Kawaii Con: Should I Even Bother?

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Kawaii Con, the first ever anime convention in Hawaii, has started today and runs to Sunday. The Honolulu Advertiser has an article on the event, as well as photos of some local anime fans in cosplay outfits. I’d been thinking about attending, if only to watch the cosplay pageant on Saturday night, but there’s one big problem…

I really don’t watch anime anymore.

I used to love anime and manga. What the hell, I used to work for a manga publisher in my dotcom days. But as of late, it’s just not been a priority. Don’t get me wrong, I still like it. But my love of Evangelion and Masamune Shirow has been replaced by an even deeper love for Morning Musume, Amuro Namie, Halcali, SweetS (especially SweetS) and dozens of other Japanese girls who (often) sing and (sometimes) dance…

My switch from anime otaku to Jpop otaku year was gradual, but now seems inevitable. In Florida, I helped with an anime club at the local comic shop, keeping up with fansubs and burning VCDs for people… but I’d be more excited about sharing a Morning Musume clip (or movies like Battle Royale and Suicide Club) than showing Gunslinger Girl or Tokyo Underground. Upon moving to Hawaii and not needing to spread the anime gospel to impressionable young minds, I’d stopped with the anime completely and focused my time on expanding my appreciation for Japanese pop music. Love Hina and Azumanga Daioh and a couple of Satoshi Kon films are part of my DVD collection, but for the most part they’ve been neglected. Paranoia Agent is next on my Netflix list, though, and I still haven’t seen the second Ghost in the Shell movie or the new TV series. I still read some manga, but the only one I look forward to on a regular basis is the excellent Kindaichi series from Tokyopop.

That said, being thoroughly out of the loop with anime, I don’t know if I’ll now be amused or annoyed by people dressed up as their favorite characters and acting out scenes from favorite shows. While I respect the effort that goes into homemade anime music videos, I’ve never really enjoyed them. (It’s fanfic for the multimedia generation.) And while keeping up with American comics is a longtime habit I continue to nurture, the demands of following most new manga series – and the satisfactions derived from such a commitment – just doesn’t seem worth it most of the time. Too many of the manga series translated by American publishers fall into the same genres; what once seemed fresh and innovative has now become cliche.

Jpop is a whole different proposition. Figuring out the tortuous history of Hello! Project is still a labor of love. Discovering an exciting new girl group like Paradise Go!! Go!! – or an older band I had ignored up to now, like Go! Go! 7188 – expands my horizons in a satisfying way. My passion has switched gears – and if anything, has intensified.

In short, I discovered that the anime otaku and Jpop otaku are very different beasts – and I’m living proof. The reason is obvious: one has to do with fictional realities, the other has to do with real-life people in entertainment. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t cross-pollination – but by definition, an otaku is passionate about what he chooses to focus upon, is even fanatical… or at the very least, extremely committed, making that passion a central part of everyday life.

Thus, the typical anime otaku is immersed in the fictional worlds depicted in anime and manga. He likes Japanese music as far as it relates to his favorite shows, but considers them as extensions of the anime more than distinct works of art in themselves.

In contrast, the typical Jpop otaku may watch some anime, but often sees that as an amusing diversion and sometimes even as a childish pursuit – not the animation itself, but the behavior of the anime otaku community. (If the anime otaku is the person in a towel pretending to be Superman, the Jpop otaku is the wannabe-cool teenager discovering the secret world of punk rock.) Since the world of Jpop is in reality, Jpop fans are exposed to a wider swath of Japanese culture, with at least some familiarity of the geino world and the talentos in music as well as live-action television and movies. And for me, at least, watching pretty – or at least cute-and-charming – Japanese girls is much better when they’re real flesh-and-blood and not some idealized pen-and-ink caricature.

That’s always been the case, of course. And that’s probably a huge factor in why I made the switch – Aging Humbert Humbert Syndrome.

I’m sure I’m making too big a deal of the anime / Jpop divide, grotesquely over-exaggerating something that can be boiled down to a love for junk culture from a different shore. I know people who have a strong interest in both, who balance their passions in a kind of omni-Japanophilic embrace. Here in Hawaii, the strong influence of Japanese culture in everyday life makes it even easier than in other parts of the States.

At any rate, I guess I won’t be going to Kawaii Con this year. My heart’s just not into it. That said, I hope there’ll be a second Kawaii Con next year, and maybe then I’ll drop by…