Ari Rockefeller presents Otakon 2012 — Have a Drink on Me, or The Agony of the Feet

For those of you who are familiar with my personal life, you’ll know of my martial arts background and accomplishments—the long story short is that I’m a second-degree black belt. Though that’s objectively a high rank, it doesn’t mean I know everything about martial arts…not even close. Even a true master believes that he or she can learn something new with each lesson. Even the masters have that mentality. The idea is that, just like martial arts, cosplay and going to conventions is always a learning experience. And this wasn’t any different.

Directly after leaving work, I got on the road and went drove down to Baltimore. It was a simple enough and uneventful drive down, with minimal traffic. The few days before the con itself, one of the men in our adventuring party booked the wrong hotel—on the other side of the harbor. It merely meant we’d have to walk about a mile to get to the convention. Not a big deal, as someone my size needs the exercise. The humidity in the Inner Harbor area is nuts; even on Thursday afternoon the humidity sent the temperature to the triple digits…which made it a little uncomfortable. The Inner Harbor has a water taxi system, thankfully. For only $12, you can ride one of these all over the harbor—through various routes—to and from the convention to other parts of the harbor. Good enough deal.

The hotel we ended up staying at was the Marriott Baltimore Waterfront. This hotel was gorgeous. It looked like it belonged to a much older/nicer/more expensive hotel. The lobby was large and expansive, and had several restaurants to peruse. The fifth floor had the pool, gym and—surprisingly enough—a free laundry service. Granted, it was just two HE washers and dryers and you were on your own for detergent, but what do you want for nothing?

I would be very grateful for said free laundry.

There was a bit of a hiccup with the reservation with the staff. Since one member of our party wouldn’t arrive until Friday, it caused a logistical snafu wherein they wouldn’t let him check in…for whatever reason. Thankfully we came to a compromise, which involved me paying for one night until he returns, wherein the charges would be removed from my card. Fair enough. Our friend had apologized for the current situation, but I had told him it’s not a problem; this is far from the worst hotel experience I’ve ever had with a convention.

As I set my luggage down on the bed, I would get one of those learning experiences I alluded to in the intro. I opened up my suitcase and found the inside was generously doused in fruit punch soda. See, after learning we would be partying this weekend, the decision was made by other members of our party to bring alcohol and possibly other stuff. This is nothing new. I decided to bring a bottle of Captain Morgan Private Stock, accompanied by a bottle of fruit punch soda purchased at a Bottom Dollar. That stuff went into a backpack, which went into my suitcase. All that stuff packed into my trunk when the heat was in the high 90s eventually led to the bottle of soda bursting and about ¾ of its contents spilling out. Thankfully the old pair of pants enveloping the liquor (which I originally thought broke) soaked up most of the spill, though there was no way I’d ever wear them again. Much more horribly, though, my backpack was where I packed my computer in an effort to save space and bring as few small bags as possible. Damage report: the inside of my backpack smells of fruit soda, but is otherwise undamaged, three pairs of pants and three pairs of socks were also subsequently doused in soda. When I asked a bellhop about Laundromats in the area (I was counting on the hotel to charge far out the ass for laundry service), I learned of the free laundry service. I didn’t even care that the $2 for one-load-size laundry detergent felt like a rip-off; the desire for clean clothing took precedent.

The rest of the guests trickled in throughout the day. I walked over from the hotel to the convention, sweating unbelievably due to the heat and humidity the Inner Harbor is infamous for during the summer. Thankfully it wasn’t as bad the rest of the weekend. While my clothes were in the laundry, I partook of the pool on the fifth floor of the hotel, which was right next to the hotel’s gym. The pool was…underwhelming. It was only moderately sized, and barely deeper than five feet. The pool had LED lights that cycled through red, green, blue and white (red, green and blue at the same time). In all honesty, the lights did kind of screw with me. The green light made the pool look like it hadn’t been properly cleaned in weeks, the blue made it look unnaturally blue, like laundry detergent, and the red light made it look like I was swimming in a big tub of—Jesus back-flipping Christ why did I need to be reminded of that?!

After getting washed, I decided on some dinner. Given both the heat and the sudden torrential downpour hampering the city, I chose to just go to one of the restaurants in the hotel. The restaurant was the 700 Grille, which, from where I was sitting, had a good view of the harbor. The menu was a single double-sided placard, and everything they served was ungodly expensive. I settled on a simple bacon cheeseburger, which ran me almost $14. Not the best choice, but 2/3 of the menu was seafood dishes, which I can’t eat, and there’s no goddamn way I’m paying $30 for a steak. Dinner was good, but a little pricey. I suppose that’s typical for hotel food…

The first panel I attended on Friday was “The Aging Otaku: Anime Fandom and Getting Older.” It was run by the staff of animecons.com, all of which were older fans (late 20s, early 30s). The discussed the ups and down of the collective fan base, how they act now against how they acted when they were first getting into it. They made a note of saying that everyone had a gateway anime or two, and that it was imperative to encourage the newer, younger fans—not just in what they like now, but get them into other stuff. Others in the audience shared their stories, including a few instances of parents not really getting their kids’ hobbies, to the logical inverse of one woman being the “cool” mom and chaperoning the conventions and getting all the kids together to enjoy the conventions.

It’s also worthy of note that this was the debut of my new cosplay—Dan Hibiki of Street Fighter. More specifically, I went using his IV variant, with the kanji on his back and on his lapel. I purchased the gi, but it was white; someone who has to wear bigger sizes can’t really get their hands on any colors that aren’t black or white. So I got and modded a white uniform, and dyed it pink. It was an incredible hit that Friday.

This weekend, I was surprised to learn that Jason David Frank of Power Rangers and MMA fame would be in town. I attempted to get his autograph…and was turned away by convention staff. It wasn’t my fault; they had already given out all the tickets to see him. Thankfully the staff informed me that he’d be doing two signings that weekend…and that I’d have to essentially be there when the convention opened for a chance to get in line and wait the two hours before his second autograph session to begin.

That was merely a minor setback, I thought. No reason to get bummed out over it. So after exploring the game room—same as always save for the minor rearrangement of some games—I went and got in line for “Who Wants to Be a Voice Actor?” Except that the line for the workshop wasn’t actually the line. And the workshop as it stood at the time was at maximum capacity. It was about this time when we collectively got to see the downside of larger conventions: seemingly infinite crowds, finite space for panels, workshops, and the like. I suppose you could say it comes with the territory of larger conventions, but you shouldn’t have to practically camp out for a spot in a panel or workshop, regardless of how popular it is. Bigger events such as main events, concerts, game shows, etc. are a little more understandable.

So with that scuttled, I wandered around Artists’ Alley for a bit. As always, there was a section off to the side for pieces put up for silent auction, which ran the gamut of paintings to tapestries to shoes tricked out with someone’s fan art design. In the Artists’ Alley proper, Mookie, creator of Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire, was there, selling his various comic compilations, chatting with fans, and being overall awesome. It’s attributes such as that that drive me to visit him whenever he’s at a con I’m attending, and he never disappoints. He’s recently announced his coming will be drawing to a close soon, and we wish him the best in the future.

I then made my way over to the Hilton (the one attached to the convention center and where we were not staying) for the panel entitled “Sensihcon: The Complete Sailor Moon.” In between showing clips from the series, it was in-depth look at the franchise as a whole, and the turbulent history behind its release internationally. For one, Takeuchi is a feminist, and when she discovered that, aside from voice acting, women in the animation industry were practically nonexistent, that’s when she pulled the rights from, basically, the entire international market. But with the 20th anniversary release, things are looking up for the franchise. The anime is being redone—not redubbed and recut like Dragon Ball Z Kai, but done again from scratch, and, much to the joy of the fan base, the girls are going to appear much closer to their manga counterparts than in the original anime.

It did feel a little bit weird only accomplishing one panel on Friday—though not from a lack of trying—and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel just a little bit lazy. But these reports that I write up for the site are about my individual experience, which will drastically differ from person to person. Still, it doesn’t mean my con experience is limited to just going to panels. For example: just before and right after the debacle with the Jason David Frank autograph line, I ran into a few other members of our adventuring party, one of which was shooting the breeze with That Guy With The Glasses contributor JewWario. It embarrasses me to say it—and I expressed as much—but at first glance I simply thought the guy looked like JewWario; turns out, it was the real deal. He’s a very interesting person, and was fun to hang out with. He was in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure cosplay, which he pulled off very well. He was nice enough to get a picture with me, both of us in full cosplay mugging for the camera, which you can see on our Facebook page. He also complimented my Dan Hibiki cosplay, which, considering it was said cosplay’s debut, made me feel better about it. I thank you, good sir, if you’re reading this.

Saturday night at around 7:00, I was in attendance for a “Fighter’s Megamix” (not the game) photo shoot, which brought together characters from every fighting game franchise you can think of. About half of them were from Street Fighter, while the rest were from games like Tekken, King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat, and others. From what I understand, the photo shoot was repeated several times that weekend, but as Friday was the only day I was cosplaying Dan, and I was off doing other things, I couldn’t attend them all.

After that shoot, I grabbed a late dinner and decided to head back to my hotel room to rest up and get clean. This was where one of the most irritating parts of the weekend came into play. In order to better facilitate the Dan cosplay, I purchased these sandals from amazon.com. My mindset was that a) shoes wouldn’t look good with the cosplay, and b) these would slip off easily, switching in between being fully in and out of character in a heartbeat. I also thought that the little nubs on the shoes would massage my feet and feel really good. Wrong. Wrong. Not only did they start to hurt within an hour after wearing them, but by the end of the night I had a large blister on the bottom of my left foot. Hell, my movement felt compromised the entire weekend. It wasn’t a fun experience.

This was the weekend of the opening ceremonies and start of the Olympics, so I and other members of our adventuring party would occasionally tune in and watch them.

Instead of going to the rave this weekend, I opted for getting to bed early to get an early start on the next day—or at the very least try and get rested up. However, staggered wake up times between our people and others returning late from the rave made sleep patterns a little irregular. This is nothing new, and comes with the territory. So Saturday morning, I got dressed in my Hoenn!Ash cosplay, got some breakfast and headed over to the convention. It was another hot one, and the material of said cosplay didn’t do me any favors. It felt like all I did was sweat for hours on end. Although I didn’t get as many people taking photos of me as Ash as they did of me as Dan, it was still fun walking around in that outfit.

The first panel I attended on Saturday was one I wanted to attend the moment I read its description. It was called “Jojo’s Posing School.” For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, it’s a reference to the manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures, which currently stands at over eight parts and one hundred volumes. Among the things the series is known for (music used as a naming motif, the distinctive art style, the sounds made by rapid-fire attacks) is the way the characters are drawn in strange poses, which was what the panel was focused on. But rather than just show how they’re done, the two ladies running the panel had (mostly) everyone in attendance—including a few people cosplaying from Jojo’s—get up and practice the poses. She said it would be a “wake-up” panel, because they were physically taxing and could put a strain on your knees, back, hips, and other parts of your body…and they were right. Even worse were some of the arm placements, which felt rather contortionist at some points. The poses were spliced in with history of the franchise, and how there is an actual “Jojo Olympics” in Japan, which judges people on how well and how accurately they do these poses, including one event in which the poser is in mid-sit-up, with his arms crossed in an alluring(?) gesture and participants were judged on how long they could hold said pose. This is killer on your midsection. I didn’t learn this until later about the panel, but co-host DJ Ranma apparently knows the people who ran this panel. This was news to me. Still, I found the panel very enjoyable overall.

When preparing a con report, I set aside time to visit a great many panels at any given convention—it isn’t feasible to visit all of them, nor do I think it’s wise to spend every waking moment at a convention doing one thing, be it going to panels, playing in the game room, what have you. But I do try to go for at least half of what I schedule. I didn’t have very much planned until 2:00, when I made my way into the “Jason David Frank Martial Arts” panel. It was less a discussion about martial arts as it was a Q&A with Mr. Frank fielding any and all kinds of questions thrown his way. A few things we gleaned about him throughout the panel: 1) he loves his fans and doesn’t tire of them saying how much he inspired them; 2) he has a dojo in his home and once put out an open challenge to anyone who wanted to show up and fight him one-on-one, no backup or what have you, and nobody showed up; 3) he joked about being a prankster and a kleptomaniac on the set of Power Rangers, taking a few costume pieces with him, as well as a sock that (supposedly) Austin St. John used to stuff his ranger outfit. He also mentioned that he loves doing convention appearances like this, and that big turnouts like the one his panels and autograph sessions got are always enjoyable.

The next big event I attended wasn’t on the convention schedule, but was a Pokémon photo shoot. It was held on the terrace on the third floor…in the hot, Inner Harbor weather. Granted the venue was somewhat in the shade, but it was still muggy and uncomfortable. It ran smoothly enough, though I heard the people supposed to be running it couldn’t make it due to “one costume disaster after another.” The highlight of the shoot came when a guy dressed as a Nidoking proposed to his girlfriend dressed as a Nidoqueen. That wasn’t meant in any Pokémon-related gesture; the guy asked his girlfriend to marry him at an anime convention dressed as characters from Pokémon. And she said yes. Congratulations, you two.

I must’ve eaten at no less than three different sandwich shops that weekend, which is alright because they’re (mostly) pretty good places to eat—Subway, Jimmy John’s, and Pot Belly Sandwich Works. I was at the former for dinner, having decided to go back, get changed, get cleaned up and return to the convention. I wound up at the “The Changing Faces of Anime” panel, which chronicled the evolving art styles in anime since the feudal era and the artistic endeavors created then. He touched on the influence of Disney movies on early anime designs, and discussed how long running series such as Dragon Ball changed drastically during their tenure.

The last panel I attended that night was the “Anime Game Show Super Show.” It was three fan-made anime themed versions of old game shows, in this case Family Feud, Card Sharks, and Press Your Luck, in that order. The first game was hampered by technical difficulties, with one of the stagehands bragging about how prolific their technical errors were. It wouldn’t be that bad, except he was playing it completely straight; if he was begrudging, say, the convention center and/or staff for having shitty equipment and saying it sarcastically, then it wouldn’t have been as bad. But he was outright proud of the streak they built up. Not very professional sounding, guys.

I didn’t have any cosplay lined up for Sunday; we were mostly focused on interviewing con goers for our YouTube channel before the adventuring party parted ways. Normally that, along with my food-finding efforts between leaving the con and getting home would be the end of it, but I’m embroiled in a death match with the hotel and my bank in regards to funds the hotel was supposed to give back but accidentally took out of my bank account twice. And the ensuing delay in getting the money I am owed back to me. Just what I need—another reason to not use Wells Fargo.

I feel differently about this Otakon. While it is hands down my favorite convention to go to year after year, I was kicking myself for what feels like a bunch of insanely stupid and amateurish mistakes. The issue with the sandals and the ensuing issues with my feet were bad, and it ended up making me slowed down and sluggish the entire weekend. The heat and distance between the convention center and the hotel—the blame for which sits solely with the Marriott—certainly didn’t help matters. I felt it could’ve been better, but overall I have had far worse con experiences.

Oh, well. Live and learn, and don’t repeat the same stupid shit next time.

Ari Rockefeller

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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