A couple of weeks ago I attended my first ever Otakuthon, Montreal’s annual anime & Japanese pop-culture convention. Despite having friends who attend every year, I’d never considered myself enough of an “otaku” to attend. I am very picky with my anime, preferring more slice-of-life style shows to the giant space opera/magical girl/battle porn that seems to be most popular, and the only manga I really read is fucked up horror stuff that gives Rick nightmares. I can’t stand most J-Pop, only speak enough Japanese to apologize for not understanding something, and find most JRPGs overly obtuse and melodramatic.
However, since we’d scheduled the August Geek Girl Brunch Montreal meet-up to be a pre-Otakuthon 2015 meet-up, I figured I’d grab a ticket and see what all the fuss was about. However, it actually turned out that the 3-day pass was only $5 more than the Saturday pass, so I ended up getting that. In the end, I’m very glad that I did because while I couldn’t spend that much time there each day, I do feel like I got a lot more out of the event showing up for a little while each day.
Since it was my first time attending I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I knew the cosplay game would be epic, but man was I blown away. The main lobby of the convention center was buzzing everyday with people just posing and showing off. This was mostly because of the large glass windows there, meaning that the lighting was perfect for photographs. Also, since this part of the convention center was open to the public it was the best place to get the most admirers.
I was also blown away by the variety of activities. There were panel discussions, workshops on everything from ikebana to makeup for cosplay, a video game room with tons of consoles, a board game room with hundreds of games from D&D to Cards Against Humanity, J-Pop concerts, martial arts demonstrations, a cafeteria with Japanese foods like taiyaki and katsu kari and tons of other stuff I probably didn’t even know about. Predictably, I spent a lot of my time in the exhibition hall, scooping up fan art like it was going out of style.
Probably my favourite activity was the World Cosplay Summit Canadian finals, which I attended with my friend Almathea. Unlike the usual masquerade that happens on Saturday night, this cosplay competition was for professionals only with the winners being sent to Japan for the 2016 World Cosplay Summit, an international cosplay competition for which Canada had just been granted full participant nation status. I was absolutely blown away by the level of craftsmanship on display, and couldn’t help but squee a little when I realized that one of the teams was doing Princess Jellyfish. They didn’t end up winning, but honestly I’m not sure I could have picked a winner myself, they were all so amazing.
I only made it to one workshop and one panel, but man was that a fun panel. It was all about slash fiction in the Supernatural fandom (I know, not exactly what you’d expect at Otakuthon), and it was just an hour of being super-silly and weird with fellow Supernatural fanatics. I usually keep my Supernatural fandom on the DL, but was really great to indulge my guilty pleasure and hoot and holler at Destiel fan art.
The workshop, however, wasn’t very well organized and seemed to cover stuff I already knew a bit better than the woman leading it, so I ended up skipping out after 20 minutes. Which meant more time for shopping! There weren’t quite as many Japanese beauty products on offer as I’d hoped, but that was probably for the best. And somehow I managed not to spend all of my money on a giant stuffed alpaca. I know, I’m not sure how I resisted either.
I probably spent most of my time photographing cosplayers, which frankly is my favourite thing to do at conventions. I was really impressed by how many awesome video game characters I saw, including Princess Aurora from Child of Light, Red from Transistor, Banjo & Kazooie and, of course, FemShep. I even managed to find another Delsin, who gets extra props for actually being native. #weneeddiverseheroes
I will admit that I actually started my Otakuthon a little judgmentally, preoccupied with worries about cultural appropriation and racism. Was it really okay for white girls to wear yukatas around a convention center? And what about the lady in the chongsam. Should I explain to her that Chinese and Japanese dress is different? Or was I just being a big snob about the whole thing?
I’m happy to say that after three days of mingling with people just as obsessed with Japanese pop-culture and geekiness (if not more so) than I am, I realized that this segmenting of geek culture I was doing in my head with regards to otaku was no different than the shaming of “fake geek girls” I decry in other parts of geekdom. I slowly started focusing on our similarities instead of our differences, and realized that we were all just there to have fun, no matter our relationship to Japanese culture.
The other thing I noticed was that Otakuthon has a much more grass-roots feel than Montreal Comiccon. While both events are huge undertakings with hundreds of volunteers and staff, with guests from all over the world, there’s something about Otakuthon that just felt more home grown. While Comiccon has only been running for a few years in Montreal, 2015 was actually the 10th edition of Otakuthon with all stripes of geekdom represented.
One thing I did appreciate about attending a 3-day con in my home town was that I didn’t feel too much pressure to stay all day every day. If I started feeling a little overwhelmed in the afternoon I could just whip home on the metro for a nap before attending the Harajuku fashion show. I even got Rick to meet me in Chinatown after the last day for delicious dumplings.