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!
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.
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.
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.
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!