July 19 – 22 of 2018 something wonderful happened in Tampa, FL. Tens of thousands of excited people descended on the Tampa Bay Convention Center for METROCON, Florida’s best anime convention. METROCON has been ongoing for sixteen years and yet it hasn’t lost the intimate feel of a fan-run convention. It doesn’t have the corporate and somewhat commercial feel that has beset many of the massive conventions that have been around for decades.
A Passion for Anime Fans
METROCON is a relatively young convention, and yet it’s mature in terms of organization and well-trained staff members. It’s gorgeous, exciting, packed with things to do, and still easy to get around. Amid the art and artistry, the colorful costumes, and larger than life events, there was something extra. Chat with any security guard and you can see it. Ask questions at the information booth and it’s there. It was that special boost that comes from doing something you believe in and celebrating what you love.
METROCON staff strives to create the best anime convention not because it’s their job but because they love and understand the anime fandom. That was very clear in how they treated the fans, how they welcomed the press, and the attitude of each employee and volunteer that I encountered. It could be seen in the way the event was laid out. Security was organized, friendly, and very helpful. The guests were some of the best-known and most prolific anime voice actors in the industry, the events and panels were crafted to cater to things anime fans enjoy. Every bit of this convention was about celebrating the anime fandom and improving the anime community.
Fans & CosPlayers
The METROCON staff and volunteers were not the only people there committed to making this the ultimate anime fan experience. Before I even talk about the events and panels, let me talk about the people. Throughout METROCON, there was that special camaraderie that comes from a shared fandom, but there was something more. There was a special level of friendliness, of true inclusiveness. People you met and chatted with were so open and friendly. The atmosphere had an air of friends who, although separated by time and geography, were meeting up again for the first time in years.
As I wandered through the convention, I kept seeing people meeting friends and making new friends. I overheard more than a few conversations about how much fun people were having. There were impromptu dance parties, “fangirling” (by all genders) over costumes, small children excited to see characters were welcomed kindly by cosplayers. If you needed a hand with your costume, were lost, or wanted to talk, you never had to look far for someone willing. I met several people who were entirely new to the anime fandom culture. It was the first time at METROCON for some of them. I asked how they liked it and the response was great. They were a bit overwhelmed but very pleased that there was never a shortage of people willing to help them understand terms or explain events. I watched as fans assisted strangers in wheelchairs and families with baby strollers. The last time I saw this many people being so entirely lovely to each other I was attending a festival in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. Maybe that is a part of it. The anime fandom is, on a certain level, a fandom in love with many things that are uniquely Japanese.
Inclusive & Diverse
METROCON was one of the most truly inclusive and diverse conventions I’ve seen. From Cosplay Is Not Consent signs to accessible events to the attitudes of security and staff, there was no missing the fact that everyone was welcome and safe. It wasn’t just signage and policies though; many events made it clear by featuring positive representations of LGBTQ+ characters. The Masquerade, arguably the main event, featured same-sex relationships in a way that showed the beauty and struggle of love in such a way that anyone who has ever been in love could relate.
There was a wide range of panels as well. I was able to attend an informative panel that explained the dos and don’ts of Disability Etiquette, learn from another discussion panel where fans talked about what it’s like to attend a convention while having a disability, and take part in a panel that discussed the positives and negatives of LGBTQ+ characters and relationships in anime. Each panel was offered in a safe, secure environment, and those participating were respectful, civil, even caring as they talked. It was truly a great experience.
Gender-bending cosplays have been an accepted thing for years now within the cosplay community. Unfortunately, the general public isn’t always as keen. Often I see female versions of male characters better received by non-cosplayers than male versions of female characters or males dressed unironically as female characters. I can say that I didn’t see a single instance of that at METROCON. I’m not saying that it didn’t exist because I can’t be everywhere, but on the whole, the non-cosplayers enjoyed and celebrated any and all cosplay for the art that it is and that was a pleasure to see.
While some conventions focus heavily on panels, autographs, and photo ops, METROCON offered events that were pure entertainment and would justify the ticket price alone. They were more of these than I could attend, including some of the big ones like the Kaiju Big Battel, Anime Idol, the Anime Human Chess Match, and the Metro Star Party.
Metro Stary Party featured her royal majesty Princess Zelda and her right-hand man Link in a late-night talk show parody that was worth seeing twice. Covering current events, celebrity news, and interviews with some of your favorite Nintendo characters, I laughed hard enough to ache the next day from it.
The Metro Fire Show was held each night at the Riverwalk. This was a stunning live-fire performance, beautifully choreographed and utterly astounding. I was so entranced by the show I completely forgot to take photos.
The Kaiju Big Battel was, to me, absolutely hysterical and must be seen to be truly appreciated. Imagine a giant banana wrestling Godzilla… kind of like that but funnier. Hint—go early get a good seat.
My second favorite event was the nightly METROCON Massive Rave. Granted, this isn’t for people who like to be in bed early, but if you love to dance or are a fan of EDM, then make it a point to attend. The number and quality of the DJs is mind-blowing. Short of a music festival, you aren’t going to get this experience anywhere.
There were a few separately ticketed event that I have already mentioned such as the Cafe Kira Hoshi. The Masquerade was my personal favorite due to the immersive and interactive nature of the event. I truly feel like this is the one event you should hit every single year at METROCON.
Missed It? – Plan for Next Year
If you are an anime fan and you didn’t make it to METROCON this year, I cannot recommend enough that you begin planning to attend next year. It’s worth the ticket price and they often provide multiple levels of access so you can tailor your experience to your budget. I’ll be there so come and say “Hi” and show me your cosplay. The cosplayers I met this year were so amazing and wonderful that I might even consider giving it a try next year. See you then!