Now, I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat of a nerd. Not because I delve deeply into one particular interest but because I sample a bit from each genre. This last weekend, I received the largest culture shock of my nerdy life; immersion into the Anime world by attending the Naka-Kon in Kansas City, Missouri.
My best friend and I drove the three hours to attend the convention with perhaps the most dedicated Toho (fan of a particular genre of Manga, see previous article: Intro to Anime), a sixteen year old girl. The latter spent most of the car ride attempting to educate me. By the time we got to Kansas City, I was exhausted and my brain was on overload. The next morning, I watched the girl don her cosplay as Marisa Kirisame while my friend and I sported the NerdyPerv gear. She rattled on about the differences between Anime and Manga, Otaku and Toho. My ears kind of tuned out after a while because I figured that the convention would be informative.
I walked into the hotel and was greeted by the most famous of comic super villains (and non-Anime I might add, the Joker and Harley Quinn). It was a sea of teenagers, all with some form of Anime costumes on. [Note: there are no pictures of these attendees as I was informed by Naka Kon staff that I was not allowed to talk to or photograph anyone underage due to the “nature of the site” and no amount of explanation on my part was able to combat this preconceived notion.] Almost instantly, I had a “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment.
After registering as NerdyPerv,I was given a badge and began wandering around to try and get my bearings.
There were characters of every variety. Some people were dressed in odd clothes, that I learned were Otaku (the most minor of cosplay and Manga fans), but didn’t have on a costume exactly. Some of the costumes were elaborate but not Anime related. It seems that anyone within driving distance and who is a fan of anything nerdy likes to attend Naka Kon.
There were characters from comic books, video games, and movies. I saw furries who were Anime and some who were not. There were even a few Lady Gaga’s walking around (two male, one female).
In the Vendor Panel, there were booths as far as the eye could see filled with Japanese merchandise. Almost none of it was in English and most had been imported especially for Naka Kon. There was American Anime and Japanese Manga everywhere. One entire corner of the room was blocked off and dedicated to Hentai, with staff checking the badges to verify ages of the Otaku present. A lot of what was being sold was Japanese food and drinks that are extremely, if not impossible, to find in the states. One particular vendor, Wizzywig Inc, came all the way from Michigan to sell collectibles. It was a plethora of t-shirts, toys, action figures, movies, books, and posters. You could have an artist make an Anime representation of you if you were willing to pay enough for it. There was even a booth for the Steam Punk subset that has become common at cons because of its inclusion in comics, cartoons, and movies, regardless of the genre. Brett, a fan dressed in Steam Punk, that I met was incredibly friendly. I was stunned to find out that he was a tattoo artist in the area and had to laugh when he showed me his nerdy body ink that displayed to all that he is a true Anime fan.
A lot of the panels were informative for the Naka Kon attendees. They has voice actors and animators who took the time to explain to the fans how Anime is created and how they hone their craft. It was very obvious to me that Anime is considered a type of art. Otaku could learn about the music and animation. They could take a workshop showing how to draw Anime characters. They could take part in discussions or debates over the types of Anime. My favorite of these was the Pirates Vs. Ninjas panel. There were panels instructing fans how to create their cosplay costumes. You could learn about Mecha (the robots) or Lolitas (female characters that are childlike) and how to imitate them. The cosplay combat and samurai panels were extremely interesting. A lot of the panels took things in pop culture now, like vampires, and showed how they are represented in the Anime world.
Naka Kon showed fans how technological advancements have changed the way Anime is made. There were tributes to the specific areas of Anime and how it is represented in media. Like the Toho, whose characters are from the Toho Company Ltd production company’s art, books, and movies only.
The afterhours and over eighteen crowds were not to be left out of the antics either. There was a body painting panel (clothing option, of course). The staff put on an Otaku Dating seminar, teach Naka Kon attendees how to hook up with each other and then followed that with their own version of Singled Out. Hentai was not to be left out either. There were parties with private viewings of the more pornographic Hentai movies and then panels where fans could dub their own voice track to their favorite films. One panel was nothing but horror stories from Otaku who had attended Naka Kon in the past or their experiences from other conventions.
The event that garnered the most whispers was probably the Rave on Saturday night. The room was packed with Otaku and cosplay fans. It was hours of techno music and dancing, like any other rave, except most of the people were in full Anime regalia.
I got to see a whole new world at Naka Kon. There were the men in crossplay. One, an original by the name of Sonya, let me take his picture and his card explained Kigurumi, the art of bringing a 2D character to life by wearing a body suit and mask in their likeness.
There were some hiccups along the way. The hotel was unprepared to deal with the sheer volume of fans and both Naka Kon and hotel staff were unfriendly due to frayed nerves and stress. There was a lot of disorganization regarding cancelled, reschedules, or moved panels as well. I found myself getting bumped and shoved a lot due to overcrowded elevators, hallways, stairwells, escalators, and rooms. With the majority of people being children, the vibe was excited, hyperactive, and a tad unruly.
For the most part, Naka Kon was an Anime fan’s dream come true. The teenager that was my guide for the weekend acted like she had found the mother ship because she was able to showcase her love of all things Japanese and Anime along with thousands of other con attendees. I learned an entire new language and found a new hobby along the way. Though I was overwhelmed a lot of the time, I was able to appreciate the effort that the fans put into their interests.
Anime is no longer a subculture; it has gone mainstream with shows like Pokémon. After Naka Kon, I feel like I’ve been indoctrinated into their society. I’m not sure I could ever be Otaku but I am definitely, now, a fan.