I saw the first Star Wars in theatres over fifty times. I watched Robotech and Star Blazers, before anyone heard the word anime. I have collected over three thousand comic books. I have spent hundreds of dollars on anime and manga. Then there is the t-shirts and collectibles I have amassed over the years. I am a Geek. Recently I have proudly started calling myself “Otaku,” which is Japanese for Geek.
I can easily frustrate my wife with Star Trek quotes, when she tries to argue with me. My sons stare at me blankly when I try to teach them a life lesson through the wisdom of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime. Friends are reminded of how weird I am when I tell them of the new Battle Angel Alita manga I bought. I am an Otaku. At least I thought I was, until I finally made the holy trek all Geeks must make to a convention. It was at the convention where I learned I am not as Geek as I thought I was.
It was toward the end of summer and my 15 year old son, Morgan, would be returning to school soon. Morgan has enjoyed some anime and manga, thanks to me, but he did not embrace the Geek side of life, so he reluctantly agreed to go with me to the convention.
We traveled to Salt Lake City the night before the convention and we stayed with some friends in the area. Our friends did not completely understand what kind of convention this was. Colette kept trying to relate it to something she knew. “Is it a Star Wars kind of convention? Are they going to have Star Trek special guests? I didn’t know they had Lord of the Ring conventions in Salt Lake.” I told her it was an anime convention. “A what convention?” asked Colette. Her scrunched up face told me I had said something foreign or perverse to her. I explained, with some authority, that anime and manga are cartoons and comics from Japan. Their popularity has grown in the U.S. for the past decade. At the convention people like to dress up as their favorite characters and watch brand new anime and some old favorites. There is an artist’s area for amateur artist to show off their work and all kinds of stuff to buy.
I woke up the next morning and excitedly woke Morgan. He was not happy with me. He grumbled something about it being an hour before he normally gets up for school. I put on my favorite anime t-shirt, with characters from the Death Note anime, with my most comfy pair of jeans and sneakers. Morgan wore a blank t-shirt and jeans. The moment Morgan and I walked into the convention hall, we knew this was completely different than what we expected. Everyone was dressed up as some anime character. We were the only ones that were not. Off to one side there was a group of characters that were pretend sword fighting with the occasional character trying to blow them all up with an oversized rocket launcher. In another corner was a group of identical characters fighting over whom was the better Naruto character. In front of us was a line of beings that crawled out from varying dimensions and landed from hundreds of alien planets. Was this the line to check into the convention or the line for the cosplay competition? Maybe the bathroom? Given all these costumes and lack of gender identification for some, raised a few more questions about the bathroom. I realized Morgan was trying to hide behind me. He looked horrified. Finally at the front of the line, a lady in her twenties asked, “Why are you here?” To which I replied, “I’m here for the convention.” She took my credit card and looked for our tickets in the system. “You look too old to be here,” She handed back my card with a shrug and says, “but I’ve seen weirder around here.” We took our passes and our complimentary bags of goodies. As I turned and looked around, I realized the young lady behind the ticket counter might be right about something. I could easily be the father and possibly the grandfather of every single participant at the convention. Throughout the day I took pictures of anyone who would stop, which was pretty much everyone. I found myself asking more and more what character the person was dressed up as. It was nerve wracking not knowing who they were. I couldn’t even figure out what series they came from. Thankfully most of them were nice and took pity on me and were happy to explain what character they were. There was one kid who was dressed as a samurai who took too much pity on me and kept giving me hugs whenever he saw me around the convention.
One of the first areas Morgan and I went to was the market. I decided if I was going to run out of money at the convention, it would be here. They had everything: costumes, swords, posters, models, backpacks, food, jewelry, and so much more. I looked through the costumes and noticed the makers did not take into consideration someone of my girth. I admired the beautifully crafted swords, even if they were fake. The price tags were for someone who lived by themselves, not for someone with a family. After looking around for a while, Morgan bought a couple of posters and I bought some models. I had to look up the name of the models when I got home to know who they were. Morgan and I both bought caps that looked like the top half of some creatures’ heads. Morgan’s was all black with long floppy ears and golden eyes. Mine was grey with pointy ears and pointed teeth above my brow. Later my hugging samurai asked, why was I wearing a girl’s cap? One of the activities we watched was supposed to be part of the cosplay competition. I thought the characters would get on stage and show off their costume. This was actually cosplay combat. Two characters got on stage with weapons and whatever special powers they brought along. Someone sitting at a table would call out attacks for each character, which they would act out. Morgan and I both agreed it was lame, so we ducked out.
We took a break at the café. I was looking forward to this. I’ve read online about Japanese candies and treats. I settled on some Pocky, which is chocolate covered pretzel sticks and some choco bees, which is a chocolate filled graham cookie. Morgan and I also bought some fruit sodas. The glass bottles looked really neat. The top was sealed by a glass ball and there was a spiral halfway down the inside of the bottle. Morgan and I tried for some time to open the bottles. Finally a group of boys who had been watching us intently asked for my bottle. The boy took the plastic cap attached to the bottle and whacked the glass ball. It sounded like the bottle shattered, but it didn’t and the ball rolled down the inside on the spiral. They handed the bottle back and watched intently as I took a drink. I tilted the bottle back and the glass ball rolled up and blocked the fruit soda. The boys giggled at me. It took another two bottles before I figured out how to properly drink the soda.
One of the last activities we took in was the Anime Music Videos. People take clips of anime and set them to music. As I explained to Morgan, it’s just like when MTV used to play videos. As the videos played, I got all excited. I knew the songs! I knew the anime! Morgan took great enjoy in reminding me, “Dad, these are all old anime and old songs. They can’t show the new stuff here because of licensing problems. It says so in the program.” This also explained why I had already seen all the anime movies they were showing at the convention.
On the way home we agreed we had a good time. Morgan said he relaxed and enjoyed himself when he figured no one there would recognize him. I enjoyed myself as well, but I was disheartened to learn I am not the Geek I thought I was. I learned that most of my Geek knowledge was dated and my Geek tastes in style were very out of date. I realized I am not the carefree Geek that can snatch up extravagant collectables anymore. My 15 year old son tried to comfort me in saying, “Sorry Dad, but Peter Pan has died.”