May 21, 2010

A Parent's Guide to Anime Conventions

by Gale Ellis, Contributing Writer

What is an anime convention and why do people attend them?
Anime conventions are events for fans of anime (Japanese animation) and other related media, such as manga (Japanese comic books) and video games, to gather and share there interests. Common attributes include screenings of popular shows, vendors' rooms where merchandise is sold, panels, workshops, various contests, and appearances by special industry guests. Conventions can vary greatly in size from small events held on college campuses with only a couple hundred attendees, to giant expos with 50,000 attendees or more. Most conventions are multi-day events with programming usually starting on Friday and ending on Sunday afternoon.

Specific reasons one might want to attend a convention can be varied, but generally it boils down to wanting to interact with others who share your same interests. In fact, there are countless types of conventions in the world on topics ranging from medical devices to gardening. Conventions that draw in fans of some form of entertainment are typically referred to as "fan conventions" and often refer to conventions focused on science fiction, comic books, and anime.

Attendance at these fan conventions can mean much more than simply sharing common interests. Due to the stereotypical notions of what is "cool" or not, many attendees of anime conventions have a hard time finding outlets to express their interests or else are ostracized by others for doing so. For these individuals, attending a convention can mean a rare opportunity to be accepted for who they are.

How much will it cost?
This depends on a lot of factors: size of the convention, how many days you plan to attend, how far you need to travel, etc. Depending on the size of the convention, registration fees alone could cost anywhere from $15 to $75, though as of 2010 most cost anywhere between $35 and $50 depending on how far in advance you register. Other things to consider are gas, food, and hotel costs as well as spending money if you or your child wish to purchase anything from a vendor in the dealers' room. For more in-depth information about the cost of anime conventions, refer to Elizabeth's "How-To Guide for Making a Budget for a Convention."

My child wants to dress up, is this OK?
Dressing up in costume, or "cosplaying," at a convention is actually quite a common practice, but is not required. Many attendees will buy or even make their own costumes based on characters from their favorite show, comic, or video game. It is not uncommon for groups of friends to plan ahead to dress as a set of related characters and plan photo shoots. There may also be planned meetings for anyone dressed as characters from a given series.

Some attendees choose to make prop replicas of weapons to go along with their costumes, but always take care to check a convention's weapon policy as well as check in with security the first time any prop weapon is brought into the convention to make sure your prop is within safety regulations.

If your child is uncomfortable getting his or her picture taken, or you don't want for it to be taken, it would be wise to discourage your child from dressing up in costume. Costuming and photography tend to go hand in hand at conventions. If your child insists on dressing up, don't worry. In situations like this it's generally quite harmless.

It's also perfectly acceptable for parents to join in on the fun and dress up in costumes too.

What events can I expect?
When your registration is processed upon arriving at the convention, you will generally receive a program detailing what specific events the convention holds as well as a schedule of when and where these events will take place. Anime conventions have all sorts of events that can vary from one convention to the next, but there are a few commonalities to expect. Most conventions designate a large space, such as a ballroom or exhibition hall, to house the "main events" stage. This is where featured events such as opening and closing ceremonies, major contests, and featured performances are held. A growing trend in the past few years has been for anime conventions to hold mock game shows and other improvisation events where costumed attendees put on the personas of the popular characters they're dressed as.

In addition to main events, attendees can sit in on panel presentations about specific topics that interest them, Q&A sessions by the convention's guests of honor, or participate in a workshop such as drawing, sewing, or even how to conduct a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. There are also often gaming rooms for attendees to play video games, card games, and role-playing games. Sometimes there are competitions and tournaments for popular games.

Other popular attractions are screenings of various anime series and movies, the dealers' room where vendors sell everything from DVDs and comics to artbooks and posters, and an "artists' alley", a space set aside for attendees who are artists to sell their work such as paintings, sketches, sculptures, or other crafts.

What is the masquerade?
Most anime conventions hold various costume contests, the most popular of which is commonly referred to as the masquerade. Generally this is a large featured event. At most all-weekend conventions, it falls sometime Saturday afternoon or evening. Most masquerades function as a combined skit performance and costume craftsmanship contest, though not all require competitors enter both categories. Those competing with a skit must come up with an original performance to showcase in front of judges and the audience, whereas those entering the craftsmanship contest must make their own costumes which will also be judged. Check a convention's web site for specific rules about entering and information about skill divisions.

Should I go with my child?
This is up to you and depends on your child. It may depend on how old he or she is and where the convention is being held. If your child is still under 13 years-old many conventions will require that you or another adult accompany them. If the convention is far enough away that your child requires a hotel room, they may not be able to check in unless they are at least 18 or 21 years-old (depending on the hotel's policies). Generally, if your child is above the age of 13, well behaved, and traveling with a group of trusted friends, it's probably fine for them to attend the convention without you.

Is my child safe?
Anime cons are generally very safe environments. Most take place inside buildings that can only be accessed by those attending or running the convention and all have security personnel. Common sense rules apply: Remind your child there is safety in numbers, not to give out contact information or go anywhere alone with strangers, not to leave their belongings unattended, and most importantly to seek out security personnel or other convention staff if someone is bothering them or making them uncomfortable.