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).
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
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.