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How I became an animaniac

On March 29, my entire world was turned upside down.

Many of my preconceived notions of art and culture were recalculated, revamped, recontemplated, reanalyzed, refined, reanimated and completely redefined on that momentous day.

I gained a new appreciation for foreign cartoon artistry, I sampled exotic snack foods, I conversed and talked with a multitude of colorful, cheery, comical costume-clad characters.

I engaged in a panel discussion concerning the environmental hazards of future war technology. On top of it all, I came to a startling and surprising revelation:American cartoons need WAY more giant destruction-dealing war mecha.

Oh, and don’t get too close to the cosplay people wielding the plastic kunai knives. Those things hurt.

In case you haven’t guessed it already, I’m reflecting on my time spent at last Saturday’s Animarathon, held at the University.

As someone who doesn’t watch anime, I simply did not know what to expect at such an event. Ninja obstacle courses? Angry fanboys screaming at each other in defense of their favorite animes? I was clueless.

Fortunately, things were much more peaceful than the possible scenarios I had envisioned.

That is, if you perceive roughly 800-900 people swarming around the innards of Olscamp Hall (many of them in anime and video game character garb) to be a peaceful event.

Needless to say, things weren’t to the level of bedlam-style craziness at the convention like my lack of experience at such events would want me to believe, but it was still remarkably busy inside those halls.

I saw a seven person group of black-cloaked, flamboyantly adorned elder ninjas. I witnessed two people clad head-to-toe in baggy Pikachu suits. And I met the legendary mercenary agent herself, Solid Snake (I bet you didn’t know that Solid Snake is a girl, did you?)

Indeed, I saw some mightily awesome costumes. I only recognized a few of them (the video game characters), but almost all of these homebrew costumes were truly amazing in one way or another: Giant green headdresses, a six-foot-tall mock surgical scalpel and bright red jumpsuits.

As a nice touch, I even had about five or six people ask me who I was dressed as. Yep – I wore my Dagorhir battle games garb to the Animarathon and I had several people ask me which anime character I was impersonating! Pretty good for an anime newbie, eh?

Costumes included, there was a slew of events to attend at last Saturday’s convention: anime screenings, discussion panels, vendor booths, artistry tables, costume contests and competitions, video game tournaments and more.

All in all, I believe attending this year’s Animarathon was a great decision for me.

But aside from all of the fun involved, I truly believe that going to that convention actually helped me to broaden my horizons as a person.

As I said, I don’t watch anime, and I had no idea of what to expect from this event.

But after being immersed in Japan-American art and animation culture for nearly 10 hours straight, I will say that the American subculture of anime fans is no more nerdy or obsessive than anything else.

Hardcore football fans wear speedos and paint their bodies with team colors before they go to games. Hardcore punkers wear 20-inch tall mohawks to punk rock shows.

And yes, hardcore anime fans don the garb of their favorite characters. But who’s to say that this is “geeky?”

Is this any more geeky than wearing orange-and-brown bodypaint to a below-freezing football game? Sorry, I don’t think so.

Although those Japanese cartoons still do scare me a little bit, I can now appreciate them in a newfound way thanks to the important lesson I learned at this anime convention: cultural tolerance. I will not deny that I have made fun of anime in the past (why does everyone have blue hair?), but after the convention I truly recognized and appreciated the artistry and storytelling of anime. I saw 60-ton mobile suits plugging each other full of hot lead and I watched a tormented sword-wielding samurai assassin who would not stop killing people. But behind the spectacular visuals, there were vibrant and animated (literally and figuratively) characters, simple yet deep plot lines and plenty of real-life symbolism.

Based on what I witnessed, this anime stuff is actually pretty good, and the fans have some serious dedication to their favorite animes. What’s not to like?

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