Otakon is one of the largest, if not the largest, anime conventions on the East coast, and this year it moved from Baltimore to Washington D.C. I think there was a lot of apprehension about the move on all sides, but I think that this year’s convention was a smashing success. The reason for the move for any that haven’t attended Otakon or kept an eye on the situation was a lack of space. The Baltimore convention center is 1,225,000 square feet and can hold about 35,000 people, which Otakon almost reached in 2013 (34,211). I have been attending Otakon since 2008 and let me tell you that Otakon was getting really cramped. It was always a lot of fun, but you had to get used to being packed in like a sardine at times. The Walter E. Washington convention center has a massive 2,300,000 square feet, almost double that of Baltimore, space that the convention sorely needed.
Since Otakon likes to start first thing Friday morning, I always go down the night before, and this year was no exception. The drive was not as bad as I expected, even after picking up a friend at the 30th street station in Philadelphia. I left at 12 noon and we were in our hotel room by 4:45pm. My hotel of choice was the Marriott Metro and I was happy with the service, including the 51USD a day for parking. Sure, there are some minor complaints I could make, but I’ve stayed in worse hotels in much worse places.
The first stop was the convention center so I could check in as a panelist. The walk to the convention center was perhaps a bit farther than some would like, but 10 minutes is less than I had to go for groceries in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and the sidewalks are much nicer too. I didn’t notice any lines at the con, but as a panelist I could walk right in anyway. Panel registered, I met up with all of my friends, whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s Otakon. Dinner was a burger joint and I relished a good old American burger after living overseas since the previous Otakon. It was at this point we took advantage of being in DC, and headed off to see some of the sights. Specifically, it was the WW2 and Korean War memorials. It was my first time seeing them and they were stunning.
It was then back to the hotel for a snack and some rest before the big day. The hotel food was ok, and a little overpriced, but nothing too extreme or a reason for me not to recommend staying there. The same could be said for the hotel breakfast. The food was good but not great, and a little overpriced.
This little exchange happened just as we left the hotel. My friend is cosplaying as Henrietta from Gunslinger Girl, and I’m cosplaying as the teacher from Interviews with Monster Girls.
Group of lost con goers- “Follow the school girl”
Me- “Otakon is the only place that follow the school girl is remotely appropriate.”
Laughter aside we made it to the con, and while some might complain about the bag check line Friday morning, it took us 20 minutes from arriving at the attached Marriott hotel till I entered the convention center. (first world problems, I know)
My first panel, The Biology of Dragons and Monster Girls, was a smashing success and I pretty much had panel 7 filled by the end. Everyone in attendance was great and the questions I got were excellent. I will be revising things in the future as a result, so thanks everyone. After that I went to Mechapocalypse, a panel on all things mecha. As a mecha fan I loved the walk through all things that make mecha anime great. This panel really didn’t add anything new or groundbreaking to my knowledge of mecha anime, but it did give me a few new suggestions on what to watch. Overall, I would rate it as a 7/10, add a point if you like mecha, and subtract one if you don’t.
I enjoyed the fact that there were a number of food options inside the convention center, much more than what was available in Baltimore. My personal favorite was the buffalo chicken wrap, which they need more of in the future as the veggie wraps are, well, let’s just say I’d rather have Mongolian food. The price was a bit high, but not too bad considering this is a convention in Washington D.C. It was also nice that you didn’t have to leave the con to get some real food. I would like to see a few more water stations in the future.
The dealers room and artist alley were enormous this year, and the space was wonderful. You didn’t have to walk over people to see or get to anything. I didn’t notice much of a difference in the quality or quantity of vendors so no complaints there. The same could be said for artist alley. Also, I liked the anime themed cars, which were interesting.
At this point I had my second panel of the con, Anime Anatomy. Again, thanks to everyone who came to learn about Anime Anatomy. I had some lingering digestive issues after lunch (damn you, Mongolia), so I’m sorry that you didn’t get my A game, but I think you guys enjoyed it. To the people who asked about Attack on Titan, the show is on my watch list and I will look into the science of it soon. Afterwards, I stayed for the I Cyborg: A study on the parallels between fictional and nonfictional cybernetics. First off, I want to say that the presenters were extremely knowledgeable about the subject. That knowledge was limited to what was possible and not how the technology actually worked. The panel focused on the latest breakthroughs and was more like a news reel than a panel. There was no comparison to anime or an explanation on how the technology worked. A great effort but only a 6/10.
The next panelist, however, knocked it out of the park with his Sake 101 panel. Having been to Japan before and doing a Sake panel myself once, the presenter was excellent. I learned a lot about sake from the history of, to the making of, to how to drink it. This was the best event or program I have ever seen about sake, 10/10.
FYI- getting caught in the rain Friday night was not fun to say the least.
I got a late start on Saturday, and began with my third and final panel of the con, Teaching with Anime. While it was my least attended panel in the smallest room, I still had a good turnout. Thanks again to everyone who turned out, and I had a wonderful time listening and learning from all of you. In the future, I am thinking of making the panel a workshop so we can help each other create classroom lessons for our students using anime. I did run into one troll after the panel was over as I was leaving the room which was upsetting, given how great everyone in the panel was, but that’s the life of a panelist at a con.
Next up was a panel one of my friends wanted to go to, Lipstick and Superpowers: The Femininity of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. It was a tight well run panel, but we came in late and never saw the show so it was hard to follow as a result, and not the panelist’s fault (9/10). The Beautiful Backgrounds of anime was a blast until I fell asleep, but I enjoyed learning about the often-ignored background art and how it contributes to a show (9/10). Charles Dunbar is a fantastic presenter and his panels are always a hit, and his Fantastic Beasts and Where to Fight Them did not disappoint. His bombastic style and storytelling is always a hit, not to mention learning something new at the same time (10/10). I was a little disappointed by the How to Write about Japan- The pros and cons. This was the only panel I left early, as it was more about their life stories and how they got into writing about Japan and less about how to do it. I was hoping to pick up some tips on travel writing, and my writing on this blog (5/10). Next up was Mecha, or how I Learned to Worship the Gundam. This one was done by my friends over at Doomtastic, and it was a lovely romp through all things great and humorous about Gundam. I’m not going to rate it as I won’t be able to be completely objective.
The day ended with a lovely dinner at a local restaurant with friends and friends of friends, all in all a great time. It’s going to take a few cons to learn where all the best restaurants are, but it’s going to fun to find out.
While I know as much as anyone how hard it is to get up and be engaging as a panelist first thing Sunday morning, I was extremely disappointed with the Spies in Anime panel. It was a really interesting concept and could have been awesome, but it was far from it. While it was a panel of 4, only one did the talking, and it was clear as day that he had not practiced his presentation. It was little more than a walk-through of a few anime that had spy-like elements. The group needs to spend a lot more time perfecting their craft before presenting again (3/10). We stayed for the Japanese car culture, Anime and the Art of the Drift panel. The panelist really knew his stuff, and his style worked for a car culture newb, like myself. My only complaint is that it seemed like he was reworking the panel and didn’t finish it in time for the convention. A relatively minor complaint at that. I learned a lot about Japanese anime, cars, and culture all at the same time (9/10). My final panel of the con was Charles Dunbar’s Yokai Nation and it did not disappoint (9/10). The rest of the day was spent wandering the convention, hanging out with friends, and taking photos.
All in all, Otakon knocked it out of the park this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s con is bigger as people return after taking a year off.