Otakon is the largest anime convention, if not in the United States, then certainly on the East Coast, and I can remember dreaming of attending this convention when I was in high school. Some indeterminate number of years later, I finally live close enough to attend, so as a result, my expectations for this convention were perhaps not particularly realistic. Admittedly, my trip to Otakon was compressed into a single Saturday due to various factors, but I still walked up to the Baltimore Convention Center with a spring in my step and my head held high.
Otakon: the Good: The convention is pretty solidly organized, despite being condensed into a single convention center. The lines flow smoothly, and while few of the panels interested me, there seemed to be a fairly wide variety of them, ranging from martial arts demonstrations to anime-style makeup tutorials.
There was even a panel on Japanese pastry and sweets, which I missed because I had followed instructions to move away from the queuing area and failed to notice the passage of time due to becoming transfixed by several amazing Pokemon costumes.
Despite the short-lived disappointment of missing the Japanese sweets panels, I can say that I was amazed by the spirit of the convention. While waiting in line for the panel I missed, a rather enthusiastic gentleman dressed as a Dovahkiin wandered up to myself and my companions to regale us with tales of his many adventures in the world of Skyrim and begged us to offer him some manner of magic to send him home, at which point a cosplayer from a fairly late series of Pokemon offered him a badge as she wandered down the hall toward the dealers’ room. In fact, my friend in the fur lined boots was not the only bit of spontaneous performance that I saw that day as impromptu dance groups began to coalesce out of the milling crowds on a lower level of the convention center right as I nipped into a viewing of Usagi Drop, which is quite the charming anime for those so inclined.
The level of cosplay at Otakon ranged from the incredibly complex and beautiful’I saw a beautifully rendered Shiva Sisters cosplay’to the incredibly subtle’a Loki in scarf cosplayer. Then, the cosplay ranged to the ridiculously funny, in this case both a ‘Halo Kitty’ group and a post-apocalyptic Teletubby Warrior Band. In fact, that level of energy and humor seemed to characterize the con.
Otakon: the Bad: As far as complaints go, I have few. The press accommodations were courteously run and professional. The information I received was useful and well-organized, and I loved that the very well-stocked dealers’ room featured street names and numbers so that shoppers could return to certain booths to make purchases. The same is true of artists’ alley, where I had the fantastic opportunity to meet the charming authoress of ‘Firefly Cross’ and ‘Twisted Mirrors.’ both of which kept me entertained while I studied for the Bar exam.
However, despite these fairly innovative ideas, Otakon is fairly regressive in that day passes are not available, meaning that even the Saturday-only congoer has to pay the full weekend rate ($85 at the door the day of the con). Additionally, while there were a number of interesting panels, the focus of the activity did not seem to be going to panels as I routinely overheard people observing that ‘there was nothing going on’ or ‘nothing to do’ as I wandered around the convention center. While being fairly significant, neither of these gripes is the underlying reason for my general sense of dissatisfaction with the con experience.
If anything, the real problem with Otakon is that I went into the convention hoping to recapture a little bit of that high school self that loved anime and spouted Japanese phrases as I attempted to teach myself the language by watching cartoons. Fortunately or not, I seem to have grown out of that just a little over time, which is not to say that I did not find a lot to love about Otakon, but that my personal experience with the convention was not the experience I had hoped to have. Maybe next year, Otakon. Maybe next year, when I have a better idea of what awaits me behind those convention center doors.