With our increasing coverage of anime conventions, I grew more and more excited about the granddaddy of them all, A-Kon, the oldest continually running one in the U.S. Typically, we go into cons with very specific purposes, preparing for panels we’ll host, interviews we’ll conduct, or other content we intend to generate. But as A-Kon came into sight, I became more and more ambitious: not only would I plan for the usual interviews, photos and videos, but I would also focus on relationship more than I ever had before, which, after all, is the very purpose of this site. This was a big weekend for the otaku community, but I was sure it would be the same for us as well.
But things didn’t go quite as I planned—initially for the worst, but ultimately for the better.
I had a chance to bring Holly from our Instagram account along with me to the convention. Those of you on who know us mostly from the blog may not know her, but she’s an important individual for my family, a good friend, and someone who considers herself my kōhai. And if you follow our account, you know that she’s just full of life and energy, a perfect person to take to a con (especially accompanying someone who’s a bit more dry and reserved like myself). It was awesome catching up with her, continuing our conversations as we always have, and most of all, to bring her to a place she’d never been (but always wanted to visit). We were able to take some great photos (and some not-so-great ones as I did my worst photographer impression at times).
It was great walking around the dealer’s hall, especially since we did exactly what I wanted but in a surprising way. We continued to develop relationships with colleagues and friends like Miho, but to our surprise, we also ran into a partner of ours, the designer behind the awesome Wooji brand. We also stumbled onto another partnership with, of all things, a soap brand! They have a Dragon ball shaped bath bomb which we’ll post about on our Instagram in the near future. Kamehame-cool!
But as we walked the halls, I became increasingly anxious. It was my second day at the convention, and no interviews had been scheduled. There were some miscommunications and, I think, some prioritizations that didn’t fit our requests. Ultimately, after parts of three days at A-Kon, I didn’t secure a single interview. I was really disappointed when I left.
Enhancing that disappointment was this feeling that I wasted hours and hours in the weeks before the convention not only in preparing interviews, but in developing relationships with a group of people that were going to attend. I joined a Discord channel I found relating to the convention, and dove in, trying to help where I could and just getting to know these folks. A lot of them were underage, but I was surprised at their maturity—that is, until I made it to the convention. I set aside time to spend with their group and it was…well, it was a bunch of teenagers sitting at a table staring at their phones or walking away from us (not toward us) and not paying attention to the rest of the group. And that was it—that was pretty much the culmination of all those weeks of spending time with these young people: nothing much at all.
It’s hard for me to remember that, well, I wasn’t any better (and perhaps far worse) than these kids and young adults when I was their age. I had few social skills, and that was before mobile technology came along to make it even more challenging to develop them for this generation. What was I to expect?
Still, after that underwhelming experience and the typical long days of walking miles across the convention floor, plus a 90-minute drive back to Holly’s house (everything is so far apart in the metroplex!), I was bitter, distressed, and pooped. I happened to remember another event that night, and prepared to make my way there though I didn’t really have much a desire to. But in the role of godsends, really, I was visited by two friends beforehand. I received a message from Mr. Flawfinder and decided to go meet him—he was so gracious even though he was tired as well. And then I received a phone call from Kendall, a cartoonist who once guest wrote for us and is just this wonderful, warm guy. Even though he couldn’t make it to the convention, he called to connect and we had a wonderful, encouraging conversation.
Those two chats changed my mood entirely and set me toward the night event involving a different group of folks, but some that also challenged me—the A-Kon 21+ group, who I came know through a second Discord channel I joined. This was a circle that I learned so much from. Spending time on the server with them in the weeks preceding A-Kon was like a crash course that reminded me of what humanity is. For sure, there are ideas celebrated by the group that I don’t support, like drug use, and at times I felt this overwhelming sadness when there were hints that some of them were suffering mightily, clinging to gaming, convention life, or their otakuness in lieu of the love and support they needed. But mostly, I found such goodness in a group where I didn’t expect that, and even in a setting where it wasn’t expected, as I walked into a bar for the first time in probably 15 years to meet with them. I drank a soda and got to know some of the avatars-come-to-life, and had maybe the best time I had during the entirety of the trip.
It reminded me of what I had purposed from the beginning of this convention—to do something different and reach out to people. I wanted my cake and to eat it, too, to develop tons of content to get us more followers and also to reach to a lot of people. I didn’t do the first and only moderately accomplished the second, but that failure helped me to understand that I don’t really ever have control and that my mindset is totally wrong sometimes. A-Kon was a fun event; the people I met were human in the wonder and challenge that term entails, and I worked with staff that tried their best to help press. It was a good and reaffirming time for me, and a reminder that conventions are absolutely unpredictable—in all the worst and best ways possible.