In my life, I have attended a few anime conventions and I have also seen a lot of anime conventions in anime. And there is a pretty big difference. To be fair, I have only attended North American conventions, both in Canada and the US. I realize that the conventions shown in anime are usually depicting Japanese conventions and the two might be very different. But I want to go to those ones!

don’t you?

First, let me tell you about my basic anime experience because it’s pretty much the same everywhere. There are very long lines, and I’m fine with that. I actually think it’s part of the experience and the anticipation just makes everything more exciting.

There are a number of panels both industry and fan panels. I have attended a lot of these and these are not for me. I find that they can be hard to hear if the acoustics aren’t thought out, often have delays or unexpected stagging hiccups and at the end of the day, I get a better experience from watching them on YouTube instead of attending them live.

I also find the quality control to be a bit lacking. While there are panels, both industry and fan panels that are amazing it’s often very hard to tell from the get-go. And I have sat through fan panels that were poorly thought out and hosted by well-meaning folks that seem to have less anime knowledge than average. Frankly, I sometimes find these a waste of time for me as they rehashed well-worn general knowledge or tropes, but I feel bad leaving in the middle of it so I just sit there waiting for it to finish. I’ve also gotten stuck in industry panels that were nothing more than extended adds for streaming services.

I also find that the panels are very American centric and I understand that this is really just a matter of convenience. It’s just that for me, they aren’t as interesting. I generally prefer subs and can’t even name an English voice actor for instance. I would be interested in localization but that’s taboo and rarely gets talked about openly. I don’t really care about American-made animation inspired by anime. Not that I dislike it but I just have no specific interest in it at this point.

man, I’m so picky!

In my personal experience, panels tend to be a waste of time for me and I prefer the ease of just watching them online, fast-forwarding to points that interest me or leaving when I want.

Conventions also tend to feature some type of activities, games and almost always some type of cosplay contest and masquerade. So the activities can occasionally be fun in the same way summer camp activities are fun. But the fun ones usually get overcrowded quickly. A lot of them can be cheesy and not quite thought out. I often feel like these activities are the closest thing to a school festival I will ever get to and in that sense I like them. At the same time, there are too many people to enjoy them fully.

The masquerade and cosplay contests I have attended were by far the most popular events at the cons. As such, they were held in huge auditoriums with loads of people. I have never thought to bring binoculars so I really can’t tell you anything about how detailed or impressive the costumes are. You do see them around the convention though. In later cons, I tend to skip the cosplay-specific events for that reason and just look at the costumes in the hallways instead. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great ones but I honestly wouldn’t have had a chance to see much anyway, unless I want to sacrifice most of the con to waiting for the cosplay contest.

Finally, most cons I have gone to have enormous merch rooms. Like huge. Lately, it seems that the merch room IS the main event and well… Ok, so this is my issue. Generally speaking, there are three main types of booths. Apparel, anime t-shirts and hoodies. I’m an extra small girl and I never find stuff that fits me. I have enough oversized anime t-shirts for bedtime to change them out every week. I don’t need any more. Unlicensed artist representations in the form of art prints and pins. Some of them are cute but I’m also all full on these and they are clearly unlicensed. Cosplay accessories and anime trinkets (wallets, chopsticks). Sure these are fine to look at. Then miscellaneous stuff that’s not really anime but maybe anime fans would buy. Silverware with dragons or something.

this seems like the anime merch I like

I’m sure these were an amazing draw at some point. And if you collect artist renderings of anime characters, it’s really a great place to find them. However, from my experience, you can find absolutely everything you see in a convention merch room way cheaper online, with more variety and in your size. Sure, there’s a sort of hectic infectious ambiance in the con that makes buying a wallet from a show you kind of like way more exciting than buying a wallet from your favourite show online but at the end of the day, I have regretted con purchases a lot more and I treasure my online finds.

By contrast, though, the conventions I have seen in anime are so much more attractive to my personal tastes. They usually are random smaller conventions that seem to feature cosplayers getting their pictures were taken and you can just look at the photoshoot up close without too many people around. I don’t know if this is actually real but if so, I would go every weekend.

My understanding is that there are in fact a lot of smaller or more random anime conventions throughout the year in large Japanese cities. Conventions for specific shows and fandoms are sometimes held. For that reason, people don’t necessarily all attend the one big con every year. It’s more spread out and as an attendee, you have the option to choose smaller cons that will be less crowded. That’s a huge plus for me. I remember attending cons in their first years and being only a handful of people. Those were great in many ways. I would love to attend more small conventions.

The other con I see in anime a lot is Comiket which is so popular and full of people that you might end up waiting in line the entire day. BUT, Comiket has doujin that you simply can’t get anywhere else. There are artists who sell exclusively there or at least create Comiket exclusive volumes. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the quality of doujin these days but it’s amazing. This is a chance to get a once-in-a-lifetime story from a mangaka that will become famous. Or maybe they’ll never become famous and you still have this amazing work that is almost unique.

you should give everyone a chance, you never know!

And did I mention the entry fee? Comiket use to be free but since it got so popular they have added a 500 yen entry fee. That’s like 4$ US. Most cons will run you between 50 and 70$ a day. And that’s just to come in the door, everything else is extra!

The atmosphere, activities and products available at anime conventions that I have attended are radically different from those of anime conventions I have seen illustrated in anime. I want the anime ones! I realize the grass is always greener and I probably would find something to gripe about if I started to attend Japanese conventions as well. Still, these were the conventions I had in mind when I started going and they are still the conventions I dream of attending. I hope to do so someday. Do any of you guys want to go with me? I’m sure it will be more fun if I know at least one person there!

22 thoughts

  1. Sure, I’ll go with you (though you’ll have to swing by Australia to come pick me up on the way!). I hope it’ll be like the convention where I was able to snaffle Shinichiro Watanabe’s autograph (oh, Lord, the queue for THAT signing!)

  2. Your post made me miss anime conventions sooo much. I sympathize heavily with you on the panels, I got more out of walking up and down hotel or convention hall lobbies snooping for cosplays or merch instead of sitting down at some sleazy panel over something that wasn’t my thing or going to effect my life. The last time I went to such in 2018, someone I knew fell asleep beside me. That was the straw that convinced me never to return to a panel.

    True as well for the activities. They were the real meat of the whole thing. For example there was this one event called Cosplay Battle Chess where you cosplayed a character and engaged in a dramatized game of chess, that was my favourite at Anime North I went to. Also I once had the pleasure of participating in a masquerade-like performance we called a skit contest, doing a dramatization of “Hellfire” from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The three hours I spent going without food practicing, praying and chilling backstage was soooo worth it 😍

    If you ever have time, the Anime Boston Cosplay Battle Chess series of videos are worth the watch and really capture the anime convention spirit IMO.

  3. I live in Hawaii so the Con I’ve been two… Decades ago… Was a general all purpose con that covered a lot of ground, including Anime. However I was there for the Star Trek. Go figure.

    From my understanding Cons are love it or hate it… Depending on if any cons yet survive the fact we kinda don’t need cons anymore. Need rare merch?Amazon or E-Bay. Need the latest news? The internet. Need to see and gear from your favorite Vas or celebrities or series producers in Anime or etc? YouTube or TikTok maybe? Thing is everything, including making new friends… Why you’d do that at a con I don’t know… Can be done at home. You need not spend a few hundred just to get the Con experience anymore as, well, everything you can do at a Con you can do at home now.

    Nope. You won’t have the fun of a con trip that way. But you have a few extra hundreds in your bank still… Go buy a pizza, some boneless chicken, bread sticks, dessert, and order yourself Dramacon Volume 1-3 (from the last dying days of TOKYOPOPs OEM days before fleeing to Europe for better tax havens).

      1. And I’m Hawaiian. According to the news our economy might be a lost cause… Economic conversations. Depressing.

        Well look on the bright side. You ever think of, consider or spend money on TOKYOPOP after they left for Europe? No? Me neither. And I dedicated a substantial amount of my old review budget to them before they bounced. Yeah.

        Doesn’t change the fact they published some great hidden gems in the OEL Manga dept before they left. Dramacon, Sorcerers And Secretaries being two gems well worth getting and reviewing. I did that in the past. Heck. According to the creator of Sorcerers And Secretaries my review of Volume 1 changed the destiny of one part of Volume 2… I still find that cute if unverufiable. Oh well. Bye.

        1. I just got one of Tokyopop’s new titles. Double. I started it like an hour ago. It’s pretty good!

            1. Thank you! Since you review manga I’m sure you’ll run across it. I can let you kow more if you’re interested!

  4. First off, I have not been to an anime con. But I have been to a few gaming cons and comic cons and concluded they just are not at all my cup of tea. I’m also a small person and get shoved around and run over often. I’m short, but I’m not invisible! The gaming cons were incredibly cliqueish and I’m not a member of the clique.The last con I went to, and I did have fun, was a Toy Con here in Las Vegas. I did stand in a very long line – to meet a wrestler my hubby and I are big fans of, and we paid for a photo, and that was really fun to meet her. I also did the merch booths and scored some anime goodies – including my big plush Nyanko sitting next to me right now. So that was pretty peak experience. I didn’t do any panels or anything because I don’t really collect toys (there are about 100+ plushes eyeballing me right now and saying “say what now?”) All in all, I think it did hit the mark of being smaller, a bit friendlier, and a pretty wide variety of merch (I also scored an excellent Godzilla poster) even though it was right here in Fabulous Las Vegas. Perhaps “toys” (the wrestlers were presumably there because of action figures of them) is a small enough niche.

    Overall, I think I would probably experience the same as you as far as being bored and/or unable to hear at panels, unable to see the cosplay and enjoying it more in the halls, and pooh on pushy crowds. I have to agree that in most cases it’s easier and cheaper to find better merch online. I have no ambition at all to go to an anime con here.

    That said, I have seen videos on YouTube showing the cosplayers in Japan, and it does seem that there is more of a attitude of a cosplayer showing their work, a few people around taking pictures, getting autographs and just admiring, then moving on – all very respectful. I simply can’t imagine that being the sort of attitude taken here in the U.S. but I admit, I don’t know. In that situation, well, I’d love that. It’s not unlike the crowds enjoying the street performers here in Las Vegas – which include cosplayers, some even in anime gear – a few gather, maybe take some photos, pay for photos, listen to the performance (many here are singers, musicians, dancers), and moving on. Before the pandemic I could easily spend all day on Fremont Street watching both the performers -and the crowds! And it never got so crowded I felt in physical danger.

    My conclusion here is that it does probably depend on the size of the con. There is certainly a place for the big cons – but personally I’d rather a smaller one and I’ll just watch the panels from the big one on YouTube, thanks.

    I mean, we can at least dream of a anime con just for Natsume and the book of Friends…

    Or maybe even just Yokai related…

  5. Never been to an anime con but I did fall in love with anime at a science fiction con in the late1980s.

    Most of the panels were not that exciting. I did manage to hang out with a couple of authors in their hotel rooms. Hallway costumes were good but the costume event itself was uninteresting. The after hours parties in some rooms were the best part.

    1. Never been to an after hours party… Maybe I’m not cool enough. Then again in a con mostly filled with children, after hours seem like a bad idea

      1. LOL! LosCon at the time didn’t have much in the line of children. Certainly wouldn’t have been let into any party I was at. Too much liquor.

        I don’t think I was particularly cool but I did have a couple of friends who liked to take a walk on the wild side.

  6. So, why do you think discussing localization is taboo? I come from India, where this isn’t an issue because the anime just didn’t took off like it did in the west. So opinions like that never developed here.

    1. Distributers often get a lot of slack from viewers for localization issues so although it’s not a secret, I find that industry reps don’t often like to discuss the details

  7. Sure I’d go to a Japanese convention and I am always up to meeting new people. In fact it is that last line is why I continue to go to conventions, and that is to meet up with friends. This is why I continue to go, well that and presenting fan panels. I’m a teacher so during the school year it’s tough to have conversations with adults that don’t center around work and or students, so a convention is the perfect place to cut loose.

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