What do you call a bunch of anime lovers in costume gathering into an enclosed area to celebrate their affections for Japanese entertainment? (No, not a freak show.) You call it an anime convention!
Yes, last month I attended my first anime convention in full costume, (or “cosplay” as it’s referred to). Despite having been a longtime fan of anime manga (Japanese graphic novels), I had never actually gotten the chance to go to a convention. Sure, there were plenty of opportunities when I was in high school, but most of them required a 3-day pass and hotel reservation which costed an exorbitant amount of money. So, when I found out there was a small-scale 2-day convention located in Philadelphia just a train ride away from school, I jumped at the chance.
Having been a fan of dress up ever since I was a toddler, I decided to dress as one of my favorite Marvel Comics characters, Jessica Jones. The costume itself was pretty basic—faux leather jacket and skinny jeans completed with a long, black wig and some clever makeup. I had to wake up early to ensure I looked as convincing as possible and even boarded the SEPTA train in full Jessica-mode. Luckily, I was not alone, as my friend offered to take the train with me into the city. We were quite a sight- me with my dramatic makeup and my friend in his identity-concealing mask. There were more than a few surprised stares directed towards us throughout our travels, but, because I was determined to stay in character and Jessica Jones would never allow the judgmental gaze of onlookers to deter her from achieving her goal, I ignored them and pressed on.
The convention, “J1-Con”, was located on Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia. Despite having lived only thirty minutes outside of the city my entire life, I had never actually explored this particular area, so I was excited to see what the convention had in store. It took place in a large warehouse- unassuming, yet intriguing. We entered the building among a sea of other cosplayers (I no longer felt out of place in my dark, unruly wig), and proceeded to sign in to receive our day passes. As I was telling the woman at check-in my name, a convention worker approached me. He covered his mouth with both hands in excitement, and asked, “Jessica Jones?”
I smiled at his question and answered,
“Yep! I’m glad you could recognize the costume.”
He held out his arms and pulled me in for a friendly hug, explaining that he knew some of the actors from the show, and I entered the convention with a renewed confidence.
The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming number of vendors. Posters, plushies, action figures, wall decals, buttons, t-shirts, you name it—if it could be made, they sold it. The sheer amount of creativity and dedication to their craft was incredible. So much so, in fact, that I ended up buying a small plushie of my favorite anime character and a glow-in-the-dark vinyl figure for my boyfriend. I cannot tell a lie—they were both a bit more expensive than what you’d normally pay for in a store, but I simply could not resist. When in Rome, I suppose.
I was also blown away by the other cosplayers. Although a bit intimidating, as some were strictly in character and would only answer to their their character’s name, it made me feel more at ease. I even shyly approached one cosplayer personifying a character from the anime series, “Dragon Ball Z”, and asked if I could take his photo. Unlike the character he was portraying, who can be a bit of a jerk, he smiled and posed for me, saying, “I would love for you to take my picture.”
Throughout the day, I was also approached for photos by other fans of the show. One group of con-goers even talked to me as if I truly was Jessica Jones, which was a bit odd, but I took the chance to embrace my inner Jessica.
To sum up, I think that’s what my entire convention experience can be boiled down to—embracing the odd or even awkward experiences. I mean, when you look at an anime convention from an outside perspective, it really is just a building full of nerds in various costumes getting a little too excited about fictional characters and fan merchandise. But that’s what makes it kind of beautiful too—a bunch of outsiders, misfits even, gathering together to share a collective love for their favorite shows and comics. What’s more, feeling brave enough to dress up as a character that they look up to which would otherwise be deemed as “strange” or “embarrassing” if they were in any other social setting. So here’s to embracing the eclectic and the strange, the weirdos and the fanatics of anime.