Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
Many of us are accustomed to saying "been there, done that, got the T-shirt" as though being present, and doing, and coming away with some memento of something important is commonplace. It probably shouldn't be. Very few people (me included) are capable of pursuing their interests at full intensity all the time -- "mountaintop experiences" are called that because we journey to the summit, and then go home afterwards. Anyone who has backpacked above 14,000 feet will know what I'm talking about.
For a fan of animation, the tallest mountains tend to be the large annual animation conventions, and convention season is now open. Anime Central in May, Anime North and Project A-kon in June, Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con in July, and Otakon in August -- just to name some of the biggest. This is a magical time of year.
It's time to go stark, raving broke.
Being an anime fan gets easier all the time. Anime is translated and served to us online, via mailorder and over the counter, and on television faster than anyone can watch (much less purchase). No matter how accustomed one gets, there's still something novel about going to a convention totally dedicated to animedom. The hundred or so people a large-ish club gets at showings is nothing like the thousands that attend even the smaller anime conventions nowadays. Ever attended the U.S. premier of your favorite show? The world premiere? How about shook hands with the person who directed it? Ever seen a football field full of people selling anime goods?
Now's your chance.
Any anime convention worth its salt is a sort of Shangri-La where, almost by definition, there isn't time to enjoy everything at once. Multiple rooms showing different tracks of anime, panel discussions with Guests of Honor, role-playing, fanart, cosplay, fan-made anime music videos, parties, and of course that Dealers Room to spend next month's rent on. The effect is hard to capture on paper -- you have to see over two thousand people seated to watch a single event before the scope becomes clear.
Of course it costs money to attend these conventions, but that's a relatively minor expense compared to travel and hotel expenses plus whatever you drop at the con itself. Because of that, I only plan to attend Anime Expo (held in Anaheim) and Otakon (in Baltimore) this year. Not coincidentally, those are the two largest of the anime cons, with projected attendance well above five thousand people each. As the largest cons, they have the greatest clout in attracting guests and video material from Japan -- which is the biggest draw for me. Being able to actually converse with the people who conceive and create the material that fuels my hobby is a uniquely exciting prospect. Anime cons are also a great place to meet other fans. From the most "elite" to the most ignoble, the hordes of fans are probably the biggest thing that gives a con its frenzied carnival atmosphere. Everywhere you look, someone is cosplaying or decked out in anime-wear (sometimes of rather questionable taste, too). Total strangers next to you in line will start deep conversations about anime you may never even have heard of, 24 hours a day, if you can stand to be awake that long. For people like me with associates in fandom from all over the globe, a major convention can be a once-a-year occasion for a reunion -- a reminder that there really is a face behind the IRC handle or the email address.
Anime conventions are probably the high point of an anime fan's fan life, and the opportunity to go to (at least) one is something I encourage everybody to take advantage of. Like the great pilgrimages of old, you'll surely come back richer than you left.