Going to my first anime convention, Anime St. Louis, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew there would be special guests from the industry, panels, and numerous people cosplaying as their favorite characters. And yet I arrived with some hesitations.
I started watching anime in middle school and read my first manga in high school. However, I was never up-to-date with many popular series. My favorites were more “classic” or obscure. Moreover, I had hardly watched any anime in my time as a Jesuit. I was afraid that I would be seen as too far removed, too surface-level to really fit in.
Those fears fell flat instantaneously.
As I walked to the registration booth, I saw people who had put days, weeks, and possibly even months into their costumes for the weekend. I admired the artwork people had drawn in homage to their favorite series (and bought four 11X17 prints myself). I recognized so many characters and got a number of in-series jokes. I certainly didn’t understand everything, but that was not important. I felt at home.
One thing I noticed in particular was the positivity people expressed. Three times over the course of the weekend I sang the Pokémon theme in a room full of strangers. I stood in line to get autographs and listened to people celebrating what they were passionate about, and reveling in it myself. I was in awe, seeing people participating in an acting workshop on the last day, overcoming their fears. Everybody was encouraging. Any criticism I heard came out of a place of love and a desire to see people grow.
It all came back to what I heard in my first panel, a Q&A session with a voice actor from a few of my favorite series. He made the point that this convention was a safe space, a place where people could embrace what they were passionate about without fear of being judged or condemned. Whatever is broken inside each one of us is what makes each of us who we are. It is what gives us our own voices and our way of relating to other people. I have my own fears, doubts, and insecurities, but I am not alone. It’s not about trying to be perfect but rather about learning to be okay with the reality that we are going to make mistakes.
I went to the convention uncertain, thinking that I might not relate to people and questioning how much I would get out of the experience. Yet, I began to look at the convention as something more than just a diversion. It started to become a community of sorts. Celebrating the things that we enjoy together, even the silly things, helps us to embrace and to be embraced by a community. It brings us home.
Cover Image, Pikachu! via Flickr User Nathan Rupert, via Flickr Creative Commons, available at this link.