A newspaper article in the Washington Post went online yesterday, covering Otakon, an anime convention that took place in Baltimore this past weekend. It painted the anime subculture as that of a bunch of thirty-something perverts chasing after little underage cosplaying girls. Although that highly general claim is not exactly far from the truth, it certainly fails to bring multiple sides to the fandom, including the rest of the demographic who don’t actually cosplay at all.
Regardless of whether or not one feels that the article was a misrepresentation of the community, I can’t help but feel even more awkward about how I would be designated as part of that older male generalization according to the article. I certainly don’t see myself as a pervert, nor do I fancy myself with girls who are well under the age of legal consent. It’s way too easy to put sympathy on underaged cosplaying girls who get hit on by creepers, but something should also be said about sexually agressive girls who like to hit on older cosplaying men.
That said, I present you with another story.
Two years ago, I was twenty-three, and attended Anime North 2009. I cosplayed as Mario, and even though the costume was haphazardly put together (not that hard to find a red shirt, hat, and blue overalls), it was recognizable and drew the occasional request for a picture. And since this was a character from a beloved franchise, there was definite potential for fan-reaction as well, whether it was from a casual fan of the series, or a die-hard.
Saturday Night, I decided to go to the convention’s annual “parking lot rave,” which had reasonably bearable music, and a fresh outdoor air that made the event a great alternative to the sweaty, stenchiness of the accompanying indoor dance party. After some time, I stepped off to the side, close to my car, to catch a breather. A girl approached me with a wide-eyed look on her face.
“Oh my god, you’re Mario right?”
I chuckled dryly, “Yeah.” It couldn’t be helped.
“Wanna make out?”
This was the first time (and possibly the last ever) a girl approached me with that sort of random request, but I thought that she was reasonably attractive. She was only slightly shorter than me, and was “well-developed,” which led me to believe that she was somewhat close to my age, despite clearly being younger than I.
I obliged, and we made out in my car. For a good while. It probably would have lasted a bit longer, but she took a bit of a breather afterwards herself. We talked, and she spoke rather intelligently and maturely, also pointing out that she shared a hotel room with a friend, who “was going to spend the night elsewhere.”
Red flag. I managed to steer the conversation to another topic. I asked her for her age, hopefully in the most casual way possible. Had she been of a sufficient age, I probably would have gone through with the whole thing.
A wise man once said: if a girl tells you she’s twenty, but she looks sixteen, she’s goddamn twelve. She probably would have passed for twenty, but seventeen was quite a ways away from twenty-three. Six years was way too much even for me. Had she been fifteen (age of consent in Ontario is sixteen, last I checked), I would have gotten in some serious trouble had the deed been done. She could have very much been lying, and I would be the one branded as the creep even though she was the one who lied in the first place.
I responded in kind, saying that I was twenty (she’s not the only one who can play that game!), and still told her anyways that she was a bit too young for my comfort. I let her out of my car, and I drove the fuck back to my hotel.
The year after that, I met J-chan, who was actually twenty; I had managed to maneuver the conversation between us that I convinced her to show her driver’s license (which I do now at pretty much every convention when I end up in a pick-up scenario with supposedly younger girls), and I’d point out how mine had the better-looking, older Ontario layout. Had it not for that, I probably wouldn’t have asked for her number in the first place. J-chan was asian, so she definitely looked younger than twenty. Chris Rock’s advice wasn’t too far off from my mind at the time.
As I get older, it gets harder and harder to find people my age at conventions, which is probably the grim reality that the Washington Post article seemed to be hinting at, despite arguably trying to put a dark spin on the whole thing. Yes, there are underage girls. Yes, there are older men. But I hold out hope that there are women around my age who are into anime, possibly in the same position to try and find like-minded individuals for comanionship and whatnot.