U of O club attends oldest continuous anime convention in U.S.

Release Date: 6/6/2012

Recipe: Mix 18,000+ people, most of them wearing imagination-defying costumes. Add endless 24/7 animation marathons. Throw in a big handful of gaming sessions, female roller derby, a dealer's room the size of a football field full of wonderful stuff to buy, panels on subjects ranging from the secrets of good fiction writing to designing and making Klingon robes to how to expand your business or club, and add a heaping spoonful of mock battles with giant fake weaponry in the middle of the conference ballroom, all day long, for three days.

Result? It's called the 23rd annual A-Kon, and it just took place in Dallas, Texas.

A-Kon is the oldest continually running anime-based convention in North America. Anime refers to a style of animation originating in Japan, now popular world wide, characterized by colorful graphics and often featuring themes on a sophistication level intended for an adult audiences rather than only children, like much American animation.

Members of the Ozarks Nerds at A-Kon.

Members of Ozarks Nerds attended the 23rd annual A-kon convention in Dallas recently. The convention celebrates Japanese animation, or anime.

Anime has existed in Japan since the late 1940s but has become hugely successful in America, especially since the early 1990s.

Eleven members of U of O's Ozarks Nerds club, which is largely devoted to anime viewing and discussion, along with their sponsor, made the trip last weekend. It was a hugely entertaining experience for those who had never gone before, and a welcomed reunion for those who attended last year's convention.

"A convention like this seems really very different than what you might think of as a professional conference for scholars or professionals of any discipline," said Ozarks Web Content Writer Don Lee, who sponsors the club and attended A-Kon with them. "And they are different, but they overlap also. People who attend annual conferences do so to share their work, to exchange ideas and network professionally, and to socialize with their peers. These same things go on at science fiction conventions, Star Trek conventions, mystery conventions, and at A-Kon as well. The difference is that scholars attending the Modern Language Association's annual conference don't usually have thousands of fans who show up dressed as characters from their favorite Ph.D. dissertations. Anime creators do."

According to Derek "Bill" Eldridge, who attended last year and helped organize this year's trip, the trip last year introduced the animation enthusiasts not only to the world of anime fandom, but also to Mu Epsilon Kappa, a co-fraternal organization which, according to its mission statement, "strives to create a safe and accepting environment of inter- and intra-cultural communication in which people are welcome to express themselves and explore their interests without fear of ridicule or persecution."

The Ozarks group has applied for membership with Mu Epsilon Kappa.

"The good we bring back to Ozarks from these trips is tangible," he explained. "Last year, the panel done by Mu Epsilon Kappa on how to start and grow student organizations gave us great ideas for what anime clubs need to do if they want to survive and grow beyond the idea of just sitting around watching cartoons. You have to emphasize the community aspect, the experience itself. That strategy has worked very well this past year, and the lessons could be applied to any sort of club or group. The stuff we've learned from the trip last year has basically shaped us into the group we are today."

Elodie Adams, who also came back for this second trip, agreed. "I think it is a good opportunity to meet other people who share your interests," she said, "but it also provides the opportunity to attend events or purchase items you wouldn't otherwise be able to ever see. I particularly enjoy the fact that many little talks and special events are organized, and you can choose to attend the ones you like. For example, I attended the concert by the Japanese visual kei rock band Ayabie on Friday night. I started listening to that band when I was 14, and I seriously never expected to see them live, so it was an awesome surprise. We also saw a 700-year-old sword - how epic is that?"

She also explained how she and other Kon-goers enjoy being able to dress as their favorite anime characters - as she put it, "without being judged immature or insane! So it's a lot of fun."

"I enjoyed talking to various artists from the comic industry the most," said Anna Smith, a first time attendee. "I'm an art major, and hearing what they created for various comics was very inspirational."

Was there a downside to A-Kon? "It's like Disneyland," said Lee. "Which means you stand in lots of long lines to have lots of fun. It's best just to relax and watch the show. It's quite a spectacle. Hard to describe. My feet still hurt, though."