“When I was leaving home, everyone there kept staring at me and laughing, they had no idea what Marvel or anime even is," says a cosplayer at the event. "That’s why this place is sort of like heaven for me.”
Habib University held its fourth iteration of Anime Con this year on the 12th March. Upon entering the premises of the event, sight is overwhelmed with vibrant colors, elaborate costumes, carefully curated stalls and above all, a sense of safety.
But before that: Anime. What is it? It is a Japanese style of visual media that creates content aimed at both children and adults. For those unfamiliar with the genre, one may think that it's similar to kid's cartoons such as Ben Ten or Powerpuff Girls; however, they're actually quite different.
Anime, though not as old as other forms of visual media, came into being in the early 20th century and has primarily targeted the Japanese audience. It became more mainstream around the 1980s and eventually the popularity of such shows began to grow at a rapid rate.
It features lore that spans across dozens of seasons, stories that continue for hundreds or even thousands of episodes, epic battles, intricate storylines, and incredible character arcs.
These are some of the elements that invited audiences from all over the world to enter the world of anime.
Pakistan is no different. Children got their first introduction to anime through channels like Cartoon Network, where they could see Goku from Dragon Ball Z battling his many, many enemies or the colorful world of Digimon, Beyblade, One Piece or even Pokemon.
Based on this, it’s easy to assume that because these shows are animated and appear on children’s channels, they’re targeted towards children as well. However, one of the strongest points of anime is that it delivers major philosophical or moral concepts through animation in a digestible manner.
What could some of these concepts be? Well, they can range from genocide, euthanasia, war, trauma, PTSD, abuse, depression, suicide and much more.
Many of the people who watched these shows as children have grown up to become anime fans, seen through the showing of the latest One Piece film in theaters across Pakistan.
The rise in the popularity of anime has influenced the creation of comics and animation in Pakistan as well.
“Essentially, whether it be mangas or animes or comic books, we’re all consuming storytelling,” says Imran Azhar, the founder of Azcorp Entertainment, who seeks to create inspirational and relatable figures for children through comic books.
“When the Arts Council held their Anime Comic Con event, it was jam-packed. Thousands of people were there. Manga consumption, especially, is huge in Pakistan. If you talk to one of the directors of Liberty Books, he will tell you what a huge audience there is for mangas and graphic novels. There will be a gigantic audience for pop culture in Pakistan in the coming years.”
True to Azhar’s statement, glowing graphic novels and mangas were a calling to those passing by at the event, attracting attention with the glossy sheen and intricate covers. However, it was just as easy to be distracted by the countless detailed cosplayers weaving their way through the crowd.
Dozens, perhaps hundreds of people put weeks of work into creating realistic copies of their favorite character’s costumes. From a real-life Wanda and Vision, a cardboard Chainsaw Man, strikingly real katanas, ‘blood’ splattered over Patrick Bateman’s coat or a stunning interpretation of Howl. Around every corner, there was a burst of color stemming from the creator’s hand-woven love.
Donning perhaps one of the best and most detailed costumes was a Moonknight cosplayer, who spoke with Geo News about the event.
“When I know an event is coming, I start preparing a month or two in advance. I enjoy the process so much that it’s become a hobby for me," they claimed.
From the ease with which this cosplayer navigated the crowd despite the thick mask covering his face, it was quite easy to tell that this was not his first rodeo. When asked if he thinks that something could be improved at events like Anime Con, he admitted that the entertainment from the organizers’ side is quite lackluster:
“They need to make it more engaging, especially at this con, there isn’t a whole lot happening and the other con I attended before this, had too much happening. They need to find a balance.”
Though certainly not perfect, the sense of community and reassurance exhibited by the people who were attending was a stark contrast to the alienation often felt by the youth who are truly passionate about something unconventional in their society.
The shortcomings in the con may be forgiven once the audiences learn that it was arranged entirely by a student community: “The last time we held HU Con, it was a week before Covid-19 was officially announced,” explains Ifrah Ilyas, the head organizer. “After that, it’s truly been a struggle to plan any events, especially since most student societies besides ours ended up dissolving due to the pandemic.”
Despite their many troubles, Ifrah explained that they take great care to create a safe space that will make people feel accepted and not embarrassed by the things they are passionate about.
In divisive times, art has always played the role of bringing people together. The love that people hold for these pieces of media overpowers any presuppositions or bigotry. Events such as HU Con, though far from perfection, succeed wholly in nurturing a sense of camaraderie and innocent love.
All in all, the purpose of anime conventions seems to go much further than a simple appreciation for art. Rather, it is a safe haven for those who want to express themselves however they want away from prying eyes, among like-minded people. These events successfully foster a sense of safety, a burst of stunning art and above all, solidarity.
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