Crossing Nerd Culture

I started collecting comic books at the age of 6 and abruptly stopped at the age of 12, starting again at the age of 22 (I call those years in between the “Dark Ages”). When I say collecting, I don’t mean I was simply buying newly released books every week. I spent most of my younger years finding issues of specific titles I had missed, as well as issues containing some of my favorite characters. While I’ve also been heavily into playing video games for the majority of my life (You can tell by how good I am at almost every classic Mega Man game, and those are not easy!), I’ve always considered myself a comic book nerd first. So how did I get into anime, what’s it all about, and do anime nerds really differ from any other nerd?

This is Pikachu. From Pokemon. Wearing a hat. You're welcome.

This is Pikachu. From Pokemon. Wearing a hat. You're welcome.

My first memory of anything anime related goes back to second grade when a few Japanese-American classmates brought DragonBall Z cards to school. One of those students was an acquaintance of mine, and he was nice enough to give me one of his cards. While I don’t remember exactly who it was of, I think it was the green guy. Does that sound right? (Go easy, I just turned 31. I’m getting old and my memory is slipping). Some years later, I would see commercials for a DragonBall Z cartoon, but it looked silly so I wasn’t interested. Early in my teen years, a couple of friends and I watched Pokémon for a very brief period on Saturday mornings (Psyduck was the breakout star of that show, I don’t care what anyone thinks). That’s really the end of my experience with anime as a young person. I thought DragonBall Z looked dumb, and Pokémon was clearly for children (my oh-so mature 14-year-old self deemed), therefore watching anime was not for me and it seemed outrageous that anyone could enjoy such a thing. That sort of closed-minded thinking lasted well into my twenties.

Based on a bad first impression, I immediately deemed anime as a waste of time. Therefore, I regarded all anime fans as stupid for liking something so ridiculous and childish. They must not have gotten the memo that I had already judged it unworthy (insert Thor joke here). So not only was I an elitist comic book nerd, but in the hierarchy of nerd-dom (which I created), I, from my high horse, proclaimed that anime was such nonsensical garbage that only the mentally deficient could enjoy it.

My girlfriend, Patti, is a fellow comic book and video game lover, but she’s also heavily into anime. Having very slightly matured over the years, I’ve recently started giving anime an honest shot while keeping an open mind, and I’m actually enjoying it! But holy crap, is there a lot of anime. It is admittedly difficult to find the time to add a new interest to an already busy schedule: school, work, comics, writing and obviously other personal things I do in my day-to-day life, so I’m certainly lucky to have a girlfriend I can share hobbies with. However, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is available in the anime market. I have seen a dozen or so titles out of the literally thousands that are available.

Anime is Japanese animation, and the stories these cartoons tell can be about anything. Just as there are different TV and movie genres, there’s anime for sci-fi and horror fans, shows meant for children, comedies, dramas, etc. Even if you have a taste for only one type of show, there is still plenty for you to watch. Keep in mind, not all anime is wonderful. There are certain shows that sound so ridiculous it would appear impossible for them to have fan-bases. Yet, there are people watching, and good for them. Like any other medium that contains different genres, there is something for everyone.

There are shows that have been running for decades and have thousands of episodes. But unlike traditional live-action series, the creators don’t have to spend ridiculous amounts of money because certain components that would likely be too costly to create using CGI are much easier to just draw. Also, not all anime would translate very well into live-action (Prove me wrong Attack on Titan movie!) For example, I am currently watching an anime titled “Parasyte.” Without getting into much detail about the plot, alien monsters attach themselves to humans, and turn humans’ heads and hands into stretchable “skin” that can morph into sharp blades. The human body essentially becomes the host that the parasyte controls. Guess what the parasytes like eating? Humans. Sound ridiculous? Maybe! Will we ever get a movie starring George Clooney? Probably not! That just wouldn’t translate well to live-action. But it’s a damn good show, and definitely worth a watch! So it makes sense that there is not only a lot of anime out there, but there are even more anime fans.

Spoilers: That big guy in the background is not friendly.

Spoilers: That big guy in the background is not friendly.

Recently, Patti and I attended an anime convention in Somerset, NJ called Animenext. We arrived early on its opening day to find a line forming and the first cosplay that caught my eye was of Harley Quinn. I breathed a small sigh of relief because I at least recognized something. Throughout the three-day convention, I saw more Harleys, some Deadpools, a couple of Mega Mans and even Magus and Frog from Chrono Trigger! (If you haven’t heard of it, go play it RIGHT. NOW. Well, after you finish reading this. …please don’t leave me.) Actually, comic books and video games were pretty well represented at the convention, though on a smaller scale (I’ll tell you about the Final Fantasy themed burlesque show sometime. Maybe when you’re older…). This was only the third convention I had attended, and I tried to go into it without any expectations, but I was shocked. There were thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of people attending this con (which was spread out across three hotels!) the majority of whom were sporting colorful wigs, scant clothing, foam weaponry and some b.o. Sound like a typical convention? Sure! But I had no idea who many of these people were dressed up as, nor did I have any idea of what to expect from the majority of the panels (There were guys dressed in basketball jerseys because apparently there’s a basketball anime. However, I’m still not quite sure if the shirtless dudes I saw were shirtless because there’s a shirtless dude anime or not). There were even video viewing rooms that were running episodes of different anime nearly all day every day.

Initially, I felt like I was a guest in someone else’s house. While I’m not an extrovert or the kind of person who excels in social skills (Wanna get a cup of coffee and discuss politics and religion? I’m down for it if you’re buying!), for the most part, the conversations I had with others were wonderful and interesting, and my girlfriend and I had a great time. I could surely write an in-depth review of the con as a whole: the panels, the fans, the staff, the food, the merchandise; but what I want to convey is how I felt like a fish, not out of water, but in someone else’s aquarium. (Look at that metaphor! We still on for coffee?)

I assure you, not all of the parasytes are this cute and cuddly.

I assure you, not all of the parasytes are this cute and cuddly.

Animenext was an experience that everyone present seemed to enjoy together. Though I felt a bit out of place in the beginning, by the second day I felt like a welcomed guest. Most of the people that we interacted with were exceptionally polite. My girlfriend and I lost our positions at the front of a line for a panel when security had to disperse and then reform the line. A gentleman that had been on the pre-dispersed  line with us saw us lose our spots and managed to get us to the front with him when it reformed, without a word from anyone behind him, and therefore guaranteeing us seats. There were Japanese arcade games, and no one seemed to try selfishly taking extra turns for him or herself. I had no idea that a new Killer Instinct game had been released, and my reaction upon seeing this was, “Holy crap I wanna play that!” The two young men who were playing it promptly handed my girlfriend and I the controllers. I mentioned to a panelist that the Pokémon plushie he was carrying around was adorable, so he gave it to me (he actually gave it to my girlfriend, so I’m still counting it as a win).

As this website so wonderfully conveys, there are tons of things to geek out over- Video games, comics, anime, cartoons, movies, wrestling etc. And while each one of us may have our own special niche, we can surely enjoy the fact that we each have such a passion for something. The literal tons of people I crossed paths with at the convention were there for a great time regarding something not mainstream and they were all having fun. And though being awake for nearly 20 hours at a time, walking for the majority of those 20 hours on far less than a healthy diet in the heat for 3 whole days can take a toll on anyone, I had a blast.

This girl is exponentially crazier than this already disturbing picture conveys.

This girl is exponentially crazier than this already disturbing picture conveys.

So yes, I am a comic book nerd, and I am an anime fan. There are books about anime, similar to comic books, called manga. There are statues of characters from anime, just as there are of comic books characters. There are t-shirts, posters, bags, pins, wallets, smartphone cases and plushies all dedicated to characters from different anime, just like comic books…just like video games…just like so many other popular but less than mainstream interests out there.

Even though I had no idea who 90% of the cosplayers were supposed to be, nor did I understand half of what I was looking at, I was surrounded by people who were passionate about something, and I can understand that because I, too, am passionate about something. As corny as it may sound, when I think of it that way, it warms my heart and melts away the harsh judgment I once had of anime and its die-hard fans. This convention made me realize how I am such a small part of this world. I live in a small state with such a high population, and barely a fraction of that population was at this convention, yet the amount of people in attendance was astounding. It’s humbling to think of how many people there are in this world with the same interests, hobbies and passions, and it’s amazing that we have conventions like these in order to share our nerd cultures and experiences. There is so much prejudice and hate around the globe, it’s wonderful to be a part of an experience where such different people can come together to enjoy and celebrate what we have in common.