This year was a milder Otakon than the last. For the last few years, Otakon has been the “fun” combination of oppressive heat and overwhelming humidity. This year, while it was clearly summer, you did not feel like nature was punishing you for stepping outside into the world beyond the air-conditioned buildings. But it was also milder in terms of spectacle. Last year was full of unforgettable events, huge guests, and a lot more glitz and glamor because it was the 20th Otakon. This year did not have that same level of grandeur. At the same time, I can’t say that I ever really had that much down time. I stepped inside the convention center at around 9AM on Friday and Saturday and did not leave until sometime past 10PM except to get dinner. That is a fairly busy schedule. Last year’s might have been the power of 1,000 suns but 800 suns really burns bright enough for most people not to notice a difference.
Last year, it was announced that Otakon will be picking up its toys and leaving Baltimore for Washington D.C. in 2017. This made me wonder what, if any, improvements the staff was prepared to make for its last few years in Baltimore. I’m pleased to say they haven’t been lying down on the job or taking it easy knowing everything is going to change soon. Otakon is sticking by its motto of being a very fan-oriented convention. As with any con in any year, not everything went right but when will it ever?
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The Thursday registration snafu was the Absolute Destiny: Apocalypse.
Actually, it was not that bad. Otakon recovered fairly well by Friday afternoon but by then the damage had been done. Due to a system crash Otakon was unable to process anywhere nears as many per-registered badges as they normally would be able to do. This problem was compounded by the fact that there was an attendance cap which lead to more people per-registering than usual. In turn more people than usual had to miss some of the convention as they waited for their badges on Friday. Sufficed to say that lead to some salty otaku. It seemed like a constant topic of casual conversation. It was not what everyone was talking about but it was hard to go any length of time without hearing someone talk about it even if it was just to sarcastically shout out “Welcome to Linecon!”
Accidents happen. It is a part of life. Anyone who has ever worked with technology (especially anything processing large amounts of material) will know that things are just eventually going to go wrong. One year your system is going to have a hiccup and at that point it is all about how quickly you can recover. Overall I think Otakon did a good job. Two of our traveling companions did not have press badges and were part of the line that did not get processed on Thursday. While they had to leave early by 9 they both were in the building and having a good time. In fact I think most of it has to do with the fact that people are REALLY bad about judging how much they have to wait for anything. There are countless studies on it. One has to wonder how many people complained about being on a line “all day” just to get inside the building and then straggle about.
Also if I NEVER hear the phrase Linecon again it will be too soon. It reminds me of how every scandal lazily becomes *.gate. We get it. No one likes to wait in lines but they have become part of con culture. If that registration debacle had not occurred people would still be yelling it was Linecon because they had to wait to get into the dealer’s room or sit around for an autograph.
According to the staff, on Thursdays usually about half of all pre-registered attendees are processed. This year only a third were finished by the end of Thursday so you can see how much of a desperate situation that put them in. Also nearly everyone pre-registered this year with the attendance cap looming so this may have put extra pressure and extra people in the area on Thursday. As such, many fans were left waiting in line until the middle of the day on Friday.
(However, as a press person, my experience with getting my badge on Thursday was simple and quick.)
If you’re read the forums or went to the feedback session, you may already know that Otakon is finally, finally considering mailing out badges. The fiasco on Thursday probably gave it a push in the direction. But it is really thanks to the new hard plastic badges that were introduced this year, all with unique barcodes, so counterfeiting has become less of an issue.
If they don’t start mailing, then I’d at least suggest having registration open all day on Thursday since nearly everyone is pre-registering at this point.
The crowds inside the convention center seemed more manageable this year, I don’t really know why this was. Most events were held where they have been the last couple of years so it didn’t seem to be a better traffic flow issue.
I don’t know much this effected anyone else but I loved the fact that there was free WiFi in the BCC. As with any free WiFi in a packed area it might have been slightly wonky but something that works 60% of the time is far better than something that works 0% of the time. Since our hotel was so much father away this year I just could not easily pop over there to tweet therefore easily assessable WiFi was a godsend. A s a trade-off for some reason the Hilton no longer has free WiFi in the lobby. C’est la vie. It is a minor perk that I can’t reasonably demand but I will always appreciate it when I see it.
The congestion did not seem as bad this year. I think that the dividers in some of the trouble spot hallways helped. People still stopped to take pictures and occasionally some moron would run down hallway on the wrong side but short of Battle Royale collars that explode when you break the rules there is little you can do to eliminate that behavior. The best you can do is disincentive it as much as possible. The sky bridge between the Hilton and the BCC is still the worst choke point because the guards have check that people are entering the BCC for badges. Since it is the narrowest point where there is a badge check and lots of people absent-mindedly forget to show their badge it remains the worst point of congestion. Thankfully the newly implemented 15 minute breaks between panels made sure that one major bottleneck was never a huge problem. Usually if I was late for a panel it was because I was chatting with someone not because of traffic.
The only really loud con meme was people singing I’ll Make A Man Out Of You from Mulan or Bohemian Rhapsody in large squadrons. I ran into about 6 of them during the course of the weekend. They were sometimes loud enough that you could hear them during panels in the BCC. Overall I sort of wish they would go away but I have to say they are far less annoying than the out shout means for what it is worth. It people need to the loud they might as well be melodic.
Otakon prides itself on events and programing running until the wee hours of the morning. This year was no different, but did have the added bonus cosplay photoshoots that appeared on the official schedule along with everything else.
I was also glad to see more non-18+ offerings later in the evening. Our Ikuhara panel was one of such offerings and I was happy to be apart of that since I rarely attend 18+ events myself.
In Artist Alley for 2013, we got to see stunning original art from Nobuhiro Watsuki. This year I was delighted to see another exhibit space this time with production art and notes from the upcoming film In This Corner of the World which guests Suano Katabuchi, Hidenori Matsubara, and Masao Maruyama are hard at work on. No pictures were allowed so you’ll just have to trust me when I saw it was awesome and informative.
I didn’t make a full walkthrough of the Dealer’s Room as I was just checking out the Otakon merchandise and then passing on. I did notice open spaces but considering how crowded the hall gets I’m inclined to see that as a positive. Aniplex, Funimation, and Crunchyroll all had big booths. Aniplex had some cutouts of SAO and Kill La Kill for people to pose with which was a cute idea. Vertical Inc. and Kodansha were side by side with big stacks of books littering the tables. VIZ was even present which is a rarity.
I only noticed as I was writing up this post that I did not stop inside the Dealers Room, Artist Alley, or Video Game rooms this year. While Artist Alley is pretty much Kate’s domain at this point I usually stop into all three at least once to see how they have changed. A lack of funds and time just made it so I never got around to seeing these areas. I am sure Kate’s overview of Artist Alley will be very thorough but I would like to know what people thought of the Dealers Room and Video Game room. I also never got around to the Maid Cafe. One day I will just go there to go there. Sadly this year was not the year. Then again I have a maid cafe near where I work and I never go there.
On a random note, this year’s Otakon was space-themed. I didn’t really see that reflected in any programming, events, or guests though. Maybe they should consider picking the theme after they have gotten guests and then base it on that.
As I listen to other people’s con reports outside of my normal circle of friends I am reminded that my con experience is a bit outside the normal experience. The regular con goer tends to hang out with their friends looking at cosplay, maybe attends a random panel or two, hits of the dance and the Masquerade, and then goes home. The average press person seems to hit up the industry panels and guest panels (and the goes to the bar.) Not to pat ourselves on the back too much I do feel these reports look a bit more at the parts of the convention that get overlooked by other reviews. We are not the only people who extensively cover overlooked pieces of the convention but I feel as long as they go more unappreciated I will gladly continue to talk about them.
Overall Otakon continued to be a good experience for me. I had some exquisite food, went to some great panels, soaked in some solid walls of sound at the concerts, and caught up with some friends from both near and far. We still have two more year in Baltimore so I feel it is my duty to experience what I can while the convention is still in Maryland. Otakon will still be great when it moves to DC but it will never be the same.
The more cons I go to the more I find myself with an impossible to-do list which inevitably never gets finished. As Otakon continues to add more events, at any given time there were around 25 things do on the schedule this year, I can only see my list growing. And with Otakon predicting more panel space after the move to Washington D.C., one can only imagine the impossible choices ahead. But that is what you want! That is what makes Otakon magnificent, you are never as a loss for things to do and see. Despite the rocky start to Otakon 2014, it was as good as it always has been. Which is to say if you can only go to one anime con a year, always without fail make it Otakon.
More Otakon 2014 posts:
Otakon 2014: Tweets
Otakon 2014: Under the Dog
Otakon 2014: General Impressions
The Speakeasy #056: X, Otakon 2014
Otakon 2014: Photoshoots
Otakon 2014: Panels
Otakon 2014: 15-minutes with Sunao Katabuchi
Otakon 2014: Guests
Otakon 2014: Artist Alley