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!
I have to hand it to Anime Mid-Atlantic. They really know how to throw a party!
Whether you attended the Anime Mid-Atlantic for the cosplay, costumes, dances, video games, guests, contests, workshops , videos, card games or for the other fun activities – you could most likely enjoy doing it at Anime Mid-Atlantic.
Background of Anime Mid-Atlantic
Now in its thirteenth year, the Anime Mid-Atlantic is an annual event where fans of anime and video games come together sometimes to just hang out with new and old friends and have fun. You can dress up as your favorite anime or video game character in any form or fashion you like, of course, in adherence to the rules of the event.
Anime Mid-Atlantic was held on a beautiful weekend, June 14-16, 2013 at 725 Woodlake Dr., in Chesapeake, Virginia at the Marriott Hotel and the Chesapeake Convention Center. Yes, the fun is spread between two buildings including the walking areas between the two.
The Marriott Hotel and the Chesapeake Convention Center are conveniently located adjacent to other hotels – so if you were from out of town, you could stay either at the Marriott Hotel or at the other nearby hotels that were in walking distance.
Arrival at Anime Mid-Atlantic
I arrived at the Anime Mid-Atlantic event towards the end of Friday night, and activities were still in full swing. As I walked to the registration area in the hotel, I was met by one of the event’s security. Still remembering and stinging from the coldness I felt when I attended the Civil War V video game tournament that I covered a few months earlier, I had my guard up and immediately asked him why did he come up to me. He responded that he wanted to know if I had any questions, and decided to approach me. He seemed sincere, so I pushed my reservations about the atmosphere of the event aside and asked him where I could pick up my press badge .
On my way to pick up my badge, I met a young man who was dressed up in a costume that included a feminine looking tank top and shorts. He smiled and literally apologized to me for the costume that he was wearing, stating that he usually does not dress that way. I laughed and told him he was “looking good.”
From that moment on, I knew I would enjoy covering this event for Allgames.com. Not only because of all the interesting events scheduled, but also and more importantly, everyone appeared to be very friendly and out to just have a good time.
Video Game Room at Anime Mid-Atlantic
My plan was to focus mostly on video games the first day of the event. So after receiving my participant badge, I walked the short distance from the Marriott Hotel to the Chesapeake Convention Center where the video game room was located.
On the way to the convention center, I enjoyed watching a dance contest where the participants were dressed up in costumes. I also enjoyed the performance of a hoola hoop dancer, who was dancing with a neon lighted hoop for a small group of admirers who had gathered around him. It was dark outside, so the bright colors of the hoola hoop shone brightly against the night. At one point during his performance, he jokingly said that he was getting tired, but he received a burst of energy and continued to perform when the cameras started flashing – including my own.
When I reached the convention center, I showed my badge to the two ladies seated at the entrance, and I was happy I had registered as a participant, because I was able to show my badge and get in. At that time, I had not picked up my press badge. I also like the fact that there was control as to who went where. I, along with other attendees had to show our badges to gain admittance to several events, which in my opinion was an effective security measure.
When I reached the video game room, the moderator was writing on a white board, changing the closing time for the video game room from 2:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Whew! I was glad that I made it there before they closed.
Once in the room, there were about 14 monitors on tables lining the walls with a Just Dance video game going on in full swing. Just about every type video game system was there, including the WII U.
A couple was dancing to the game, while two fully uniformed male and female police officers watched. Yes – in addition to having staff security personnel, the event also had uniformed policemen there as well. It’s possible that the policemen were there for the convention center security, instead of just for the event. The police officers were smiling as they watched the Just Dance video game couple perform – so it looks like in addition to their security duties, they were having fun as well..
In the far corner of the small video game room was a guitar hero type set up with a standing microphone and large monitor. After one group finished playing the game, a young lady who had just sung, asked if I wanted to play. I complimented her on her singing and declined the offer. If her personna was any indication of the type people attending this event, not only were they overtly friendly, but they were polite and cordial as well.
In addition to the newer games, there were also retro video games to be played. The retro game was centipede/space invaders, which I got the chance to play . I witnessed a high score obtained by a video game player. Interesting enough, within the next few minutes, I also witnessed the high score of the retro video game being broken by a much younger video game player.
Unfortunately, the video game room closed at about 1:00 a.m., and we all had to leave. But not to worry. There was still a crowd of people out in the convention areas as well as back at the Marriott Hotel.
Saturday at Anime Mid-Atlantic
Technically I was at the Anime Mid-Atlantic on Saturday, since it was about 1:30 a.m. when I left. I was prepared to make a late night appearance at the event Saturday night, but looking at the schedule, most of the events I wanted to cover had already happened.
The neat feature about the Anime Mid-Atlantic is that there was a schedule of events to cover just about every hour or so of the three days. You could either wander around and catch some of the happenings in an impromptu manner, or you could follow the schedule and pick and choose which events you wanted to attend.
Interview with Doug Smith, Graphic Artist/Voice Actor
My first order of business on Sunday was to pick up my press badge, which I’m happy to report was ready and waiting for me at the registration desk. When the volunteer staff handed my press badge he suffixed it with “Have fun! – which I’m glad to say -- I did.
Located next to the registration room where I picked up my press badge was another conference room where a group of people seemed enthralled at listening to the presenter. I decided to attend this workshop that was headed by Doug Smith, a graphic artist as well as a guest at the event.
He gave training on graphic art drawing using the software, photoshop. In addition to demonstrating graphic design techniques, he also took interesting questions from the audience. Some of the questions asked and answered included how to show perspectives when drawing figures and objects, as well as how to show texture of items such as brushed metal, etc.
At the end of the workshop, I got the opportunity to interview Doug Smith, and in so doing, I found out that he was not only a graphic artist, but was also a voice actor. He told me the story of how he got into voice acting by accident when a company was looking for someone to play a part in voice acting, and he just happened to be seemingly there, at the right place and at the right time.
Other Anime Events
After leaving the workshop, I got the chance to see part of an anime movie in the video room, which was located next to the rooms where board games were being played.
I perused some of the tables that were located outside the conference rooms in the hallways. Some people were promoting other upcoming Anime events. In fact, I discovered there are several other Anime events that are happening in the near future.
As I continued to walk down the hallways that were bustling with people, most of whom were dressed up in costumes, I met a young lady who was dressed in a cute victorian type outfit and she had black and red ringlets for hair. I asked her if I could touch her hair, as well as take her picture – of which she replied yes to both.
Yaaaa!! I had taken my first of many pictures of creatively dressed anime costumed participants at the Anime Mid-Atlantic.
I decided to leave the Marriott and take a short walk over to the Chesapeake Convention Center to see what was happening over there.
When I reached the convention center, a group of people dressed up as their favorite anime characters were just outside the center playing a game similar to vogue – where you struck a pose when the music stopped and was eventually eliminated from the game. Everyone seemed to be having fun. This is where I took my second picture of an Anime costumed attendee who was dressed in a black suit and tie – which appeared ordinary enough; however there was one big difference. His face and head were completely covered in white cloth. Someone who was also taking a picture of him told me his name was “Slender” when I asked who he was portraying.
Anime Mid-Atlantic Territory
Two nights before, I did not realize the full extent of the Anime event that was going on in the convention center. At the time, I had only visited the video game room.
On Sunday, I found out there was a whole lot more at the convention center than the video game room. Apparently the Anime Mid-Atlantic covered a lot more territory than I thought.
The hallways were crowded with people, as well as vendors and it looked as if each conference room was also filled with people.
There was a large conference room set aside for autograph signing. I decided to stand in line to get my Anime Mid-Atlantic book signed. As I waited in line, I had an interesting conversation with a woman behind the desk leading up to the autograph signing about a topic I would not have correlated with anime. She told me about a website where there is an Anime cookbook. With the increase of cooking reality television shows, I should not have been surprised that cooking had made its way to anime!
I asked the guest who was signing my event book if he did any voice acting for video games. He said he would if he was asked; however, right now he did voice acting mostly for anime characters. I liked the fact that when he autographed my event book, he addressed it to me, Ms. H! – with an exclamation point after my name – very fitting to show just how much fun I was having at the event.
In fact, I was not the only one having fun there. In the autograph conference room, there was a large group of people sitting in the audience who were in amidst of friendly conversations, when I noticed a beach ball being hit back and forth over the crowd. Of course, I could not let this get by me without taking a picture.
A Real Live Anime Character at the Anime Mid-Atlantic
I next walked to the large vendor selling area. If you were in a buying mood, you could purchase items from any of the vendors set up in the hallways and some of the rooms.
In fact, the hallways were filled with tables where people were selling any and everything related to Anime.
Additionally, there was a large room set aside strictly for vendors which appeared to be filled to capacity. As I walked around the vendor area, I came across a booth where there was a young lady where I had to do a double take because she looked so much like a real life anime character. She was Japanese and had very long blue hair styled with bangs and two very long ponytails. I was getting ready to ask her if I could take her picture when her attention was drawn to someone else who was talking to her.
I found out later that she was Yunmao Ayakawa, one of the guests when she appeared at the closing ceremony of the event with an interpreter. I got the chance to take a picture of her at that time.
Art Auction at the Anime Mid-Atlantic
I checked the schedule and decided to make my way back to the Marriott Hotel to cover the art auction. While waiting for the art auction to start, I found a comfortable and convenient sitting area at a table located right next to the front window that faced the front of the hotel. It was here where I took lots of pictures of attendees dressed up in costumes.
In fact, I noticed a young man dressed up in an Assassin’s Creed outfit, which I took a picture of from a distance then, and closer pictures later when he made an appearance at the closing ceremonies.
By this time, it was about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday – almost time for the art auction! I went to the information desk and asked her where was Restaurant A which is where the art auction was held. She checked the schedule and told me the art auction ended at 12:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the schedule I had was not the very latest, or had been changed. Even though the art auction was over, I still had time to take more pictures of all the interesting anime costumed attendees – so all was not lost.
Anime Mid-Atlantic Closing Ceremonies
The closing ceremonies were scheduled to be held at 3:30 p.m. at the Chesapeake Convention Center on Sunday, June 16, 2013. To make sure there were no schedule changes, I verified the place and time – which had not changed.
I made the short trek from the Marriott Hotel back to the convention center. The weather was absolutely beautiful outside, with sunny, blue skies – so the walk was an enjoyable one for me, in and of itself. Plus I met interesting costumed characters along the way.
After reaching the convention center and before going to the closing ceremony, I quickly checked the video game room to see if any changes had been made in the set up, etc.. The video game room was a little crowded than before; however, the set up was the same.
After leaving the video game room, I went to the closing ceremonies.
Everyone entering had to show their badge – which I again thought was a good security measure.
The closing ceremony consisted of the MC, Daniel Taraschke , thanking every body – jokingly, for not tearing the “place” down. He then thanked everyone for coming and hoped that everyone had fun. Next the guests were introduced and took the stage to additionally offer their thanks as well. Most of the guests were there with the exception of a few who had to leave early. The guest who I had interviewed earlier, Doug Smith, was introduced by the MC as their very own Tarzan -- took the stage and thanked every one. Some guests actually ran up to and jumped up on the stage as a way to show their enthusiasm for the event.
After presenting fan favorites awards, the MC ended the show requesting a group picture of the audience, with everyone posed with one arm outstretched with a finger pointing. I moved over to the center audience section to be sure I would be pictured and joined in the fun.
In the midst of taking the group picture, someone asked if there was a beach ball around. Sadly, there was no beach ball to be thrown; however, the audience made up for it afterwards, by some posing for pictures and others doing impromptu dances.
After waiting in line, I was able to interview Daniel Taraschke and obtained his assessment of the overall event. In his words, he dubbed the event, “a success.”
Pros of the Anime Mid-Atlantic
Cons of the Anime Mid-Atlantic
Recommendations for the Anime Mid-Atlantic
Closing Remarks -- Anime Mid-Atlantic
All in all, the Anime Mid-Atlantic looked to be not only a success but a great one at that. It was an event that you can go to and conversate with and be around others who share your interests in anime, and video games and all that goes with these fun venues. You can dress up as your favorite character and in a way, bring to life anime characters who you have probably admired virtually, and can now give them the breath of real life, so to speak, at an event such as the Anime Mid-Atlantic. If you have a competitive spirit, you can participate in the many contests to see how you measure up – or you can enter just to have fun. If you want to learn more about the different facets Anime, there were many workshops available as well.
The saying that would wrap up my personal assessment of the Anime Mid-Atlantic event would be –“ And fun was had by all!” Well done.
Tidewater Comic Con held its second annual convention on May 16 - 17, 2015 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in Virginia Beach, VA at 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m on Sunday. The convention center was selected as Tidewater Comic Con’s location to accommodate the large crowd expected to attend.
And a large crowd, in deed, attended this event. Tidewater Comic Con on Sunday May 17, 2015, the second day of the event seemed just as crowded as if it was the first day.
These highlights of Tidewater Comic Con is from Sunday’s showing which I attended, even though I’m sure the events on Saturday were just as newsworthy as well.
There’s a saying that you have only one chance to make a good impression. Well, Tidewater Comic Con did itself justice in presenting an overall fun impression at first glance. Before even entering the actual exhibit hall, there were cosplay participants smiling and seemingly happy to have their pictures taken, sometimes, taking the time to pose with their props in full costume.
When one first enters the Convention Center, there were of course uniformed law enforcement officers throughout, possibly due to the large crowd. Additionally, signs were prominently displayed for all props to be inspected. In keeping with the look of some cosplay characters, sometimes the participants used fabricated weapons or other objects that went with their costume.
The multi-level layout of the Virginia Beach Convention Center provided the opportunity to take pictures or view the cosplay participants from a different vantage point. I even took pictures of cosplay characters as they ascended or descending the escalators.
After noticing the wide array of cosplay participants in the large lobby area of the convention center, some may think they are already at the heart of Tidewater Comic Con. In other words, to be a part of Tidewater Comic Con, one could have just as much fun, in my opinion, merely walking around and being among the crowd if one did not want to pay to get into the exhibit hall. This way, one can experience some parts of the convention free including attending events set up in meeting rooms involving comic book topics as well as view live videos being taken.
The negative is one would be missing out on other parts of the convention that required an admittance fee. The center or pulse of Tidewater Comic con is the exhibit areas which required a blue band on one’s wrist to enter -- showing that admission has been paid. VIP attendees wore orange bands. In my opinion, the admittance fee is worth the price to experience all that Tidewater Comic Con had to offer.
Once inside the large exhibit areas, there were rows of tables and displays set up with vendors hawking their wares, including comic books, action figures, and other comic book related items and services. Batman’s batmobile was roped off at the back of the exhibit area, and some special guests were seated for photo-ops or an autograph sessions for a fee.
Some guests were easily accessible, including graphic artists, writers and others. For example, I interviewed one of the special guests, Witchblade writer, Ron Marz as well as received an autographed copy of one of his works, Shinku, a graphic novel of a female monster hunter.
If you wanted to spend some of your hard-earned cash, there were lots of deals to be had regarding not only comic books and action figures but other items as well. In fact, some items sold at Tidewater Comic Con were literally a collector’s delight. For instance, I witnessed a RoboCop fan obtaining a collection of RoboCop figures, with the dealer throwing in an accompanying RoboCop vehicle for free.
Regarding eating areas, there were a limited number at Tidewater Comic Con; however, the eating facilities appeared to be adequate and provided sufficient seating areas.
The highlight of Sunday’s Tidewater Comic Con, in my opinion, was the myriad of cosplay participants, some simply wearing a plain suit of their favorite character’s costume, others having their face immersed in red plastic and other wearing face masks while some went the extra mile to rival the actual characters they were dressed as.
The two cosplay characters who stood out in my opinion during Sunday’s event was Hawkgirl who wore a magnificent spread of wings and the 9 - 10 feet tall Guardians of the Galaxy Groot where people practically stood in line to take a photo with. Groot came in as a runner up in the comic book character cosplay contest, with Iron Man winning; however given the extensive detail and artistry of Groot’s cosplay tree costume -- it is likely he would have won, if Iron Man was not a first-time cosplay contestant. This reason was given by the judges for Iron Man winning over Groot, who in my opinion, was the clear winner.
Unsurprising, Hawkgirl won in the female comic book cosplay area along with other cosplay winners in other categories.
Not only was Tidewater Comic Con a fun event to attend, but it was well organized as well. Sunday’s event was scheduled to end at 5:00 p.m. and it ended promptly at 4:57 p.m.
Relative to the long lines -- sure, there were a long line going into the auditorium for the cosplay contest; however, this is to be expected with such a large crowd. Once the line started moving, it took only a few minutes to get into the auditorium and find a seat. While waiting in line, I used the time to take more pictures of cosplay attendees as they walked past, including, believe it or not, a human green plant who came complete with a black flower pot that he or she obliged by sitting in for pictures.
Additionally, Tidewater Comic Con is geared to all ages ranging from the very mature to the very young. Two of the youngest cosplay participants I saw included a little girl dressed as Wonder Woman, one dressed as a princess, and a toddler dressed as Hans Solo. Included in the older category was a character dressed as Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, who won in the cosplay contest as the best male non-comic book character.
A negative, in my opinion was the display of weapons, including guns and rifles, used as props with the costumes, some that not only looked realistic but were held in such a way that would cause one to take a second look, if one was not at a comic con convention.
I believe the positives of Tidewater Comic Con far outweighed any negatives. Sunday, May 17, 2015 was an excellent day to be out and about to enjoy the beautiful sunny weather and if you like -- as I did -- attend Tidewater Comic Con. Attending both days of the event would probably have been an even more enjoyable comic con experience.
Given the enthusiasm as well as the friendliness of those attending, Tidewater Comic Con can be described as nothing short of being a blast from any view.
When I heard about the maid cafe at Otakon 2012, I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t able to attend. This year, Cat, my husband, and I made it a point to wait in line for the maid cafe’s second year at Otakon. I have to admit that it was certainly worth the wait!
Upon entry into the maid cafe, we were greeted by the maids, who said “Welcome home, Master and Mistress!” in Japanese! This was definitely a delightful surprise. After paying only $10 (maid cafes in Japan are typically more expensive), we were shown to our seats by one of the cute maids. The area only consisted of about five or six tables, which seated eight. This created a more intimate environment for patrons, which I consider important mission of any maid cafe.
After everyone was seated, the maids and butlers (male version of the maid) all gathered in the front to give their introductions. I really enjoyed hearing them give their name and random facts about themselves, each in turn causing the crowd to laugh. Every cast member performed amazingly while taking on a new persona for the benefit of the maid cafe customers.
Next, the maid that was assigned to our table, Umi, took our drink and food orders. While the drink was on the house, we could make a $5 donation to receive a dessert. Honestly, I expected more filling items on the menu. From my experience visiting maid cafes in Japan, the menu was short but more filling. Popular items included omurice, tonkatsu, and one-of-a-kind sundae creations. Instead, I had instant hot chocolate and strawberry shortcake. I would have graciously paid more for a small portion of omurice with a drawing in ketchup on it! Imagine an incredibly cute maid asking what you’d like her to drawn on your meal!
The maids and butlers also created such a comfortable setting that allowed for interaction with the entire table. We were introduced to a game where we could write anything on a sticky note and then paste it on the forehead of the person sitting in the next chair. Each individual then had to guess what that mystery item on their forehead was. Every now and then, a maid or butler would join us to help with the guessing. Unfortunately, our game was interrupted. Well, not too unfortunate, as the suspension was caused by the maids’ captivating performance.
Not only were they dressed perfectly from head to toe, but these maids had energy that went beyond expectations! I loved watching them perform to the songs. Everyone was in perfect sync while dancing. I could tell that they were well practiced and truly enjoyed performing for their masters and mistresses. This was the second showing of the day, but I suspect that the girls kept up this intensity throughout the day.
With the addition of a more cafe-ish menu and cutesy decorations, the maid cafe could truly emulate the maid cafes of Japan. In the originating country, the environment of these cafes creates an illusion of an otaku’s personal tearoom. The feeling one gets stepping into a Japanese maid cafe is almost as if walking into an entirely new dimension where pink frills and anime loving is the norm. In contrast, the Otakon’s walls were, to say the least, bland. My opinion is that even without the maids present, I should have felt as though I was in a maid cafe. I hope that this is taken into consideration for future presentations.
Even with lack of decor and menu items, I’m really ecstatic that I went to the maid cafe at Otakon 2013. The incredibly spirited performances by the maids, fully clad in their skirts, petticoats, and stockings, were definitely worth the wait in line! I sincerely urge a visit to the maid cafe if you plan to attend Otakon 2014.
When you've been at something for two decades and only keep getting bigger and better, you know you're doing something right. Otakon has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a Days Inn in Pennsylvania, exploding from a humble gathering of 300 or so to a horde of nearly 35,000 otaku taking over its current home in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. In fact, the convention has gotten so large that Otakorp has already announced a move to Washington, D.C.'s more spacious convention center for 2017's edition, despite some sentimental reluctance.
Otakon celebrated its 20th anniversary in style, for sure. They brought in a smorgasbord of huge guests like Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe, world famous composer Yoko Kanno, and various animators and directors from recent blockbuster hits like Sword Art Online and Oreimo. Along with these guests came announcements of new titles like Watanabe's Space Dandy, and the world premieres of Oreimo's final episodes of the 2nd season as well as the English dubbed version of critically acclaimed film, Wolf Children.
Having only been to one previous edition of Otakon the year before, I don't have a lot to compare to, but this year's absolutely topped the last both in numbers, events, and sheer enthusiasm. It felt like there was even more cosplay than ever, particularly from fans of shows like Attack on Titan, which allow you to participate in army uniform without necessarily representing a specific character. Despite the larger crowd, I did not feel any real degradation of foot traffic, especially once they organized the unfortunately narrow sky bridges into one way lanes. Speaking of which, organization is Otakon's strong suit. While there will always be some hiccups and confusion in herding so many cats, I was still impressed with how most lines were handled, both for registration and panels. My only annoyance was discovering the huge rush for 18+ bracelets for Frday night's more racier affairs. I feel like that could have been addressed at the same time as registration (where you have to present your ID anyway) to alleviate those lines, especially when that was only a prelude to waiting in yet another line to get into the event. Besides that though, everything started on time for the most part and all of the staff was very courteous and helpful, always willing to take questions and find the answer for you.
When you arrive at Otakon, I highly suggest you take a look at the schedule (and download Guidebook if you have a smartphone) and plan your attack. There's way more things to do than there is ever enough time to see (which is not a complaint, but a sign of a great convention!). At any moment there's at least 4 anime showing in video rooms and multiple panels, Q&A's, and workshops to boot. You also have to account for how popular an event is going to be and factor in getting early to secure your spot, so there's going to be a lot of concessions made. Personally I was happy catching some of the smaller fare and avoiding some of the world premieres with their 2 hour long waits. I started off my schedule on Friday with a viewing of Otaku No Video, a comedic anime from 1991 that inspired Otakon according to its members' lore. It wasn't hard to see the connection as it traces a similar meteoric rise for a small band of otaku who take the world by storm and eventually construct their equivalent of Disneyland. I also caught showings of stuff like Hunter X Hunter and New Hurricane Polymar. Panels wise I found a lot of variety as I attended ones about Lolita fashion, sports anime, and the real of a manga artist. My favorites though involved reminiscing about the early days of anime in America with I Love the 80s: Anime Edition hosted by Mike Toole and the Anime Industry Before Times panel hosted by special guests who were founding members of such greats as AnimEigo, Animerica, ADV, and more.
Needless to say, there's no excuse to be bored at Otakon! Even if none of the anime or panels happens to be your thing at a given time, just wandering the halls and seeing all the cosplay is entertaining enough. Of course there's also a huge gaming room open all day long with a wide selection of arcade and console machines and software both old and new. I checked out Hatsune Miku Project Diva F with a real arcade controller among other rare Japanese imports, and tons of other rhythm music games like DDR, Rock Band, and Dance Central. And then there's the shopping, with both Artist's Alley and Dealer's Hall jam packed of goodies. My only complaint about the latter is that many dealers seemed to be working from the exact same stock, so there weren't many rare finds to be had, but that could also have been the fact that I didn't get in the first day. The good side of that is it made it easy to comparison shop and find the best deal if you were willing to put in the leg work.
And for those moments where you absolutely have to step out of the convention and get a breath of fresh air, the Inner Harbor is there for you with entertainment options like the many display ships in port, from submarines to tallships like the U.S.S. Constellation. You can even take a water taxi and get out on the water. There's of course plenty of food options in the area that run the gamut of low cost chains and food trucks to fancier fare like the great Spanish tapas restaurant I ate at on my last day. Hotels are a bit tricky and can be expensive for the weekend but they are mostly clustered around the convention center for easy access to and from Otakon. If you're looking to save though it might be cheaper to stay near the airport and take the light rail in, but I'm not as familiar with the viability of that option. I was skeptical about Baltimore at first, but it's found a place in my heart after two years there. A fondness has grown between the convention and the city and you can see many of the locals actually enjoy having us around. It's a shame it will be moving on in a few years and I have no doubt it was a difficult decision for Otakorp.
Otakorp has also created a spinoff convention in Las Vegas that starts this January 2014, so if that's closer to you it may be worth a look as well. Just keep in mind it'll be going through some first con pains, but I have confidence in this crew considering how well they've done with their first baby. Anyway, I had an amazing time at my second Otakon and look forward to doing it all again next year. There's a reason why this con has been so successful and made to the 20 year mark, and I hope you will join us out there next time, because despite everything else I mentioned, it's the people and the friends you meet that really make it great!