I spent this past weekend attending Anime Boston 2007, a three-day annual event held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay that celebrates Japanese animation, known to its fans by its Japanese name—anime. Going to an anime convention, or con, is a lot like going to a computer show like Macworld Expo about 15 years ago—though there are a lot more people dressed in costumes. If you ever get the chance to go to one, I’d recommend it—it’s a ton of fun.
Anime Boston is the biggest such event in the northeastern United States, and in the five years since it started, it’s become one of the biggest anime cons in the country. This year, the show attracted more than 11,500 registrants—almost 10 times the number that showed up the first year. I imagine our friends at IDG World Expo would fall over themselves to see that sort of growth in an industry event like Macworld Expo.
Our Playlist readers probably won’t be surprised to learn that I’m an anime fan — our recent coverage of U.S. publisher Funimation’s release of some of its key anime titles on the iTunes Store led to an active story forum where several readers and I ticked off our our own favorite Funimation properties that we’d like to see available at the Store. (And I’m pleased to see Funimation has continued to add titles.) But if you’re wondering what drew me to Anime Boston, specifically, it’s largely my wife’s doing. She’s into anime like I’m into games. We’ve been coming to Anime Boston since its first year, but this is the first time I’ve really made a concerted effort to cover the show from a Mac user’s perspective.
I’ve been going to computer shows since I was a kid, practically since there were computer shows, starting in the late 1970s. If you’re a long-time computer user or a long-time Mac user, you might remember those events and how different they are from the expos of today. Back then there wasn’t the spit and polish of a modern trade show.
Macworld Conference & Expo is a phenomenal event, not just because it’s a chance to see new Mac and iPod hardware and software up close and talk with the vendors that make the products, but also for the training and education, and the shared experience with tens of thousands of other like-minded people: Mac enthusiasts, IT professionals, designers, publishers, scientists, musicians, video pros.
But Macworld Expo has a very different vibe from the way it used to be, when the market was made up almost exclusively of early adopters and hobbyists who were just as anxious to roll up their sleeves and start coding or soldering boards together as they were to use the products they saw.
An anime con really has that homegrown feel to it. Anime Boston, for example, is run by a non-profit group that exists specifically to promote Anime Boston. The dealer room isn’t an exhibit hall like at Macworld or other shows—it’s full of product vendors who are offering special deals to showgoers. And con attendees come ready to spend, saving up for weeks or months to make sure they can get their hands on hard-to-get items that they can usually only find at a con—toys imported from Japan are huge, as are manga, audio CDs, costume paraphernalia, and more.
You find that a lot of people who attend an anime con will identify themselves as “otaku”—a derogatory Japanese word meaning “obsessive, anti-social geek,” but it’s been co-opted in the English-speaking world to simply mean “a big fan.”
People who dress up in costumes—“cosplayers,” in con parlance — are also a big part of the event. Thousands of those who attend the show arrive in costumes that resemble their favorite characters, not just from anime but also from manga (Japanese graphic novels), video games (Final Fantasy and “classic” stuff like Super Mario Bros. are popular) and TV shows. (I even saw a Klingon from Star Trek wandering around, looking a bit out of place.) People will spend hours—weeks, even—getting their homemade costumes just right, fashioning huge foam-and-cardboard swords as accessories, coiffing their hair with colors and at angles that seem impossible to manage without glue (often times opting for wigs instead), and anointing themselves with intricate makeup that makes them look otherworldly.
There are lots of social events that happen during the show itself—a masquerade competition for cosplayers, for example, dances both formal and informal, meets and greets and so on. We’ve seen a rebound in social events at Macworld Expo that are open to all showgoers but we’ve got a lot of catching up to do compared with what happens at a con.
And while a lot of con-goers are young (still in high school or college), there are a lot, like my wife and me, who are older—enough so that the New England Anime Society, which runs Anime Boston, announced at this year’s closing ceremonies that they plan a new con—the Providence Anime Conference —for late next year in Providence, R.I., specifically for anime enthusiasts 21 years and older. This is one of the first such events I’m aware of for that age bracket that doesn’t specifically focus on the “adult” (read: erotic) forms of anime and manga entertainment.
This year, I met with a bunch of artists who use Macs, and I’m going to be speaking with them about some of the unique products they’re creating using their systems in the coming days. I’ve also rounded up some comments from the stateside anime production companies about iTunes, and hope to present some other content from Anime Boston as well. I hope you’ll stick with our coverage, as there were some enlightening and entertaining moments along the way.