As a member of the collective community of fandoms and interests most often known as “nerds”, I’ve begun to associate the concept of home with not only where I live and study, but also with the constantly changing places that I’m able to gather with other members of the nerd community, which are most often in the form of conventions. One of the most amazing things about this group of people is that we’re all so varied in our interests, and yet see ourselves as a huge family. Whether we like Japanese animation and manga, American animation and comic books, science fiction, fantasy, or some combination of all of the above, we’re able to interact with each other coming from a place of understanding and comradery. I was fortunate to be able to experience this comradery once again when I attended Yama-Con in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, only about two hours away from LMU.
This particular adventure began when a friend of mine asked me if I would help him run an educational panel he would be presenting at Yama-Con. Realizing that this would be an amazing chance for me to obtain practice with both public speaking and teaching, I told him I would think it over. When my best friend Hayley’s mother asked if I would help her chaperone the students who were a part of the Anime Club she ran at a local high school on a trip to the convention, the deal was sealed for me. I began planning the trip immediately!
Most of the time, these events last for three days – Friday plus the weekend – and this one was no exception. I had enough time to peruse the goods of the many artists that were selling their wares down one of the hallways before Hayley, her younger brother, his friend, my head panelist and his traveling partner arrived. Together, we discovered all the events, various celebrity guests, shopping opportunities, and amazing cosplayers (costumers, practitioners of a hobby that my friends and I also take part in) that the convention had to offer its opening night.
Given that the actual convention center was so small, two of the designated “panel rooms” were actually heated tents set up outside in the cold and damp parking lot. My fellow panelist Tyler and I had to jump over puddles to get to our table at the front of the tent, as well as be careful not to let our microphone and speaker chords drag through the water. However, we had a wonderful turnout, even more than I had expected for such a small space. The subject of the panel was the “Music of Japan” – we were presenting Japanese bands and music artists that we were fond of and explaining their appeal. Tyler, being fond of the rock-and-roll side of Asian music, presented a few songs from his favorite Japanese Rock bands. Instead of presenting on a specific genre, I explained to the audience that in order for me to fully enjoy music, it had to be connected to a narrative, and thus I found most of my favorite Japanese music through anime, video games, and other media. The song I played was the opening theme to Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, one of the more popular animated shows that had been released over the summer; everyone loved it! A few cosplayers even came up to the front of the panel tent to dance, and I joined in by singing along with the Japanese lyrics into my microphone. After a few anime-related musical trivia questions, we closed the panel out by taking song requests from the attendees and having fun dancing and singing along to our favorite tunes.
The next day of the convention was a bit more hectic, as it was the day that the Claiborne High School Anime Club was coming down. I was already familiar with some of the students, having been to cons with them before, but it still took a bit of work to wander about the center and locate everyone! Fortunately, one of the students had thought ahead, and found an empty table in a corner of the convention’s dealer’s room that could be used as a small meet-up place. Fellow chaperone and LMU student Hayley and I found ourselves retiring there when we found we needed to rest from the panels, photo ops, and general running about. Even after night fell and our job for the day was over, we and the rest of our group managed to find plenty to do; we ended the evening by going to the Saturday night rave (a techno-music-and-light-filled dance that I always look forward to at conventions), taking breaks from dancing in the nearly-empty hallways, and eventually retiring to one of our hotel rooms to marathon anime movies into the wee hours of the morning.
Sunday was, as it is with most of these events, a slow and much less crowded day, with those who traveled to the convention packing up and heading back home. I wore my simplest costume that day, a Star Trek uniform dress – sadly, I was the only Trek cosplayer I had seen all weekend, but the outfit was recognized and complimented on by some of the older family members of younger congoers. One of the benefits of the day being less crowded was that there were shorter lines for most things, specifically the celebrity guests who stayed for the day. After having tried all weekend, I was able to meet Mr. Martin Billany, better known by his screen name LittleKuriboh, one of my favorite voice artists and anime parody creators. After being a fan of his work for close to five years, meeting him face-to-face was a humbling and almost surreal experience.
I managed to make it to the last few minutes of the convention’s closing ceremonies with my friends before we all had to part ways to head back home. Although the end of the event and having to leave was saddening, looking back on all the fun we had lifted my spirits – and got me even more excited for the next convention, wherever and whenever it may be. After a weekend of fun, friends, fandoms, and new experiences, I was ready to take on the last week of my first set of final exams with gusto!
One of the best things I’ve discovered being both an LMU student and a convention-goer is that I’m never really alone – I’ve found a wonderful group of friends at LMU, such as my fellow Star Trek fan Chelsea, who share my interests, just like I do at the two or three conventions I attend every year. We’re even thinking of taking a trip to a con together next semester! It will be the best of both of my two favorite worlds – the world of my education and my fandoms.
If you’re a fan of anything nerdy and are in this area, you might consider checking out Yama-Con yourself! If you’d like to know more about the geek scene at LMU or the con-going lifestyle, or have your own story to share, I’d love for you to leave a comment and follow my blog!