Everything’s Bigger in Texas?
Discovering “Neo-Tokyo” in Dallas
Welcome back to Fandom Without Borders, where we take a look at my travels across the United States and beyond in search of cities and towns that welcome nerds, geeks, and weirdos in their own ways. This installment sees us examining one of the larger cities in Texas, the Dallas-Fort Worth Area.
Editor’s Note: Much of this travelogue was written prior to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic that shut down much of the world’s restaurants, cinemas, and theater houses. While many of these amenities have begun to open once again, your post-coronavirus mileage may vary.
When I first arrived in Dallas, I wasn’t expecting to find much of anything, fandom-wise. Growing up on the outskirts of New York City as I did, my idea of a good time was colored by one of the biggest, busiest, and most iconic cities in the world. With that mindset, it honestly didn’t seem like Dallas was going to be a very exciting place for someone who wasn’t super into sports and guns, which is what I considered to be the main exports of Texas. I was in Dallas because my friends were here in the city, but with their guidance I was able to find a few fun places for the extra nerdy to find their people and have some fun. Along the way, I learned a lot about this city and how it’s much, much more than it seems!
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Although the city didn’t scream nerdy, or even occasionally whisper it, there was much more to Dallas than meets the eye. First, I realized that it was much, much bigger than I thought. Yes, the old adage is that “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” but in this case it was true! Just like how New York City is more than just Manhattan but a collection of five distinct Boroughs, Dallas is a lot bigger than just the main city. There’s something called the “Dallas-Fort Worth Area,” named after the neighboring city of Fort Worth, and these two cities form one giant megacity because they’re so close together, kind of like Neo-Tokyo but without all the riots and telekinetic teenagers. There’s more than 6 million people living in DFW, and since there were so many people there, there were bound to be places where enough like-minded people would gather to create something of an oasis for nerds or counterculture folk [ 1 ].
With a really vibrant entertainment community growing, one of those neighborhoods was Deep Ellum. If Greenwich Village and Times Square had a love child that liked to wear cowboy hats, it would be Deep Ellum! Deep Ellum is full of music, art, theater and so much more [ 2 ]. There’s more than just a few of these places and neighborhoods throughout the area, though. In fact, during my visit we stumbled upon one such place and got to experience a Japanese culture festival that was going on at a college in the city. My friends took the day off work and drove me out for a fun day of food, music, culture, and a little splash of anime for good measure. Considering how anime and manga is such a huge part of Japanese culture, this is hardly a surprise!
Despite my otaku nature when it comes to all things anime and manga, my favorite part of the festival was the tea ceremony. The Taiko drums were a close second, but something about the quiet and purposeful nature of the tea ceremony has always interested me. It was pretty simple, and we even got to try a bit of freshly made tea and a small sugary snack. Even though shortly after the ceremony I ended up stuffing my face with a beef bowl from one the food stands (which washed away the taste of the tea), it was nonetheless delicious.
I don’t think any Japanese cultural festival is complete without a few anime/manga/nerdy stands full of colorful merchandise. As much as the country is steeped in such old and refined culture, it’s equally balanced with the fantastic and modern. I had to keep my spending light, but I made sure to pick up a set of cute Totoro bento boxes that served me well over the course of my travels. These kinds of places are great for people who love all this nerdy stuff, but don’t have a lot of opportunities to find other people who enjoy the same things. In between racks of character keychains and plushies, people where gushing over favorite characters and chatting excitedly about their favorite shows. It’s a great way to find and make some new friends that you can nerd-out with.
Dallas, I Choose You!
The nerdiest thing my friends and I did during my time in Dallas was play a heck ton of Pokémon Go. I’m sure it’s the same for all major cities, but there were so many stops and gyms, it was like landing in a Pokémon gold mine. I found that the Pokémon community is excited and very much active. We would knock down a gym, but it wouldn’t be long until our Pokémon were sent back to us. We would drive into a parking lot to hit a few stops, and another car, or group of people walking, would not be far behind us. Just hang around a gym for a few minutes and you’ll come across a few other players who will quickly become your new friends or greatest rivals. I also finally caught my first (and 100th) Tauros there. Seriously, those guys are everywhere. Plus, I got to stock up on fire type Pokémon, which I was very excited about. After living in Northern Ireland for about three years, I was drowning in water and grass types.
In keeping with the nerdy Japanese theme, my friends took me to a small museum showcasing a collection of Japanese weapons, armor, and other feudal pieces from samurai, called the Samurai Collection. It was created in 2012 by Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller to house their personal collection, containing over 1,000 pieces that they had collected over the span of about 25 years. It’s actually one of the largest collections of samurai objects and is the only museum not in Japan that focuses on samurai [ 3 ]. There were regular tours, and the guide was super knowledgeable about everything in the collection. It wasn’t really big, as the whole thing could probably fit in the average home’s living and kitchen area (including dining room), but it was really fun to poke around all the pieces and see the beautiful and intricate detail that went into the craft of each item.
Although, I still think my favorite was this vest with a circular pattern on the back that made it look kind of like a bulls-eye (I don’t think that was intentional, but it certainly wasn’t the best choice if you ask me!). If I remember right, it was a family crest or something of the like.
Tapped For Mana
The nerdy gem of the trip though was definitely just hanging out at one of the local game shops and playing a ton of Magic: The Gathering. My friends and I played quite a few other games as well (many of which I had never had the chance to play before), but we spent the majority of our time playing Magic. The shop we went to was a bit of a drive from my friend’s apartment, and it wasn’t much bigger or vibrant than any other hobby shop I’ve ever been to, but the people there were all really friendly and welcomed me into to play with them like I was an old friend coming back after a long absence. We went back several times for a few Friday Night Magic games and just for some casual EDH. I borrowed a few decks and got some advice from long-time players, and while I still lost a whole bunch, I had an absolutely wonderful time anyway. Sometimes it’s not about the win but the experience along the way, after all, and that’s exactly what I got with my time playing M:tG in Dallas!
The general atmosphere in Dallas might not be super hyped and inviting for nerddom in the same way a more heterogenous city might be, but the little nooks and crannies where the nerdy people collect themselves is warm and lively, and more than enough to make you feel at home.
Local Love for Nerds and Beyond
There were a few other local places that weren’t necessarily made for geeks and nerds, but my friends and I had a wonderful time nonetheless. One of the movie theaters there was also a restaurant, so we could sit back in these super comfortable recliner chairs and order a bunch of chicken wings and fries. We ended up watching The Hitman’s Bodyguard, which was fantastic by the way. It wasn’t very crowded while we were there, but it was the middle of a day during the middle of the week, so I wasn’t surprised. I can only imagine how packed a place like this gets when the big superhero movies come out. I can already picture the groups of friends laughing and crying over tables covered in snacks while watching Avengers: Endgame or something similar—I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house during that infamous snap at the end! Having movie theaters that provide that type of communal seating element definitely brings a nice group feeling to the movie experience, like that you would get from watching old favorites with your friends in the basement rec room while your mom brought down buckets of snacks that would rot your teeth and keep you up all night.
There was also a Medieval Times, which I didn’t get the chance to go to myself, but let’s face it, what nerd doesn’t live for cheering on knights galloping towards each other with lances while scarfing down turkey legs and slurping soup right from the saucepan? It’s a perfect experience and I will accept no arguments to the contrary. If the Dallas-area Medieval Times is anything like the one in the New York Tri-State Area, you know it’s going to be a first-class time to be had and well worth every penny you pay for the experience.
For a city of its size, Dallas doesn’t seem to have too much in the way of a convention scene, which was a bit of a surprise for me. AnimeFest seems to be one of their bigger ones, and while it looks to be like a really fun con, it’s not quite like some of the bigger cons in the country that you would find typically on either the East or West coast like PAX, Wizard World, San Diego Comic-Con, and so on. It has been around since 1992 though and boasts over 10,000 attendees each year, bringing all the otakus out to enjoy all things anime [ 4 ]. There is a sprinkling of fun cons that run throughout the year as well, like anime conventions, sci-fi conventions, and even horror conventions, so there is a little bit for everyone. There are also a healthy amount of comic book shops and hobby stores spread out around the city, so you don’t have to go too far to find your people.
While Dallas doesn’t give off the same loud and varied aura like some other big cities (and I get the strong feeling walking around in your cosplay might get more than a few strange looks), there are places you can find where the community is friendly and welcoming. This made my visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth area fun and memorable. I would go again in a heartbeat!
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Japanese Culture Festival.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Tea Ceremony.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Anime Merch.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Pokémon Go.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Samurai Armor.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Bulls-Eye Vest.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “A Few Hands of Magic.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “AMC Theatres.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Medieval Times.” 2020.
The outsider goth kid in high school, Charlotte adapted quickly. Upon her discovery of anime fandom, she dove in headfirst, feeding her interest in research from linguistics to anthropology, as well as her pastimes of gaming and cosplay. Since then, she’s been a contributing partner for the otaku blog RoyalNerd, and began work on her first novel. Her content for The Unconventional are the series Otaku Obsession and Fandom Without Borders, reflecting her twin passions for anime and travel.
- “Dallas-Fort Worth Metro Area Population 1950-2020.” MacroTrends, macrotrends.net/cities/22966/dallas-fort-worth/population.
- Deep Ellum Texas, deepellumtexas.com/.
- The Samurai Collection, samuraicollection.org/index_web.html.
- “AnimeFest 2020.” World Fandom, animefest.org/.