Underage Otaku Wake Up
by Julia Doolittle (julia @ scarlet-rhapsody dot com)
An innocent cosplayer stands with a group of his friends, blissfully unaware that a fourteen year old girl is about to run and tackle him to the ground out of “affection”. Two female crossplayers walk around together and are harassed by a group of girls to make out or pose for a provocative picture. A group of younger cosplayers scream and run around at a gathering, poking other people, messing with their costumes, jumping on their backs for a mandatory piggy-back ride. The other con-goers roll their eyes, look away, and mutter to each other. “Oh great…another n00b.” What do all of these annoyances have in common? More often than not, they’re under eighteen.
Younger con-goers have been increasing in numbers over the years, due to anime such as Naruto, Death Note, and Bleach becoming available on American TV via the Cartoon Network. Naruto especially has caught the eyes of younger fans and introduced them to the bigger anime scene. Hot Topic, a popular punk apparel store, has begun to sell jackets fashioned to resemble the ones worn by the main characters of the show. More and more minor con-goers and cosplayers have begun to show up at conventions. Unfortunately, their behavior is not always welcomed by the rest of the convention community.
I am seventeen years old, and began attending conventions at fifteen. At Anime Expo 2006, I quickly realized that I was a rare breed. Most of my peers were running around yelling Japanese phrases such as “Kawaii!” “Sugoi!” or “Gomen!” at any possible opportunity. Others screamed and squealed whenever their favorite character walked by them, immediately grabbing said character around the waist and crushing them in a hug. At such a large convention, I was able to avoid these people and socialize with other more level-headed attendees. However, I was surprised to find out that I was the youngest person in every group I spoke to. “I’m fifteen,” I’d say, and people would say, “No way. You’re kidding, right? We pegged you for eighteen.” I got this more than once, and I kept thinking, “Why do people keep thinking I’m eighteen?”
My con experience went on with Anime Los Angeles 2007, my second convention. I was still fifteen at the time, but in a smaller con environment, I realized just how bad some of my peers behaved. A group of girls at the Kingdom Hearts gathering behaved extremely poorly, screaming at a cosplayer to come and do group shots with them, despite the fact that said cosplayer was having a conversation with her friends. “Hey Demyx! Hey Demyx! Hey Demyx!” It was like listening to a broken record. The harassed cosplayer finally had to scream back, “Excuse me! We’re busy right now!” I felt embarrassed for the screaming girls, but they didn’t seem embarrassed at all. They immediately retaliated with some nasty name-calling and went on with their business. That night, these same girls stood in the hallway asking random passers-by if they could “pick their nose”.
No. I am not joking.
It was at that moment that I realized something. These girls were not any younger than I was. They were at least fourteen years old. They were not children. And yet here they are, acting like elementary school children around people they don’t even know. These people are not the only examples of this behavior. As my con-going experience continued, I saw the same behavior out of many other minors. Each time I saw such events, I hid my head in shame, almost wanting to lie about my age to those I met. And every time I admitted my real age, I was met with, “No way. I had you pegged for eighteen.” I finally realized why I always received eighteen as an estimated age:
Because if I was under eighteen, I should’ve have been a spastic fangirl with no respect for personal space or common courtesy.
This is, of course, a stereotype, a generalization. I’m sure there are many minors at conventions that hold themselves with respect and maturity. However, amongst all my con-going friends, I have only one who is under eighteen. I am her only con-going friend who is under eighteen respectively. We find ourselves associating with older cosplayers and attendees simply because we find people our age to be immature. We also realize that our reputation is being hurt by these underage otaku who think it perfectly fine to poke and tickle a person dressed as a certain character.
I’m writing this essay as a plea to my peers. We are not rabid, crazy, evil children when you get right down to it. We all have self-control, we just have a harder time using it. It is shown that the human brain is not fully developed until twenty-five years of age. Teenager’s judgment center of the brain is still under construction. Why do you think teenagers are involved in so many traffic accidents? Because we are inexperienced. Because we take stupid risks. Because we do not have the proper judgment to understand the consequences of our actions.
However, teenagers have to overcome these problems, not use them as an excuse. When you hit another car because you were speeding, the police will not say, “Oh, you’re just a teenager. Your brain hasn’t fully developed yet.” No. You or your parents will have to pay the price and your insurance will sky rocket. There are consequences for your actions. The same is true at conventions.
If you glomp a stranger and break their costume, you are responsible. If you make someone uncomfortable with your yaoi-obsession, you are responsible. If you hit someone or hurt someone with your mock-fighting, you are responsible. And even if none of these events occur, you still represent the entire underage con-going society. Every time you act inappropriately, mine, my friend’s, and everyone’s reputation is damaged.
I’m not saying we should not have fun. Feel free to fangirl over things you find in the dealer’s hall, or to squeal when you see your favorite character and ask the cosplayer for a picture. Feel free to be silly or lively. It’s an anime convention. It is not “serious business”. But it is a place where people’s personal space needs to be respected. So before you glomp, before you insist that two girls dressed as two guys make out, before you punch someone in the face for “fun”, ask yourself, “How do my actions reflect on not only my own image and reputation, but that of my peers?”
Don’t be a stupid, underage “n00b”.
Let’s show the convention how cool we kids can be, shall we?