So, A Christian Walks into an 18+ Anime Convention…

What is it that makes an anime con an 18+ convention? Going into this past weekend, I didn’t really know. Would it be because the convention featured more panels with frank and sexual language? Alcohol? General debauchery?

I admit that the “18+” prefix attached to Ecchi Expo, which took place here in my home base of Austin, Texas, caused a moment of little trepidation. But the list of guests were too rich for me to pass up an opportunity, including one we’d interviewed in the past and a couple of talented voice actors —Michaella Jill Murphy (Toph, Avatar: The Last Airbender) and Katelyn Barr (Ryukyu, My Hero Academia)—whom I would get to chat with at the con (expect those interviews to post soon, too).

I was not the only one surprised that I would attend Ecchi Expo.

But more importantly, I took this convention as a personal challenge. I’ve long hoped to be someone who defies the uglier aspects of evangelical culture, including a pride, arrogance, and worldliness that mars evangelical congregations. I don’t want to be siloed in church culture, to only join with people who feel, speak, and act like I do. Anime conventions present an opportunity to interact with individuals who share the same passion for anime as I have, but who are decidedly not like me, and especially as I become older and more disconnected from the youth that fill convention halls.

Ecchi Expo added an additional “adult” layer, or so I thought it might. And it certainly proved to be different from typical cons. For those unaware, here are some of the most notable differences:

  • Dealer halls prominently featuring hentai art and products
  • A more heavily-male audience
  • Panels and events featuring more adult conversation and content, like “Shibari Safety” and the “Ahegao contest” at Ecchi Expo
  • A higher percentage of cosplayers dressed in risque cosplay and fewer wearing more usual cosplay
Cosplay guests included the perfectly lovely Spooky Fox and Kitty.

I spent most of my time at the event in the dealer’s room. The hentai on display was unsettling at first, but I quickly became used to it. That room was also where the voice actor guests set up their booths, and where I sat and interviewed two of them.

During one of the interviews, an older gentleman came up to us. Much like many of us who find a passion in the anime fandom, he was a bit awkward and struggling with his words, but there was certainly a sweetness as he shared his own fanart with the guest and tried his best to express himself. A few minutes later, another attendee came up and was so bubbly in how she explained her admiration of the guest—it was quite lovely.

Those guests, and just generally the interactions I saw happening all around me, helped me realize again why I was there. I go to cons to interview guests for this blog, but also, as I mentioned above, to be with people, to get out of my bubble, to learn about a world that I’m only familiar with through social media. And because of all that, my time at Ecchi Expo was a rich experience.

While at the con, I was reminded that there’s usually a Jesus cosplayer that attends most any fandom convention, which led me to a random thought: If Jesus was here in Austin this past weekend, I think he’d probably show up and walk among the cosplayers at Ecchi Expo. After all, he was always in unexpected places with unexpected people, to minister to and share with the hurting, marginalized, unloved, irreligious, and rejected, monikers that describe many of those in the otaku community.

But also this—I get the sense that Jesus simply liked these people, the regular folk struggling under immense burdens. They were frequently open, kind, and engaged, while religious leaders were often full of pride and arrogance. He loved the people he walked with and taught.

Increasingly, these are the people I have the most heart for, individuals who find much more comfort dressing in S&M gear and attending an anime convention on Sunday than gracing the doors of a church for worship. Although “loving otaku” seems an obvious thing to say given our mission to reach out to them, the difference between doing that through social media with its invisible barriers and being in person at an 18+ con is pretty immense.

I’m glad I experienced the latter this weekend, as it developed my love for them all the more.

So, do I suggest that all you other Christians out there also go to a 18+ anime convention? No, not particularly, not if you’re worried that the temptation of it all will lead you to sin. But if not, maybe, just maybe—at least for a weekend—an adult anime con could be the better, more worshipful place to go than your home church.

What a wild thing to think.

And maybe, what a Christ-modeled thing to do.

12 thoughts on “So, A Christian Walks into an 18+ Anime Convention…

  1. Thanks so much for this wonderful article. A friend of mine back home pastored a church, and one of the things he would repeat in more than one sermon was, “Do you think Jesus would take the Gospel to a strip bar?” (the pastor was implying in the negative) To which, and I don’t remember if I ever brought this up to him or not, I always thought to myself, “Stranger things have happened.”

    Those Street Fighter cosplays are very well done. I’m very glad that there was a course about shibari safety, because people who are practicing any kind of bondage or BDSM need to know how to compassionately discuss personal and emotional safety, limits, and comfort levels. I’ve been in too many churches that only ever seemed to address sexuality in a negative context except when speaking abstractly about how good married sex supposedly is. That’s all well and good for churchgoers who are married, but too often I feel like singles aren’t given any kind of practical compassion or advice (to say nothing of if they’re in an assembly that also demonizes solo exploration).

    But thank you so much for taking the Gospel of love and liberty to these convention-goers. When a city next to my hometown had its inaugural gay-pride parade a few short years ago, I asked my preacher of my then-church if there was anything we could do to show Jesus’ love to the attendees (a lot of whom had probably been abused by “friends” or loved ones), similar to the moms and dads who give attendees hugs (and there were a lot of those there as well). My preacher didn’t have any immediate ideas but also didn’t shoot down the question of doing so. If you remember Goofus and Gallant from Highlights magazine, that played out at the festival, with some religious people trying to shout hateful slogans while other religious groups expressed empathy and compassion even completely independent of “should the church accept homosexuality” question. You need not guess which group got more positive attention.

  2. “But also this—I get the sense that Jesus simply liked these people, the regular folk struggling under immense burdens. They were frequently open, kind, and engaged, while religious leaders were often full of pride and arrogance. He loved the people he walked with and taught.”

    I’m glad you had this insight. I’m going to admit, coming across this post was a bit shocking, but finishing it makes me question why exactly I had the sense of doubt in my mind.

    Despite being Muslim, we still have a great appreciation of Jesus and there is no doubt that he would still walk amongst people despite their interest.

    This post really made me reevaluate the true kindness of the people of the gospel and how merciful God really can be and how that is showed even in out interests.

  3. Interesting. I really like that you were able to be a bright spot in a place like that. I have to say that I know with my experience, it would be a place where I would be doing more harm to myself than good to other people, or else I’d totally go to a convention like that as I would love to reach out to those people.

  4. Great post! I didn’t know you had attended till I saw this post, how interesting. Very glad you did that, and hope you keep going to these cons. Like you said, one thing is to say we do outreach or want to share the gospel with otaku/anime fans online and another is to do it in person. The personal aspect is always needed. We are all humans, living in a world where sin is everywhere but God is greater than all of that.

    Sitting in a church doesn’t reach anyone, we have to go out to the world and show others the love of God. They are people just like us, no different. We get into this weird “us vs. them” mentality that isn’t healthy nor biblical in churches. God bless!

  5. This was such a great post Twwk! I confess that this was a very good post title because at first I was like “what?! I have to read that!” LOL! But I really love how God is teaching us all new things and that even in places we never imagined being, that God can indeed use us in places we might not have ventured before. Those ladies cosplays were amazing!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  6. Going to an adult convention isn’t bad. What’s important are your intentions for going there. If you’re just going as an anime fan, I don’t think there’s anything wrong. Of course, it’s always important to pray about things like this as we might be unaware of our own intentions.

  7. I think it’s important to remember that an Anime Adaptation of the Song of Solomon would be labeled Hentai, Hentai is a broader term then “Porn” in how it definitely includes stuff that can be considered Erotic Art.

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