Anime Boston takes over the Hynes Convention Center this weekend, and depending on whom you ask, that’s either the best thing ever or the weirdest thing imaginable. The idea of a whole bunch of adult anime fans dressed up as their favorite characters makes most grown men and women’s eyes roll -- or it makes them want to head down to the convention center with a camera and get their picture taken with those dressed in truly outrageous and awesome get-ups.
To those Bostonians who look at cosplayers and scoff, I just have one question: Why? If you're anything like the average Boston resident (i.e., a Boston sports fan), you most likely share more in common with the Anime Boston crowd than you probably think. A comparison, shall we?
You dress up like your favorites. Jerseys and hats are to sports fans as homemade kimonos and neon wigs are to cosplayers. Sports fans' outfits might be deemed more “normal” in our society, but they serve the same purpose as the more outlandish ones that many anime fans wear: to celebrate -- and, in some sense, emulate -- admired individuals.
Your passion infiltrates your “real life” in little ways. Is using a Boston Red Sox credit card any different from keeping your keys on an Edward Elric keychain? Is plastering your car with a “Stanley Cup Champions 2012” bumper sticker any stranger than doing so with one that declares “My Other Car is Utena”? It is if you're looking at the specifics, but if you're talking about the overall concept, not so much. These little signifiers of fandom are important because they help us assert our identities and feel like part of the club. Memorabilia is basically fandom's secret handshake.
You become (perhaps overly) invested in the outcomes. What’s a major sports game without a riot, right? Boston fans have gotten crazy plenty of times in the past, whether it's been in reaction to a Sox victory or a Patriots loss. Sports are so deeply emotional for some fans that they're willing to burn the place down to show their enthusiasm -- and that's not exactly what I'd call healthy. On the other hand, take a stroll around the Internet, and you'll quickly find out how anime fans interact with their obsessions: through fan fiction. Don't like an ending? Rewrite it! Think two characters should have fallen in love? Make it happen! When you've bonded with a character or a series, it can be hard not to let your emotions take over.
It's all escapism. Will the Sox winning the World Series really change your life? It might make you happy and fill you with pride, but it probably won't get you your dream job or fund a trip around the world. In the same sense, watching anime can also be a very important hobby -- one that shapes your schedule, affects your worldviews, and makes your heart go all a-flutter -- but in the end, it's a fantasy, a way to transcend the mundane rhythms of regular, boring life for a little while, and that's okay. We all need something escapist to cling to at times.
It's about community. Loving our sports teams is an integral part of being a Bostonian. Boston is a diverse city, full of all kinds of people from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, education levels, and socioeconomic statuses, but the city’s teams have a quasi-magical way of creating a certain camaraderie among us all, no matter how little we seem to have in common at first. We celebrate victories and mourn losses together, and that joy or sorrow is always palpable in this city (see above). In the same way, for many anime fans, talking about anime and going to conventions is a way to feel understood and at home. Suddenly, you're not the weird nerd anymore; you're one of the gang. People get your references and don’t think your eccentricities are all that shameful. It's tiring to be marginalized, and conventions can offer a welcome respite from some of the hostility that anime fans experience. Anime Boston is about much more than showing off costumes: It’s also about supporting one another and embracing everything that makes outsiders think you're weird.
The whole basis for these comparisons is a little odd, but it still makes a point: Pushing one highly enthusiastic, occasionally very public fandom to the fringe and treating it as a strange obsession while celebrating another is just silly. Otakus are just like everyone else. If you weren't too busy rolling your eyes, maybe you'd notice.
Are you going to Anime Boston this weekend?
Photo by sushiesque (Flickr)
About Vanessa -- Vanessa Formato is a 23-year-old Clark University graduate, freelance journalist, vegan cupcake enthusiast and video game aficionado. She blogs about body image and tweets about puppies. So awesome, even John Stamos is impressed.
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