Nearly eight months ago I sat at my computer, hand on my mouse, cursor poised over the “publish” button displayed on the Blogger webpage on my monitor. Over the weekend I’d attended Anime Central in Rosemont, Illinois, and enjoyed two days of insightful panels, relatively restrained DVD/merch hunting and fascinating people-watching. I wanted to share my thoughts on the convention with the world, so I typed up a few paragraphs recounting some of the highlights. Or at least that was my intention. A thousand words or so later and ready to finally post my work, I looked over my piece and realized that I’d somehow managed to type out a rambling, incomprehensible essay in which I vaguely alluded to having attended some kind of large event, without ever naming just what is was or what I did when I was there. So paranoid was I that some of my friends might find out I had attended an anime convention (let alone enjoyed myself at it immensely) that I danced around the topic for several paragraphs without saying anything meaningful about it at all. Does that sound neurotic? Funny, I was thinking the same thing. Reference my first post here from a week or so ago and you’ll see that this was becoming a distressingly common pattern in not just my blogging, but in all my attempts at online communication, which is why I’ve attempted to start over here.

This wasn’t the first time that I’d felt the need to censor myself online for the benefit of others. Many times before and many times since have I begun a blog entry with good intentions only to omit one detail after another, keeping in mind that people I know could be reading my secrets and judging me accordingly. I know perfectly well that I’ve always had a tendency to make mountains out of molehills when it comes to these things, but I’ve also experienced and witnessed the consequences of geeking-out on the Internet with no sense of self-awareness. But that’s no longer an issue here, so I’ll attempt to piece together the weekend one last time into a coherent recollection. This will likely be a lengthy entry so I’m going to divide it into two or three parts.

My first visit to ACEN was in 2004, in which I dragged along a friend whose exposure to anime had likely been limited to the matinee of Spirited Away that I’d also dragged him to a year or two before. There’s no way I’d even consider trying to rope an anime virgin into accompanying me to a con today, but I had no one else to ask aside from the otaku girls at work that I knew would be there, but who already had full schedules devoted to volunteering, cosplaying and likely plenty of partying throughout the nights. My friend was surprisingly receptive to the bizarre scene that greeted us at the convention center, despite the fact that I’d more or less brought him along without saying exactly where we were going. Did he even know was cosplaying was? If not, by the end of the day he’d seen more of it than most people ever should and seen a side of me that I’m not sure he was prepared for.

We sat in on a panel on AMVs, did a lap or two around the dealer’s room (I bought a Haibane Renmei poster), watched the first few epidoes of R.O.D. the TV and Texhnolyze, and caught a bunch of AMVs in a screening room before leaving some time around 9:00 or so at night, pretty early departure by many people’s standards but being single-day guests with a job and homework to do the next day (respectively), staying late wasn’t much of an option. I’m sure that we did more than this while we were there (besides walking around hopelessly lost for an embarrassing amount of time, I mean) but those are the most memorable events of that day for me. I had hoped to meet up with some otaku girls from work that I knew would be there, but it wasn’t to be and I’m not sure if we would have “hung out” or anything anyway. This was the biggest uncertainty for me: what were people really supposed to do here, anyway? And even if I knew, could I do it with someone who wasn’t into this stuff like I was?

Sitting in the screening rooms was a first for me. Being able to watch anime with a few dozen other fans was a first for me, as my viewing had strictly been a solitary experience up to that point. Being seated behind some of the taller con-goers in a non-raised seating room of simple meeting room-style chairs meant plenty of neck-craining to see the screen (and likely obstructing the view of others as well, unfortunately), but for better or worse I guess that’s part of the experience. We got better seats at the packed opening of the AMV contest showing, and saw some really fantastic videos (Daniel Chang’s “Here Comes the Sun” still a favorite of mine to this day) and ended the night on a positive note. After driving home I collapsed in bed, exhausted from all the miles we’d walked and slightly overstimulated from everything that I’d tried to take in throughout the day. The next morning, I felt slightly hungover from it all, never having tried to pack so much escapism into a single day before.

But still, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a difference between myself and most of the other 7,400 people who passed through the gates that year. I was about 25 years old, which probably put me in the middle third of the congers there by age, but as much as the convention allowed me to forget about my adult responsibilities and to indulge in what most people would consider childish pleasures, I left feeling somewhat older than most people there. I was also aware of the social aspect of the con, the primary attraction for many but one that I was unsure how to take part in, myself. While others traveled in small packs, arriving with groups of friends or meeting up with people they knew online, I was a lone wolf, my somewhat bemused friend in tow aside. How could I find an “in” to this world? What would I need to change about myself or accept about others? I was a very shy person at the time and am only still getting over this handicap now, so naturally integrating myself into groups was never my strong suit. On the other hand, just walking around and seeing everyone genuinely excited to be at the convention, genuinely excited about many of the same things I was, was a reward in itself, and one I was eager to experience again.