Even though the basic concept is the same, every iteration of a convention has a different feel to it. If you read my review last year, Otakon went bigger in celebrating its 20th anniversary, pulling out all the stops in terms of special guests and exclusives, as well as taking stock of its history in inviting old friends. This year was a bit more subdued, partly because 2013 was such a hard act to follow, but also because of a major snafu to kick things off.
First, let's go with what went right on Thursday, which is technically the day before Otakon officially begins. The outdoor matsuri in a nearby park by the Inner Harbor of Baltimore was a bigger success this time around, with more acts and booths set up. It's still lacking that traditional Japanese feel to it however with the lack of true festival games and street food, but there was a much bigger crowd this time to see the multiple bands performing live (I caught the Ricecookers in action as well as Peelander-Z) and a highly entertaining sumo wrestling demonstration by the largest Japanese wrestler ever, Yama, his American counterpart Kelly Gneiting, and volunteers from the crowd to boot!
Sadly, part of the reason for the crowd at the matsuri may have been the ridiculously long pre-registration line at the convention center, which wrapped around the building at least a couple times. I tried standing in it with a friend (despite having already obtained my press pass) and it was just too much after a half hour of barely getting anywhere. It turns out that their new registration system was getting gummed up by the convention center's network issues, but attendees really had no idea what was going on, finding the end of the line was hard enough. While Otakorp eventually got the word out on Twitter and in a press release, I feel like a lot of grief could have been avoided if the troubles had been directly communicated to the line sooner, and people turned away earlier so that when things shut down close to midnight there wouldn't been people denied just outside of the door. LineCon 2014 soon became the meme afterwards and you could see some of the enthusiasm subside the next day, though fortunately so did the technical issues.
With the con proper underway, it was time to break out the cameras and catch some cosplay on the way to wherever you're headed! This year did not disappoint, particularly if you were a fan of this year's breakout series: Kill la Kill, but there was plenty for fans of all stripes, including games like Final Fantasy XIV and Borderlands to classics like Dragonball Z . This time around, the Guidebook app on a smartphone was not only recommended, but practically required as the printed schedule of events was immediately out of date and only provided at information booths by request. Attending panels this year was a blast as I couldn't think of one that disappointed, including two panels put on by a friend of ours, TheRobD: Anime Openings Around the World and The Other Way Around: American Comics Localized in Japan, both of which featured other countries' humorous takes on source material we were quite familiar with. New Anime for Older Fans was back this year and fully updated with great suggestions for veterans, A Brief History of Anime: 100 Years in 50 Minutes did an admirable job of identifying the major trends of the medium while planting some seeds for thought. And for all those Kill la Kill fans in attendance, there was even a panel dedicated to piecing together all the references in the show, which gave me an even greater respect for it.
Those are just the events I was able to make, from the reaction online there were several other ones I could regret missing, but that's just the nature of a good con, there's just never enough time to do everything! The key is that when most stuff is worth your time anyway, you can't complain, and this year's Otakon still delivered, at least in my book. I also caught showings of anime like Psycho Pass and Dog & Scissors that were a welcome respite from the crowds, which were thankfully tamed for the most part thanks to the expansion of the one way lanes to the Hilton skybridge. From what I understand, while I wasn't able to attend, the Yoshiki concert also went well thanks to an organized lottery for seating unlike the line of past years. The only real disappointment was the Game Room this year, which was lacking the arcade cabinets of past years and felt considerably bare as a result. Another common complaint was also the laggy TV's used, particularly for fighting games. Hopefully that can be turned around for next year, as while games obviously aren't a focus of Otakon, they can be a great way to pass time between things on your schedule.
All in all, after some early hiccups, Otakon 2014 closed out as another successful chapter in the books. Everyone I knew and attended the con with left happy and we were all only disappointed that it was over so soon. While there is always room for improvement (particularly in getting folks their badges, though in fairness, Anime Expo in LA suffered its registration disaster earlier this year), I feel confident in the direction Otakorp is charting overall. Here's looking forward to next year's edition!
Check out Cat and Fox's Pictures from Otakon 2014!
Since last year’s Otakon maid cafe was an enjoyable and unforgettable experience, Cat and I made a point to attend again. We braved the long wait in line (about one and a half hours) to see what was new this time around. I was looking forward to any improvements or changes the cafe might have introduced this year.
When we were allowed in, the maids gave their greeting of “Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama!” (This phrase, which translates to “Welcome home, Master!”, is definitely authentic to the traditional Japanese maid cafe.) The fee again this year for entry was $10, with a $5 charge for a dessert choice.
Honestly, not much changed this year with the maid cafe as far as decor. There were a few adornments added, such as ribbons on the chairs and balloons above the tables. Cards were placed on each table. The table at the door, where we paid to get in, was the most decorated space. Overall, the atmosphere was a bit of an improvement from the previous year, but seemed to be lacking compared to maid cafes in Akihibara, Tokyo.
Upon being seated, we waited a while for our server to take drink and refreshment orders. I did notice a huge decrease in staff, as seen in the pictures of the maids and butlers. This could definitely explain the wait. I will admit, though, that it was a bit awkward waiting, wondering what to do in the meantime.
The food items this year were an improvement. I ordered caramel coffee with a parfait, and Cat ordered a lemonade with red velvet mini cupcakes. His main complaint were the portion sizes, which actually would have been bigger at a Japanese maid cafe. Being a press representative for Allgames.com, I was able to peek behind the elusive black current in the back of the room and see… that the refreshments were all provided by the hotel! I loved that the hotel supported the maid cafe in this way. One nice touch would be that when the maid or butler brings out the dessert, she or he draws a picture on the food or plates with some chocolate or strawberry syrup, a norm in the country of origin.
All the maids and butlers performed a dance for us in the front of the room. I want to say I was impressed, but our table’s maid seemed to be the only one in practice. I cringe to say this, because I want to be fully supportive of the maid cafe and what they do, but the dance needed a lot of work. This could have been due to scheduling conflicts with getting the staff together, but I would have skipped the performance altogether in that case.
I truly hope that the maid cafe continues, even though it seemed lackluster for Okakon 2014. In my humble opinion, a few changes could be made to bring the cafe further and ensure it’s success. For instance, some sort of ticket system so that patrons aren’t waiting on the floor for such a long time would be a huge improvement. Another suggestion would be to go all out on the decorations, not holding back. I believe the goal would be to make the environment look as great as the maids and butlers! I know I complained about this the previous year, and realize that nothing can be hung from the walls, but I would have loved to see some shelves with some Gundam mobile suits, anime figures, and plushies around the tables.
I highly suggest Otakon goers attempt a visit to the maid cafe at Otakon 2015! It’s definitely a great entry into the world of maid cafes. Interacting with the maids and butlers are worth the visit.
Interested in becoming a maid or butler? Head over to http://otakon.com/events_maid_cafe.asp for a link to the application!