This past weekend was pretty special. Historically, for me, it has always been special this time of year—for the past 21 years, to be exact. Why? This is the time of year that Katsucon happens. This weekend was particularly special because I got to take Zelda.
What’s Katsucon? Well, it’s an anime con. If you’re not familiar with anime cons, the basic definition is that it’s a convention-type gathering that celebrates anime, manga, video games, and Japanese culture. They are held almost on a monthly basis in the US, and Katsucon is held early in the year outside of DC.
Katsucon, however, is more than just an anime con to me. When I attended my first Katsucon—Katsucon 2—it was 1996 and I was 15 years old. Anime was this quiet, weird thing at the fringes of American culture, almost underground. Back then it was called “Japanimation,” and it was hard to access. VHS tapes with two episodes on them ran 30 bucks; films were about the same, higher if subtitled. My friend from middle school, Emily, opened this world up to me and several other friends at a sleepover when I was about 13. The series we watched was called Ranma ½, and I had never seen anything like it. Then the SciFi (now SyFy) channel began airing anime films on Saturday morning: Robot Carnival, Akira, Lily C.A.T., and a few others. I found anime absolutely breathtaking. I even remember getting amped on the Sailor Moon premiere on Saturday morning cartoons when I was 14.
The funny thing about anime back then was that it was so underground and so on the fringes of popular culture that it also seemed to gravitate an audience of people who were somewhat on the fringes of society as well: outcasts, loners, weirdos, losers. I can’t speak for my friends, but I definitely lump myself in with more than one of those categories. But when I went to my first anime con at 15, it was like I’d found the mother ship. A huge group of people with oddball sensibilities that loved anime? That made costumes and dressed like anime characters (cosplay)? It was like I’d landed in an alternate world, and it was one I never wanted to leave.
21 years later, and a lot has changed about anime and anime cons. Cosplay is now a profession, not a bunch of duct tape and pieced together patterns. Anime is readily available on the Internet, and if you want a DVD or Blu-Ray, entire box sets are cheaper than one VHS tape cost. Anime cons are huge. The first Katsucon I attended had less than a thousand people. The one from this past weekend had 20,000. Somewhere in between 1995 and 2017 anime took on a life form of its own, and it continues to evolve. It’s bittersweet, really. What a bunch of misfits came together to quietly celebrate is now a huge event. Today, going to a con for me is more about seeing the friends I’ve made over the years than celebrating anime. Heck, I probably couldn’t even name a popular anime right now.
So why was this weekend special? After the rather lengthy exposition (sorry), it’s a pretty big deal for me to say that I took Zelda to her first anime con. Matt and I went for Saturday afternoon, just to walk around, see friends, and gawk at the costumes (seriously, the stuff they make these days is impressive as hell). Zelda met some old friends, a couple of which go back to that first con in ’96. She was a little shy, but gave them all smiles. She also got to see Emily (who also still goes to anime cons), her wife, and another friend from middle school I haven’t seen in a long time but was also present at that legendary sleepover many moons ago. Plenty of people waved and smiled at her, and I stopped every Zelda-related cosplayer I saw so Zelda could get a picture with them.
At one point Zelda got a little overwhelmed, so we sat in a corner and had a snack. When we resumed, we met up with another old friend and walked around the dealer’s room together, reminiscing about the old days and how tiny the dealer’s rooms used to be. More than once I remarked I felt like a dinosaur. We left around Zelda’s dinner time, and I was sad to leave. I only see these people once a year, twice if I’m lucky. I miss them fiercely, because we not only celebrated anime as a bunch of misfits, but we now are a part of the old guard that remembers what anime was like in those pre-Internet days, before it blew up and became a part of the popular culture zeitgeist.
I’m glad I got to take Zelda, even if she won’t remember it. It meant a lot for her to be there, to meet old friends, and to experience it for a little bit. I’m hoping next year she’ll give me permission to make her a Zelda costume.