Earlier this year, when my boyfriend was booking his appearance at Otakon, he casually asked me if I wanted to go — free badge, free hotel — and I readily agreed, desperate for any sort of mini-vacation.
I had been to Otakon before, as as tween. The last year I went, I was fourteen years old. I remember feeling generally very “over it,” and whether that was a symptom of not being interested in anime anymore or just of being fourteen, I left early and did not go back.
I have developed an interesting relationship with anime and manga over the years. Growing up, my brother was a big fan of shows like Macross and Ghost in the Shell. My mother worked for a time as a cultural ambassador for a local university, and spoke fluent Japanese — as a result, I grew up around the language and culture. When I was fifteen or so, I started studying the Japanese language on my own and by the end of high school had passing fluency. Hell, I can still carry on most of a conversation or read a Manga (with Furigana), if it doesn’t get too complicated.
But I never really had much an interest in anime once I got past my early teens. Being a white person that speaks Japanese means that you are pretty much auto-sorted in with Otaku culture in most people’s eyes. I had nerdy schoolmates constantly asking me to translate manga for them, teach them how to call someone “a baka” (urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh), and so on and so forth. The main reasons I stuck with learning Japanese were: I had become close friends with a Japanese exchange student at my high school, I had grown up knowing a few words and phrases through my mom, and I have always sucked at Romance languages.
Maybe it was this assumption that I “should” be into it, and desperation not to be seen as an Otaku, or worse, as a “weeaboo,” that drove me away from wanting anything to do with anime and manga. But I spent ten years not paying any attention to it, save for re-watching the shows I already knew I liked: FLCL, Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and a few others (plus a half-season of Attack On Titan and a sudden and random addiction me and my closest male friend developed for Ouran High School Host Club earlier this year).
So, Monday night, with forty-eight hours to go until we left for Otakon, I informed my boyfriend that I was going to watch all the anime.
But I mean, that’s a pretty tall order, right? So I decided to research which shows were trendy right now (and therefore more like to be featured at Otakon). Pro tip: do not just type “anime” into the Tumblr search box. Don’t do it.
Armed with a few titles and some alcohol, I started in with Kill La Kill, which has been dominating my Tumblr dash for the past year. What follows is my crash course in popular anime, accompanied by a handy cheat sheet for the uninitiated anime convention attendee:
Kill La Kill
My initial reaction was that I loved the animation style, which has an old-school, hand-drawn look about it that reminded me vaguely of Lupin III (my favorite anime series ever). I felt confident that I was going to enjoy this show, until I walked out of the room for ten seconds to get my glasses and then came back to find that a ton of stuff had happened and I had no idea what was going on.
The show is about a high school, Hannouji Academy, that seems to be the focal point of a larger class system. A teenage girl named Ryuko is looking for the person who killed her father and left behind one half a “scissor blade,” which Ryuko wields as she slices her way through the school’s student body, who have superpowered school uniforms that help them fight dirty. The show seems to play on tropes from other anime: there’s a hot bad guy, there’s a sexy scientist guy (his shirt automatically starts coming off, accompanied by sparkles, whenever he starts into a monologue; it’s pretty funny), there’s a cutesy Lolita character, and there’s the big bad, Lady Satsuki (who is always scowling and immediately became my favorite character).
Initially, I was all about KLK and thought it was going to be a total girl-power show. After about ten minutes, though, protagonist Ryuko’s superpowered school uniform transformed into a fanservicey nightmare of straps and underboob.
Two episodes later, I couldn’t tell if the blatant fanservice is supposed to be satirical or not. Part of me kind of loves the magical girl transformation into a ruthless killing machine, most of me is just wondering how her skirt stays up when it only comes to halfway up her butt. They introduce another “Kamui” (the superest of the super school uniforms), named “Junketsu” (“purity”) and worn by world’s baddest badass Lady Satsuki. Then there is a battle where Ryuko’s Kamui becomes more powerful because she accepts showing off her breasts. It is at that point that I decide it is time to switch shows.
Kill La Kill
What’s It About?: Superpowered school uniform revenge story ultraviolence.
Will It Be At Otakon?: YES. My god, the sheer number of KLK cosplays I saw on Tumblr was overwhelming. I feel like every person at this convention will be dressed as Ryuko, including me somehow. It just happens when you walk in the door.
Should You Watch It If You Don’t Watch Anime?: Tough call. The animation is gorgeous, the fight scenes are crazy. I can’t tell if it is ironically or just genuinely stupid and misogynistic. It’s sort of like Prison Pit except an anime with superpowered school uniforms. So, uh, not like Prison Pit at all.
Free! Eternal Summer
During my ill-advised Tumblr search for “anime,” I saw Free! mentioned a number of times, but not by its actual name — most of the Internet just seems to refer to it as “swimming anime.” I could only find one episode to watch for free online, and it was the first episode of the second season. Also, I was becoming sleepy. So here is a screencapture of my excellent notes on Free! Eternal Summer:
I got bored and dozed off for a bit, waking up just in time for truly puzzling end credits, which feature all the characters dressed up as secret agents and firemen and stuff. I do not think I will be watching any more of Free!.
Free! Eternal Summer
What’s It About?: Hot dudes have a swim club and real feels. End of plot.
Will It Be At Otakon?: Oh, yes. Seems to be heavily represented in the internet’s cosplay prospectus.
Should You Watch It If You Don’t Watch Anime?: No. This is the most anime show ever. It is so anime, you guys.
I loved Cowboy Bebop, so I felt confident about Space Dandy, which is from the same creator. However, by this point in the evening, I was having trouble staying awake and reading subtitles, so I let my rusty Japanese language skills take over and caught about every third word. The plot seems to be that there is an alien-hunter named Space Dandy who is a philandering asshat. He has an adorable robot friend. They pick up a weird cat alien (who is also a pervert, natch) and together they have misadventures. At one point they go to a restaurant named “Boobies.”
I then fell asleep on the couch and had to be put to bed.
What’s It About?: Goofy space alien hunter with a pompadour and his robot/kitty/alien friends.
Will It Be At Otakon?: I suspect so, though I feel like this series is something that “cool nerds” like (probably due to the crossover success of Cowboy Bebop). I am betting that I will probably see one or two really good cosplays.
Should You Watch It If You Don’t Watch Anime?: Sure! It’s fun, and the animation/color palette is gorgeous. Or don’t! I don’t care. Live your life, man.
The next morning, I woke up, feeling guilty about not finishing that episode of Space Dandy, and began packing. Have you ever been to a convention before? Yes? Then you know they are disgusting germ festivals riddled with disease. I always pack two boxes of Emergen-C and a giant water bottle and sip it throughout the day. As a longtime veteran of conventions, let me give you my four tips: eat breakfast, drink water, wash your hands constantly (seriously: so much more often than you think you should), and wear comfortable shoes. I cosplay every year for New York Comic Con and I will sacrifice costume authenticity in the name of comfy shoes. Get those gel insoles if you can — Conventions are hell on your knees with all that shuffley slow walking!
I knew I would be crashing at a friend’s house on Tuesday evening, so I informed him that we would be watching anime. “Sounds fun,” he said. “No,” I responded, “It’s for work.”
I went into RWBY with literally no foreknowledge of its plot, or even what it looked like (or what “RWBY” stands for. I was referring to it aloud as “Ri-wibby”). Cosplays of it were well-represented in the Tumblr “Otakon” tag, so I queued it up on Crunchyroll. I was surprised by two things: one, it is in English. Two, it has the worst animation I have ever seen in a show. Or a video game cutscene. Or in my nightmares. “It looks like Reboot…” my friend says, cringing.
RWBY takes place in a world where humanity has successfully fought off some kind of monsters using an element called “Dust.” Dust seems to be worth money in the post-monster era, as evidenced by the fact that the show opens with a robbery of Dust from a…Dust…store? The robbery is foiled by Ruby Rose, who is our incredibly obnoxious protagonist. She is noticed by the headmaster of the Beacon Academy, where students learn to become hunters of some variety, I don’t know.
This show is godawful for a number of reasons, but let me attempt to be succinct: there is a trope in anime that I like to call the “TittyWitch.” A TittyWitch is any magically powered character that has an “uptight librarian” aesthetic (small wire-frame glasses, blouse and waistcoat, etc), except she has inhumanly gigantic breasts. This show has a TittyWitch. Her name is “Glenda Goodwitch”.
This might be the single most grating show I have ever watched.
What’s It About?: Annoying, one-sided characters do some kind of magic or something.
Will It Be At Otakon?: Unfortunately.
Should You Watch It If You Don’t Watch Anime?: No, you should not watch this show for any reason.
Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online has a big following amongst the teens who attend my young adult programs at the library, so I decided to check it out. At first blush, it is an anime about watching people play an MMORPG. The first ⅔ of the series premiere literally plays out like a tutorial level, with our protagonist Kirito showing a newbie player, Klein, the basics of killing a boar to gain XP. At one point, there is emotional, dramatic music as Klein explains that he will be logging out of the game at 5:30, when he has scheduled a pizza delivery. Kirito, full of feeling, congratulates him on his forward thinking in regards to pizza.
Well, Klein is doomed to never get that well-timed pizza, as this show takes a sudden turn into a very dark, weird place. Suddenly transported back to the center of town, everyone playing SAO is treated to a confusing talk from the creator of the game and VR helmets, who suddenly appears as a weird goop that turns into Orko from MotU and says that if anyone tries to leave the game, their helmets will use microwave technology to cook their brains. The only way to leave the game is to clear it, beating all 100 levels. Fun! Kirito decides to get the jump on everyone else and head off to the next town to grind experience. Klein declines his offer to bro out and stays behind to help some other people. Their parting words to each other are about how Kirito is “pretty cute” and how Klein has an “unkempt face.” Then Kirito does some jumping and slashing and dramatic yelling as he gives a Jeff Winger speech to himself about beating the game.
Sword Art Online:
What’s It About?: IF YOU DIE IN THE GAME YOU DIE IN REAL LIFE
Will It Be At Otakon?: Probably? I am not sure if I would recognize any cosplay from it if I saw it, though.
Should You Watch It If You Don’t Watch Anime?: Weirdly enough, and despite it being probably the most boring/stereotypically dramatic anime out of everything I watched, I found myself most enraptured by SAO. I would definitely watch more. Why? It is a mystery.
Now, here I am on Wednesday afternoon, about to hit the road to Baltimore, and realizing that I never figured out what Homestuck is.
Wish me luck (and say hi if you see me!).