In 2004 or thereabouts, while on winter break from college, a friend of mine suggested, “Hey, we should totally go to Otakon this year!” I at that point only had a slight familiarity with cosplay and knew next to nothing about Otakon, or conventions in general. Our journey to Baltimore for the convention was, for a lack of a better word, chaotic. The hotel we got at the last minute was a filthy hovel, and any semblance of a “plan” was held together with duct tape and prayers. But despite all the logistical problems, my passion for cosplay and going to conventions was born. And my latest weekend in Baltimore has proven that it’s not going to die off any time soon.
Otakon holds a special place in my heart, as it’s the first convention I ever attended, as well as the only convention I consistently attend. I’m always excited when it comes around, and like many con goers, I plan for it as early as possible. I’ve always seen the convention as a homecoming, like it was the conclusion to my cosplaying “season” of the previous year and the start of the year to come. So with a full tank of gas, a trunk full of cosplays and an uncharacteristically wide-eyed smile, I set out for Baltimore, Maryland, thinking, “Let’s get started—ready, steady, go!”
I left Thursday afternoon, and wound up getting into Baltimore proper some time after four. A dear friend of mine hooked me up with a room on the cheap, but also with five additional con goers besides us, so we were packed in pretty tight. In other words, my convention hotel room experience was fairly typical. The Holiday Inn was about two blocks from the convention center, and the rooms were well kept. There’re only two things about the hotel that I have issues with – one is the pool. Yes, having a nice pool is good for taking a break from the con, and the sauna was relaxing, but the pool area was just so…dreary looking. Maybe it was the fact that windows were only along one wall and that various taller structures blocked a good portion of the sunlight, but the whole area seemed very dreary and dimly lit. It wouldn’t kill the Holiday Inn to put some more and/or brighter lights in the ceiling, would it? By the way, parking in Baltimore is a laugh riot, if your sense of humor can be described as “morbid.” The parking garages are stupidly expensive, and, as I found out, just because you’re staying at the attached hotel doesn’t mean you get a discount. The charges for overnight parking border on flat-out extortion. One tip I received is that I could park at Baltimore’s airport parking lots and take the light rail into the city for a much cheaper fee – a bit of information that didn’t do me a lick of good, because it was told to me on Saturday afternoon
Well, enough griping and nitpicking. On to the main reason why you tuned in…my experiences with Otakon 2010.
The convention got off to a slow start, to say the least. Sadly, I was not able to pre-register due to money constraints, and I had to wait in line to buy a badge at the gate. And what a line it was. The line stretched around several corners…about halfway around the convention center, it seemed. I thought it had stretched farther, because as I rounded the corner, trying to get to the end of the line, it looked as though the line went even further. As it turns out, it was just people waiting in the pre-register line. Thankfully, the line moved rather quickly, and I only waited in line for two hours to get my badge. Part of me was worried I wouldn’t get a badge, because for some reason, I briefly thought there was an attendance cap…but that was just for that one year.
Like my previous experience with AnimeNEXT 2010, I wanted to take in as much as I possibly could. I didn’t want to waste too much time screwing around in the game room or just watching what-ever was playing in the video rooms. I found out the hard way that not every panel was being held at the convention center proper; the nearby Hilton played host to a few of them. The first panel I attended was “Beyond the Basics: Fanfiction from Start to Finish.” The panel was a boon for anyone who was thinking of writing fanfic or just starting out. Seasoned writers might see the panel as nothing they didn’t already know. But one topic was very poignant, and was important to any writer, regardless of skill – constructive criticism. Essentially, in order to benefit from beta-reading or making your story better, you needed to be subjected to unabashed, unpartisan reviews. Just being told your story was great would be detrimental in the long run. Sage advice, for certain.
While I scaled back the time I spent playing in the game room or meandering around the Artists’ Alley or Dealers’ Room, I didn’t avoid them altogether. The Dealers’ Room was a sprawling expanse of vendors, where you could lose yourself in buying DVDs, wall scrolls, figurines and the like. I also recognized a few vendors from Otakons past. Artists’ Alley was smaller, but the atmosphere felt friendlier and less impersonal than the Dealers’ Room. The aforementioned parking situation / extortion meant I had less money than I would’ve liked to spend on swag. I only got a few things, but it was stuff I really wanted to get.
The game room’s feel (and layout) didn’t really differentiate from the previous year’s Otakon that much, save for the addition of newer games. In the same off-to-the-side areas you could find the same collection of older games that populated Otakons past. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. There was also plenty of room for tabletop games, especially card games, with Magic: The Gathering at the forefront.
Saturday came, and with it, more panels to visit. The first one I intended to visit on Saturday ended up being “Cosplay Solutions for Any Budget”, which felt like cosplay 101 for the uninitiated. The panelists discussed the ups and downs of the quality of your cosplay versus the price, the investment of time in order to create it, and the like, including a Q&A session.
It was sometime around 2:00 P.M. that the entire convention had to be evacuated due to a fire. Well…that was the general assumption, anyway. The fire alarms were going off, even drowning out the noises of the game room, which I was in at the time, and there were instructions for everyone to get out of the building. We were milling outside the convention hall and the nearby shopping centers for roughly an hour before being let back in. An hour, in the hot midday Baltimore sun. I felt sticky and uncomfortable walking around in a rather simple costume; I can’t imagine how con goers with more elaborate cosplays were fairing. Fire trucks rolled up, but eventually the all-clear was given and we were allowed back in. I kept getting conflicting reports as to why we had to evacuate, with the reason ping-ponging between a grease fire and someone pulling the fire alarm. As it turns out, the latter was the reason why.
As the night drew closer, I was conflicted as to what I should do with myself for the evening. The rave was out of the question, as my experiences there have been, at their best, disappointing. So after having dinner with some very good friends, I got a wrist band that would allow me to enter the 18+ panels that started around 10:00-ish. I figured, “Why not? It’s either this or killing time in the game room.” The first panel I visited was, wouldn’t you know, another fanfiction panel. “Titled Succeed or Die Writing IV: Epic Fail Prevention Unit”, it was a long diatribe against that which makes fanfiction suck, but with a decidedly more adult slant to it. Also, lemons were discussed, as they presumably couldn’t be discussed during the day.
I had heard that the late night panels were usually hit or miss, but the second one made me regret not going to the rave after all. It was called, “Sailor Moon’s Influence on the World of Hentai (Filthy Edition).” The name struck me as a little odd…mostly because of the “Filthy Edition” rider at the end of the title. It not only implies there’s a clean version floating around, but given how they couldn’t discuss most of the subject matter during the day, the panel couldn’t be any longer than ten or fifteen minutes. As it turns out, there was very little discussion going on. They glanced over the main idea, how the girls of Sailor Moon have turned into fetish fuel in years past. The bulk of the panel was spent showing hentai series with magical girls based on the sailor senshi. I did not know this (nor did I want to), but there is also a market for porn stars dressing up as anime characters – usually just the female porn stars – and shooting films based off the character and/or the series they’re from. Thankfully, they weren’t allowed to show any more than a few minutes of the live-action stuff; the multitude of collective groans throughout acted as our gratitude. It was also during the live-action stuff that I thought to myself, “Sailor Mercury used to be my favorite scout; now she’s dead to me.”
I slept surprisingly well going into Sunday, as I had assumed the things I saw at the last panel would’ve make me lose sleep. There was only one panel I wanted to attend today, and I had to get up good and early so I could get a decent seat. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series played to a packed panel hall, with the creators commenting, “People are still coming in!” several times throughout the panel. This was the first time LittleKuriboh had come to Otakon, and was positively blown away by the response he got. Someone pointed out that this was the kind of attendance that Sunday mass usually gets. The highlight of the panel came with the preview of the new episode, “Penguin Ex Machina.” According to LittleKuriboh, all he needed to do was several mouse-clicks worth of work in order for the finished product to go live.
The rest of the day was spent mulling around the convention center, saying goodbye to friends and roommates, capping off with doing some interviews for Anime Jam Session, which you’ll probably be able to find on the site at some point after this goes up. There were also rumors floating around during the day that Otakon would become a four-day affair next year, but we’d later learn that would not be the case. All that was left to do was pack up the car, get mugged pay for the parking, and make the long drive from Baltimore back to South Jersey.
I’ve always come from Otakon having a wonderful time, and can honestly say this is my favorite convention. This year was no exception. If you haven’t attended Otakon yet, I highly recommend you do so.
When Ari isn’t writing for Anime Jam Session or catching Pokemans, he’s writing for the Philadelphia Examiner, swing by and take a look at his reviews.