|10 Years Later: Continuing to (D)Evolve
By Kellen Scrivens
25 September 2016 — Ten years ago, shortly following my high school graduation, I wrote an article detailing what I termed my "(D)Evolution to Otaku." A sometimes rambling train of thought about my life to that point through the lens of my anime fandom. Every now and then I would come back to that article, rereading it, remembering that at the time of writing it felt like it had been a long journey. And every time I read it back, I'd note how long it had been and how far I'd come since. I can't help but think that this is some sort of metaphor for life in general. At any point in time you may think you are at the culmination of a long journey, when in fact what has been experienced pales in comparison to what is still to come.
At the time I wrote the first edition of (D)Evolution to Otaku, I was a member of an anime club for less than a year and had attended two fan-run anime conventions in Winnipeg. Both featured little more than homegrown panels and events, and marketing was done almost entirely by word-of-mouth, Internet forums, and a small helping of social media on the side. Since then I've seen cons come and go, I joined the convention staff for Ai-Kon in 2008, and watched it quadruple in size. I started making road trips out to the Twin Cities and Chicago to see new conventions, I was exposed to new shows that changed my life for the better, saw things I never thought I would ever see, and experienced milestones. Suffice it to say, I've grown up a bit.
The biggest part of my anime life in the last decade has most certainly been through Ai-Kon. As mentioned, I got to see the convention grow exponentially in my time there. While I cannot take any personal credit for that result, it was amazing to see things progress over the years. The different configurations we would use to host the convention — starting from half of one floor, with a small room being used for dealers, to filling two full floors of the facility, including nearly half of one of those floors to accommodate the vendors — was a marker of that growth. So too was watching the halls of the convention center get more and more congested. And seeing us go from a convention that, the first time I attended, had no guests to being able to book some of the most sought after guests in the business — from Johnny Yong Bosch to Brina Palencia to being one of the very few conventions in North America to book Terri Hawkes — was amazing.
It's one thing to simply be a part of a successful operation, but it is what you gain from that experience that I will treasure most. I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that the nerdy types of people, like myself, who attend anime conventions tend to be among some of the more introverted and socially awkward people. This makes it such a great thing that we have these types of conventions. I have met so many people — both as staff colleagues and regular attendees — that have grown into good friends. For those that have followed me via Animezing Podcast, names like Lisa-Marie Carlson, Jon Famini, Christopher Benson, Jennah Bullaro, Randy Forbister, and many more are all people that I've been able to count as friends at times along my journey.
Before joining with Ai-Kon, my favorite thing about conventions was the ability to rub elbows, even briefly, with the industry guests — the people that had a hand in putting together the shows that I loved so dearly. I'd be lying if I said that when I first joined the convention that the idea I'd have more access to meet them wasn't part of why I joined. While I did my best to reign in my fanboy side to a degree, it didn't take a genius to realize that it was still very much there.
With some guests, I was actually able to strike up a rapport. Later I'd have them on my podcast, or, in the case of some that attended the con in multiple years, pick up conversation threads year after year. Realizing that people I look up to actually know me enough to recognize me as more than another face in a crowd is definitely one of the coolest things a fan, like me, can experience. As an example, in 2013 I served as the MC for the convention, hosting Opening and Closing Ceremonies among other things. During the windup dinner, Greg Ayres congratulated me on the job, relating a story of how I was almost too nervous to introduce myself to Johnny Yong Bosch (what can I say, I grew up on Power Rangers) when he was at the con in 2008.
More than any of these other experiences, though, is the one that has forever shaped my life. At one particular edition of Ai-Kon's Winterfest event I met one of the new volunteer coordinators, someone who was so devoted to being in an anime community that she drove from Grand Forks, North Dakota up to Winnipeg in order to be a part of the convention. The two of us got to know each other over the next few months, visiting each other or meeting, as planned, at other anime events. One of these events was Anime Detour in the Twin Cities. This was a planned break from our usual con experience; we wanted to attend the convention as two regular old attendees. The day before the convention, however, we were unexpectedly invited to the hotel bar by, of all people, Greg Ayres who personally introduced us to much of the senior staff. So much for being two faces in the crowd. While it was not the convention we envisioned, the perks were something that we only could have experienced thanks to the time we put into the community back up north.
Another life-shaping event that occurred during that year's Anime Detour was that we were able to verbalize that our friendship was more than that; it was love. As time passed, I figured it was only proper that we make a memory at a convention. The next year, at Anime Detour 2015, taking advantage of the connections I had made through my involvement, I was able to talk to Greg. He agreed that, on the stage in the middle of his rave, I was given the floor for a few precious moments to propose to my now-wife.
Sometimes I feel like I'll get to a point in my life where anime won't play a significant role for any number of reasons, but, time and time again, history has shown it will stick around. After going through marriage and immigrating to the United States, one of the biggest kick-starts to my social life in my new home was signing up to work with a new anime convention. Of course. For everything that I have gotten out of being a part of an anime community, I still feel the need to contribute.
One of the best — and most surreal — moments I've experienced was just a few months ago. While discussing con experiences with Greg, I mentioned how I didn't find things the same as I had years earlier. His simple response was that I'd grown up; life changes. Sometimes the right perspective can come from the most unexpected place. If I can impart any little nugget of wisdom from the anime side of my life, it would be this: find what makes you happy, pour yourself into it, be a good person, and try not to worry too hard about the results. It may not be exactly what you expect but happiness will come. How will things will go for me from here? Who knows, maybe I'll give you an update in 2026.
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