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Virginia, being a large state situated in a very central area on the east coast, is not only attractive to planners of bases but planners of less serious events as well. One of the most recent was Nekocon, a Japanese animation (commonly shortened to ‘anime’) convention.
Like most comic and anime conventions, Nekocon takes place over three days. In 2011, their attendance rates were close to 4,500, and have since been climbing upward- presently to the equivalent of a small community college.
Over the weekend, there are thousands of attendees with interests as varied as their ages. As geeky high school kids grow up and start their own families, there are even infants who are dressed up in costumes that coordinate with their parents’. Some of these costumes are extremely complex, with suits of armor, props, and costume makeup that takes hours to apply. Some professional photographers also attend in order to get pictures of the costumed attendants.
At night, at the dances, a different crowd emerges: crowds of ravers in shorts with colored fishnet leggings or shirts with accessories styled specifically for the dances with strange curled wigs that light up, sparkle, or shine and bracelets up to their elbows. Some props, like white gloves with small, colored LED bulbs in the ends in various colors, can cost 40 to 50 dollars at the convention and are used in complex dance routines during the dances. Many dancers accumulate their gear over time, and sometimes exchange it with close friends. Other attendees change out of their day costumes and into something lighter for the dances.
Nekocon attendees arrive from all over the state and some from out-of-state for just that weekend: Nekocon had attendees from New Jersey as well the Radford area, which is on the opposite end of the state from the Hampton Roads Convention Center where the convention is held. Max Melvin, a junior computer science major, says that Nekocon was worth the trip.
“It’s not one of the massive ones like Otakon or Comicon, but it’s not so small that you shouldn’t be going to it. It was worth the five hour drive out there.”
Nekocon hosts panels, screenings, and a vendor’s room, and has an ‘artist’s alley’ where amateur and professional artist can rent tables so that attendees can buy art or commission art from them. It also hosts two dances- one on Friday night and one on Saturday. It chooses to call its midnight-to-two AM parties ‘dances’ and not raves for legal reasons: ‘raves’ are often held illegally and involve drugs and drinking, which naturally is not something anyone who is ‘family friendly’ wants to be affiliated with. They play a few popular songs, but mainly focus on house music or DJ battles.
People caught drinking, or drunk, at the convention get kicked out despite the late hour or age in order to keep the con respectable and safe for younger visitors. Still, the compressive atmosphere and the darkness make it somewhat hard to regulate, although the convention has volunteers and staff patrolling the area for anyone doing anything dangerous with props or dancing too wildly.
Justine Jackson is a Radford alumni who has attended Nekocon, and its dances, for several years.
“They did a really spectacular job with the light show. Last year the lights were way too bright, but this year they managed to get it right. The reason they had them so bright last year was for safety, but this year it was more dark… I remember in earlier years it used to be almost pitch-black. This year they found a nice balance.”
Still, there are plenty of adults and teenagers that use the convention as a vehicle to plan their own events: groups of fans will frequently plan meetups and photoshoots through facebook pages or word of mouth to meet friends, or sometimes to meet at bars or hotels to drink together in their costumes.
These experiences can take a tremendous amount of trust: there are “con horror stories” about assault or other disturbing incidents that could, and do, easily turn congoers away from their quest to make new friends and have fun.
Additionally, because many of these events do involve drinking and alcohol, they can become difficult to manage, and because they aren’t officially sanctioned, there is little regulation that the convention itself can do. A person that is 21 may join in an event only to have a friend who isn’t join them later, and few informal administrator of these groups realize to check their identification, or are willing to kick them out of a group once they arrive: it is difficult to refuse a friend who wants to spend time with you, even if you logically know that what they want is illegal or wrong to impose on other people. Additionally, Nekocon is often teenagers’ first multiple-day experience out of home, often with rowdy friends or relatives.
Like any other party, Nekocon attendees should be safe and conscious of threats, even those they pose to themselves- congoers who attend for the first time may get too excited and not take care of themselves. “So many people with the same interests all around them doing interesting things that they forget to take care of themselves: they forget to sleep, they forget to shower, they forget to eat. Some of them even just go into the dealer’s room and buy Japanese junk food and fill up on that, and eat nothing but candy the whole weekend, which is obviously not good for you,” says Melvin.
Autumn Pittman, a graphic design senior, also believes this is a serious issue. “I really appreciate the care that they put into trying to make sure people do take care of themselves, they put free water stations everywhere. You don’t realize it until you’re in a costume that’s hot and you’re getting dehydrated just how important that can be.”
Just like any other party, it is important to take care of yourself in every way you can at conventions, and at the same time, ensure other people’s safety as well. Consideration for others and one’s self goes a long way, and hopefully, will make these types of parties successful in Virginia for years to come.