Back in the time of printed encyclopedias and affordable movie tickets, conventions were the domain of workaholics taking company-paid vacations from their families under the guise of networking. But in today's geek-positive climate, some of the largest conventions in the world cater specifically to fans of superheroes, comic books and video games.
Events like Comic-Con, Anime Expo and PAX Prime easily boast attendance higher than the population of many Alaska communities. However, the cost for Alaskans to attend can be upward of several years' worth of Permanent Fund dividend checks.
Fortunately, there's a solution closer to home that doesn't break the bank and preserves what's really important about these events: nerding out with like-minded people.
Senshi Con is Anchorage's annual destination for all things geeky, featuring a weekend of costume parties, vendor booths, industry panels and video game tournaments each fall. Starting in 2005 at West High School, the event quickly moved to the University of Alaska Anchorage before having to relocate again to the Egan Center downtown in order to accommodate its increasing attendance.
This year's Senshi Con is bigger still, and will spill out of the Egan Center into the Hilton Hotel down the block. According to estimations on their website, it's expected to exceed 2015's record-breaking attendance of more than 4,000 guests.
If you plan to attend Senshi Con for the first time, you're in for a fun experience. But like any subculture, there's an established jargon in place, obviously meant to make fun of outsiders without them knowing. Learning the following terms will help you navigate the convention more confidently. At the very least, you'll appear more informed than other first-timers.
1. Senshi Con
First off, what does Senshi Con even mean? How can we be certain it's not the event equivalent of a frat guy who got a Chinese tattoo thinking it meant "courageous dragon" when it really means "dinner combo No. 4 purchased with a Groupon; also this dude is probably mean to puppies"?
You can put your mind at ease because the word senshi is Japanese for warrior, while con is lazy-person for convention. That makes warrior convention the literal translation of Senshi Con. While that sounds exciting, it's not at all indicative of the celebration of nerd culture that it actually is.
2. Anime and manga
For the uninitiated, anime refers specifically to the sometimes-seizure-inducing animation produced in Japan. Similarly, comic books originating from Japan are considered manga.
It's noteworthy that in Japan, the words anime and manga are used to refer to all types of animation and comics, regardless of origin, meaning one of two things. Either one: Japanese audiences are oblivious or uninterested in the differences between something like "Spirited Away" — often heralded as one of the best animated films of all time — and "Family Guy." Or two: Westerners, like crazy roommates, are too eager to put a label on everything.
One of the appeals of events like Senshi Con is the encouragement of cosplay, which is a portmanteau of costume and play. It's an opportunity for people to let their fan flag fly, and involves cosplayers dressing up as their favorite characters from video games, comics, films and other media. I imagine the practice is similar to how sports fans don the jerseys of their favorite athletes.
Cosplay outfits are often passionate undertakings. They are likely homemade and assembled over a period of months, which is more love and thought than many people put into entire relationships. If you've never felt inadequate about barely being able to cobble together a presentable work outfit, wait until you meet a cosplayer who's constructed a full Iron Man suit from cardboard. In a way, cosplayers are real-life Pinterest boards that can actually see the jealousy on your face.
Cosplay is also not to be confused with roleplay — the kinky kind — despite the sexualization of fictional characters and abundance of leather and straps.
4. Otaku and weeaboo
If you're wondering what to call someone who's a fan of Japanese entertainment, consider starting with the person's name. But if introducing yourself to a stranger is too nerve-wracking, the words you're looking for are otaku or weeaboo. And no, I did not just list names of obscure "Lord of the Rings" characters; these are not delicious sushi rolls; nor am I having a stroke.
Otaku (pronounced "oh-tahk-oo") originated as Japanese slang referring to people with obsessive interests — typically of the anime or manga variety — and was used similarly to how jocks in '80s high school movies called people nerds or geeks. And like those groups, being an otaku these days can denote a more casual type of fan and doesn't necessarily make you a social pariah. In fact, many of today's self-identifying otaku are incredibly well-adjusted and report living happy and productive lives.
Further down the spectrum lies the weeaboo (pronounced "wee-ah-boo"). If otaku suddenly became the jocks from '80s high school movies, these would be their nerds. Weeaboo is used as a pejorative to describe Westerners whose devotion to all things Japanese are taken to extreme levels. One of their hallmarks is blindly preferring things from Japan while looking down on anything else despite obvious merit. It's. likely the hit song "Turning Japanese" would've been considered the weeaboo anthem if only the band was actually from Japan.
Video game tournaments have always been an important part of the Senshi Con experience. They give today's youth the opportunity to play the same way older gamers did, which is uncomfortably close to each other and through an archaic system of interconnected TVs that present a tripping hazard. The tournaments also serve as a valuable reminder of the passage of time to older gamers, as they can actually see kids 20 years younger than they are effortlessly beat them between sending Snapchats and sipping Mountain Dew Code Red Bull.
In the midst of all the trash-talking, you're likely to hear the word Twitch come up. It's usually in the context of a gamer suggesting that someone subscribe to their Twitch channel and is almost as annoying as being asked to donate to a friend's Kickstarter to fund their stop-motion short film passion project.
You'd be forgiven for not knowing what Twitch is since it's a video streaming website not named YouTube. The service is popular in the gaming community for its live broadcasts of users playing video games. These personalities are known as Twitch streamers and not twitchers, as that refers to bird watchers. Both groups share similar names and an enthusiasm for their respective hobbies, but only one of them involves exploring the great outdoors.
Matt Jardin lives in Anchorage and is a copywriter, filmmaker and comedian. He's occasionally funny on social media …or is he? Connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube at @mattjardin and find out! Or you can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senshi Con 2016
When: Day 1 is from 11 a.m. Saturday-1:30 a.m. Sunday; Day 2 is from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday
Where: Egan Center and Hilton Hotel
Tickets: One-day pass for Saturday is $40, Sunday is $35, both days is $60. Two-day gaming pass is $35.
For more information see senshicon.org