Otakon 2019: General Impressions

hisui_icon_4040_round I think I figured it out. Any time a convention moves you sort of have to learn the rhythms of the new venue. You spend a bit of time just learning the best places to eat, where the various panel rooms are, which entrances to use and when, plus various shortcuts, tricks, and conveniences. If you remember the labyrinth that was Baltimore Convention Center it was infamous for getting newbies lost and turned around whenever they arrived for their freshman Otakon. Also, it was easy to underestimate how long it could take to get anywhere thanks to some atrocious bottlenecks. By the final Otakon in Baltimore, I could navigate that place like the back on my hand but it took some hard knocks to get that experience.

In 2017 the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and Washington D.C. were all new to me. By the end of the convention, I had a decent lay of the land but everything felt a bit awkward. In 2018 I had some experience under my belt so I had a general idea of what I was doing but I still did things utterly inefficiently. I could picture the two halves of the convention center in my head much clearer but I was still a bit ungraceful. This year I really felt like I had a good understanding of where everything was. I zipped around the convention center quite freely and even had a decent grasp of the area around the convention center.

I feel like Otakon is in that same situation this year. They have really begun to figure out the layout and how to use it effectively. I definitely got the feeling that Otakon had a better understanding of how to use the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and run a convention inside it. They were still some hiccups but overall it felt more like the convention had always been here as opposed to moving here three years ago.

First of all, I have to give Otakon the proper credit for actually implementing a piece of advice that various people from anime twitter has been suggesting for a few years now. This year was the first year that the Japanese guest panels were given full titles as opposed to just their names. That meant that the title for their panel usually had the name of the series they were here to promote along with a little hook added. So it was The History of Japanese Animation as created by Masao Maruyama Part 1 panel as opposed to just the Masao Maruyama panel. From what I saw they helped the audience numbers for quite a few of the Japanese guest’s panels.

Now not every Japanese guest panel was filled to the brim. The title and the shows in the title were still deciding factors. The Comparing US and Japanese Comics with Hiroshi Nagahama was almost completely filled while there were a decent number of empty seats in the Mix! panel with Kikuko Inoue and Michihiko Suwa panel. I think that is mostly because Mitsuru Adachi manga is a big deal in Japan but it is mostly only of interest to big sport manga nerds here. But I personally believe that the Mix! the panel would have been a ghost town if it just said Kikuko Inoue and Michihiko Suwa. So while you can’t just slap a currently airing show on the panel title and instantly become standing a room only affair it does help some guest panels immensely. The popularity of the show or topic in the title does a lot of the heavy lifting if not being the key to a wildly successful panel. Mayumi Tanaka of One Piece will fill more seats than Mayumi Tanaka of Kekkaishi like it or not.

Even if not every titled Japanese guest panel was jam-packed overall I think the new naming scheme was a success. The increase in attendance at some panels was wildly successful at times and others were slightly effected but overall I think it was a rising tide that lifted all ships. I really hope that Otakon and other anime conventions continue to do it going forward whenever they can.

Kate and I went to the Maid Cafe. Kate and I have always randomly talked about going to the maid cafe at Otakon since it started. The major problem is that since you have to buy a ticket for the maid cafe in advance so it always turned into one of these things we talked about but never did. This year we decided that we would COMMIT to trying it out. We waited until we got to the hotel and planned a time that worked with both of our schedules as best we could arrange it. So the ancient prophecy was complete and Miss Kobayashi smiled on our endeavor. We went to the Otakon Maid Cafe.

It was OK. I feel like that was a lot of build-up for … OK. But sometimes that is just the way it goes. When you go in you are assigned a maid or butler for your table. Each of them has a gimmick. One might be demon maid where anther might just be a kuudere butler.  It is sort of just the luck of the draw which one you get. They would then do a combination of table games and craft activities broken up with little dances by the staff. They also made the losers of the table games play little embarrassing punishment games. You got a little snack and drink during the experience.

Our maid seemed probably the most standard maid. She did not have fairy wings or some very obvious gimmick. I’m fairly certain her “thing” was she was supposed to seem super-capable but she was secretly a bit careless. She would flub learning people’s names and remembering orders. A gimmick like that it is always a little hard to tell where the acting begins and where the actual person ends.

Kate seemed a bit more unnerved by the experience. I think it was the combination of the sort of practiced but very performative interactions. A sort of insincere sincerity from your fellow con-goers who are also not actors. It was not as if Kate hated the experience, any of the cast did anything untoward, or even did their job poorly. I think it just gave her an artificial feeling that was intended but she was not compatible with. Also, I think the embarrassing punishment games were 100% not her thing no matter how mild they were.

I myself was far more neutral about it. I wish the food was a little more bang for your buck with the snacks but I suspect that is mostly due to restrictions due to the venue more than anything else. Otherwise, it was fun as a curious gimmick that I got to experience but I don’t feel like it is something I would ever do again unless they really changed the core experience. That is not Otakon’s fault. I mostly feel it is just the nature of the idea.

As always there were a few things I missed that might have seen like odd oversights but I usually had reasons for them. I did not see Toru Furuya mostly because I had just seen him at Anime NYC. He is always a great guest so I glad the Otakon audience who was not me could enjoy his charm and grace during his panels. I also did not see the Promare screening because there was an upcoming screening in Manhattan only a few days after Otakon. From what I understand they had to cap the line to see the movie at Otakon fairly quickly so you had to show up a decent amount of time in advance to see the movie. I had a feeling that was going to be the case I decided it was a more efficient use of my time to skip the movie at Otakon and just wait a bit to see it in a special screening.

Oddly enough con feedback seemed rather chill this year. There was one lady who had some major problems with picking up her badge but other than that most people seemed to have questions, suggestions, and improvements that could help the convention as opposed to horror stories and disgruntled rants. Now only a small selection of people can get to con feedback but it can be a good meter stick of how people feel. Kate and I noticed that an odd number of people want the paper schedules back even if they are always outdated the second the convention starts. I felt like there were always a good deal of monitors with the up to date schedule strategically placed throughout the convention center but that might be because I also have a smartphone.

Oh. There was one dude at con feedback who I have to believe was just trying to troll everyone. I have to believe that because otherwise he just had nothing but the worst ideas ever. Lets put it this way he said that they should have an open bar in the video game room. That is either the suggestion of a decent troll or an utter moron. His suggestions were distinctly in the Poe’s Law zone.

I realized that I never ate at SUNdeVICH this year. I had distinctly planned to try a new sandwich there but I just plain forgot to go. So much like the Otakon staff while I have learned a lot I still some distance to go before I become a master.

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