This article originally appeared in Newtype USA magazine in August 2003. I have always felt a trifle guilty for not previously acknowledging Carl Gustav Horn, from whom I’m pretty sure I stole the “T-shirt” comment.
Outside the London auditorium, I shuffled my papers and checked my notes. Only a few minutes to go, and we could go in and get on with the event. I had been dreading it all week, but the crowd seemed to have the right mix. A few kids, a few fans, a few Japanese people; I hoped they’d get along and not throw things. One drifted nearer, and I realised she was going to ask me something. That’s what you get for being tall and holding a clipboard in public places.
“What’s the movie again?” she asked.
“Er… It’s called Schoolgirl Milky Crisis,” I said.
“Not Akira then?” she pressed.
“Er… no,” I said. “Not Akira.”
“I was hoping for Akira,” she added, helpfully.
As best as one can in a crowded cinema, I tried to explain that no matter how much she pouted, Akira was not on the menu this morning. Instead, the cinema was going to be screening Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, the most famous anime based on the most famous manga by Tetsuo Kamakura. And no, that’s not his real name. This magazine has lawyers.
“Never heard of him,” she said. “Is he famous?”
“Yes! He’s famous!” I said. “He drew Schoolgirl Milky Crisis. It’s been one of the top ten manga in Japan for the last thirty years, and we’re talking about a story that finished before you were born.”
“Oooh!” she breathed. “That sounds impressive. Is there a lot of fighting in it?”
“It ends with a fifteen-round boxing match,” I replied.
She curled one side of her lip and thought for a moment.
“Doesn’t sound violent enough for me,” she said. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish, I so wish I had asked her what could possibly have sounded more violent than that.
“But,” I said, knowing I was going to regret it. “The reason this cinema is showing Schoolgirl Milky Crisis today is that Tetsuo Kamakura himself is here. He’s going to do a talk, and a live drawing demonstration, and answer questions from the audience and all that kind of stuff.”
“Meh,” she said. “Let us know if you show Akira again.” And with that she was off.
“What was that all about?” asked Tetsuo Kamakura, who had been standing next to me all along, the conversation bellowing about him in super-fast English. An affable man, wearing a baseball cap over his white buzz-cut hair, he’d been studying the language for years, but nothing had quite prepared him for the staccato argot of South London. I thanked the Lord for small mercies.
“She was looking for a friend,” I said diplomatically, making sure I tucked a polite form on the end of my gutter Japanese. You don’t get that from me very often, but he was a superstar.
“Was his name Akira?” he asked.
Just two weeks later, I found myself in Texas, which was altogether hotter, politer, and better-armed than south London. I was at Dallas/Fort Worth airport, amid over seven thousand anime fans attending the 14th Project A-Kon. Anime needed no introduction for these people. Akira was a distant memory. For some of them, it was older than they were. If the world would not give them a place to dress up and talk about it, or buy goodies, or sing anime karaoke, they were darn gonna make one for themselves.
Since my love of Japan is of the heart, and I am not compelled to advertise my affiliation with a T-shirt, I am often mistaken for a normal human being at anime cons, by both attendees and other guests. And one such person was Pearl, a Texan businesswoman who was something big in corks, who had made the grave error of staying at the DFW Hyatt Regency, and hoping to get some rest.
“Honey,” she said, after we had had the traditional exchange about my accent, “I don’t want you to think all Texans are like this. Some of us are normal.” She looked sourly over at the frolicking Inu Yashas and Kikis nearby, and two boys hitting each other playfully over the head with kendo sticks.
Behind the counter, the two receptionists started giggling. They could see the monitor that told them who was paying my hotel bill. They knew I was a weirdo in sheep’s clothing.
“We don’t go in for any of this stupid dressing-up stuff. Unless it’s for football or soccer or or hockey or baseball, but then there’s a reason for it, because it means we’re part of a team. And we don’t get together in hotels to do stuff, unless it’s for fly fishing conferences, or line dancing. And we don’t have a dealers’ room except for handicrafts or cork products. Or the gun show, of course.”
She stopped and thought for a moment. Maybe anime fans weren’t so strange after all.
“Are they showing Akira at this thing?” she asked. “Because I’ve always wanted to see that.”