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OHAYOCON: Part I

 Jim Lauwers
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Ohayocon is an unsettling and tumultuous event. A jar of Goober PB&J, with desperate loneliness replacing the peanut butter, and a cloying, trusting love replacing the Jelly.

Ohayocon is the biggest meeting of Anime fans in Ohio.

Ohayocon is a planet orbiting a star, with a large asteroid belt orbiting it. None of which, by God’s great plan, should exist.

This is my writeup of my time spent at Ohayocon.

Every year since 2003, thousands of people from all over the nation descend on Columbus’ Short North. Staying mainly within the confines of the Hyatt Regency and the adjoining Greater Columbus Convention Center, they are here to celebrate anime–and more importantly, their oneness as a fan community.

But why a convention about Anime? Why pay money for travel, room, and board for three days spent in a hot convention center? What were all these people doing here? I had to know.

Walker, and the kind folks who run Ohayocon, were able to get me a press pass.

Last year there were an estimated 7,000 attendees at Ohayocon. That’s more than the entire population of my hometown.
This year, the numbers bandied about by staff indicated a total attendance of 8500. That’s almost the entire student population of the Five Colleges of Ohio.

I have a confession to make before I begin this Report in earnest. I used to be an anime nerd. I knew all the major titles, had connections with the groups who released them, knew what studios had produced them and who would be dubbing them into English.

This is because I used to be active in the IRC Anime scene. Heavily active. Serving, encoding, discussing… I had +voice in one of the major releasing groups’ channels. No you may not know what my handle was. No I will not elaborate. None of that is important any more. What is important is that this was all past tense. I haven’t watched an Anime–apart from Hellsing Ultimate–since 2003. When DALnet went dark.

This background is very difficult for me to write. I keep deleting it and starting over.

And that’s exactly the problem.

Outside of the anime fandom, what I just said was extremely odd. What do you mean “IRC?” What do you mean, you used to have +voice?? Women are disgusted by you, men want to punch you until you fall over.

Inside of the anime fandom, meanwhile, what I just said was extremely odd. What do you mean you haven’t watched an anime since 2003? What made you stop? What do you mean women are disgusted by you? Why are you making this sound like it was some kind of insidious drug?

And that’s me, straddling the two angry seas. That’s why I found myself on Saturday night, sitting at the Char Bar, wondering if I should even go back to Ohayocon. Wondering if I should even keep doing anything at all, ever.

I felt very—

Wait, wait. Sorry. You’re supposed to have your characters show how they feel, not say it. I know better than that. So… I guess let’s show it.

-PART I-
-Jim Vs.-

As I stepped into the cold winter air, that voice in the front of my brain started up again.

“You really should have bought that voice recorder.”

This is how it always starts.

“Shut up, brain.”
“It was only thirty-five dollars.”
“Shut up.”
“Nobody’s going to believe you’re really a reporter if you don’t have one.”
“Don’t care.”
“Hunter S. Thompson had one.”
“Look, stop fucking bugging me about Hunter S. Thompson! First of all, HE had an expense account. Second, most of what he wrote was fiction. It’d probably be better if he DIDN’T have evidence of his time spent. And third–”

I stopped counting on my fingers, noticing that Belinda was staring at me.

“Ah. Uh.” I pretended to cough. “This is probably the door we’re supposed to go in.”

It was, and we entered, nimbly dodging out of the paths of the Greater Columbus Convention Center (GCCC) staff who were moving heavy Pitney-Bowes boxes to places unknown.

Belinda and I walked down the hallway, past the abandoned Einstein Bros., over the institutional nuke-proof carpets, and had our first encounter with a group of anime fans–waiting for their pre-registration badges.

I took a breath, and remembered the conversation I’d had with my father the night before. I’d have to play this one slow, and by ear.

Belinda, on the other hand, wasted no time finding a staff member –who happened to be blocking the “registration room” door against the hoi polloi. He said he would have to call someone else on the walkie-talkie network.

In the days that passed, this little snippet of the night seemed more and more boring. Mundane. But at the time, I was absolutely caught up with the makeup of the crowd.

There were, of course, the pseudo-goths, faux-ravers, and more than a handful of men wearing trench coats. Fake swords and fedoras, the line was buzzing with excitement and caffeine. People were hugging, sitting against the wall, playing Nintendo DS while waiting. It was like the hallway outside of a high school’s drama room.

Honestly, this was not surprising.

But what was surprising was that people had come to pre-registration in costumes! They had dressed up in their bulky, handmade finery, just to show off to the 50 other people who were standing in line to get their badges early. I began to realize that I had underestimated the subjects of my report–what we journalists call our “foes.”

It was clear I had underestimated the strength of my foes; this would become a theme running throughout the convention.

Okay, so. This seems like a good point. I’d like to interrupt with a few words on anime fandom now, if I may.

The anime fandom is made up–almost entirely–by nerds. They are disparate in location and interests, but what ties them together are certain iconic ideas.

One of the most famous of these Nerd Cairns is Dungeons and Dragons. D&D is a two-way marker, in that nerds are expected to like D&D, and D&D players are expected to be nerds. The fact that many nerds don’t particularly enjoy D&D isn’t really important–either for the outside observer, or for the nerds themselves. What matters is that it has become an accepted part of nerd-dom. It’s a sign to nerds that “this event is safe. It is okay to be you. Fellow nerds are here.”

So it’s like the Icthys. … I think. I’ll have to ask my Catholic friend about that.

“Anime”–as an idea rather than a subset of a certain geographically-produced media–works in much the same way. When you go to an anime-oriented event, you can expect to see nerds of all stripes: Gamers, Nipponophiles, LARPers, collectable card gamers, anime fans, goths, ravers, drama fags, Science Fiction fans, band fags, fanfic authors, meme lovers, programmers, comic book geeks, and basically everyone else who has an opinion on the relative merits of Captain Janeway vs. Captain Kirk. They’re all there at an anime convention, and they all have something in common: They all hate anime fans.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s very important for understanding the zeitgeist of an anime convention. So keep it in mind–I’ll explain it all later.

So Belinda and I are standing amongst the Anointed of the Nerd-dom; those who had bothered to pre-register, and show up 12 hours early to pick up their special “PRE-REG” badges. Eventually we’re informed that Press badges have to be obtained tomorrow with normal registration; perhaps because the press isn’t expected to be excited about an anime convention. Fair enough.

It’s around this point that Bel begins to realize what she’s been asked to report on.

“That goth guy is staring me down!”
“Shhh. Don’t let him know you see him. Act norm–well, not normal. But don’t act weird.”
“I don’t know anything about anime! I didn’t realize this was such a… all I know about anime is like… is Sailor Moon anime?”
I nod gravely.
“Sailor Moon is one of the foundational pillars of American anime. Well, it and Akira, and MS Gundam, and Evangelion, and Project A-Ko, and Bubblegum Crisis, and Dirty Pair, and Cool Devices, and–”
“–Okay okay. But I’m still worried that they’ll know.”
“Don’t. Believe me, knowing Sailor Moon is like knowing Olivia Tremor Control at a Pitchfork Media party. You’ll be able to bluff a long way with just that.”

We decide to hang around, watching the line, and Bel heads off to test my theory. Her resulting interview, which can be read here, will perhaps go down in history as a pivotal moment in “homely girl being hugged by be-trench coat-ed boyfriend interviewed by overly attractive girl wearing a party dress and 4″ heels” history.

Meanwhile, I busy myself by picking up trash from the floor, and writing about it on the internet.

There is a long time of nothing happening, broken by the con staff’s directions for the line to “stand against the wall.” I wonder if the food court is open already; decide not to go. I shouldn’t get too used to the con until I know for certain that I’m going to get my press pass. I feel like a child who has peeked at his Christmas presents.

Bel scurries back to me after her interview.
“How’d it go?” I ask.
“Hold on, I just remembered this word and I need to write it down.”
There is a further pause. I watch the line enter the pre-registration room. Some of the girls are hopping so fast and so hard, I’m afraid they’re going to hurt themselves. I silently thank God that nobody has started squealing yet.
“Okay. Done. It went well! The interview went well.” Bel beams. “That girl behind the one I was interviewing?”
“Sailor Mars?”
“Yeah. She actually said to me ‘wow those shoes look painful.’ I was like ‘really? Are you a Sailor Scout?’ She was like ‘Yeah! I’m Mars!!'”

We laugh, steal some hors d’oeuvres, and then return to her car.

“So are you going to be there for, like, the entire convention?”
I let out a deep, long sigh.
“Yeah. I mean–I think so. I’m going to try to be there for as much of the weekend as possible.”
“Wow.”
“Yeah.”

She drives me home in relative silence; we briefly discuss our plans for reporting the convention and the state of her ex boyfriends.

“Okay,” I say, “I guess I’ll see you at 1pm tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” she nods. “Around 1. I have a hair appointment, but I’ll try to move it up.”
“Alright. Have a good night.”
“You too!”

I trudge inside. Twitter, my designated secretary for this operation, has filed my notes out of order. I lie down in bed, and pass out. I still don’t really know what to expect from Ohayocon, but I know that I’ve set myself up for a weekend full of it.

“Jesus.” I think to myself.

“This is going to be a long review.”

-END PART ONE-

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