Reflections on Visiting Makkon

Back when I was still a budding anime fan the local anime scene was in a pretty terrible state. We had maybe one or two events per year, organized by a bunch of very unfriendly people, with the number of attendees reaching the higher echelons of 60. Yeah, not sixty thousand, but sixty. Of course, Slovenia is a small country with a population of just over two million. Our territory acted for the longest time as a bridge between the EU and the Balkans. Having historically incompetent governments however, we have never been able to take full advantage of our strategic position. Not in commerce, transit, or controlling cultural flows. But in this tiny, secluded space, populated with secluded minds, the local anime community has slowly been springing its roots. Last Saturday I attended an anime convention in my home town, and I saw for the first time a community that a fan can be proud of.

Makkon is an annual convention that takes place in the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. The convention has seen steady growth and has been the main anime event in Slovenia for the past four years. In previous years, organizers decided to reach out to new audiences by not solely focusing on anime. This year’s attendees reflected that direction more than ever. Anime fans were still the majority, but other fandoms had strong presences themselves, notably the League of Legends community and others. Charles Dunbar is one of those guys that talked about fandoms converging into this massive blob we call geekdom, which is one trend I don’t particularly like, but in the case of Slovenian fandom I think it is the only sustainable way forward. My reasoning is that our fandom doesn’t have a whole lot of crazy people who are passionate about anime these days, and so it can’t really stand on its own. If you are one of those rare passionate people, I don’t mean this as an insult, it’s just a fact of life.

Ten years ago we had fans with drives to evangelize anime to our countrymen–this was the zeitgeist after Miyazaki won an Oscar for Spirited Away. Collectively, we had some success, but in the second half of the previous decade Silicon Valley started pulling levers faster than we could consciously follow. The YouTubes and MangaFoxes of the world took over young fans, leaving the local core community in the dark. We didn’t think fandom was growing, but fandom was growing, it just wasn’t as vocal and screaming into our faces as we thought it would be. Anime got more and more accessible. Ten years flew by, and now we have a local convention with an attendance of over one thousand.

The size of the convention is one thing, but I think atmosphere is even more important. Last year Makkon felt to me as just another, soulless Japanese culture event. Even though I ran an anime panel and got a gallery of listeners, I felt like passion was on the low side of things. Sure, cosplayers flipped their switches and went all crazy, young fans stood overwhelmed with excitement over the prospect of actually meeting other fans. This was all expected. As for myself, seeing fandom take another step toward the aforementioned convergence with the accompanying feeling of repetitive cheapness just made me all the more depressed. Other senior fans that I was with weren’t impressed either. I saw a couple of folks that we used to, and still do to this day hate each other’s guts, but I honestly thought we had a better time shitting on each other on online forums back then than we did at the convention grounds. We had supposedly reached our promised land and we just weren’t feeling it.

This year was different. One major contributing factor to this year’s atmosphere I thought was the location. The Faculty of Computer Science was spacious enough to fit everyone in, and while in some parts the layout simply wasn’t made for mass body congestion, I thought its narrow hallways were keeping people close enough to encourage them to talk to each other. Planned activities had a lot of variance, I even discovered new stuff that I wasn’t aware of. Like, I didn’t know there was a rhythm game that you play with a Wacom tablet. Some attendees started doing their own thing in pocket corridors, other attendees came with a mission, spreading dank memes or whatever. The biggest reason for the good atmosphere I think was that the building, being located in a remote area of the town, managed to function as an alternate dimension of sorts in which everything was completely bizarre and so very remote from the local culture. For me personally though, I just liked the fact that the convention had stuff I haven’t seen before.

I’m trying to describe the atmosphere as best as I can, but I know I’m not doing it proper justice. The smallest of details added up, short-lived adventures and epic trolls. Seeing so many people play their own minor role at the event, not just being passive attendees for once, felt like this might not actually be all that bad.

Recreating this exact atmosphere while hoping to innovate is going to be a tall order. Still, this was an excellent event and by far the best Makkon yet. Organizers are confident to continue the tradition next year, so if you’re in the area next December be sure to check Makkon out.

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