The last couple of years, Otakon has been quite overwhelming for me. Perhaps the cause is my further immersion in fandom each year. I feel pulled in a million different directions at such a huge gathering; never feeling as though I’ve done enough of the provided events. Otakon 2011 compounded that feeling which speaks to the quality and quantity of its guests, panels, premieres, fundraising, and all the other programing that went on over the weekend. Heck, we even witnessed the birth of meme. On top of all that, a myriad of stellar companions from all over the world were in attendance.
This year Otakon felt like a humongous buffet. There was more on the table than any one person could eat so you had to take what you could and then swap experiences with other people at the party to get a more complete picture of the event. Therefore I was almost always doing something and running into someone I knew. At the same time, I also felt a bit lonely despite being constantly surrounded by people as I did go to some of the more under-attended events. I had many a short conversation with a wide variety of people, but I can’t say I spoke to most people for any extended amount of time; being too tired to go to any parties did not help that matter. I swear next year I will make time to hang out! If nothing else I might have had a very unusual but enjoyable Otakon as compared to most of the other people I knew. But like Narutaki, whenever I did one activity I felt like I mas missing out on two other events. I was rarely at a loss of what to do, it was more prioritizing what I wanted to do most. And in the end that is usually the main appeal of a convention like Otakon.
The layout for the convention this year was virtually identical to 2010, which isn’t a bad thing. In general, there seems to be enough space with this floor plan to provide for the current attendance numbers. And it seems, finally, many more fans discovered the Hilton was part of the convention, too. So, while more than 31,000 people showed up, they were a bit more spread out. The addition of roped in lines was a big improvement over just tape on the floor; this was very helpful in the autograph area. Major props have to be given for Otakon actually opening their doors at 8:30AM, it was supposed to happen in previous years to very little success. It really happened this time around though as I saw a lot of people milling about as we walked to our 9AM panel on Friday. The foul up that stood out was Press Ops being located in the Sheraton instead of the Hilton, this was a last-minute change that I know Otakon was not happy with either. I normally stop by a few times a day, but this time around I, and many others, rarely visited. The “cheat sheet” part of the pocket guide listing the times for areas and where they were was an incredibly helpful addition.
Easily the smartest move the convention made was to open the doors at 8:30AM but have panels start at 9AM. This meant that all the panels were well attended and started on time. Plus they gave panelists a pass to register and get in early so they could easily setup their panels without waiting in line 3-hours before the con starts which was also a great idea. I also enjoyed the fact that they had snacks in the panelist room. They usually had either popcorn, cookies, or brownies and coffee or other various drinks. I stopped in two or three times during the weekend for a quick little snack that was greatly appreciated. It was hardly necessary but is not a huge expense and it makes you feel appreciated for your hard work. The second best move they made was using Guidebook for the convention app. I only had a iPod Touch but the ability to update the schedule electronically in the morning despite not having constant net access was amazing. The guidebook app could be improved but overall it was amazingly helpful and well designed.
It seemed obvious from Friday morning that the convention had gained a higher attendance than previous years. Events were filled more often than not, as the aforementioned 9AM panel was filled up, but also even when popular things were pitted against one another you were almost assured a decent turn out. The exception being, once again, some of the incredible Japanese guests. Happily, Makoto Shinkai had great turn outs for his film and autograph session though less so for the Q&As. The fans themselves were the usual suspects pulling from a wide variety of life. The more fans I get to know, the more robust the community feels. But a packed house in nearly 100 degree weather presents the problems one might expect. AC was finicky on Friday in the BCC, a place that is normally so cold I’m wearing a jacket became humid and hot but things seem to be working better on Saturday and Sunday. I saw an ambulance once each day going to the con, but since I heard of no major incidents I attributed them to dehydration/exhaustion. Luckily no one decided to pull the fire alarm again! The Sharp Street hallway continues to be the biggest bottle neck, but unlike previous years there were no “no stopping/photos” signs to be seen or traffic lines. I have no idea why this was done away with, it didn’t eliminate the problem but it helped at least a little. As for lines, for the most part while sometimes unwieldy, never prevented me from getting into an event and at most needing an hour before to make sure; but I also didn’t attend things like the masquerade, rave, 18+ panels, etc. Thanks to Ani-Gamers “Otaku Bingo,” the little tics and annoyance at conventions became a game that eased the tension a bit of meme shouting and the like.
I did notice the horrible meme shouting was far less than it was in the past two years. It actually took me a decent amount of time to get Marco and Polo on my Otaku Bingo sheet and I only heard one or two buttscratchers the whole weekend. I did not even see one glomp or free hugs sign. It might be because I was staying away from the problem areas but I think everyone was a bit more well-behaved. I know people complained about lines but they were never much of a problem for me and I never used my press badge privileges once. I even got into all the 18+ panels I wanted to. When I tried to get into the “Let’s Play Ero-ge!” panel there was a big mess where three lines melted into each other causing quite a bit of confusion but eventually staff members came along and cleaned up. Despite being on the wrong line for a half an hour, I still got in. My biggest bit of advice would be to have Panel 1 and Panel 2 line up in different hallways as they were the only two rooms that consistently had people get into each other’s lines. But I think the talk of pre-line lines on the forum is madness that proves people are just plain obsessed with forming lines when even when they are utterly unnecessary.
With more and more going on, I seem to spend less and less time in the dealer’s room and artist alley (though I did pick up some pins in each). But there were very good reasons, beyond blowing all your money on merchandise, to at least stop in to each. Artist Alley hosted a very special display of original cells, sketches, and a few pieces of merchandise from the landmark film Akira. Upon talking to the man at the table, came to find out this traveling exhibit is his personal collection. It was an impressive sight considering he had key frames. Sadly, the exhibit seemed thrown to the side at the convention as most of us stumbled upon it by sheer chance. In the dealer’s room, you had a chance to pick up your Otakon merchandise along side special Japan relief unique wares from keychains to t-shirts to an exclusive Maho Shojo Madoka Magica poster. This was a great way to show support and I was pleased to see a huge line for the booth throughout the convention. This, along with a charity auction on Sunday and the relief ribbons you could purchase with your badge, brought in more than $65,000 in funds.
Sadly I was far too poor to do any major browsing in the dealer’s room or artist alley. So I mostly just said hello to Ed Chavez and the Vertical Booth and got my free Nico Nico t-shirt. The prospect of the Nagi and Hayate Nendoroid tempted me but my bank account would not allow it. Also that Saber picture in the charity auction was amazing but I knew it would be far too rich for my blood. (If anyone wants to donate it to me I would very much appreciate it. I swear I will give it a good home. But somehow I don’t see that happening. ) I did spend some money on good food which was thankfully in abundance. The Abbey Burger Bistro was an amazing Thursday night dinner. Due to one wayward lamb I did not get to the restaurant for a while but the kangaroo burger that awaited me made it all worthwhile. If I had more cash on me I would have tried one of their delicious shakes. The place was small but the food was amazing. They only recently opened up a Jimmy John’s and a Potbelly Sandwich Shop in the area but they were both great places to eat for good but quick food. The added selection was greatly appreciated but nothing beats have a good deal of healthy snacks along to keep to you energized.
If there was one major issue it would be some scheduling decisions like Japanese guests up against one another; genre panels like mecha all mashed into the same time slot; or having random panels back to back while others had hour breaks in between. But as has been said, if my biggest problem is deciding between events then they are doing something right. I never had to look for something to do at Otakon. Though one wonders how they can expand the programming with all the space of the BCC filled, perhaps another floor of the Hilton can be utilized or less video rooms. I was glad to be apart of the programing and felt like more of a fan this year than press. I saw more than my fair share of friends this year too, as the convention continues to grow I hope that only increases. Otakon staff, guests, and attendees, I commend you for another great year.
Overall there are always problems at cons. While no one was rude to me I did see several staff members be rude to people around me. But as someone who has worked in customer service most of my life I can tell you that it is just the effect of an insanely busy day. Also some of the schedule conflicts seemed to be oddly chosen because they broke up small fandoms as well as large fandoms. All the mecha content directly against each other seems foolish. Mecha fans may be vocal but they are hardly numerous. Also having Maruyama and Ishiguro against the Shinkai movie made me made a hard choice that I don’t think needed to be made. But other than one bit of tragedy I can’t really complain about my trip. The bus ride was fairly comfortable and we did not have our normal insane wait for the Megabus home. I saw all the guests I wanted to, found some amazing panels, and got to see friends from all over the world. Unless some major tragedy comes down the pike I can’t see any reason for me not to go next year. It truly is the best East coast anime convention you can attend.