Fair warning: Wall o’ Text follows.
The first time I went to an anime convention was 1993. I didn’t even know such a thing existed before 1992, and I certainly couldn’t afford to get from the middle of Oregon to the San Francisco bay area, where the nearest cons were held.
On the other hand, a friend of mine came up with a cunning plan that would get us to Anime America 1993. A friend of HIS was also an anime fan AND wanted to take his family to Great America in San Jose, which was basically across the street from the hotel where the con was being held, and my friend asked him if he wouldn’t mind a couple of extra passengers.
So me, my roommate, my friend, HIS friend, his friend’s wife and their two young boys all piled into a minivan and drove all night.
In 1993, north American anime cons were still something of a novelty and they attracted a rather high class selection of special guests. This con had Haruka Takachiho (Dirty Pair creator), Megumi Hayashibara, Monkey Punch, Kenichi Sonoda and Johji Manabe in attendance.
It was also before anyone in North America knew what the heck “Sailor Moon” was, so when we snuck into the dealer’s room before it was officially open, I managed to score these two cels for 5 and 20 bucks, respectively.
It was shortly after that that we were discovered and thrown out so the dealers could keep setting up without people trying to buy things from them. Of course we went back after the dealer’s room officially opened and spent as much more of our money as we could, but those were the first and most memorable. 🙂
Let’s see… we also went to the Troma screening of “My Neighbor Totoro”, I went to a couple of panels, watched some anime on the in-room channel… In general, I had an awfully good first day just being surrounded by other fans.
Oh, and I discovered that pizza places will deliver to hotel lobbies, which was a major coup considering that the hotel’s restaurant was woefully inadequate to the task of feeding the number of people on hand and the hotel itself had been built in a part of San Jose that was still pretty undeveloped and there no other restaurants anywhere nearby.
Then I found out that my friend’s friend, the one who’d driven us, expected that he, his wife, and their children were going to be sleeping in the room with my roommate and I, which was a small room with two twin beds in it and no room for six people. One shouting match later, we were stuck in San Jose with no way home.
It worked out all right in the end. My roommate and I made our way home thanks to a helpful cab driver who clued us in to the existence of a VERY budget airline, and I get to say to this day that I’ve eaten breakfast only a couple of tables away from Megumi Hayashibara, but it kind of cemented in my mind how bloody cheap some fans can be and how very important it is to ask questions like “So, do you guys have a hotel room yet?” in advance.
From 1995 to 2001, I went to San Diego Comic Con. Those were generally fun trips; the con had a massive dealer room and enough anime/manga content that I didn’t feel like I was missing out by not going to a specifically anime-oriented convention, and the con staff has plenty of experience in running conventions and keeping crowds under control. Fond memories include getting a sketch of Cutey Honey from Go Nagai in 1995 and having Naoko Takeuchi sign some manga for me in 1998.
I didn’t go to another anime con for five years after Anime America, until I was living in Los Angeles and some friends talked me into going to Anime Expo ’98, which was, mmm, less than professionally run. We had to stand in line for a couple of hours just to get name tags, there were cosplayers with ridiculously oversized swords wandering the hallways whacking people behind them whenever they turned around, and the legitimate dealers in the dealer’s room were having to compete with tables hawking bootleg Taiwanese CDs and similar junk.
Then I went to Winter Comiket in 2005, and that pretty much cured me of ever going back to a con in this country, but that’s a long enough story that I’ll cut this off here.