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My Kids Love Anime: Bonding with My Kids at AnimeCon

I have a conference badge, the kind that comes on a shoelace-type lanyard with a plastic sleeve for the nametag. The name card reads, ANIMOM. This is my new alter ego. I’m not totally comfortable with her, but she’s a part of me now—along with a growing collection of wigs.

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Hi, I’m AniMom. I can’t believe these words are in my lexicon.

Over the past couple of years, my children, ages 11 and 9, began watching anime and reading manga, genres of animation and comic books that originated in Japan. My kids fell into this new hobby swiftly and with all-consuming passion. I suppose this is the way most children become enamored of anything. One day they’re rapt, watching Megan Rapinoe leading the US to Women’s World Cup glory. The next day they’re begging for lavender hair and wearing their shin-guards to bed.

I was thrilled by my kids’ anime obsession, particularly as it meant they were embracing hero narratives beyond Disney. Further, they were drawn to archetypes and folklore that are part and parcel of their heritage.

Unfortunately, their new interest wasn’t in my wheelhouse.

My husband was raised by Korean immigrants and has a passable understanding of Pokemon and other manga characters. Whereas the characters in most of the books and programs I watched as a child mirrored who I was: white, middle-class, Christian. The canon was problematically limited, but it was my experience.

I was ill-versed in the graphic novels and shows my half-Asian children were drawn to. Rather than relegating their manga and anime fandom to something fun to do with their dad, I wanted to embrace my kids’ interest in this genre.

I don’t understand anime, but I wanted to try. Mercifully, they have been very patient teachers.

How My Kids Schooled Me in Anime:

1. A trip to the library

The first stop on my education toward understanding anime was our public library where my kids are able to borrow manga and American graphic novels. Many American graphic novels have been adapted from series I once enjoyed, such as Raina Talgemeier’s take on Ann M. Martin’s The Babysitter’s Club. The children’s librarian started a monthly graphic novel club and I help promote the club to other kids who have an interest in reading and learning more about the makings of graphic novels.

2. A trip to Vivi Bubble Tea Cafe

The next pitstop on the AniMom tour was Vivi Bubble Tea Café, a popular Taiwanese franchise found in cities across the United States. This is the place where I learned about lychee bubble tea and the Korean pop (K-Pop) boy band BTS. BTS is considered anime-adjacent because anime is a huge influence on their songs and concert performances. This year, they also released their own webtoon—a free, web-based manga comic. My kids and I have logged many hours eating garlic popcorn chicken and watching BTS videos at Vivi.

3. A trip to AnimeCon

The pinnacle of my animeducation was AnimeCon. You don’t simply buy a ticket to attend AnimeCon—you must prepare with intention and a costume battle plan. Weeks prior to the convention, my daughter and I visited a discount fabric store and bought a few yards of textiles that would eventually outfit her as Umbreon, the evolution of Eevee in Pokemon. My son was already prepared with his Naruto costume I had bought him for Halloween. I only had to run to the party store for yellow hair dye to complete his outfit.

AnimeCon spans several days, but I had heard Sundays were usually less crowded, so we made our maiden voyage on a Sunday. I was determined to embrace my AniMom within and learn as much as I could about the wide, wonderful world of Japanese animation and beyond.

From the moment we entered the registration room, I saw my children’s eyes alight, recognizing the costumes of their favorite characters. They were surrounded by people of every age who were as passionate as they were about anime and manga. This was their tribe.

The general vibe of AnimeCon is one of positivity.

Strangers stop to compliment one another on their cosplays. People dressed like my children as Naruto and Eevee told them, “Have a great ‘con!” The freebies were abundant, the merch was amazing, and the panels were fascinating. I mean, I understood nothing, but my kids were completely enraptured.

I had hoped AnimeCon would be a cultural touchstone where I could connect with my children. But it ended up being so much more. Body image is a difficult conversation with tweens, but the hyper-unrealistic body dimensions of certain anime characters have provided an on-ramp to these discussions. Also, my son, who once staunchly opposed to vegetables, has begun slurping the occasional cooked carrot in the manner of Naruto eating his ramen.

I still have a lot of questions, but my kids are helpful—even when I forget things, like whether Sailor Moon is one girl or a whole gang. We have even started planning our trip to AnimeCon for next year. The kids are begging their dad to come, too, and are already planning their costumes. As for me, I’ll be going as AniMom again.

Kendra Stanton Lee

Kendra Stanton Lee teaches writing at a technical institute in Boston. She lives with husband and their tween children at a boarding academy where her husband is a counselor. Find more of her writing online @Kendraspondence and at www.kendrastantonlee.com