Otakon this year put a song in my heart. A Fire Bomber song.
It was a Mecha Matsuri at Otakon this year and the crowning jewel was Shoji Kawamori. He is up there with Yoshiyuki Tomino and Go Nagai as names that have forever changed mecha anime. He alone could be a headliner for any anime convention but Nobutoshi Canna, Kanetake Ebikawa, and Tatsuyuki Nagai, the Studio Trigger staff, and the panel selection really sealed the deal that Otakon 2018 was the year of the robot.
From panels to guests to screenings to autographs, nearly any hour of the day during Otakon there was something mecha related going on. This mecha bombardment even showed up in some of the surprise licenses for the convention. (That Voltes V screening wasn’t just a fluke!) Classic and modern mecha were represented in good measure.
While that might sound overwhelming, Otakon is big enough to have a theme like mecha at its center, but still have plenty of variety. With seven panel rooms, three workshops, an expanded artist alley, the huge video game room, photoshoots, and various other events I had no problem taking a mecha break.
I did notice that there were some Salty Sams and Samanthas about the mecha content this year. In many ways, mecha is the Rap and Country music of anime. You have a good range of casual to hardcore mecha fans but the diehard fans are DEVOTED. Also, it is the genre that anime fans who dislike mecha are very unapologetically proud about how much they hate it. This meant that was a lot for Kate and I to do and in turn some very peeved con goers as well. But the convention was more than just Gundams and Valkyries. There was everything from Final Fantasy to Mystic Messenger so we have a lot to talk about this year. (Although to be frank if it were just Gundams and Valkyries we would still have a lot to talk about.)
I really appreciate the size of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Even with the uptick in attendance this year you always felt like you had enough room to move around. It seems like all the big East Coast conventions were in spaces that were much too small for them and so they had to move. Sadly this caused a hit to their attendance numbers. In some sort of Monkey’s Paw deal, AnimeNEXT and Otakon now have more than enough room but not the people to fill it. Thankfully this year Otakon has already started to recover its old numbers without losing any of the spacious feel of 2017. I don’t think they have fully figured out the room configuration for the convention center but that is a problem they can work on over the next few years.
This only being Otakon’s second year in DC and this convention center, we saw a little reworking of the layout. The con connected hotel, the Marriott, did not host events as it did last year. This concentration in the convention center had mixed results; yay for not having to trek all over for panel rooms, boo for concerts not having nearly enough space. We also saw autographs move from sharing space with artist alley to sharing space with the dealers room with disastrous results. I fully expect to see more room tweaking for next year.
The big crowd snafus happened on Friday. First in the morning, seemingly half the con tried to make their way to the dealers room . . . which was also the line for autographs and near the line for artist alley. As I alluded to before, the autograph situation was a big mess. Lines were colliding, and staff and attendees at the autograph area were unclear on what the system was. They were already changing up how they did things before the Friday morning sessions were complete. I suggested at con feedback that autographs have its own designated area as it did in Baltimore and therefore not be beholden to what is going on in other parts of the convention. The staff seemed open to this idea and were probably already considering it.
Then around midday on Friday people started lining up for the Final Fantasy concert and there seemed to be no place to put them resulting in a lot of confusion. Someone else at feedback brought up a good point that concerts need a bigger space even if other main events don’t so what will Otakon do about that? People had to line up by 4:30 when the concert didn’t start until 7 to have hopes of making it in.
The new convention center is much bigger than Baltimore so I’m sure there is an ideally solution; Otakon just hasn’t hit on it yet. That being said, crowding for most of the weekend was almost a non-issue. I never felt that stifling dread of too many people that became common place at the old location.
I don’t really feel like putting this in panels but I had to mention the amount of salt I saw about the Voice Actors After Dark panel getting canceled. Technically it was not really canceled but it was turned from an 18+ panel to an all ages panel. It had the same voice actors but now they had to keep all the raunchy talk to a more respectable PG-13. After seeing the tail end of one of these panels at AnimeNEXT this year I can firmly say it is not my cup of tea AT ALL. That said people who love those panels really love them. Some of the comments I saw reacted like Otakon executed their mother Childish Gambino’s This Is America style. I’m not sure who decided to change-up the Voice Actors After Dark panel but I just assume they have made several lifelong enemies.
I always miss out on some events at Otakon. Since I went to Otabrew this year I missed the Fate/Stay Night and Type-Moon: A World of Magic and Mystery panel. As Saber Fan #1 (disputed) I always feel a tinge of guilty whenever I miss a panel like this. If anyone went I am super curious how it turned out. I would also love to see pictures of the Type-Moon photoshoots if anyone attended them. I also missed Nobutoshi Canna which was a real bummer. His mixture of playing of Basara Nekki and Cú Chulainn alone surely gave him some great stories. I’m very curious what he had to say about working with Shoji Kawamori. I am also curious to know much of a turn out there was for the Mystic Messenger. It is a fandom I am only barely aware of so I’m interested in what kind of pull it had at Otakon. I also missed the Otakorp and You: Demographics and Financials panel which is always a treasure trove of insider information for anyone who wants a peek behind the curtain of the convention.
The popular series around the con for cosplay were My Hero Academia, Persona 5, Overwatch, Voltron, and unexpectedly, Cells at Work. All of these series translated over to the most prevalent titles in the artist alley as well with the exception of Cells at Work. Returning series didn’t seem to have the same impact. Things like Attack on Titan and Free! didn’t have the same presence they once did.
New areas and events popped up that added to the atmosphere. A craft area called the Makerspace was an all-ages room where people made some really cool teru teru bozu among other things. I didn’t go, but Lolita Bingo was praised right-and-left at the feedback session with promises to bring it back next year. There was a Funimation Lounge which seemed to be a place to relax. All I saw were hug pillows on the floor so not sure how this one worked out over the weekend.
Next year Otakon will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. Part of me assumes that means that they are going to go all out with the convention especially considering that theme will be festivals. 25th Anniversary invokes ideas like huge guests, special events, returning favorites, and new surprises. That said with what Kate discovered about the profitably of the last few Otakons I wonder if the celebration will be a bit more austere than I would initially imagine it to be. They will definitely make it a more of a bash than usual but nothing like the craziness of the 20th anniversary. But only time will tell. I do know that Otakorp is settling into DC and I feel the uptick in attendance this year is a good sign they are getting their sea legs in unfamiliar waters. Hopefully, we will see that all pay off next year and we shall get an Otakon worthy of a 25th-anniversary festival.
I’m so glad to see that Otakon’s attendance numbers have bounced back, hitting more than 29,000 for 2018. They had an amazing line-up this year despite the lack of presence from much of the American-side of the industry. The staff continue to seem dedicated to making it a better con year after year. I have high hopes for both their continued presence in DC and the upcoming 25th anniversary!