How to up your game at your next anime con

I can’t claim to be a convention connoisseur. There are people who convention-hop, traveling from con to con in their area. There are those who rent hotels with their friends, hanging out with all the anime geeks night and day. There are those who go hard, hitting up one of the local clubs when the convention closes each night.

I’m not one of those people. I went to my first con five years ago, an itty-bitty one called Zenkaikon. Two years later, I moved up to Boston, where I have conveniently attended Anime Boston for the last three years. Each night, I can go home and snuggle up in my own bed.

While I’m no expert, there are some things I wish I knew before attending my first convention way back when. So I wish to impart this knowledge on whoever is interested– because nothing’s wrong with making your anime con more awesome!


Some events like PAX sell out within hours. Luckily, other cons will allow registration up until the day itself. During my first convention, I decided last-minute to attend. When I arrived at the convention center, though, I was faced with this:

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The lines at Anime Boston can get even larger. Additionally, registering beforehand can be cheaper than buying it the day of. If you’re going to be attending for sure, save time and money– register beforehand!

Resist the Dealer’s Room.

Most conventions will have a dealer’s room, full of shiny sparkling merchandise from your favorite shows and games.

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I was a broke high school student during my first convention. Although I wanted to buy everything, I simply didn’t have the money.

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And it’s certainly possible to stay on a budget! Some people only bring a limited amount of cash with them. I tend to shop around first, choosing the items I want the most and prioritizing what to buy. At my first convention, I only bought one thing.

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Don’t resist the Dealer’s Room.

On the other hand, if you do have some money to spare, shopping around the Dealer’s Room can be the greatest thing ever.

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For example, take my friend who attended Anime Boston for the first time this year. I watched as she navigated the Dealer’s Room on the first day of the con.

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My friend and I walked to a Lolita stall, where a Lolita girl invited us to come in and look at the dresses.

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My friend agreed to try it on. Soon, what was supposed to be a quick look turned into an entire shopping trip.

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That dress turned what would have been a fun weekend into an awesome weekend. People approached and asked her for photos. She talked to people about the adorableness that is Lolita fashion. And sometimes, you just want to dress up in a sickeningly frilly dress, you know?

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Whether you buy anything or not, shopping is fun!

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Don’t lose your way.

Kill la Kill fans, please don’t slap me. I mean it! Depending on the size of the convention, the convention hall can be large and confusing. Dozens of rooms, multiple floors, hallways that all look the same. During my first Anime Boston, I had no idea where I was at any given time.

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This also makes it hard to stick with your friends.

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My best advice? If your event uses the Guidebook app, download it! For Anime Boston, the app included maps of the entire convention center. The app also included all the panels and performances for the entire weekend, allowing you to create and customize your own convention schedule. This made it a whole lot easier to find my way!

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Be prepared to go to panels early.

During my first Anime Boston, I would arrive at panels right when they were about to start. As a result, I heard this sentence a lot:

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If the panel is covering a popular topic (such as Pokemon or Studio Ghibli, for instance) a lot of people will be interested– and a lot of people will show up. The lines at the Penny Arcade Expos can get so bad that there’s a whole Twitter devoted to them.

Be prepared to go to concerts and other main events REALLY early.

Panels fill fast. Main events, like a concert by a popular artist or a Q&A with a famous actor, can be even worse. One of the most popular events at Anime Boston is the cosplay masquerade. I remember talking to some of the people who were waiting in line.

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Therefore, be ready to hang around.

If you do have to absolutely see the Video Game Orchestra, or the JAM Project, or whoever else is presenting/performing that year, you might have to wait in line. For a while. When I attended PAX East last year, people knew this and came prepared.

Seriously, this happened! I'm stealing this image from a post I wrote last year.

This really happened! I’m stealing this image from a post I wrote last year.

The long wait becomes much more tolerable when you spend it playing Cards Against Humanity or Spaceteam with your friends. Or, in this case, with complete strangers who happen to love the same things you do.

Dress it up.

If you weren’t able to tell, I’m a big fan of cosplay. Why wouldn’t I be? There are so many reasons to like cosplay.

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And while anime conventions are certainly enjoyable in normal clothes, I find that cosplaying makes it so much more fun. When I’m in costume, and when others are in costume, it becomes a conversation starter.

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It’s easy to find people who love the same things that you do.

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An anime convention is kind of like a big dance for geeks: everyone comes looking their best, except instead of formal wear everyone’s in their finest costume. These geek conventions are the only times where dressing up as Naruto or Monkey D. Luffy is socially acceptable, after all. Not to mention it’s a nice ego boost.

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Speaking of photos…

Bring your camera.

Maybe this is just me. My urge to take photos runs stronger than most people. Photos are a great way to preserve your memories, though, and a great way to share all the cool cosplay you’ll see.

Asking cosplayers for photos is normal at a convention, so don’t be shy! People even enjoy being asked for photos. It’s flattering, you know? So I didn’t hold back, and asked tons and tons of people for their photo.

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If you’re me, you bring your giant Nikon DSLR, extra batteries, your battery charger, and some extra SD cards in case. If you’re a normal person, you bring your phone and snap photos from there. Either one works– just be sure to bring a charger for when your camera runs out of juice.

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Talk it out.

One of my friends, a newbie to Anime Boston, asked me this question near the end of the con:

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Another friend– the one who had gone Lolita that weekend– chimed in.

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I nodded. That sounded about right.

But then I paused. Everything I’ve described here were reasons to come to Anime Boston. Going to panels. Shopping. Cosplaying. Yet there was something else to it. There was something about these nerd conventions that ran deeper than just buying wall scrolls and watching Attack on Titan characters walk by.

I thought back to my first Anime Boston.

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I ended up hanging out with those complete strangers for the entire day, a friendship based purely on a mutual love for Final Fantasy VIII.


Well, the guy in red is from Final Fantasy X.

I thought about a guy we had met in the subway that day.

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I thought about all the people I had talked to over the weekend.


With a female Kakashi from Naruto!

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With Uncle Iroh from Avatar!

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With Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka from Ouran High School Host Club!

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I thought about it, and realized: While the panels and performances and picture-taking is fun, it’s really the people that make the whole experience for me. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie at Anime Boston. Everyone is accepted, whether it be the tall guy in a Lolita dress or the girl wearing bunny ears and a fox tail. People become incredibly friendly, eager to talk to you about their favorite anime or manga or video game.

I was shy at my first few conventions, hesitating to ask anyone for even a photo. Now, I love approaching people at conventions. Chances are, they’ll have a good story to tell– or at least a decent anime recommendation.

It’s that openness– that sense of community– that I find to be the core of Anime Boston. It’s not often that you’ll be surrounded by thousands of people who have the same interests that you do, eager to fangirl over Avatar or debate over the Legend of Zelda timeline. Approach people about their costume. Ask them about their favorite series. Geek out– because here, it’s okay!


With Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon!

And that, I find, is my favorite way to enjoy a convention.

Don’t just listen to me, though. Go to a convention yourself! Chances are, you’ll find your own ways to enjoy it. And when you do, let me know– I’d love to know how to make a great time even more awesome.

Even better, let me know how to deal with that post-con depression.

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I’m already planning my next cosplay.




For those who don’t know, I went to Anime Boston this year dressed as Yuna in her Final Fantasy X-2 outfit! I’ve compiled a little gallery of my favorite Anime Boston photos from this year. Check it out if you’d like!

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Who needs sleep when there are games to be played?

If it wasn’t already obvious, I’ve been a little excited for one of the biggest nerd gatherings on the East Coast.

PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) is a series of gaming conventions started by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the team behind the ultra-popular webcomic Penny Arcade. The first PAX was held in Washington, but grew so quickly in popularity that it is now held in Seattle, Boston, and starting this year, Melbourne. (That’s Australia, folks.)

I wasn’t able to attend PAX last year (since I’m a little more comic-crazy than I am game-crazy) so this year was the first year I could go! People travel quite a ways for PAX– I talked to people from Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia– but for me, I just had to hop onto the T. Maybe there is a reason I decided to come to school in cold, cold Boston.

PAX is huge. I think PAX East 2011 hit… 70,000 attendees? Nowadays, they’ve stopped counting. But the event keeps getting bigger.

As a result, three-day passes sold out in 24 hours this year. I managed to snag only a Saturday pass. Good thing I have awesome friends.

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Um, hellz yeah.

So after I got out of work on Friday, I headed straight to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. No costume, mind you– just some Asian girl in her civies checkin’ out what this PAX thing was all about.

And I walked in.

To this:


That photo’s not even half of the exhibition hall. This place was huge. All the big game companies– Nintendo, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Microsoft, Sony, they were all there. PAX isn’t just about video games, though. Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering had their own huge booths. Hardware companies like Turtle Beach, Asus, and Kingston had their own thing going. Up-and-coming start-ups, indie developers, and local game companies had their own stands as well. Throw in all sorts of stands selling board games, game-themed t-shirts, Pokemon cards, hats, buttons, stickers, jewelry, and you have…

Well, you have me doing this.


I was overwhelmed. The crowds, the noise, and the sheer amount of super-awesome gaming stuff completely bowled me over. I meandered through the hall in a daze.


I came with a mission, though. After a half-hour of wandering around, I headed to the line for Friday’s concert. Despite getting in line two hours early, the line was already long.

Wait, two hours?

PAX is notorious for having huge lines. When a convention is this big, it happens. For the big panels and big game releases, people will wait hours just to try the demo or see their favorite game developers. But being in line is part of the experience.

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One of the great things about conventions is how friendly everyone is. People often relate it to being in a hall full of strangers who are also your best friends. It’s kind of true. No matter the age, background, gender, religion, there was one thing for sure at PAX: everyone loved games. In fact, compared to everyone else, I felt like I hadn’t been gaming enough.

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That day, I woke up at 6 in the morning (for work) and ended up going to sleep at 3. It’s fine. It was totally worth it– the concert was awesome.

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Though, come to think of it, maybe I should have slept more.

I still had a full day to go.

On Saturday, I decided to take my dorkiness to the next level. PAX isn’t really big on cosplay. Probably because a big event like PAX attracts a more general crowd– people are more likely to be less hardcore.

But, meh.

I had a darn costume and I was going to use it.

…even though I think I horribly embarrassed my friend.

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Waiting for the train.

This time I actually had time to do what I wanted. First, I headed to the Make a Strip panel, where the creators of Penny Arcade actually draw a strip live for the audience! This year was a little different, too. Usually the comic is pre-planned. But this year, they took topics from the audience and chose two at random to make a strip with.

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And they actually did it. You can find the completed strip here. As you’d expect, it’s a little NSFW.

And then I finally got to explore the Expo Hall in all of its glory.

One thing I didn’t know about PAX? The freebies. The $40 I paid for my pass was probably compensated in random free stuff.   Here, have a photo:

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This necklace is actually kind of cool.

So I don't actually play League of Legends. It's fine.

So I don’t actually play League of Legends. It’s fine.

Waited in line for a half our for this one. SO WORTH IT

Waited in line for a half our for this one. SO WORTH IT

The other thing I didn’t expect was people’s reactions to my costume. I mean, PAX isn’t a big cosplay event, so I wasn’t expecting any hullabaloo. In retrospect, this was pretty dumb of me. Even if my costume is total crap, I was still dressed as one of the most popular video game characters ever.

No, not Crono-- the other one.

No, not Crono– the other one.

Thus I ended up delaying my friends wherever we went.

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Somehow I even ended up on

See #6 in the article to see the origin of this awkward photo!

Being dressed as a well-loved character has its perks, though. Read: more free stuff. A random guy came up and handed me this sticker…

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And the lovely people at gave me a t-shirt.

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The expo hall was full of unbelievable amounts of awesome. I saw the trailer for Watch Dogswatched people play through Transistor and The Last of Us, lusted over Triforce necklaces and Cards Against Humanity expansion packs, and even demo’d Pikmin 3!

My favorite thing, though, was the indie game developers. The wait to try their games were short (not the two-hour lines like other games… I’m lookin’ at you, The Last of Us) and the developers were friendly and more than willing to chat. Plus, they usually gave out free candy.

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I was pretty excited. Can you tell? I enjoyed myself. It might show.

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The day ended nicely with a performance by Sam Hart, MC Frontalot, Jonathan Coulton, and Paul and Storm.

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So that was my first PAX! Though I had a great time, I definitely needed sleep. Running around with a sword and shield all day is fun, but exhausting. I crashed at my friends’ apartment for the night and finally got a full night’s sleep for the first time in days.

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And that’s how I ended up going to PAX for three days in a row.

Why I like cosplaying

I’ve always been pretty shameless about my dorkiness. Pokemon, video games, manga, comics– I’ll proclaim these loves to the heavens. But there’s one love of mine I’m more hesitant to mention:


Cosplay, broadly speaking, is the art of dressing up as a character. Typically the term implies characters of Japanese origin, such as from manga or video games, but cosplay can include characters from any source. To clarify, here’s some examples:

Link from the Legend of Zelda series.

Babydoll from Sucker Punch.

Jesse and James from Pokemon.

The thing about cosplay, though, is that it has a bad reputation. Because not all cosplayers are good. More often than not at an anime convention, you’ll come across cosplayers like this:

Sailor Moon?

Might Guy from Naruto?

Which is why I have actually heard people say

I mean, liking comics is one thing, actually dressing up in costume is something else entirely. So back in high school, when I went to my first anime convention, I didn’t dress up. I had always wanted to, but I felt as though it was just too dorky. But then, when I went, I found a huge surprise:

By not being in costume, I was the minority! In fact, I was missing out on a lot of the cosplay revelry. I was amazed. So I decided that the next year, I needed to cosplay. This was going to happen.

And it did, the night before, as I threw together an outfit:

Yup. I dressed up as a Pikachu. Kind of crazy, huh?

Less so than I thought. At anime conventions, not only is cosplaying commonplace, but photo-taking is as well. Dozens (not an exaggeration) of people came up to me and asked to take my photo:

And I, in turn, assaulted tons and tons of people asking for their photo:

I even got roped into a group of Pokemon cosplayers staging a Pokemon battle:

My friends still have the video from that "battle." It shall never see the light of day.

It was nerdy. It was dorky. It was all things geeky. I should have been ashamed, embarrassed out of my mind.

But instead, it was really fun.

And now I realize why.

Everyone was there for the same reason: we all loved manga and anime. Sure, maybe our costumes sucked. Sure, maybe we didn’t look a thing like our character. Sure, maybe our dorkiness was looked down upon by the rest of society.

But there, those days, in that dimly lit convention building, we were all there to simply appreciate the geek culture we all knew and loved. We just wanted to have a good time. Every effort was appreciated. No judgement was passed.

I was once told that the root of cosplay is confidence, and it’s true. You can’t rock a cosplay without a good deal of confidence. After all, stepping into public dressed like a cartoon character already takes a degree of courage. All those “bad” cosplayers, who we laugh at, make fun of– they, at least, had the confidence to try. They put effort into their costumes. They, and I, and everyone there, just wanted to have fun.

After I returned from my convention that year, I showed my friends the cosplay pictures I had taken– good and bad. They laughed and hooted and roared at some of the worse cosplayers. I chuckled along, but felt horrible for doing so. For all I knew, people were doing the same to me.

I guess the moral of this story would be to be shameless. Though people may think you’re weird, and nerdy, and a total loser (and trust me, those are three things I get a lot) there’s no reason to, well, care. Because there are always those who will accept you. And like you. And screw the ones who don’t.

Which is why I’ll show my latest cosplay with pride. I’ve been working on this costume for hours on end, and finally completed it. It’s of Rinoa Heartilly from Final Fantasy VIII (whose haircut I actually requested back in December):

Don’t judge me bro.