Otakon 2013: General Impressions

hisui_icon_4040 UFO enthusiasts call the discrepancy between how much time an abductee remembers being gone and how long there were unable to be found missing time. While I am fairly certain no gray aliens or space brothers were involved with Otakon 2013 (THAT I KNOW OF) I do feel like I’m not exactly sure were all my time went. I was always doing something at Otakon. Always going somewhere. Always listening to someone. From when I woke up until I went to be there was no rest for the wicked. But my memories seem like a constant blur.

I felt like the weekend passed without me doing half the things I wanted to. I usually feel like I get a lot done despite missing some things I really wanted to do at Otakon. But there was SO MUCH to do this year I felt like I barely scratched the surface of what I could have done. I have never previously so acutely felt like I missed more content that I wanted to see as opposed to what I did see.

This is hardly a bad thing. It is just proof that Otakon went all out for their 20th anniversary. If you like panels there was always one to tickle your interest. If you like Japanese guests there were always at least two per day to go and see. If you like American guests you had quite a few to choose from. If you like music Saturday and Sunday gave you some blockbuster performances. And even if all of that was not catching your fancy there was a constant stream of cosplay to take in if you just like people watching.

My sense of lost time might also have partially to do with the fact that I had a 3DS with me this year. Anytime I was just sitting down or waiting for something to start I would bust it out. I would have 10 street passes anytime I was in a room with more than 10 people in it. So even when I was waiting I was doing something. So those little breaks in my head were gone. Those pauses even if minor and mostly useless do change the sense of pace. It is the difference between listening to a single hour overture as opposed to ten individual pieces of music that are 6 minutes long. The content may be the same but the pauses change how you absorb the music.

To use an Attack on Titan reference, since it is the cat’s pajamas this year: If a normal Otakon is a 15 Meter Class titan than this year was the Colossal Titan and it was smashing the wall of your time into itty bitty pieces in the best possible way.

narutaki_icon_4040 Otakon is a gem among conventions because above any other it really feels like they go above and beyond for fans, the fans come first. I can’t remember how many Otakons I have been to tell you the truth, it is more than five and less than ten. No matter what the number is, it has become a vacation home of sorts. I am now familiar with the area, the people who will attend, how to get around the convention, and even some of the staff. (This makes me keenly feel the news about Otakon moving to Washington D.C.) But at the same time every year Otakon is able to delight and surprise me!

Otakon celebrated 20 years with a major blowout in an event that combined beloved guests with new panels.

We were even treated to more exclusive coverage this year with an interview with Mr. Tachikawa and Mr. Suwa, a roundtable with Mr. Adachi and Mr. Kawakami, and a press conference with Mr. Watanabe. To top if all off, we nabbed one (though only one, which we flipped a coin for) of the coveted Yoko Kanno concert tickets as well.

It was a beautiful ride.

hisui_icon_4040 Otakon always goes out of its way to see if it can top the previous year. Most conventions do that naturally. But you could feel an extra level of effort this year. Any growing convention is going to try to get new guests, panels, events while simultaneous trying to get what was popular last year to come back again in an even more refined form. That said this year more than any other seemed to be reflecting on the past as much as marching towards the future.

There was a distinct effort to look at where Otakon was as much as were it will be. They got a slew of new guests but made a distinct effort to get some old but still very popular guests. Repeat guests like Peter S. Beagle and Masao Maruyama were no strangers to the convention but the return of Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno was distinctly a cause for celebration. At the same time people like Tetsuya Kawakami and Yuzuru Tachikawa were new additions to the line up. They even got the team behind Mystery Anime Theater 3000 to come out or retirement for one year for one last job.

The pinnacle of this nostalgia was the Otakon museum that had a collection of con paraphernalia from the last 20 years of Otakon alongside stats sheets that show how the convention has grown.  I would like to state that going to the museum made me realize one thing. There was a time in anime fandom when you could not throw a rock in a convention without hitting something with either Slayers or a Kenichi Sonoda character design on it (triple points if it is Lina Inverse drawn in Kenichi Sonoda’s style).

How times have changed.

narutaki_icon_4040 The museum was a real treat, and if it weren’t mostly made up from one guy’s personal collection, I’d say it should be there every year. It was especially fun seeing all the previous badge art. Also each year listed the average temperature for the weekend, if I remember correctly one Otakon averaged at mere 81 degrees. I would like that to happen again though this year was not too bad.

If you looked around at staff, you may have seen some Otakon 20 Years buttons which were nowhere to be found for sale. Serious sad face from me. I can see having special things for staff only but why not create some other such button to be sold at the Otakon merchandise booth? I didn’t end up buying any convention merchandise.

hisui_icon_4040 I am slightly amused/disturbed how easy it was to throw me off my game by changing the panel layout. The panel rooms on both ends on the extreme ends of the Hilton and BCC were mostly still the same but the video rooms , workshop rooms, and panel room in the center moved around enough that I occasionally had to check my map to make sure I was going to the right place. I’m not sure how much it helped traffic but it did spread out location of the rooms so there was no just a badlands of no panels rooms in between the Hilton and the BCC. But I eventually adjusted by mid Saturday.

narutaki_icon_4040 They changed up the layout for a few panel and video rooms this year which I thought was a successful.

Signage saw very little improvement this year and thus it caused all kinds of added confusion. Whether it was getting around, figuring out where lines were and what they were for, or major changes, the main way people were finding things out from what I could tell was word of mouth. That is just unacceptable when it comes to an event that attracts upwards of 30,000 people.

This was especially true in regards to Yoko Kanno anything. There should have been huge signs at registration and the information booths about what was going on with autograph tickets and concert tickets each day.

I’d really like to see street signs at corners, at escalators, and at high traffic areas which point to what rooms are which way. Maps in the schedule are simply not enough. Cardboard signs seems like a very inexpensive thing to create which would help new attendees as well as contribute to better traffic flow overall. I was glad to see the addition of “End of the Line” signs but adding to those which panel room and/or event the lines is for would help immensely. Also it would be great if they could find a way to elevate signs because once the hordes enter the halls it is very difficult to see anything.

Please do not assume everyone has a smart phone, I certainly don’t own one.

Props should be noted for the pocket schedule because it was the best it has ever been. The color on the maps as well as the directory was a good call.

hisui_icon_4040 It is funny. I never have that much of a problem with crowding. I definitely ran into bottlenecks, lines, and crowds but overall I never had that much trouble getting anywhere. But considering the number of horror stories I heard I think it just proves that I like to things that are not popular.

Everyday by the time I was ready to roll I got into the convention without any problems. I waltzed into Mystery Anime Theater 3000 and the Yoko Kanno concert overflow room without any problems. I never really waited on a line to get into anything and never got turned away from an event. I only got shut out of one thing and it was my damn fault. The biggest problem I had was trying to get to my hotel before a press interview. I tried to leave through the front entrance and had to go over the sky bridge instead. I had more problems getting around at AnimeNEXT in that regard. And I never even used my Press badge to get any of that done.

But as far as I can tell that must just have meant that a team of invisible pixies moving Heaven and Earth to make this so (possibly killing whole swaths of people in the process … but they were probably jerks so it does not matter.) Everyone else I know got stuck in  a crazy bottle neck on one of the bridges. I know several people who simply could not move when human traffic at the BCC made it so people were trapped there for 15 minutes or more.

Why does it always seem I live a charmed existence only for matters that are completely and utterly useless?

narutaki_icon_4040 It was definitely clear that more people showed up to Otakon this year. And the numbers confirm it with more than 34,000 memberships which doesn’t include everyone with a comped badge nor staff.

However, the scheduling of events against each other helped overall for what I experienced. The best example was Saturday night when the masquerade and the dance were both in full swing, I was easily able to navigate the indoor fountain space where cosplay groups meet-up. Usually I never even bother to go through this area as it is the most clear example of a sea of people. Artist Alley remained navigable even during most of Saturday. I can’t speak to the Dealer’s Room (as I only popped in for a moment) nor the games area.

The biggest problem from a traffic point of view was the doorway connecting the BCC and the Hilton. The hall itself is wide enough but then it becomes half the size where the stairs are. Plus, there is only one set of said stairs so it has two-way traffic creating an inevitable bottleneck in both directions. Sometimes I could see this through the glass and would turn around to go outside in order to avoid it.

Speaking of going outside, this year saw a lot more head scratching moments when it came to entering and exiting the convention. Seemingly at random some doorways would change to be either entrance or exit only. I noticed this most at the doors near the top of the stairs which led to Artist Alley. These particular doors are an anomaly because they lead outside where you cross a small street and then reenter the convention. More than once I found myself locked out of the connecting doors. Upon turning around to go back the way I came, I was suddenly confronted with an exit only order. So I had to trek around the building then back to Pratt or Charles Street in order to get back in the convention. I am sure the staff had a reason for this but no outside could discern its logic.

Considering that the space in the BCC and Hilton won’t be getting bigger, I am a little terrified for what the next couple of years will bring in terms of crowding and organization.

hisui_icon_4040 I felt a little underwhelmed when I saw the initial panel line up. I can’t exactly say WHY I felt like that. But when push came to shove I usually had something I wanted to go to so it all worked itself out nicely in the end. I sadly was only able to go to one of the female characters panels but it was the one about Utena so I made sure I hit the highest priority target. Other than that I think I got in a good mixture of guest panels, events, concerts, and fan panels. Put I will get into all of that when I talk about panels and guests.

I did not even go to anything that was a real stinker. That is a nice accomplishment all on its own.

I will say that I was super sad that a mixture of me getting older and the fact that I have a horrible schedule at work, that makes me have to get up at 4:30 in the morning everyday, meant that I tended to turn in early every night of the convention. I really missed going to the silly late night panels. A different Alain would have gone to the Deadman Wonderland panel and then stumbled back to the hotel at 3:30 in the morning because I was chatting with people after everything wrapped up.

Like I needed another reason to utterly hate my current real life schedule.

My only big complaint about the schedule was the fact that the Maruyama Q&A, the Anime Mirai panel, and the Shinichiro Watanabe singing were all at the same time. I understand that Otakon tries to split the crowds and ease traffic by scheduling similar events against each but this is ridiculous. There is no way that there was SO MUCH demand for either panel to justify splitting up the interest in either Japanese guest panel. Thankfully I was able to see the Maruyama & MAPPA panel on Saturday but it just seemed like a poor choice. Japanese guest panels often feel empty enough as it is. There is no reason for the schedule to make it worse.

I will admit this was the second time I missed seeing what the Maid Cafe was all about. When I got into line on Friday morning they cut off entrance into the room right where I was. But that was my fault. Had I left for the cafe when I originally planned to I could have gotten in but I decided to go with Kate to the press briefing and I stayed longer than I should have. Really only one of us need to go. If I simply stuck to my original plan I could have gotten in easily.

I suppose that area will stay a mystery for another year.

narutaki_icon_4040 The sheer amount of things to do this year made for an impressive and exhaustive weekend. While there was always two or three things to do at any given hour, I also felt like I did not attend as many events as previous years. This may be because rarely do I spend so much time at concerts during Otakon. I enjoy going but usually end up only seeing one or maybe two over the weekend, this Otakon supplied us with four performances which added up to five hours of concert time and that doesn’t even include the wait for Sunday’s event!

Even after all these year’s I’ve also never attended a workshop, try as I might, and I haven’t made it to the Maid Cafe as of yet either.

I did however attend my first official cosplay photoshoot. Over the Otakon weekend, I try to pick one series to concentrate on and seek out cosplayers of. This time I chose Kuroko’s Basketball. At first I wasn’t having much luck but with the help of friends and a little luck I found out about a meet-up.

And yet another new experience, which I’ll talk more about in my Artist Alley post, was helping out behind the table for KAWAIIKOCHAN!! GAMING NO KORNER.

hisui_icon_4040 There is one advantage to being poor. It makes resisting the temptation of the Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley very easy for me. While I’m sure Kate will have much more to say about those areas I saw lots of nice things but mostly waltz through those areas without too much pain. I think I have just trained by brain to ignore such temptations. I ALMOST picked up a Phantasmoon figure in the dealer’s room because it was not too expensive and fairly plentiful. But in the end it was just the ditzy blond vampire so she was not that hard to pass over. I might not have has the same iron will power with a Mysterious Heroine X figure.

The most common cosplay was probably Attack on Titian. But considering how much everyone talks about that series that is not too surprising. I did notice there was not any Gatchaman Crowds cosplay but I suppose that series is a little too new for that. Then again I saw quite a bit of Danganronpa and even if the games are older the anime itself is not. I did notice the amount of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Homestuck was in decline. They were still present but not in the numbers I saw last year. I guess we will have to wait for a new non-anime series to be really prominent so everyone can be really mad about that.

Of course there was not enough Type-Moon copslay. Sadly since Fate/Zero ended there was a distinct drop off. I still was some Sabers, Archers, Rins, and the occasional Gilgamesh but everyone else was nowhere to be found. But there was at least one Mysterious Heroine X so it was all OK. (Also not having a ton of Heroine Sanctuary Joan of Arc might be for the best.)

hisui_icon_4040 I’m fairly certain that Otakon 2013 will be the high water mark for Otakon for a few years to come. I’m sure that 2104 will have some genius guests, electrifying bands, outstanding panels, innovative events, and special treats you will not get at any other convention that year. They might even be able to get a guest like Kinoko Nasu, Kenjiro Hata, or Rumiko Takahashi that would make 2014 a little more special for me personally. But I don’t think they could easily get a line up next year that would be so powerful for so many people at once. This year was special and will not be easily forgotten.

narutaki_icon_4040 Otakon is surely proud of what they accomplished this year, as they should be. If you have never been to an Otakon, I promise you won’t be disappointed. The only problem is you’ll want to come every year thereafter. I hope they continue to improve the use of this space in Baltimore despite the looming move.

Congratulations Otakon, after 20 years you’re still the best.

More Otakon 2013 posts:

Otakon 2013: Tweets
Otakon 2013: Our 6 Favorite Announcements
Otakon 2013: Shinichiro Watanabe
Otakon 2013: Artist Alley
All Points Bulletin: Leaving Baltimore, Heading To Las Vegas
Otakon 2013: 10-minutes with Yuzuru Tachikawa and Michihiko Suwa
Otakon 2013: Concerts
Otakon 2013: Guests
Otakon 2013: Shingo Adachi and Tetsuya Kawakami
Otakon 2013: Fan Panels
All Points Bulletin: The Gamification of Otakon
The Speakeasy #044: Baltimore Zoo, Otakon 2013

6 thoughts on “Otakon 2013: General Impressions

  1. Manga Therapy says:

    It was my first time there after all these years of being an anime fan. But better late than never.

    One big problem was how Otakon handled the Oreimo S2 world premieres. Ugggh. Other than that, it was a lot of fun. I might definitely make a comeback!

  2. George J. Horvath (@LandofObscusion) says:

    I completely agree that Otakon 20 will definitely go down as a true high mark for the con. It was a landmark anniversary, one that only AX can match, & Otakorp truly went above & beyond to make sure that there was truly something for everyone.

    Great guests, great panels, cool premieres (even if I didn’t see any of them myself), and even if the BCC is getting too small for the con now it didn’t detract from how awesome Otakon 20 was.

    • reversethieves says:

      2014 might be able to get a guest, or premiere, or events that could still rock your socks off but this year was just universally acclaimed. This year rocked EVERYONE’S socks off.

      But I suppose that is now you go all out for a big anniversary. I am curious what they will do for year 21.

      – Alain

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