in a unique and creative way, without being self-conscious. They seem to be proud more than anything else.
The fun started back in 2004, when the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s Otaku club was trying to raise money. The one-day event only had a few room panels in the College of Business building, and the ballroom in the Student Union was used as the dealers’ room. It has since grown into a three-day event that takes place at the 72nd Street Holiday Inn Convention Center.
My interest in Cons (short for conventions) started a few years ago, when I discovered the “Super Bowl” of Cons, ComicCon. Being interested in cartoons and relative formats of entertainment (video games, comics, etc.) I started to look for area Cons.
To my surprise, I found Anime Nebraskon last year a week too late. So, I decided to look into it more over the next few months. When I saw that the pre-registration cost for the whole weekend was just 30 dollars, I thought about actually going.
The only thing that made me hesitate was the word “Anime.” Would I understand anything that was going on at this event? Would there be anything I would like? The local part was a plus: if I didn’t like it, I could easily go home. Why not give it a shot?
Now, being a “noob” (newbie) at the Con this year, I checked in within an hour or so before the Opening Ceremonies. They had a “Conventions 101” panel. I tried to find the right room but sadly missed it.
I passed the dealers’ room, a space set up for all the companies to sell merchandise. Even though it was closed, I peeked inside. Just taking a look inside was enough to intimidate me. What was I getting into? I had no idea what I was looking at, but I did make a point of going in after the opening ceremonies.
The opening ceremonies were great, though I never thought Cons would have one. After the ceremonies took place, I felt a bit more relaxed. The emcees of the weekend really got everyone in the mood; they even paid homage to the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Herek, 1989), which surprised me. There I was, thinking that everything was going to be about Anime, and I was going to stumble through the weekend not knowing that much, and they referenced this awesome movie? I started to feel like there wouldn’t be as much stumbling as I had expected.
After the ceremonies, I hit the dealers’ room. It was a bit overwhelming, and once again, I started to feel out of place. It was packed and filled with noise. Then, in a sudden beacon of hope, I saw that all-too-familiar blue fox, “SONIC the Hedgehog.” I was thrilled; I had finally found something I recognized.
I fought my way through the crowded halls to find my first panel, “The History of Hello Kitty.” It was interesting, but I became distracted by my stomach’s grumblings. I left early to find something to quell my appetite, and it hit me how exhausted I was only after a few hours.
On the second day at the Con, I again found myself overwhelmed by everything. More than half of the attendees were “cosplayers,” or people who were dressed up as their favorite characters. I felt like I was at an amusement park.
You have to give these people credit for wanting to dress up and parade around in such an exaggerated way and putting that amount of effort into their costumes. Those unfamiliar with these fandoms talk down about being “geeky,” yet it’s probably one of the bravest things to do. These people looked completely comfortable dressing up. Maybe it’s easier for people to do when surrounded by birds of a feather.
The main reason I was interested in going to this Con was because of a panel called “Tales of FanFic Horror.” While doing research in months prior, I came across a couple of videos on YouTube about this panel. I write FanFiction, so going to a panel discussion on one of my biggest hobbies was exhilarating. “Fanfiction,” as defined by Urban Dictionary is, “A piece of fiction within a fandom utilizing characters and situations from a pre-existing work including (but not limited to) books, television programs, films and comic strips.” The panel, which I assumed would be discussing some of the best of the worst FanFics, did not disappoint me.
Another bit of unexpected enjoyment was Aaron Skoliker, a man who is also known as “The Bard.” It sounded as if he had been a part of the Con for years. He even wrote a song about it. The songs that he preformed were in the theme of the Con, from “I Like Swords” to a song about cosplayers looking a certain way, “Everyone Looks Like a Female.” These goofy and enjoyable songs set the mood for the rest of my weekend.
After reflecting on everything, I feel there is something to be said for Otaku fans and their unique culture at Anime conventions. Even if you are just a plain geek such as myself, you should give a Con a chance. You won’t be disappointed.