My kids and their friends know the world of Japanese animation in the way my generation can sing the Looney Tunes libretto to “What’s Opera, Doc?” But their involvement in this world goes much further. They regularly convene with their fellow fans, in crazy costumes, and celebrate their common love for a world of warriors with huge swords and neon hairstyles, demons spawned from friendlier zones of hell, bikini-clad princesses with eight-foot long sniper rifles, and a wide assortment of crazed scientists and military types.
Entering this fanzone is entering another world, a world far more accepting and supportive than any other produced thus far by our species. As we stood in a long line for tickets, enthusiasts clicked pictures of one another, always with expressions of admiration and love. It is a lot like a gay pride event – indeed, a lot like one – in which everyone supports one another’s celebration of individuality. A pick-up truck drives by, and a girl in the back shouts out “You all are wonderful!” and everyone cheerily waves back to her.
Once we get inside, we have our fake weapons checked for nonlethality and buy our tickets. I let the kids go off to find their own adventures. I wander the halls for a few minutes, feeling a bit like a weirdo since I am dressed for the mundane world. I am also self-conscious because there are a lot of half-naked young women running about, and I still don’t know where to put my eyes in order to strike the right balance that should be there somewhere between “rude indifference” and “sexual objectification”.
After a bit, I wander off the premises. The convention hall is surrounded by land being developed into commercial structures, which exist as small islands in a sea of parking lots. I navigate myself over weedy mounds of excavated dirt before reaching the shores of the wine-dark asphalt. I spy in the distance strange characters making their way to the con, carrying flags and enormous scythes and grease-stained bags of food from Carl’s Jr. Jets soar loudly overhead because we’re only a few miles from an Air Force base. Would this world be explicable to anyone not in it? As I trudge along, I think about writing a new version of the Canterbury Tales in which a set of cosplayers set out from a convention across a wasteland to fetch lunch at Quizno’s. Nah – too real, too bleak, no point.
I finally shore up at Target and buy some juice and a snack, standing in the checkout line beside a young man in white labcoat and wild white hair, with a huge bolt penetrating his head. I then set out again for the return voyage, one pilgrim among many trekking over the parking lots and mounds of dirt. I return to the car to take shelter in it and type up these reflections. Next to me is a small troop of half-naked ninjas. I smile at them, give a thumbs-up, and say, “You all look great!” They react with uncertain wariness and then ignore me, which is understandable. I want to tell them, “I’m a geek, too! I go crazy over 18th-century automata!” but I suspect they won’t see the similarity.
I rendezvous with the kids for lunch and they are in a sort of happy, over-stimulated daze. Their eyes scan the crowds, identifying characters and assessing the quality of the costumes. I suddenly realize how they must feel when mom and dad take them to foreign cities. I’m asking very basic questions about genres and cultures which they can’t fully answer because, like national and ethnic identities, they don’t make a lot of sense, and you really don’t need to know the details in order to find your way around. Eventually I stop asking.
Back to the con for them, and back to the car for me. Sitting in my car, typing away, makes me feel like a cosplay hermit, like some Obi-Wan in the deserts of Tatooine, waiting for Luke to mature – with the beard, no less, but minus any cool Jedi robe. (This at least is a genre I know well.) Soon enough it is time for me to cross the trackless wastes and scare off the sandpeople.
The three kids – two of them mine, plus a friend of theirs – are supposed to meet me at the Designated Place. #1 and #2 are there; #3 is not in sight. #2 goes off to attend something; #3 shows up; #2 goes off to find #1; #1 returns, but now #3 wanders off to another adventure; it’s just #1 and me; now #2 returns, and we are back to wondering where #3 is. But it takes only a half hour or so for all four of us to gather in the same spot, and they are weary with the intense visual processing of the day. We return slowly but happily to our trusty landspeeder, and away we go.