Otakon 2012: General ImpressionsAugust 1, 2012
Another Otakon and another year where I was overwhelmed with all the convention had to offer. From lovely guests to great friends the entire weekend was a big hit! As per usual I spent a lot of time visiting fan-panels and Japanese guest Q&As. As an added bonus I also ended up in the autograph lines more than I normally do. I spent some time just walking the convention taking pictures and chatting.
The atmosphere of a con is really unique. After four days of sensory overload the real world looks a little funny the week after a con.
After a little snaffu with getting my badge I realized I have been going to Otakon since 2006. (By the way that is when they had Ayako Kawasumi so it was an excellent time to start coming.) Since then I have attended almost every year except for 2008 due to some poor timing and scheduling. But I have always been attracted to the amount of things to do every year. Otakon always has a great lineup of Japanese guests and some of the best panels around. I always have something to do. In fact I wanted to check out the game room, visit the new maid cafe, see concerts, or take in about a half a dozen other events but never was able to do any of those things. Time, food, sleepiness, and the need to socialize meant that sacrifices had to be made. I never understand how people have nothing to do at Otakon.
The most unusual part of Otakon is it is less like a tropical vacation where you spend your time mostly relaxing on the beach a more like hiking adventure where you come back more tired than when you left. It is almost a bit of a test of endurance. But along with the physical and mental exhaustion comes a feeling of your spirits being renewed. You might be spent but in return you are given a pleasant glow from that effort. I tend to run through Otakon at a fairly hectic pace as I am going to panels, seeing guests, and a million other things almost constantly and usually fairly late into the night. So I often come back a bit more worn than most. Heck I felt sort of like a zombie on Sunday. But I would not have it any other way.
As always we all arrived on Thursday. Registration had a short line at 9:30PM but nothing to complain about since the sun was already down. It was great that they were open all the way to 11PM this year. Grabbing a badge as well as checking in with panel ops was painless for me. Press checking closed pretty early on Thursday but getting things on Friday morning was no problem either.
Amazingly, for the first year ever, Otakon doors were open well before 9AM on Friday! Excellent change!
I saw improved signage this year, but it still has a long way to go. It was great seeing boards letting you know what areas of the con were in the Hilton, and overall the Hilton side seemed much busier (ie. people knew it existed finally). This could be utilized in the BCC as well noting “this way to …” and the like. Considering what a big place the BCC is, this would probably help new attendees because the maps are only so-so. Plus, there is usually at least four different ways to get to any place making it rather unclear if you aren’t familiar with the con center. Speaking of the map, how about giant maps in a few key locations of the con? In fact, bigger signs all around would be better. The Panel room #’s are clearly visible but the list of panels in the room could definitely be enlarged for example.
Lines also desperately need signage. Everyone one I know was constantly asking random people “what is this line for?” or some variation just to make sure they were in the right place. This was especially a problem where multiple panel rooms were close together so suddenly lines were a jumbled mass. Easy end of the line sign fix: small dry erase boards. The boards can be used over and over to say what the line is for and the panel room #. Actual line control seemed fine throughout the weekend, though to be honest I almost never had to stand in line except for autographs which was wonderful!
This is a simple message to anyone who actually reads this blog: WAIT UNTIL SUNDOWN TO GET YOUR BADGE ON THURSDAY! If you have pre-registered for the con and line up for your badge in the blazing sun at 11AM on Thursday then you really can’t complain about having to wait several hours to get your badge. Otakon even sent out several messages requesting that people not line up too early as registration did not start until 3:30PM. While I had a pass to skip the line because I was a panelist several people in our group had to wait in line like everyone else. We all arrived just in time for registration to begin but instead of waiting in line we all settled into our hotel, watched some TV, and then had a leisurely dinner. We were all able to come back after sunset and everyone got their badges in under a half an hour. You only have to swelter in the sun if you want to.
I know some people had to wait in the sun on the pre-register line on Friday and that was mainly unavoidably unpleasant if they wanted to get in as soon as possible. But as far as I can tell Otakon did everything they could to make things as painless as possible. They let in people early and then did not start panels until 10 on Friday to give everyone as much time as possible to register and get to whatever they were looking to start the convention with. For everyone who complained on the forums I think at least 60% of them were waiting for no good reason and only have themselves to blame for their discomfort. We often complain that too often it seems like cons can’t or won’t listen to feedback but this time they clearly listened to what everyone has been saying and did everything conceivable to mitigate the problems with badges and getting into the convention. Beyond mailing out badges (which Otakon seems loath to do) there was nothing else they could do to make things easier.
The autograph area was handled really well and was much improved from previous years. It didn’t get cluttered up with people going to and from the dealer’s room and people weren’t allowed in the area unless you were getting in a line which helped with confusion and congestion. I got three autographs this year and that may be the most I ever have! I did hit a snag on Sunday for Masao Maruyama’s signing which the staff was confused about and eventually told all of us waiting for the 10:30AM session that it had been moved to 12PM. However, we were given priority tickets so there was not too much of a problem. Though I did see the time wasn’t on updated on the autograph timetable sign.
In general, I felt the crowds were not overwhelming this year. Granted maybe at this point I know how to avoid the high traffic areas at certain times of day. But there were times when the bridge between the Hilton and BCC got backed up and was even shut down for a short period of time on Saturday.
Also despite the attendance numbers being over 30,000 for the weekend, I found the con to be a relatively clean environment. Women’s restrooms were tidy all the times I visited them and there wasn’t noticeable garbage littering the floor in areas either. Great job staff and attendees, it made for a much more pleasant experience!
Did I miss the massive memo that everyone got to be more mature this year at Otakon? I’m not complaining. I just want to buy a meal for the genius/saint that was able to stop all the shout memes. There was no noticeable amount of Marco Polo, Buttscratcher, or Ice Cold Water being screamed in your ear every ten feet. I did hear one of two memes on occasion. The call of “What time is it?” would pop up from time to time but I could easily go an hour or two without hearing it. Con kids were still rowdy and out in mass but when they are not constantly grinding the same joke at the top of their lungs like the world most obnoxious cicada they are more cheekily amusing than a pestilence that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth.
I only went to the Dealer’s Room for 30 minutes on Friday afternoon and that was mostly to donate to the Japan Earthquake Relief fund. I’m not sure if Otakon has that in the dealer’s room because they HAVE to but I’d really like to see the Otakon merchandise and charity stuff in its own area divorced from dealer’s section of the convention even if it was just right outside of it in the hall between dealer’s and artist alley.
I still don’t feel Otakon is using their space as effectively as they could. I found both the game room and the Artist Alley had too much wasted space. I know it is tough getting a table in Artist Alley so there is no way they are lacking for people yet it was too spread out. Some tables on the left side were at odd angles; the art show/auction section takes up more space than necessary; and the food so close to art seems less than ideal. As for the game room, it is huge so either fill it up or move it else where. Maybe the Artist Alley and game room should switch areas? That would also allow the game room to have food right inside.
I assume that the put the game section in the larger room because the game room at any convention is infamous for being a dank and odorous dungeon of putrescine. The closer together to put the game consoles the stronger the gamer funk gets. If you don’t give the DDR machine its own area it quickly becomes a Bio-safety level-3 hazard. I don’t disagree that the rooms would be better served by being switched. A larger Artist Alley is far more interesting to me than an underutilized game room but I understand why they have the rooms they way they are.
Spacing issues also were present with panel rooms but knowing what will be popular is an art form. Also despite liking the time gaps between panels for set-up, there was more downtime than necessary throughout all the days. Both panel 3 (the largest) and panel 7 (the smallest) had large gaps in their programing over the weekend. And more than 15-minutes between panels doesn’t seem necessary except on rare occasion. After our panel ended at 6:30PM, there was nothing in the room until 8PM. Considering how difficult it is to be a panelist at Otakon and how many panels they turn down, there seems to be more than enough to fill in these lapses.
Programing itself was good as usual. I took a break from panels Saturday afternoon/evening but that was of my own accord and not because there was nothing of interest.
There was one thing I really missed this year, big premieres of anime. Last year was especially amazing for watching anime movies so I really had my hopes up for this year, too.
I’d like to see 18+ panels starting a little earlier, 9 or 10PM in some rooms. Also it was nice to see at least one non-18+ panel option late at night so maybe a few more would be a good idea.
I know some people had a problem with the breaks between panels. I loved them. They let most panels start on time and gave everyone time to pack and unpack with a minimum of fuss. We were able to patiently wait for people to pack up and talk to people interested in their panel and then set up ourselves without any major worries. It prevents the standard mad rush to set things ready that you often get. I was also able to move from panel to panel and not have to rush to get back and forth from the BCC to the Hilton. I never mind just sitting down for 5- to 10-minutes before a panel. I think some of the half and hour breaks were a bit extreme and could have but cut down to add another few panels. But overall I like the breaks. I just wish they were SLIGHTLY more efficient. I think they need minor tweaks more than major changes.
I spent a good portion of time wandering the halls on Saturday as I mentioned before. I enjoyed the variety of cosplay this year and was super surprised to see so many superhero costumes running around. And many of the costumes were not just characters from the recent slew of movies either. Bravo anime fans for checking out American comics!
I also made it my unofficial mission to photograph any Tsuritama cosplay I came across. I was hoping to see it but didn’t really expect as much as I got! It was a fun side project and I was really glad to see so much love for the series.
I did not see any particular cosplay that dominated the convention this year. There was a good deal of Homestuck and Legend of Korra but it did not dominate the convention like it did at AnimeNEXT. On the other hand I did not see any anime that really dominated to fill that vacuum. While they were definitely present I did not see anywhere near as much Madoka cosplay as I expected. With Gen Urobuchi at the con I expected to see a ton of Madoka and Fate/Zero cosplay. They were prevalent but no more than any of decently popular series. I also had the odd realization that if you cosplayed Gemini Sunrise people would just assume that you were poorly doing Applejack from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Speaking of Fate/Zero I did see some nice Type-Moon cosplay. Everyone was nice enough to snap a shot of any Type-Moon cosplayed they could recognize. I did see the prerequisite number of Sabers of all flavors which are always appreciated. There was even at least one Red Saber who is a bit more uncommon than the rest. The next most common character was probably Fate/Zero Rider but there was an amazing Fate/Zero Assassin as well. I was shocked to see a Fate/Apocrypha version of Joan of Arc, an amazing Gilgamesh and Enkidu duo from Fate/Strange Fake, and a Fate/Prototype Archer. All of those are fairly obscure characters but I was glad to see them. I just want to state that I would like to see more Fate/Extra Caster as she seems a good costume to make and one I would like to see more of.
The fans are what make Otakon a blast and I like that Otakon remains a fan-run and fan-focused convention.
I had amazing time! In fact, this year made me think that I’d like to always attend Otakon. Forever.
The last thing to mention was the heat. It was incredibly hot this year with Thursday starting in the middle of 100+ degree weather. Thankfully a deluge of rain also hit that night which cooled things off a bit but sadly made things a bit muggier as well. I have learned to deal with such weather living in a bit of a sweat box of an apartment but that did not make it a more pleasant to walk around. I do have to wonder if some of the congestion in the hallways was due to the fact that people were avoiding taking outside routes at all costs to avoid the cruel sun in his jealous sky. It seems that Otakon 2013 has been moved back to August next year so hopefully we will get some slightly cooler weather next year.
Despite small snafus, minor complaints, and petty annoyances I still had the wonderful time I usually have at any Otakon. I was recently talking to Carl Li about his trip to Anime Expo. It still seems that while Expo has a distinctly easier time getting great Japanese guests I would say Otakon holds its own pretty well. And Otakon always has a fun atmosphere as opposed to the much more stiffly corporate feeling of Expo. And at least this year Otakon did not have any Homestuck or My Little Pony panels. And that is always one it will have up on Expo.
Ruminating on what Narutaki said I did have a conversation with Walter Amos about he might not come back to Otakon next year as most of the people he knows no longer attend and so he might just cut back to Anime Weekend Atlanta. I suppose we all come to a day where we must make allowances as time is a cruel reaper of all things. But in the far foreseeable future I cannot see me having to drop Otakon despite the travel and expense. It has everything I want out of a big con and enough great people to always draw me back.
More Otakon 2012 posts:
Otakon 2012: Tweets
Otakon 2012: Pirated ANNcast
Otakon 2012: 15-minutes with Gen Urobuchi
Otakon 2012: Guests
Otakon 2012: Fan Panels
Crime Scene Investigations #004: Otakon 2012
Otakon 2012: Artist Alley