What a difference seven thousand people make.
Any discussion about this years Otakon is going to bring up the attendance drop so I might as well get it out-of-the-way. A lot of factors have been blamed for this decline. The after effects of the riots in Baltimore, the crowding from last year, people waiting for the move to DC, the increase in the price of membership, the line problems last year, Otakon’s timing in relation to Anime Expo, and the lack of big guests, as well as several other possible culprits have all been blamed. I’m guessing that it was no one single factor. The only one I don’t really see a factor is the registration problems last year. Several convention have had similar problems and their attendance numbers only grew the next year. Individual people might not come back after such an incident but overall it never seems to impact overall attendance. That alongside Otakon giving people the option to have their badges mailed to them makes me think that it was the other factors that were far more important. I, with a bit of a Freakonomics outlook, feel the biggest factor was probably parents being worried about the riots. My own parents brought up the issue and I’m 38. I guessing a bunch of tweens and teens were either not allowed to go when their parents saw the convention was in Baltimore. But that is pure speculation on my part.
While I am sure it has led to lots of agitation and stress among the Otakon staff it did mean that the BCC felt far less crowded. I could usually zip around quite easily. There were the always present choke points on the sky bridges but even then they were far less of a Gordian Knot then they usually are. I don’t think I was ever late anywhere due to crowds. It was true proof that there is a silver lining to any cloud. Also overall while the overall attendance was down the panels were actually more filled than usual. That in of itself was surprising but given the overall turnout it was even more impressive than usual.
That said while the attendance numbers were down the convention itself felt vibrant and packed with things to do. The line up at Otakon was not Anime Expo or Japan Expo levels (I am still salty) but I still always had panels to absorb and guests to see. Romi Park alone is nothing to scoff at and the rest of the Japanese guests had a good deal to say if you attended their panels. We actually got quite a few great interviews this year. If you’re a fan of Gundam, Type-Moon, Garo, or Adventure Time we actually got some powerful information for you. That might not make sense right now but you will just have to trust me.
With that elephant out-of-the-way we can discuss the con itself.
I think a lot of people have speculated about the drop in numbers but also about whether the staff are still putting their all into improving the convention experience in Baltimore with D.C. looming in the not-distant future. From what I saw, there were a number of good changes this year and the staff seemed as attentive, if not more so, as year’s past.
There were more maps of the convention center about. There were end of the line signs. Position of programming ops was changed. The convention center opened on time everyday. There was more variety in the game room. They mailed out badges!
Was everything perfect? No. Can I think of a few things that still need fixing? Yes. But I don’t think the staff is just phoning it in for the next year or so.
In a way Otakon 2015 feels like a lame duck year. 2016 will be the big farewell to Baltimore and 2017 will be the first time in DC. It sort of feels like 2017 will be the first day in a new school and 2016 is graduation day from the old one. That means 2105 is an end of term senioritis day. Despite the fact that each convention is important it does not really have the same weight with knowledge of the importance of the next two years ahead. It makes me wonder if that is why AnimeNEXT waited so long to announce their moving date. It does create a certain momentum of excitement.
That said I feel that Baltimore itself was just as enthusiastic about the convention, if not more so. I saw even more signs with anime characters, specials for Otakon badge holders, and just general fanfare over the arrival of the convection in town. Our hotel even had a Otakon lounge to relax in which was godsend when we were killing time before our train home. The city has really embraced the event over the years so it will really be a shame to leave such a warm welcome every year.
Badge mailing made our friends Thursday infinitely easier, and therefore our lives were made easier, too. There was no need to plan activities and dinner around when they might be done with badge pick-up. It sounds like it was a win for everyone. (Press check-in was a breeze, in and out in less than 10 minutes.) But woe for those who were not able to buy badges in time for the mailing. This makes two years running for Thursday pre-registration disaster, however according to Otakon staff the problem has been found and should be smoother for 2016. Then again maybe this debacle will get even more people to register in time for badge mailing.
The scary Thursday wait times for some notwithstanding, few lines were much of an issue over the weekend. There was the usual need to arrive at panels at least 30-45 mins beforehand as panel attendance seemed to be booming this year! The Dealers Room line was only significant when it wasn’t open yet then quickly dissipated. I keep thinking that eventually people will realize you don’t need to wait in the Dealers Room line but it hasn’t happened yet. For the most part everything was manageable. I guess we can attribute that to the attendance drop; for those of us who came this year it really worked in our favor.
This year was another good year for Street Passes on my 3DS. While I had all my puzzle pieces I was finally able to get the achievement for 1,000 fantastic ratings. It is without a doubt the hardest Street Pass achievement to get. It is worth noting that it was Gerald from Anime World Order who gave me the final fantastic rating that let me get to 1,000. For that I put him in my VIP room. I was also able to get all the medals for Battleground Z as well as max out my UFO rod in Ultimate Angler. It was a pretty productive weekend all in all.
I was a little disappointed with the musical acts this year. I usually attend at least one of the concerts but this year I skipped them both. I’m sure they were great bands but since neither of them had a really tight bond to anime I was just not as interested. I was hoping that the Sunday concert would have been someone more cultural like the Yoshida Brothers but sadly that was not meant to be. I heard the BACK-ON concert at the Matsuri was amazing but I was getting tiramisu for a bunch of people. Such are the sacrifices I make for desserts.
Also I regretfully have to say that the Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina in the area closed. It was always a great place to get a burritos since it was really close but at the same time just far away enough that most convention attendees did not go to it. Thankfully there was a wonderful crab-cake food truck that everyone it my group went to. In fact some of us went every day and multiple times in one day. The lines were short and the crab-cake were super tasty. They are definitely someone to check out if you attend next year.
I enjoyed all of the Japanese industry guests this year. It was especially fantastic having so many of those from studio MAPPA and the production of GARO the Animation in attendance. And despite the poor way Pony Canyon conducted their panels, it was still cool to have two directors Shinji Takamatsu and Seiji Kishi at Otakon. (Plus, we were lucky enough to get one-on-one interviews with each).
However, there did seem to be something missing this year, something big or sensational. I really think a more well-known musical guest on Friday or a movie premiere would have rounded out this year nicely. Even BACK-ON at Otakon proper might have put the right amount of ZING into the event. Their second performance, during the Masquerade, was pretty much a complete surprise to everyone (I didn’t even know about it until reading the forums after the con).
Since Kate does the Artist Alley post on her own I will mention the one thing in the area I did check out: The Aquarion art show. There was a small selection of original art from Genesis of Aquarion, Aquarion Evol, and even Aquarion Logos. It had a mixture of mecha designs, character designs, and background art. The neat the thing was most of the background art had the original location scouting pictures they were based on so you can see how the background went from a real location to a fantastical one. I was a little surprised to see such a booth since they did not have any Aquarion guests but it was still greatly appreciated. I just watched Aquarion Evol for Secret Santa and I am currently watching Aquarion Logos so it was a nice treat. These little art shows are nice bonuses that really make Otakon feel a bit more special.
Oh. Pictures were not allowed at the art show so sadly I can’t show you what was there.
It did remind me that the next time I have a little free time and I really need watch the original Aquarion. I keep referencing my sister’s review for that show but I have yet to get around to watching it myself.
For all that (smaller crowds, less bombast), you’d think I had a much more relaxed convention than previous years but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We hosted two panels, nearly back-to-back on Saturday night. We were given permission for three one-on-one interviews, plus an invitation to a press conference. Throw in the guest panels and autographs, too. It was all great, and I am grateful, but it did make for a lot of pressure. In the downtime, I did a lot more wandering and chatting and only made it to two fan panels over the course of the weekend.
Otakon you love me too much and now I am very tired. But I can’t wait for 2016!
To bring up the attendance numbers one last time I have to wonder what they are going to mean for next year more than anything else. Otakon’s war chest each year comes from the money made the year before. A year like this means that there is far less to throw into the planning for 2016. So that probably means that some austerity measures will be in place for next year. The question is what will they be? Less guests and bands overall? Fewer Japanese guests with an emphasis on the domestic talent? No Thursday Matsuri? No Otakon Vegas? I’m guessing that Otakon really wants to grow Otakon Vegas so there will probably be less of a Matsuri and a bit more of a modest collection of guests next year.
That would be a bit of a depressing send off for Baltimore but such is the whim of fortune. But time will tell. Hopefully this year was just a fluke and the 2016 numbers will be more like what you normally expect from an Otakon.
Still overall I had a wonderful time. The panels were still top-notch, the guests were still informative, and the show well run. It will be sad to say goodbye to Baltimore but I look forward to seeing that possibilities DC brings.
If nothing else I hope the evil god of travel that curses our rides home from Baltimore is not the same deity who looks after travelers from DC.
More Otakon 2015 posts:
Otakon 2015: Tweets
New Anime for Older Fans 2015
Otakon 2015: 15-minutes with Director Shinji Takamatsu
Otakon 2015: 15-minute with Director Seiji Kishi
Crime Scene Investigations #009: Otakon 2015
Otakon 2015: Guests
Otakon 2015: 15-minutes with GARO’s Yuichiro Hayashi and Toru Kubo
Otakon 2015: Artist Alley