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This year at Otakon we cover the ongoing registration issues, the city of Baltimore, and of course cosplay, panels, anime music video contests, and raves!
Location makes or breaks a convention. Photo shoots need good diverse locations. Con-goers need food and drink (and alcohol) and bathrooms. Plus it wouldn’t hurt if the area had a diverse selection of high quality restaurants and fast food establishments. Baltimore delivers all this and more by hosting Otakon in the middle of its’ already bustling center city. The Inner Harbor, a tiny artificially straightened inlet of water, long since having lost its’ industrial roots now adorns the center of Baltimore with its’ picturesque walkways, attractions, shops, and restaurants. A perfect location to host Otakon’s own matsuri (kanji: 祭) as well as hundreds of photo-shoots throughout the weekend...
Make sure to also listen to our podcast on Otakon.
If you are part of the otaku/nerd culture in America you have probably heard of Otakon. This year Otakon topped a record number of attendee's. 34,100 to be exact. This puts Otakon at the largest anime convention on the east coast, but ignoring all of the hype, is it worth it it? Some attendee's I talked to had traveled from as far away as Seattle to attend this convention. I have a very simple answer answer to this. Yes, I highly encourage everyone to expirence Otakon at least once in their lives, especially if you live towards the eastern United States and do not have to fly.
Baltimore is a huge city, the largest city I have been to other than DC for Katsucon and AUSA. That being said be prepared to pay a hefty fine for parking. To park for the weekend my car mates and I shelled out 58 dollars to park Thursday night through Sunday afternoon. Other than the parking situation the convention costed no more than any other conventions. A pass costs 80 at the door, but if you ordered up until the week before the convention you could get your pass for 70 as I did. Considering the size of the convention this is actually a rather nice deal, considering Animazement in Raleigh's pass, a convention 1/5 the size for this year is 60 and Katsucons pass at the door is 70 and they're half the size.
It's crowded. Baltimore CC is a large establishment, but when you throw 34,000 people into anywhere be prepared for congestion. Overall the convention did a fair job at trying to direct the flow of traffic, but there were many times where I would be trying to get from one end of the convention to the other and had to cross the sky walk and it would be impossible to cross due to the mass number of people trying to cross at once. Extreme lines did not help with the congestion. A line would be forming for a panel or a guest or the dealers room and though there would be ropes at times the lines seemed to form in the middle of a walk way and stay that way until a member of staff could redirect traffic.
Dealers Room, Panels, and more:
Due to the mass number of people in attendence the line to the dealers room extended from the dealers room, up a flight of stairs, then onto the main level and looped around a rope maze. This sounds like it would not be worth it, but the line fortunately moved rather quickly considering the size. Once inside the dealers room I was in awe of the many things you could buy. I was highly impressed by the selection offered and the number of dealers set up. I ended up spending 30 dollars solely on manga because I could find ones there I could not find anywhere else. Anything you could image was there, including the usual booth's such as the Funimation booth and the "Rainbow Yaoi booth" Yes, there is a booth selling nothing but Yaoi and Yuri that you can see across the dealers room because it waves a giant rainbow flag high above any other booths.
I only attended two panels the entire convention, that was not because they were not interesting, but because I was so busy. The panel selection was fantastic and I was pleased to see there was not six thousand of the same panel. Only one of each kind of panel was accepted so the issue of having six as a nation panels did not arise. My favorite panel at the convention was the Cosplayer Nation documentary. I even had a cameo in it! It was great to see the behind the scenes of everything cosplayers have to go through in order to make the cosplays we do and hear different stories of why we do it.
Sadly I was not able to see TM Revolution live or the Masquerade. The line for TM Revolution began to form 3 hours in advance and by the time I was able to head to the arena to see them the line was wrapped around the building, this was an hour before.
Hotels and getting around Baltimore:
Around the immediate area of the convention center are several hotels. The hotels to the side of the convention center are connected by a sky walk so con goers never have to actually set foot in the streets of Baltimore. This is a great way to go if you want to pay the extra price for being next door to the convention, but you do not get a feel for the city. There are also a plethera of hotels within a mile of the convention center that are in downtown Baltimore. My crew stayed in the Quality Inn, which is 3 blocks away. It wasn't a bad deal, but the only draw back not staying right next to the con was walking through downtown Baltimore at night wearing costumes and some of my friends very little clothes. We did not stay for the rave and my room had a 1am curfew to keep everyone safe. It is always best to be safe than sorry when dealing with your money and very expensive items such as camera's and also your life.
Another option available to those living in area is to take the light rail in. There is parking at light rail stops and many people I talked to who did not have money to stay in a hotel used the light rail to commute every day. Also City of Baltimore has a bus system that can take you to anywhere in the city so let's say if your cosplay messes up and you need a last minute walmart run, but it will cost extra to move your car? Take the city bus! It makes things quite convenient if you do not mind wandering around Baltimore in cosplay.
All in all Otakon is a huge con but if you don't mind waiting in lines it is well worth it. If it is your first time headed to Otakon my advice would be read up as much information as you can. There are many advice pieces written and they all offer the same general advice. Watch your money, don't wander Baltimore at night, stay hydrated and arrive early. Also I would like to throw in my own personal piece of advice, pick up your badge Thursday. You will stand in line for many many hours if you do not and you will loose a good chunk of your con time Friday if you do not. Thursday when I picked up my badge I waited in line for maybe 45 minutes instead of the 4 hours it would have taken me if I had not gone Thursday.
Also, never buy drinks inside of the convention. Support "Ice cold water, it's only one dollar" guy and buy from him. It will save your wallet in the long wrong and plus, he is the inside joke of all otakon goers. If you say "Ice cold water" to anyone who has been Otakon they will immediatly think back to ice cold water man.
So is it worth it? Hell yes it's worth it.
Katsucon, the East coasts second largest anime convention with 13,000+ people in attendance this year, Otakon being the first with over 30,000 people attending annually, is a convention where if given the chance to attend should not be passed up. With this many people there is something for everyone whether you're there to panel hop, meet guests, network, take cosplay photographs, doing modeling, or just meeting and hanging out with others in your fandom. Everyone I encountered were so down to earth and I met and became friends with many amazing people during my time. Katsucon is held annually in The Gaylord National Hotel and Convention center, a beautiful 19 story hotel and convention center combination. The Atrium, which is the downstairs area of the hotel/convention center, is home to a restaurant several shops, and many beautiful photo op areas including the fountain. There are several hotels next door to the convention center, but the best option is to stay in the Gaylord. Being a 24 hour convention in the middle of February in Maryland it gets rather cold and it is not ideal to be walking back to your hotel at 4am after the rave or an 18+ panel.
The hotel portion of the Gaylord Hotel and Convetion Center was spectacular, except for the elevators being slow. It seems I would waiting 20 minutes just to get from my room on the 10th floor back down to the convention levels, but this is to be expected when you have thousands of people together all trying to use them. Each room comes with 2 king size beds, a balcony overlooking the convention center, (or if you're unfortunate like I was overlooking the parking garage)a mini fridge, a room safe, and a 32 in television. 6 people are allowed to be registered per room max.
It is highly recommended to pre-register, yet even then the pre-registration line can take up to 2 hours to get through at its peak. 9am is when registration opens and by 9:30 registration was wrapped around the room it was taking place in, out the door and wrapped down the hallway. Katsucon does something called VIP Registration. Regular pre-registration can cost anywhere from 45-60 depending on when you pre-reg, at the door registration is 75, and for a VIP Pass is 110 dollars, but you must pre-reg for that because there are only 200 VIP Passes available. with a VIP pass you get front of the line privileges, priority seating, chance for autographs with guests, a tshirt, and a cloth bag to put your con goodies in.
I would like to take a moment to address this for people have heard rumors about the situation with the BBYO Jewish Youth Organization. The hotel was double booked for both Katsucon 19 and the BBYO Internation Conference. There were 13,000 Otaku's and 1,500 Jewish youth from all over the world under one roof. Many of these Jewish youth had never heard of cosplay and did not know how to handle the cosplayers. There have been many rumors reguarding actions of the Jewish conference attendee's such as cornering and sexually assaulting a Scanty (from Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt) cosplayer by ripping down her top in front of a crowd of people. These rumors have not been confirmed nor denied. What has been confirmed is I was spit on by a crowd of them while I was in cosplay, and another friend of mine had things thrown at him from the 4th story balcony many of them were staying on. Also it has been confirmed by the Gaylord that the BBYO has been banned for causing 10,000 dollars worth of damages and inappropriate behavior. There will always be bad eggs that ruin the entire reputation of a group. The BBYO that I had the pleasure of talking to over the weekend we're very nice people and I had many parents while I was in a communal area of the convention center approach me and ask questions, which I am always happy to answer. I do not want the actions of a few to ruin the reputation of their organization and I ask for everyone to stop emailing and spreading internet hate. Being a bully on social media to members of their organization who most likely did nothing wrong is not the way to solve anything. Formal complaints were filed and that is all that can be done.
Guests and Panels
Yaya Han: During this convention I had the pleasure of speaking with and taking a picture of international model and cosplayer Yaya Han and also attend her Sociology of Cosplay Panel. The Sociology of Cosplay Panel talked about why people cosplay and what her reasons for getting into cosplay and offered some
really great insight that some people really don't think about. It also stressed the importance of everyone cosplays for different reasons, so there is no need to bully someone in the community for the simple reason that they buy their costumes, or they're in a different fandom than your own.
It Gets Better: Anime Convention Edition with Greg Ayers and Crispin Freeman: Many are familiar with the Dan Savage It Gets Better project, but this version of the It Gets Better project was centered around bullying in the anime and otaku community. Both Greg Ayers and Crispin Freeman shared their stories of bullying throughout their childhood and told stories of bullying he had seen at conventions, which they both stressed are supposed to be a safe haven for free expression.
While the two above we're the two panels put on by a more famous guest, there were many fan panels and something for everyone including many late night 18+ panels that
would surely put a smile on your face if you stayed through the entire panel. My only criticism was the lack of variety in panels. 6 Ask a Nation panels, at least 3 Homestuck panels, multiple pokemon panels and 3 about
webcomics. Katsucon goes on a panel request basis, so it is whatever is popular at the moment and people ask to do, but at the very least overkill could be used to describe the number of Hetalia Ask a Nation panels.
During Katsucon there is a formal ball where the attendee's dress in their finest formal wear and proceed to dance the night away in a ball room with music and merriment. Cosplay is welcome as long as it adheres to the formal attire guidelines, which can be found on the Katsucon website. Being the day after Valentines Day, the ball was a romantic and unique way to celebrate with your significant other, and if you were single, possibly a way to find someone special?
The ammount of variety in the dealers room for this convention was above average. Not as much as I have seen in other conventions, which was diappointing due to the size of Katsucon, but what it lacked in variety it made up for in numbers and price competition. If you thought a price was a little high at one booth, just walk down the isle and there would be another dealer willing to make you a deal or selling it for a couple dollars cheaper than the previous dealer. My favorite booth had to be the Funimation booth. Free stuff! You can always count on the Funimation booth to give out amazing posters and demo CD's. I got a good chuckle while watching the demo CD they gave out that had the entire season 2 and 4 of one series I will not name at this time. The dub was quite hilarous at times. I can see why they gave out entire seasons at a time. Deadman Wonderland, Baka and Test, Hellsing, and Black Lagon were among the free Funimation posters being given out this time, all of which are hanging on my wall.
All and all Katsucon is a wonderful convention willed with a wide variety of things to do, cosplay to photograph and look at, panels to attend, and all the people were so welcoming and friendly. My advice to any people who are going to this convention for the first time is budget plenty of money for food. You are going to need it. The only place to get "cheap" food around the convention is the subway on the strip outside the convention, or if you're willing to walk a little ways there is a McDonalds. The resturant inside the convention center will set you about 20 bucks including food, drink and tip. Not ideal for 3 meals a day. Also forewarned, nothing delivers to the convention center. Every pizza place my hotel mates and I called and the chinese place refused to deliver. Another tip is to remember to sleep. Being a 24 hour con it is easy to forget to sleep with all the excitement, especially if you are over 18 and can go to the late night panels.
_ When one’s been going to the same convention over the years, they tend to notice the good, the bad and ugly that tends to come with it. SacAnime’s 2012 Winter Con was no exception. While the con had a good stock of great voice actors, gatherings, cosplayers and a great atmosphere that a con usually has; there were a few changes that came off somewhat distasteful to many of the congoers. While I can’t say that my con experience was reflective of the other attendees, I will say it felt good to go to SacAnime, something we can all agree on.
_ Gaming Room
It’s no surprise that as of late, I’ve really been getting into fighting games and the whole fighter scene as of late, so I was quite pleased when I saw that they moved all the fighting game tournaments to a larger venue. Last time the fighting games were in this small room they had set up, but due to so many complaints about size being brought up (or so I would assume), they set up an additional room to better accommodate gamers, catering to casual and hardcore gamers alike. The fighting game tournaments were handled pretty well as well as the amount of hype during the action was incredible. Aside from the fighting games set up in the main room, a mix of all sorts of games -even a Simpsons arcade cabinet- was in there thanks to Armageddon Potato Games. To accommodate all audiences, plenty of room was given for people to walk around and observes all other gamers test their hand at everything from first person shooters to arcade games to dance games. What I found most interesting was when they put the Wii outside during the day where people warmed themselves up by playing various dance games, the most popular of which being Just Dance 2. All in all, the game room did a very good job this year; no hiccups.
_ Vendors’ Hall
What can I say? I’ve been going to this convention and the Vendor’s Hall, while staying the same in terms of design, has always been good. Occasionally, it’ll be overcrowded with so many people (Saturday’s the WORST) that it’s hard to get to something you want when you have to go through an army of people either walking or at one of the booths checking out stuff. But what convention doesn’t have that problem? Okay, so maybe the huge ones never ran into that problem but for small conventions like SacAnime it’s hard to get around given the limited space. The Vendor’s Hall wasn't bad at all but there are things that could have made it better. For those of us who remember back in the day when it was at the Scottish Rite Center, space has always been a bit of an issue, but hopefully Sac Anime can somehow plan a move to the Sacramento Convention Center, we’re hoping that things will turn out even better than before.
The panels were held as well as they could be, given the location of the event. The more important ones were handled fairly well but what I gathered, most other panels (including a few voice actor panels) were not handled to what we had expected from previous SacAnimes. From the ones I went to, they were handled really well; everyone acted in the right manner, and we had a lot of fun covering it. The voice actor panels in particular were a lot of fun to attend; I really enjoyed them. I can't say how the other panels were per say but, taken with a grain a salt, word is that they didn’t handle their business and had problems running the panels. Word from the other attendees at the con said that they were for the most part alright, so for any content I may have very well missed out on, I take their word for.
_ Artist Alley and Art Contest
The Artist Alley was nothing new to me but what was something I didn’t check out last time was the art contest they were holding in the room next to it. It served its purpose and showed off who won the art contest and other art pieces. Nothing really exciting, but it did offer something to do and give congoers a chance to get away from the craziness that was happening outside in the courtyard. Again, the only gripe I have with the artist alley is that they put them in their own room but I feel they should have more or a bigger room for people to walk around freely, arguably in a space like the vendors’ hall like what is demonstrated over in San Jose’s Fanime. At times, it felt very cramped and hard to move around in; much like in the vendors’ hall. From what I saw, the artists were all very nice, their artwork is pretty awesome to look at and hell, I even walked off with a few pieces of art, in particular couple prints from the talented artist Catarina Bragg. (Be sure to check out her stuff under our affiliates tab!)
To fans’ delight, the rave had made some vast improvements last year in their rave from music selection, DJ quality, space available and available water and much to our delight, these changes remained. The rave was opened up into two rooms combined to make one big room, roughly the size of Fanime's raves, giving plenty of space for people to dance and as mentioned earlier water was dispensed everywhere to adequately stave off dehydration. My only complaint (and a small one at that), is that the collection of songs were only between “okay” to “good.” The same DJs come by and do the same gig at the same location every time, so after a while, one might find the venue to become somewhat stale after a period of time; no offense to DJ Hellsing and the Random DJs. Discrepancies aside, I will say that there were no hiccups during the rave like previous years; smooth sailing from start till end.
_ The Main Convention Floor
Like always, staff and security roamed the main floor making sure the flow of traffic was going both ways and not clogging up the hallways and while there may not have been any issues with this in the past, I actually think they improved on it. There was enough room to walk around up and down the main hallways, especially during Friday’s swap meet. The swap meet in itself was nothing special, but it did offer the opportunity for people to be able to buy or look at what various attendees wished to sell off on the sides of the main hallway. I like how they also opened up the one area next to the bar and piano for people to hang out and chill and I thought it was nice to just have a relaxing social area to rest one’s weary legs. As for lines, they were kept neat and orderly, autographs were set up very nicely and handled in a timely fashion and all lines were well guided by staff so as to not cause any bubbling.
So overall the convention wasn’t bad at all but wasn't great either. While I mostly talked about the good of the con, there were some less than favorable instances that had occurred, and I really think it’s time for SacAnime to move to a bigger and better place. What I really want to see for this con is to have more stuff that the bigger conventions have that they don't such as the return of the anime viewing room, more gatherings, more events and most of all, more fan involvement to help make SacAnime an even better convention. As you may have read there is no mention of Cafe Hoshi (invite only), karaoke (overheard some less talented “singers”), or the masquerade in this report, mainly because we were not able to cover it this time around, but stay tuned this year as we cover more anime conventions this upcoming year.