By David Cabrera
#9 – Introduction To the American Anime Convention – Dealer's Room
Of course, if there wasn't any shopping to do you could barely even call it a convention. Tourists spend money on vacation, and we're no exception. As I said before, it would just be a shame to come home from that long trip with nothing to show for it, right?
Remember that American otaku don't have an Akiba. The country is too big and the fan group too niche and widely spread out to support much beyond the local comic shop. If I opened a shop in NYC that only sold anime/manga stuff, my fellow otaku wouldn't come running and I probably wouldn't be able to pay the rent.
So, you see-- and this will go for the convention as a whole-- we have to build our own Akiba over the weekend. It's the only way. Today, let's talk about the dealer's room.
The dealer's room may well be many attendees' only time all year seeing such a gigantic hall (Otakon likes to say “you can park an airplane in it!” of theirs) packed front to back with table and booths for vendors selling anime/manga stuff. Sure, they all buy things online, but having the product physically in front of you (especially when that doesn't happen often) is a novelty and an intoxicant for many otaku. Having lots of it on display, well... I won't say how much I spent the first time I was in a dealer's room.
More than anything else, you see people selling figures, toys and other merchandise like posters. We may be horrified by Japanese video prices, but we won't argue that that $200 PVC figure of Saber on her bike isn't a beautiful thing worth owning.
What you might not have guessed at, on the other hand, is the popularity of replica swords, represented at booth after booth. Naruto and Bleach are by a long distance the most popular titles among American otaku right now: the stereotype of American otaku loving samurai and ninja has some validity. As for the legality of selling a replica of Guts' Dragon Slayer or Ichigo's Zangetsu... these sellers tend to use the phrase “inspired by”.
(If you were wondering, you usually have to carry the weapon straight back to your hotel room after buying it, and if you're seen with it at the con you're thrown out. However, I've heard a very nasty story about an overzealous otaku and an unfortunate passer-by. He lived... but he nearly lost an arm.)
So American otaku buy swords, geeky Internet slogan t-shirts, toys, what am I forgetting? Anime and manga, probably. The core product, the distributors, and even (rarely) the animation studios are definitely there, but people aren't as interested in buying the media itself at events like these as they are the associated items. There is less sense of immediacy when there are very few books or DVDs you couldn't buy online, and convention exclusives are extremely rare. It's one thing to buy Madoka on Blu-Ray, and quite another to bring home a life-size Kyubey.
Personally, I'm all about the thrill of the hunt, the item you find that you know you'll never see again in your life. A few years back I made my best find to date: a poster for Gundam III featuring the “Last Shooting” scene. A year later I got Yoshiyuki Tomino to sign it. So yes, I search that dealer's room front to back.