I reckon, by this point in my life, I have seen well over hundred sporting events live.
Growing up with a sports-loving father, I have never been in a situation where the idea of catching a game in-person seemed foreign. I have always been aware of how intertwined playing a sport and viewing a sport is. All the way down to tee-ball, there will always be individuals who’re motivated to watch a game no matter their direct involvement in its outcome. It’s part of the ecosystem that is sports.
Sports fans actively seek out designated locales with like-minded individuals in order to consume a form of entertainment with which they feel apart of. These locales, purpose built for these communities, often take the form of a second home. Rather than staying within the comforts of their own domicile, they purposefully travel a measurable distance in order to view the game in-person. They aren’t as always content with these games being spoon-fed to them while on their sofa. There’s a thrill to landing a desirable seat for an exciting game surrounded by your comrades. These are moments when the hunters decide to gather.
Being an anime fan in the United States is a rather solitary endeavor.
While the expansive Internet has former a wide net for anime fans to latch themselves onto, anime fans will often find themselves on islands in the real world. With the medium being based across the ocean, the roots that extend from the far east over the Pacific are thin once they reach land. Barriers such as customs and language will always bring with them foundations that aren’t as strong as ones built natively. Thus, anime is often isolated from large parts of American society before a single cel is shown.
There is so much thing as a permanent venue for anime fans to gather and view their medium as a community. Whereas you can quantify 65,000 Seahawks fans at CenturyLink Field, the scope of anime fandom is difficult to visualize as an individual. Anime films are rarely shown to a sizable degree in US theaters, let alone the inherent domestic premiere delay which causes many to venture online prior. The synopsis for last night’s One Piece episode will not be in your local paper the next day nor will highlights be shown on the 11 o’clock news. View counts online can only show so much and that’s only if fans voluntarily take part in contributing to them.
Living in eastern Washington, there is one known store that sells anime goods and merchandise beyond a casual degree. With a population of over 1.5 million spread out over 45,000 square miles, feeling like a drop in an ocean is an understatement.
This is where Sakura-Con comes into play.
Billed as the largest conventions of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, Sakura-Con is a yearly event where fans of anime at-large come together and form a lake of their own in the heart of Seattle for a weekend. The three-day event is a rare moment in time where their interests are the forefront. No longer do anime fans need to gather their own bits and pieces of the anime community on their own. Instead, everything is brought to them and the thousands of anime fans alongside them.
One foot into the show room and you are, for the first time, able to see the scope that is the anime community in the United States with your own eyes. Everything you’ve come to learn and love about the community has been distilled into one physical location. Blu-rays. Books. Plushies. Games. Art. Apparel. Figures. Keychains. Posters. Cosplay costumes. Jewelry. Clear files. Dakimakuras.
Pivot 180 degrees and down the hall, on either side of you, will be panel rooms for you to meet those who bring anime to life. Anime licensors, the companies that give anime a legal home stateside, such as Crunchyroll, Funimation and Aniplex are there. Voice actors who take a medium based in a foreign language and help bring it to life in English are there. Creators who flew across the Pacific are there. Fellow anime fans who’d simply like to discuss a certain topic within the community in a constructive manner are also there.
To many anime fans, conventions such as Sakura-Con are their Super Bowl. It’s a rare moment in time for them not feel like a needle in haystack. Instead, they are hay in a haystack. Sports fans don’t need sports conventions. They have sports games. Seattle Mariners fans have 81 opportunities to interact with fellow Mariners fans in-person while enjoying the medium together. Seattle Seahawks fans have 10. Fans of the Timbers, Sounders, and Whitecaps have more than 17. Blazers and Sonics fans have more than 41. Fans of the Washington Huskies or Oregon Ducks, disregarding the sport, have over a hundred.
Anime fans, by and large, have one opportunity. Depending on where they live and their desire to attend conventions, they might have three-to-four. While one might say you can interact with fellow anime fans online every day of the year, you can say the same for sports fans. However, how many people plan on wearing cosplay throughout the year in a society that discourages wearing costumes outside Halloween. I doubt many. Then again, if you see plenty of lolitas during your Costco runs, let me know.
To sum it up, I went to Sakura-Con this year. Having over a hundred notches in my belt, marking each game I’ve gone to over the year, this was my first anime convention notch. Stay tuned. I have much more to say over the next few days.