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Anime Convention Basics - Used with permission of AnimeInfo.org.

Let's say you're a fan of Japanese animation and/or manga, and you've read and watched quite a bit of stuff. Maybe you've taken in one series that you've completely devoured and enjoyed, or maybe you've liked tons of old and new series alike. The only bad thing is that there aren't that many people around that like anime or manga, or if there are, you're a very small group. You'd like to meet more people that share your love of the medium but you don't know where to look. Look no farther than the convention, a tradition that has been around for years that brings together people of the same type of interest into one central location for a weekend of events, social interaction, and fun. Anime is no different, and the adoption of the convention has become one of its best ways to bring both fans and industry people together in appreciation of it.

Attending anime conventions, however, can be an overwhelming thing, especially if it's your first con and you don't quite know what to do or what to expect. However, Frank is here to help you out and walk you through what conventions are with regards to anime and manga, as well as give you a crash course on what you need to do to make your convention experience a good and also a safe one. You'll learn about things such as what to do and what not to do when it comes to conventions, as well as see what kinds of things go on at anime cons. With this class in hand, you'll at least have a basic understanding of what attending is like!

What's an Anime Convention?
The idea of a convention is something that's been around for longer than even anime has been in existence. For years, official gatherings of people with the same interests have served to bring together communities, whether it be for the technical, the scientific, or the entertainment-oriented. For a form of entertainment or a hobby, however, the existence of a convention dedicated to it is a sign of its success and dedication of both its fans and those individuals who make their livelihood from supporting it. Those of you who are reading this who have been to conventions dedicated to other forms of entertainment surely realize this.

Anime conventions are no different. They provide the same kinds of benefits as a normal entertainment of hobby-themed convention does - the same sense of community and, of course, fun. But even though one may know essentially what a convention is and what it does, the experience of being at an anime convention is something that is unique and easy to get lost in without the proper preparation. This class is for those of you who are apprehensive, yet eager to jump into the anime convention scene for the first time. With my tips and short crash course handy, you'll be sufficiently equipped to check out the convention scene.

Let's start with a simple definition from our Otaku Dictionary:

Con (KAHN) n. - Slang or short for "convention". There are a lot of kinds of conventions. In regards to the anime genre, a convention consists commonly of dealer's rooms full of imported CD's, posters, and other Japanese anime merchandise, video rooms which show different kinds of anime, panels of guests or fans discussing various issues, masquerade/cosplay, artist sketches and drawings, and much more. Cons are a way of gathering large groups of anime fans in one place to have fun and have a good time talking anime. Generally, staff working these cons are anime fans, and can be characterized as funny, hard-working, and a little bit on the crazy/insane side

All right, perhaps it's not so simple, but it's easy to get the gist of what an anime convention is from reading it carefully. Most anime conventions have a number of different things going on. You can expect to see fan-driven events such as panels on anime series favorites and anime-style art displays. You can also see a fair amount of "official" events such as the masquerade, involving fans who dress in anime costumes like my friend in the picture above. Anime conventions overall possess a certain kind of mood and flavor as compared to other types of conventions, because of their cross-cultural nature. The appreciation of anime is the appreciation of the entertainment of another culture, and the presence of Japanese guests at many anime cons is reflective of this. While anime conventions in general have enjoyed a relatively short history (only about 10 or 12 years) they have nevertheless become one of the best places to meet other people who like anime.

I'm sure you're raring to find out what to do when it comes to anime cons, so let's find out what you should do before the con to insure a good first experience.

Preparation: Pre-Con Tasks
So now you've decided that you want to attend an anime convention, either in your area or outside of it somewhere in the country. While it's easy to let yourself relax and take it easy until the time of the convention is right on top of you, it always pays to do a couple of things before the convention in order to prepare for an enjoyable experience. Doing these, of course, isn't always necessary, but it will definitely help you have a smoother time when it comes to arrival and getting settled into the convention scene. So without further ado, here are some pre-con tips that will hopefully help you out in the time leading up to the convention.

Research, Research, Research: This is probably one of the most helpful things to do, especially if you are attending a convention for the first time. Doing proper research will insure that you know what's going on, as well as keep you from getting lost when it comes to contingencies and emergencies. There are a bunch of things you can look up. Most anime conventions have a website where some general information about the things that are going on are posted, as well as information about pricing and hotel room rates. It's always helpful to start at the convention website because it gives you a framework to work off of when doing your other research about the event. You can find most anime convention websites by searching Google. It’s good to the convention name in a search engine to bring up some webpages and editorials on the convention, to get an idea of what people think about it and what typically has gone on at it in the past few years. From there, check out the hotel location and surrounding area. Find out the zip code and enter it into a location guide site such as the ones at Yahoo in order to find areas of importance like restaurants, stores, and fun places to go to when you're not taking in the con sights and sounds. With good research in hand, you'll definitely be better prepared for the anime convention you choose to attend.

Pre-Register: The price of admission, commonly called a registration fee, is a given when it comes to figuring out your expenses for the convention. However, many anime conventions have a thing called "pre-registration". For most conventions, this basically means you pay your registration fee up front, and you receive your letter of admission or tickets in the mail. What's the advantage of pre-registerting? Well, most pre-registration fees are cheaper than regular, at-the-door registration prices, and unlike registration fees, which vary depending on how many days you are spending at the convention; Pre-registration fees ensure a full pass for all the days of the convention. Pre-registration lines tend to be shorter and faster than registration lines at the convention, because you don't have to fumble around for money and wait for a badge to be printed out for you. And pre-registrants may also be treated to special bonuses such as complementary gifts or exclusive information about upcoming con events. The benefits far outweigh the risks or sending in your cash early, so pre-register!

Room Planning: Be sure to call in your hotel reservation for a room far in advance of the convention (such as when you get pre-registration confirmation or at least 6 months before the event). Convention staff usually reserves a block of rooms in the hotel for attendees, but the rooms fill fairly fast, and even those who do not pre-register will usually reserve rooms anyway. Mention the convention when you are reserving a room, because some conventions will have usually hashed out a discounted deal for room rates if you're a convention attendee. And definitely shack up with friends if you can. Hotel room rates hurt a lot less when you have a few friends to split the bill with. The more, the merrier - just try not to end up with so little space that you can't even put your luggage down somewhere!

You can do plenty more practical things such as packing properly and budget planning beforehand, but doing these three things will definitely makes things a bit easier for you. Now that you're all prepared, let's fast-forward to arriving at the actual convention, and what typically might go on at it as far as official con events. Many anime conventions have a varying amount of things to do, and whether you are outgoing or more introverted there will be something for you to do at a good convention.

Arrival and Con Events
You're all packed and prepared for the big convention day. With all your things in place, you find yourself at the convention site before you know it. You're about to enter the world of anime conventions - but what do you do once you get there? What is there to do, anyway? This part of the course is going to show you what exactly to do on arrival and just what there is to take in as far as what the convention offers.

The first thing you probably should do is make sure you've got a place to stay. If you're lucky enough to live close to the convention site and commute, you should be fine. But if you reserved a hotel room, you'll want to make that your first priority. Getting your registration together might help you get into events quicker, but it'll definitely be all for naught if you don't have a place to crash! Getting to your room first and getting settled is definitely a big help. Be sure to take a small amount of your pocket money as well as that listing of places near the convention that you hopefully researched in Lesson 2, as the whirlwind of social interaction and decisions about what to do at a convention is definitely going to have unexpected drains on both your wallet and where you head off to.

Second is settling your admission into the convention. If you've pre-registered, this shouldn't be too hard. Most conventions send out pre-registration confirmations, and bringing these to the pre-registration station, as well as a picture ID just in case they want to verify your identity, should get you into the convention. Make sure that you go to the pre-registration station - some conventions have pre-registration and at-the-door registration in the same place, and some have it in separate areas. Be sure you get into the right line! If you haven't pre-registered, at-the-door registration is usually more of a hassle since there is more involved, but the result is the same. Having money and information ready beforehand will help decrease your time at the at-the-door registration station. Expect to wait anywhere from 20-45 minutes in line for pre-registration or 45 minutes-2 hours for regular registration. Of course, this varies by the size of the convention and when you go to the registration station, so be sure you show up early!

Regardless of how you registered, when you're done you should several things. One is an identification badge with your name on it that will be issued to you at registration. Make sure you have this on all the time, as for most anime conventions it is what will get you into events at all hours. Some badges may be laminated, but others may also use plastic badge holders. If a badge feels like it's about to come out of its holder or get unstuck, head to the registration station and ask for a way to secure it (tape, staples, etc.). Taking the time to do this will save you a lot of headache later! Another thing you may receive is a program book or guide. The guide should have a listing and/or schedule of events that are happening at the con, as well as some important policies and information. Be sure to read anything that has rules or guidelines in it, as being aware of how the convention works will help you later if you get into unexpected situations. If program guides aren't available, try looking around for flyer postings made by the convention staff, or seek out the information desk. Some other things you may get in your "con packet" include flyers and complimentary items, all of which are nice free bonuses to get.

Now that you're in, it's time to check out what's going on! Anime conventions have a lot going on at one time, and it's helpful to sit down for a few minutes with a schedule of events and layout where you (and your friends, if you traveled with other people) want to go. Some of the things that you may find going on include:

Panels: These are usually in blocks of an hour or so and are spread out throughout the convention. These are moderated discussions about all sorts of anime and manga topics, including specific anime series, the state of the industry, or particular aspects of anime in general. There may also be "activity" panels such as voice acting and drawing workshops, or "autograph" panels where guests sign for attendees. Some panels are moderated by fellow attendees, but others are moderated by convention staff and even guests of honor. The guest panels are usually the most popular because they give people an opportunity to meet their favorite voice actor or artist, so arrive well before the time of the panel!

Video Rooms: These are rooms that play a continuous bunch of anime all day long. There can be more than one video room, and many conventions tend to vary the anime that is being played, though there may be times when a whole series may be played back-to-back. Video rooms are a good place to relax after a stressful walk through the crowds at the convention, or just as a place to catch that anime series you've heard about but never watched.

Dealer's Rooms: The place where your bank account might just take a beating. Dealer's rooms feature vendors from online and non-online stores that sell anime merchandise. Much of the dealer's room merchandise is rare and not easily found at any other place, so if you're looking for that one anime CD you don't have or the model that you've always wanted to assemble, you're in the right place! It's easy to drop your cash at the first thing you see, but try to "make your rounds" of the place first. At times, you may find that another vendor is selling the same thing you saw at another for less! Merchandise sold can include cels, artbooks, models, stuffed toys, t-shirts, posters, and more, so be prepared to spend most of your convention funds here. Just don't spend too much.

Masquerade/Cosplay: One of the most popular events at an anime convention, the masquerade/cosplay is a way for those who have the courage to dress as their favorite anime characters get up on stage and show their stuff. There are usually prizes given out to the best cosplayers in a variety of different categories, and many people who participate also put on skits to entertain the crowd. It's definitely a rush to see the hard work of people that love anime enough to immerse themselves in it by dressing up in costume.

So now you have a general idea of what kinds of things to do when you arrive and what kinds of things most anime conventions have to offer. But by definition, conventions are social gatherings, and there is definitely a lot more going on besides the stuff that the convention has to offer. Whether you crave social interaction or you're more of the solitary type, it's good to know what's going on as far as meeting and greeting people at anime conventions. We'll be taking a look at that next.

Anime Commercial Companies
You've learned a bit about how conventions work and what they have to offer to the attendee as far as official events. But what about all the "unofficial" stuff? One of the other main purposes of having a convention is to encourage social interaction and a sense of community among those sharing a common hobby, mission, or pastimes. Anime conventions are no different, and the often misrepresented status of anime in countries other than its native Japan is something that is ideal for cultivating the "community" purpose of a convention. Many anime fans are happy to gather with other people who appreciate the same medium, as the mainstream acceptance of anime is still something, as of this writing, that is still in need of progress. Whether or not you choose to do it, social interaction is a part of any anime convention, and knowing about what goes on will help.

Many social gatherings at conventions are unofficial versions of convention events. Some people may be holding an anime video game tournament or an anime viewing in their rooms. Others may sit down and discuss inpromptu anime topics, panel-style. The "room party" is also a common occurence, and while conventions may sometimes officially have a "party floor" where parties take place, for the most part room parties are held by small groups of people who know each other, on an "invite-only" or open door basis. Anime conventions sometimes have bulletin boards or places for congoers to place flyers advertising these unofficial events, so it's helpful to look around as you walk to see what else is going on besides the official con stuff.

If you happen to have attended with some friends or an anime club that you're a part of, social interaction becomes much easier. Because you have people you know and are friends with, you can stick together and check out both the unofficial and official con happenings together, and it's much easier to walk into places where there are people that you might not necessarily know. If you're all first-timers, staying together will definitely help you get oriented to what typically goes on at an anime convention. If you've come in by yourself, things can be a little more intimidating depending on how outgoing you are, but if you want to mingle, there are things you can do to make socializing easy. One tip involves online communities such as message boards or mailing lists. If you're the only one in the area going to a convention, but you're a part of an anime message board or mailing list, you can try asking to see if anyone else is going to the same convention you are, and meet up with them there. If you don't have that advantage, you can definitely still get by. Try striking up conversations with people you sit next to in events such as the masquerade and panels. Even an activity such as waiting in line to get your registration badge or an autograph is a perfect opportunity to talk to people. You'd be surprised to see what you have in common with other anime fans!

One more lesson to go! Let's take a last look at some quick and practical miscellaneous tips to help you through your first anime convention, as well as a listing of some of the major anime conventions in the US.

Survival Tips and Con Listings
If you've read through the lessons in this class, you're well on your way to knowing what goes on at an anime convention, as well making your convention experience enjoyable and worry-free. Of course, there's always room for a few more tricks of the trade, and I'm going to leave you with a few quick miscellaneous tips that will help you survive an anime convention. After you check these out, you should de all set - that is, except for knowing about which anime conventions are out there that is! I'll be taking care of that too, as I've included a listing of just some of the anime conventions in the area. So without further ado, let's get into the last part of the course with some helpful items to know:

Landmarking the Turf: When you arrive at the hotel and have a chance to wander around, take note of your surroundings and any "landmark" places that you see. It's hard to do this when the con is in full swing, so do it as soon as you arrive or when the halls are a bit quieter. Landmarks can be anything that stands out in the hotel, whether it be a fountain, an escalator, a statue, or something else. Get together with the people you're with or with the people you happen to meet up with and tell them about these "landmark" places on the con site. Knowing these will make it easier to arrange meeting times and places if you get separated. Setting the front lobby as a meeting place can also be done, but "landmark" places are a little better because of the high traffic that tends to go around the lobby area.

The $20 Rule: I have a personal rule of thumb to always take $20 more than what I usually have to pay if I'm hitting the dealer's room, a restaurant, or another thing that requires a fee at the convention. If I have the $20 left over when I return from wherever I went, I save it and add another $20 to it the next time I have to pay for something or go out. I always keep this cash in a separate place than my wallet too. Having the extra $20 bills in a separate place will ensure that I have at least some cash on me in the event of an incident where I lose my wallet. I make it a point to never leave cash in the rooms as well, and neither should you, unless it's very well hidden. You'd be surprised at how far $20 can get you if you don't have any other money.

Information Gathering: The con packet that you'll receive usually has the majority of information you'll need to know about what's going on at the convention, but there are also many other sources of information as well. Check out flyers on the walls or on the doors of designated event rooms to find out helpful things such as rules and last minute changes in schedules. Also, many anime conventions have a "Convention Operations" or "Information Desk" place that is dedicated to answering questions and reporting things. When in doubt, ask a staffer or someone else where these places are so you can get the information you need quickly!

Cosplayers - Gotta Film 'em All!: Costumers at anime conventions create some of the best (if not complicated) anime costumes for the con. It's real easy to tell them to stop for a quick picture, but be sure you do so in less crowded areas, or drag them off to an out-of-the-way place where you won't interrupt the flow of traffic. It's also a general rule of thumb for me to have at least 2 rolls of film simply for cosplay pictures. The day of the Masquerade is the best time to use these rolls, as many cosplayers will be in costume most of the day. If you happen to want to dress up as your favorite anime character, be sure to leave the real steel blades and/or realistic looking guns and weapons at home. "Live" steel and realistic weapons are generally not allowed for the Masquerade or for general walking around, and there's only going to be a hassle if Convention Security thinks you have a real gun like Vash the Stampede from Trigun.

Awareness can be a Savior: Always be aware of your surroundings, no matter how safe the place may seem. If you travel in groups, you should be fine when you go to places such as a room party full of unfamiliar people as long as watch out for each other. When you're alone, things get difficult. In these cases, be friendly and sociable, but always know where you are so that you can get out of a sticky situation if possible. The majority of convention accidents involving first timers happened because they didn't take care of themselves or were aware of what they were doing before it happened. Alcohol is definitely high on the list here. I'm going to be idealistic and assume, first, that you'll only be drinking if you're of age (21 in Illinois) - I don't condone underage drinking. However, if it so happens that you drink alcohol, never drink too much in the presence of people you don't know will take care of you if you happen to go overboard. Know your limits, or know that your surroundings are 100% safe, and you should be fine.

Here is some information on one of the largest East Coast conventions, Otakon.
Otakon is one of the largest and longest-running fan conventions held every year around August on the East Coast. The convention encompasses several large Video Rooms showing both animes and live action shows, panels on various anime subjects, Merchant Rooms, Art Shows and Sales, Video Games, Musical guests, and Cosplay/Live Action. Since 1999 the convention has been held in August on an Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore Maryland. The convention is run by Otakorp, Inc a non-profit organization and the convention staff is all unpaid volunteers.

That should be it! I hope that this course will help you through going to an anime convention, and that the tips and points in here will get you out of unnecessary troubles and hassles. Anime conventions are meant to be fun, and with good preparation in place, you'll be doing your best to make sure it stays that way, and not a stressful trip that you'd rather forget!