In the downstairs of the Doubletree Hotel, an exceedingly nice woman provides us with press tags and Anime North booklets5 and we make our way back to the lobby. A few booths hawk gimmicky merch and beverages across from the Orchid Cafe, where the waitresses are dressed as stereotypical Japanese maids. We meet up with KF’s friend Hannah, who will heretofore be known as Ambassador Hannah due to her amiable attitude and previous experience with the con.
It is about 1:30 and Ambassador Hannah suggests the Dealer’s Room to start. Along the way, she brings me up to speed on Anime North thus far: one guy dressed as Sailor Moon; Friday’s Masquerade Ball sucked; and don’t make eye contact with the artists in the Comic Market. Some guy yelled “YOU JUST LOST THE GAME” on Friday too and people reacted with a mixture of joking seriousness and high school theatrics, punching the floor and yelling “No!” There’s a lot of 4chan around here: at least a few Guy Fawkes masks, including some t-shirts with memes scribbled all over them, and off in the distance I see two guys who look like they yell 4chan memes in public, dressed as Ash and Misty respectively. I am also warned about “glomping,” essentially a very forceful hug6, and apparently there’s a free j-pop dance to look forward to tonight.
Ambassador Hannah meets up with a friend dressed as a new-gen Team Rocket member and we make way for the Dealer’s Room. Along the way, three gorgeous women dressed as the Neon Genesis Evangelion girls7 8 pose for photos, meters away from a vivid recreation of Goku and Vegeta, and a few more Mistys and 4channers walk hither and thither. A wayward teenager is dressed as Slash from Guns ‘n Roses, Guitar Hero guitar slung around his neck, and there’s a man in a skull costume holding a sickle who does not move or acknowledge KF at all as he snaps photos9. Inside the Toronto Congress Center, just past security and weapons check10, there’s a live action chess game featuring cosplayers running across a similar theme11 as the corresponding pieces for both white and black. The dealer’s room is adjacent, but first we walk through the Comic Market, where amateur doujinshi artists display their work. It honestly feels like every mediocre deviantart I’ve ever seen, but that may be attributed to my relative ignorance as the ornate artwork runs together into a miasma of yaoi and yuri themes and fantasy anime cliches. Cosplayers stand around commissioning works and by 2:15 I’ve seen my second and third men-in-drag, one anemic and the other a short and pudgy adolescent and both cosplaying Sailor Moon characters12, doddling at various booths. The VG Cats guy is there, not listed as a Guest of Honor, while Camilla d’Errico, a Guest of Honor of whom I’m unaware, sits beside him. This is when Ambassador Hannah suggests we go to “where the real money is spent.”
This is the Dealer’s Room. This is where anime and manga awaits purchase from hyperactive attendees with fists full of green who flock between the DVD racks, bookshelves, and general merch tables. Some merchants are prepared with Interac and credit machines, perhaps in response events narrated in anecdotes from AH where both the ATMs ran out of money, and if I honestly came here to spend money I’d be fucked: lackadaisically browsing one DVD rack, I find the Pokémon: Orange Islands13 boxed set and, while the plush section luckily has nothing that interests me14, a poster peddler has a beautiful Evangelion scroll up for sale15. Through the nebulous fray I see an Ayanami Rei cosplayer and overhear a conversation about how it’s unfeasible to produce a stuffed plush Pedobear because “He is not real.” Ambassador Hannah and I are discussing how nightmarish a plush Psyduck would be16 before she stops dead in her tracks and groans, “Oh, I’m done. I’ll be an hour or so, so just come back for me.”
The phenomenon in question is a white corrugated cardboard sign next to bookshelves that reads, “Manga: 3 for $30, 6 for $50.”
As King Frankenstein and I walk, I’m waxing eloquent: while I admit that some of these people seem like the friends I made when I was thirteen who I’d talk to in that depressed adolescent way, where it’d quickly become a peculiar contest with one party trying to prove themselves more depressed than the other, progressing to inopportune and homogenous calls of despair and attention-seeking suicide attempts—
KF: “I’d say it’s well above 50%.”
Still, despite what these attendees may think, anime is not the window into abstractions and emotional complexities that Westerners cannot comprehend. Rather, anime is the perfect encapsulation of being an angst-ridden and novelty-obsessed17 and giddy thirteen-year-old. For anyone older than that, Anime North provides the opportunity to get in touch with that inner adolescent. That’s what the celebratory undertones are all about: people can come here and genuinely feel good about embracing this occasionally fatuous subculture without fear of reproach18. This isn’t the place for ridicule, because these people are self-conscious every day, at school and with their friends19, and the community that offers acceptance is often only remotely accessible. Anime North, then, represents a place for these people to drop all their inhibitions and feel like The Shit, the coolest people alive, in a community that feels the same way. Doesn’t that make you feel a little compassionate?
KF: “I see where you’re coming from, but coming from where they’re coming from... no.”
After ambling about and browsing without much attention, we reunite with Ambassador Hannah and make our way out of the Dealer’s Room. Near the Comic Market posts and the Pavilion Cafe, I watch a themed wrestling match where Sub Zero and Scorpion face off against something wearing a masticated Punisher shirt. The whole affair is somehow more vacuous than real wrestling, and with that we exit the Toronto Comic Center and make our way back into the sun.