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Anime North 2012: Better late than never!




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I’m back, everyone! I’m back from the computer graveyard where my previous laptop is resting (hopefully not at peace because that bastard has never worked properly from the day I got it until the day it died). And what perfect timing: just in time for Anime North! I initially wrote this post on my iPhone so that it could be queued for when I had access to a working laptop, and now I do, so hurrah!

Anime North 2002 was the first convention I had ever attended. It was held at the Regal Constellation Hotel and was super cheap to attend ($30 for the whole weekend, I think). Now, Anime North’s attendance has skyrocketed to 20, 000 people and is held primarily at the Toronto Congress Centre, with the official con hotel being the Hilton Doubletree, as well as various other events held at the Sheraton down the street.

Also, just a heads up, I discuss some of the conversation at a panel I attended which can be triggering for some people who are survivors of sexual assault. 

Ever since its conception in 1997, Anime North has been a fan run convention. For a long time it was a true safe space for the fans and by the fans. Now, due to its size, it functions as a non-profit event run by volunteers where the profits are given to Sick Kids Children’s Hospital. 11 years at Anime North has taught me to appreciate fan run conventions, although in the past six years the convention has become more commercialized than I would have liked.

This is actually the first year I did not attend Anime North for a full weekend since 2002 when I only went for Saturday. I initially had planned to attend with some of my new friends I met during my grade nine year, but they all bailed on me. I spent an hour on the Friday crying in my room until my mother knocked on my door, telling  me that she would drive me to the convention so I could explore it on my own. I love my mother. She actually sat in the hotel lobby with my MP3 CD player, reading a novel for the full eight-or-so hours when I was running around the convention by myself. I don’t know anyone else’s mothers who would do that for them.

That year, I met a friend of mine who lasted for a decade, and from her, I’ve met multiple other people, including my best friend Viktoria and multiple boyfriends. Anime North means a lot to me, despite the fact that there has been a massive decline in quality in the past six or so years. Not to be overly cheesy, but it represents some of the happiest moments of my teenage years.

But enough sappy nostalgia and onto the actual convention report! Anime North put its first attendance cap into play this year, capping the daily convention attendance number to 20, 000 people maximum. This sparked a bit of fanboy/fangirl outrage, but to be honest, the regularly daily attendance for the past five years has floated pretty comfortably around 19, 000, never quite piercing 20, 000. People travel from all over North America to attend the convention, as Anime North is considered the best fan-run anime convention in North America by most of the interwebs. The interwebs and I tend to be on opposing sides of fandom debates, but for this one, we definitely agree.

Over the years, Anime North has evolved into somewhat of a “cross-fandom” convention. There are just as many video game and sci-fi cosplays as there are anime cosplays, and the panels cover everything from Scott Pilgrim to Dr. Who. On the official Anime North message board, Teahouse of the Maple Moon, you will have neckbeards and overzealous teenagers whining about “non-anime” cosplay and how people should “leave other fandom at home”, but they are in a serious minority. And thank god, because that is the kind of close-minded thinking that makes the rest of fandom shirk away from us anime fans.

One of my favourite parts about the convention this year was that there were no “free hug” solicitors hanging around on the lawn of the Toronto Congress Centre. A big “thank you” to Con Ops who took care of that, finally wiping those creepy teenagers off the map for good. If I had one more fourteen-year-old L from Deathnote attempt to attach him or herself to one of my extremities, I would probably end up in jail for beating up a minor.

This year was rather impressive. Normally outside of the TCC there is a fan-run DJ booth in a small sectioned off area with a bunch of otakus Caramelldansen-ing it up to irritatingly loud Jpop, Jrock and Jrave music. Instead, Anime North set up an outdoor stage and ran their own mini outdoor music festival. While I was in the parking lot taking photos of cosplayers, I watched the traditional Japanese drum group that had played the closing ceremonies last year. They were amazing! I normally hate the poorly mixed sound quality of the J-music so this was a pleasant change.

Cosplayers were out in abundance so I took the opportunity to snap some of my favourites. Normally I am cosplaying so I rarely notice other costumes (unless they are from a favourite series of mine), so it was fun to be on the “other side” of the camera. I was excited to see more women of colour cosplaying than I have in the past! As a lighter-skinned woman of colour, I know that I have a privilege of cosplaying as different characters without being judged, so I am always really happy when lots of non-white and non-Eastern-Asian cosplayers strut their stuff. My favourite costume of the day was probably this fierce Cammy I saw. She was kicking ass and taking names.

Ladies of fandom: don’t let some asshole basement dwellers tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t cosplay as someone based on your size, skin colour, gender or general physical appearance! Dress how you want and work it! Know that there are people out there, like me, who support you completely.

Asides from stalking cosplayers around the convention, I spent some time in the video game tournament room (which smelled awful – deoderant, con-goers, please) with my friend Dan as he participated in some sort of Street Fighter tournament and then later on at his panel, the Random Discussion panel.

I want to take a moment to address something very personal to me. Now, I don’t like to spill over my social and political opinions when I write for GEEKPR0N, but I feel like this needs to be addressed, simply because I was horrified at some of the casual racism and sexism I experienced while I was in my friend’s panel.

Take all of the wannabe internet popular pranksters on Reddit, the ones that make “get back in the kitchen” jokes and talk about pedobear way too much, and put them in a room together in the real world. That is what this panel felt like to me. Obviously not everybody there was like this, and I would hope that the majority of the people were are disgusted as I was, but I am losing hope.

Growing up on the internet, as a person, you tend to become apathetic and jaded towards casual sexism and other offensive behaviour. You will tell people to “drink a bottle of bleach” if they are n00b without even a second thought; in Team Fortress 2 private surf servers, you will change your spray to child porn and spray it all over the place, traumatizing people (folks like me, specifically, and this is why I stopped playing on TF2 private servers) for comedy. What kind of world do we, as geeks, live in where this kind of thing is acceptable?

One of the stories given by a panel-attendee was about a “scary black man” who was talking to him and his friends when they were on a highschool trip to NYC. This kid was, I dunno, maybe seventeen years old? He was talking about how scared him and his friends were of the guy, even going so far as to describing his cornrows, and the fact that he was black. While listening to the story, the guy he was describing didn’t sound “scary” at all. In fact, he was being friendly and asking them about the music they listen to. What the hell? People actually liked the story, too. I was horrified.

Another story was about a traditional act from the ye’ old days of yore in Japan: boy love. Basically, about how Samurais would take young boys (I believe around the ages of eight and nine) as sexual partners and how their parents would prepare them in advance by sodomizing the poor children. Now, this is historical, and in context can be talked about maturely. But in a room full of internet-meme-brainwashed twenty-somethings (and often times younger), the last thing you will get is a serious conversation on the victimization of young children in the Feudal era of Japan. It was all giggles and laughs, pedobear jokes and the like. I was dumbfounded and genuinely disturbed.

A common theme of the Random Discussion panel is to ask our dear leader, Daniel, about when he was “homeless in Alaska” and every year, like clockwork, he refuses to tell the story. This year, some random guy, when Dan refused, said, “What, do you have a vagina down there?”

I couldn’t take it so I stood up in front of a hundred people and threatened to kick his ass if he uttered any other sexist jokes in front of me. Casual sexism, racism and ignorance of rape/csa/etc is way too common in fandom. I would hope that we, as a community of like-minded individuals, could move past our desire to be lolarious and attempt to be decent human beings. I was a huge troll when I was a teenager so trust me, I understand the rush it gives you when your peers validate your offensive sense of humour, but it really needs to stop.

I complained on Twitter and was told by someone at the panel to “stop judging people who are just having fun”. Oh, so now I am being uptight because I would prefer that geeks in fandom would stop being racist and sexist? Am I judging people unfairly for laughing at child molestation? Gee, well, I might as well shoot myself off the planet, because I don’t think I want to be here any longer.

Other than my irritated attitude at Dan’s panel directed at a few people, overall I enjoyed it. A lot of the stories were hilarious and silly, which is what the panel is all about. There was an eating contest: the first person to eat an entire bag of hard candies (must be chewed), a giant Tootsie roll and drink an entire box of apple juice won some ridiculous prize. And the two people who told the most ridiculous stories received the ugliest dollar store ceramic mushrooms as prizes. It really is a fun panel, especially for those of us who don’t want to wait six hours in line for the Masquerade that always starts at least two hours late.

I, myself, told a story about how one of my roommate’s guests mistook my room for hers and walked into my room naked, while I was also naked. Last year I won one of the two prizes with my story about almost getting hired at a Rub ‘n Tug in Toronto, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyone who has never attended Anime North before this should definitely do so in 2013. It “feels” different than a commercial convention like Fan Expo or Wizard World. A different atmosphere, different fans, better events, better panels, etc. The only thing I would avoid if you are a regular convention attendee is the dealer’s room (unless you need something specific). The only good vendor, in my opinion, is My Big Fat Independent Movie Store because unless you live in Mississauga, chances are you’ve never been out to this gem. You can find almost anything there, including obscure cult movies, classic anime and series boxsets. I know for me I would rather pick something I’ve been looking for for ages up in person, rather than paying a million dollars in shipping online for a crappy used copy.

All in all, I was satisfied with Anime North 2012. There were a variety of different and unique cosplays, people weren’t rude or invasive and I had a lot of fun! If you are an anime fan and have never checked out the convention, I highly suggest you try it out next year. Maybe come for one day and if you love it as much as I do, stay the whole weekend too.