I can’t deny the whiplash general surrealness I feel when I attend conventions now. From childhood to adulthood, dragging my feet into my thirties, being a nerd has remained one of my consistent characteristics. How I molded my nerdiness is thanks in part to being introduced to anime conventions when I was in elementary school. Over the last several years, it has become painfully obvious to me how out of the loop I am with current favorites and trends. I no longer recognize popular cosplays or the names of newly dropped games. I often feel like a stranger wandering the halls of an active convention; barely recognizing things that used to fill me with joy. I acknowledge that getting older is a privilege. I am blessed. However, it’s not without its fair share of setbacks, most of which I notice when I’m enjoying pastimes: Nostalgia anime and gaming.
I started getting back into Final Fantasy (specifically VII), and it brought up memories of what it was like finding nerdom in my youth and what it means to me now. My experience is not different from any other nerd, I’m sure. Video games and anime portaled me into different realities at a crucial time of emotional and moral development. Nerddom allowed me to escape. It allowed me to travel within infinite amounts of worlds. It exposed me to new cultures, new romances, new feelings. Nerdoms challenged me. Nerdy media made me think, rethink, and debate beliefs and demanded I examine what my own personal code was. I remain grateful for the time I had playing Final Fantasy games, reading Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfiction, and buying WAY too many prints in every Artist Alley I strolled into. All these things remind me of the life I’ve lived and what I’ve learned from the time spent with fellow nerds in these carefully cultivated safe havens.
As I’ve aged, the nerd community has evolved parallel to me. Twitch streams, TikTok stars, e-girlies, etc. have all impacted the nerd community, changing the landscape from a purely innocuous hobby to a money-making machine. It also invites folks to make life-long friends and to be in-community with those that share similar passions. This evolution can be scary; there’s a rise of questioning the moral landscape of consumer-based fandoms/corporate run conventions. By the fans, for the fans seems a motto of the past. A long-dead relic. When Ubisoft can pay your mortgage, who can blame them? “Selling out” means stability when facing an unstable economic future.
Yaya Han and Jessica Nigri, both indisputably the most recognizable and popular icons of the cosplay world share the global stage with newcomers. Artists like Cutiepiesensei and Jahara Jayde have been steadily climbing, being frequent staples of the TL and being invited to guest at several conventions across the nation.
I wanted to get different perspectives of the changing landscape, so I reached out to star creators, Pros and Cons Cosplay. They are well-known on the convention circuit for their gorgeous hand-made cosplays. These twins from the Midwest have been invited to numerous cons as guests, judges, panelists, and have competed on an international level as cosplayers. I was so honored to have been able to ask them some questions, so please enjoy!
1. How many years have you been going to conventions? What was your first convention?
We’ve been going to conventions since 2005, and that has only increased in events per year. Our first convention was Naka-Kon, Japanese Culture Convention, now hosted at the Overland Park Convention Center. It’s such an excellent show! I highly recommend anyone and everyone to check it out. It’s an affordable show and great for all ages. It was also the first place we experienced cosplay, so it is where we have our roots.
2. What’s the biggest change you’ve witnessed in the last decade?
Pro: I’d say it’s the popularity! Conventions, even before I started, used to be these small, niche little events you and your weird friends could attend. The size of attendance has grown exponentially over the years, which means new genres of content, new programs, and new experiences! For me, what once used to be wandering around a dealer hall, staring at manga and figurines and spending the rest of the day sitting in the hallway sharing dealer hall spoils with friends, now there’s so much more to see and do. There’s everything from hands-on workshops to street parades to fandom-centered church sermons!
Con: Similar to Pro, I think it is the number of conventions out there. There are so many conventions, that it creates both a need for a show to stand out as being unique, and it also creates more opportunities to just be a nerd. There are multiple conventions every single weekend, so you could (if you could afford it, hah!) go to a show every weekend of the year and still not hit all of them. There are so many conventions, both domestic and abroad, of so many shapes and sizes, it can be a bit difficult to keep up. I think in that regard it is important for conventions to figure out what makes them special, unique, and interesting, otherwise what show A is doing could be a rinse and repeat of show B.
3. What do you wish you could’ve told your younger self?
Pro: When I was younger, I never thought my interests could take me anywhere. I figured convention-going and cosplay would be a simple hobby that would end after I turned 25, and then I’d just spend all of my other time working. Now that I’m much older, I’ve not only found a way to continue interacting with the fandoms and cosplay I love, and I can also earn everything from financial to experiential compensation!
Con: I would tell myself you only have one life, do what makes you happy, and what makes you happy isn’t always going to be something conventional. I spent a lot of time being sad that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my professional life that could fit into a regular day-to-day setting. Much later (a couple of years ago, in fact), I realized that you don’t have to stick to just one thing, one interest, or one way of making ends meet. You can do a bunch of things if you do a bit of planning and are responsible about it. Life doesn’t have to begin and end with one singular plan! Cosplay and attending events has really taught me that sometimes opportunity is in the weirdest places and that it is okay to do things you enjoy.
4. What do you want to tell your older self?
Pro: Older me is still probably trying to get the hang of “chilling out,” so I’d tell older me that it’s okay that you’re still struggling with the concept of relaxing, it’s the attempt that’s important! Also, I hope future me is still going to conventions!
Con: Probably “Stop eating so much cheese,” but on top of that, I need to stop and smell the roses more and look at the day-to-day wins. I am a fairly ambitious person and that makes me forget the small wins along the way. I hope I learn to do that more as I get older.
5. What are your hopes for the future? What do you want to see?
Pro: As always, we have a long, long way to go to make nerdy spaces inclusive to everyone. We can’t just passively say “this is inclusive.” There needs to be introspective and intentional work to make sure that spaces truly are inclusive of marginalized communities. Cultural sensitivity in language and mission, gender neutral bathrooms, venues equipped with universal design, and more. I think there is interest in getting there, but I’d like to see nerd spaces truly achieve this.
Con: Similar to what Pro said, I really want people to be able to bring their full selves to convention spaces, especially cosplay contests. I’m very passionate about having contests that are inclusive of marginalized identities. I also believe we need judges and other stakeholders in the cosplay contest scene to meet those same expectations, to encourage more participation. I’d love to see a wider variety of the types of people we see in those spaces, and that means doing a lot more work to make sure events are accessible, inclusive, and make a commitment to stick to those goals.
6. Favorite nostalgic anime and video game:
Pro: For me, I love Gundam anime. I have several favorites but Gundam Wing was my first favorite and it continues to be iconic. Nostalgic video game: N64 Pokémon Stadium. Say what you will about the gym battles, but everyone knows the real sweating and stress is with the mini games. It’s so fun!
Con: Cowboy Bebop! It’s just an incredibly cool anime. Not too long, not too complicated, an excellent soundtrack–it’s just storytelling and animation at its finest. For video games, Pokémon Puzzle League for the Nintendo 64. There are few things in this life I will say I am VERY GOOD at, but I am a Pokémon Puzzle League Master.
I want to remember what it was like experiencing Otakon and Katsucon (my home cons) for the first time. It felt like Pokémon after school, ripping open trading cards, and writing bad fanfiction. It felt like a window into my childhood; it was comfortable, familiar, and exciting. Conventions today still hold that truth close. It still feels like home but only briefly. A momentary gift amid a sea of faces I no longer recognize. I can’t tell if it hurts or not…this shift. However, I remain grateful for these experiences and memories either way.
Cover image via comicbook.com