Catching Dreams, Catching Fish, and Catching Fire at Anime Matsuri

Attending an anime convention is like turning a speaker up to 11. The noise of it all—emotional, mental, relational, and physical—can be so loud that it’s overwhelming and lead to extreme highs and lows. Add to that the sneaky tiredness that overtakes you by the end of the day and the high cost of these events, and one might be left wondering: Was it worth it?

In fact, I was asked some variant of that question by three different people in three different situations this past weekend while at Anime Matsuri, a Houston convention that is one of Texas’ largest (and also its most controversial). The answers I came up with were all three a little different, and working through them helped me really comprehend my experience this year.

Dreamcatcher Rocks Anime Matsuri (For a Little While, At Least)

As with all conventions, Anime Matsuri was filled with lines for panels and other events. While standing in one of these, a stranger walked up to me asked me if it was worth the wait. In other words, what he was really asking was, should I get into this giant line snaking around the venue just to catch the panel for Dreamcatcher, the K-pop group that was a major draw for AM 2022?

My answer was maybe a little too obvious: “It depends on what you want to spend your time on and how you feel about K-pop girl groups and culture.”

For me, the answer was clear: Yes, it was definitely worth it. But I wouldn’t have said so just 24 hours earlier. I am not into the K-pop scene. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, actually—after all, there’s an expectation that as a Korean-American, I should speak and breathe Korean media. And in fact, I was madly into K-pop during my twenties, though I’ve since virtually abandoned listening to the format.

So no surprise that this time a week ago, I had little idea who Dreamcatcher was. But as the con approached, I researched the group and found the members to be absolutely lovely. I listened to their music on my drive to Houston and became entranced with their rock-leaning style. And then, along with a few other press members and photographers, I was given incredible access to the group, standing right at the foot of the stage during Dreamcatcher’s Thursday night performance.

Close enough that this love you gesture was right at me!

As with APink several years ago, I was thoroughly impressed by the talent and skill of this Korean girl group. They worked the stage (I discovered later that their interactions with fans are part of what makes them popular), which led from the base area down a short walkway toward a horizontal one that ran left and right in front of the crowd. The girls sounded great and their dancing was on-point.

And yes, they were absolutely charming.

The crowd interaction also included taking selfies with several of the audience members’ phones

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a full set—perhaps just 7 or 8 songs. I’m not sure if it’s been confirmed why. Was a shortened performance due to health-related concerns for the girls? Was it a management issue? Was it planned the whole time? I have my thoughts on what happened, but it’s likely only a few people know the full story.

The next day, their panel was also very short—it started late, was only three questions in length, and afterwards, Dreamcatcher was far less available than promised, both to VIP-level ticketholders and the general public.

We tweeted out some of the girls’ responses to Q&A here, here, and here

Though disappointment permeated the room, the overall feeling in the crowd was more of graciousness than anger. Online, there’s been more of a furor, and attendees may have felt differently after the con, but in the moment, I think the absolute love the fans have for the girls really took center stage as the disappointing news was delivered.

I had no horse in the game, only coming by Dreamcatcher very late and given free (and outstanding) access to these events. So for me, it absolutely was worth it to see the high energy of the concert and learn more about the members (minus Dami who stayed in Korea after contracting COVID) up close and personal, no matter how little time we received. The concert and panel were the absolute high point of the convention for me, and I left the venue a fan.

And since I’m sure you have to know, my bias is Yoohyeon.

FOR REAL, how is she not your bias, too?

“You Let Them Go”

I’m so glad now to have experienced Dreamcatcher, but it almost didn’t happen. In fact, we almost didn’t go to Anime Matsuri at all.

As the convention drew nearer, I very nearly called it off for Paris (who was covering it for us a second straight year) and myself because of the controversy surrounding Anime Matsuri (I won’t expound here but it’s easy to find the issues that many have with the con). I knew we’d be under fire and receive some blowback—perhaps considerable.

And indeed, some tweets have called us out, with one expressing that we “let them go,” referring I assume to the owners of the con, and that we weren’t protecting Dreamcatcher.

But wait…were supposed to be doing that?

Yoohyeon calling us out jk jk

Do we have some moral obligation to avoid Anime Matsuri? Am I doing wrong by even writing this very post?

I think the answers are complicated, and truth be told, they might both be “yes.” My pride and sense of self-protection (and protection for this ministry) have me wanting to just stand firm and insist that we’re the press, and we’re here to report on a major convention in our backyard as part of our usual convention coverage. We’re not part of the story; we’re just covering it.

But if I’m being honest with myself, that’s not quite right either. I’m not actually reporting on the convention itself. In fact, I don’t know if any press organization there was doing that. Instead, they all had their own varying and self-focused goals—getting great photographs for content, developing a podcast episode, making connections, gaining influence, getting free access to events, and others.

And what was our goal?

MHA + Genshin = 1000 likes?

Although it differs a little in how we approach each convention, we ultimately attend all cons with the purpose of 1) being missional by developing relationships there and 2) using convention coverage to meet a larger goal of expressing our passion for anime to our audience, which in turn should expand our reach and deepen our connection to our community.

That latter goal is typically accomplished in a comprehensive manner; it’s a slow burn. We don’t usually make big jumps in followers, hits, or likes through the content we post from individual conventions. It’s the earlier goal that—at least when I cover a convention—is met most immediately as I make connections when I conduct interviews at the events and meet friends both inside and outside the con.

But this particular year, it looked like I wasn’t going to be meet or making connections with many people. And with the possibility of also getting swept up in the aforementioned firestorm, I felt uneasy. Maybe it wouldn’t be worth attending after all.

But what I didn’t count on was InSomnia, the Dreamcatcher fans. Because of their prolific love of their group, our tweets featuring my coverage of the band’s events went viral. This was not something I could ever remember happening (not to this extent) at any previous convention and reminded me of how God works in unexpected ways.

I had my plans for the con. I knew how our coverage worked. But God tore that all down and said, if you’re catching fish, don’t depend fully on your own strategies, “Peter.” Lower the net at my command, and I’ll show you a big catch.

InSomnia went wild over the videos we posted.

Bringing so many new followers into our community this past weekend aligned with what God has been showing me in my personal life. I’ve been practicing intermittent fasting and also drinking 100 oz. of water a day for the past month, and that bodily discipline has not only helped with physical health, but it’s been a way to motivate me to be more disciplined in my spirit. It’s pushed me to be more obedient from a heart perspective, and the healthy living has also given me more energy to focus on spending quality time with God and with the people around me. As I do that, I’ve found myself relying on my orderly ways less and just letting God work.

So while the brushback we’ve received has given me some heartburn, the answer has been abundantly clear: Despite a questionable decision to go to this con (And I want to emphasize that I’m not saying that God wanted us at Anime Matsuri or that He approves—I would never speak for him like that), God still proved himself to be good.

But why should I be surprised? God is good all the time.

Never Too Old for TikTok

Another difference between this and recent cons is that I wasn’t alone. I’ve rarely attended conventions with friends or colleagues in the past, and that seemed natural to me: After all, I consider it work or ministry. I’m not there for fun. I’m there to develop relationships and generate content.

But this time, I had a little fun, too, and precisely because of the people, like the old ministry friends I met with on Friday, or the cosplayer I’ve kept up with but hadn’t seen in person since before the pandemic.

But most of my time was spent with Paris, whom you may know best from our Cosplay Beats column. We planned out our course of attack in the week before the convention, and we congregated Saturday morning—she readied her Cheer Tsuyu cosplay while I was set up our social media feeds, and all the time we talked about family, ministry, and all manner of things.

At the con itself, we did the usual, spending the day attending panels, taking photos, and just walking around and absorbing the scene of cosplayers and other attendees doing exactly the same. Oh, and of course, we made videos for TikTok.

Wait…TikTok videos?

While Paris’ cosplay work is primarily focused on TikTok, I’ve barely used the medium. I’m a Xennial—I don’t know how this TikTok thing works! But Paris thought it would be fun (and funny) to have me do a couple of videos with her. You’ll be able to see them soon on her account and ours (which is starting to see some activity once again).

In the meantime, here’s a behind the scenes practice segment of one of the videos we made:

Yeah, you should definitely tune in for my epic failure when it posts.

But besides the videos, it was just fun being able to walk the convention halls with a friend. It changed the tone of the trip for me. It was a little less work and a little more play; and the usual disappointment I feel when attending a con (for just as with other attendees, plans often don’t go as well as anticipated) was easier to brush aside.

I’m the type of person to be level-headed 95% of the time and out of control the other 5%, so I try to approach conventions in a controlled manner, but the excitement and anticipation of it leads to those low lows I referenced earlier, and I always find myself asking the question: “Was it worth it to attend this convention”?

Yes, that’s right. I was the third person to ask that question. In the past, when I’ve reflected, the answer hasn’t always been a positive one. And it’s almost always a mixed bag—and that was the case here, too. But as I look through the content we made, both the media that hit it big and the photos that were just fun (like those below), I think that yeah, this was really a good and even transformational experience. I grew by being here, and maybe God used me to do some fishing as well.

It was definitely worth covering.

As I drove away from Houston, spending literally just 24 hours in the city, I felt satisfied with my time there. No, the convention was not what I had expected, but that was maybe what made it “good”: I was able to experience something (several somethings) new.

And I still have one more convention to attend before I call it a season.* But by this weekend, I will have bid adieu to cosplayers, artist alley, and wacky panels for the summer. And at the conclusion, I’ll be able to say this: For all the opportunities that arose for friendship and ministry, yes, it was absolutely worth it to attend these conventions. Yes, it was worth attending Anime Matsuri.

And this, too: I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me next year.

See you next time!

* I’m not the only one with a con this weekend—stay tuned over the next few days as Joseph, who also helped us cover A-Kon and Anime Expo, tackles Crunchyroll Expo!

6 thoughts on “Catching Dreams, Catching Fish, and Catching Fire at Anime Matsuri

  1. I appreciate the coverage! It looks like you had a lot of fun. It looks like a really enjoyable performance. Small venues can sometimes have a bigger crowd pop than larger conventions or arenas

  2. “So while the brushback we’ve received has given me some heartburn…”

    So THAT’S why you were asking all of us for Tums last week! I was wondering about that! 😛

  3. Nice writeup! Glad you enjoyed Dreamcatcher, such that you got to see them (it’s my opinion that the event is well within their power to push subsequent events back to give others time, and it is highly unlikely Dreamcatcher management would have cut a musical appearance short). I cover Dreamcatcher regularly and have been pleased that the whole tour has gone pretty well.

    As for “You Let Them Go”, I don’t know that fans may have meant you or the press specifically (and if they have I believe their concern is misdirected). If there was any criticism it would have been leveled at Dreamcatcher Company (the group’s associated organization) for doing that. The reality of it is there is risk assessment associated with a potentially lucrative appearance for kpop groups. In this case, they made the choice to move forward after looking at all of what had been said about the convention. The group themselves were all consummate professionals and always enjoy performing and meeting fans so they’re not really at fault, and neither are you.

    I’m an ex-anime convention management person and my current assessment is that Anime Matsuri suffers worse from avoidable problems of disorganization, proper communication, and lack of solid staff base (not volunteers, but staff) than some of the allegations we’ve seen thrown around. But I think that as press, you’re just there to cover an event, and report on it. It’d be different if you were obligated to write investigative opinions or other similar journalism but I don’t think that’s what you’re intent is. Hopefully that puts your mind at ease somewhat.

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