Orobouros.net @ Katsucon 2006
Location: Washington, DC
Venue: Omni Shoreham Hotel
Date: February 17th - 19th, 2006
Attendance: 6,400
Photos: 927

Katsucon 2006 was held February 17th - 19th, 2006, in Washington, DC, not far away from the US Capitol. After moving away from the traditional Crystal City hotel after 2004 and being held in two hotels in nearby Arlington in 2005, Katsucon has crossed the Potomac river and is now actually within the District of Columbia. Overlooking the south end of the enormous Rock Creek Park, the Omni Shoreham is a bigger, more luxurious location, often used for big-tickets events. As the anime and manga business continues to grow in the US, though, a fandom convention no longer seems out of place. In 2002 Katsucon made a brief visit to Balitmore, Maryland, in a similarly swank hotel; the experiment ended poorly in most peoples' opinion. But perhaps everybody has learned from their mistakes.

(06/03/07) All done! Pictures, report, and everything done!

(06/03/06) Report done! This page will be finalized in a few days, once I edit in some appropriate pictures for each section and do a final proofread.

(06/02/25) Pictures done!

(06/02/20) I'll be spending Monday editing and sorting, so come back and take a look soon! In the mean time, read the Washington Post article in the Weekend Section.

Location

The Omni Shoreham is a 75 year old hotel at the south end of Rock Creek Parkway, the largest park in Washington, DC. Many of the rooms look out over the parkway, making the hotel location alone fairly fancy. Built in the 1930s, the style is very classical and upscale. It's quite different from the modern-day "plain-and-simple" convention centers most conventions take place in. Banners commemerating the many famous past guests of the hotel adorn the walls and pillars in the lobby, showing off the classy upscale hotel.

Only a few miles away from the White House and Capitol, the Omni Shoreham is right in the middle of a busy city. The Smithsonian Zoo is a few blocks up the street and the hip Adams Morgan district is a few blocks to the east. Restaurants, entertainment, and commerce all are in abundance in the area. Even a number of residential apartment buildings are close by. While there are no big-box stores around (that I'm aware of) the neighborhood of the Omni Shoreham rivals even the Baltimore Inner Habor where Otakon is held. Most things convention attendees need is probably available in the area.
Except parking. Valet parking at the hotel is available, but the limited amount of spaces are not nearly enough for all the convention attendees, especially when many would be commuting daily from home. (Though, in this case, the metro is superior for commuting.) The close by metro stop means easy access without a car, but that does bring it's own problems with it. Many will bring more to a convention than they can easily -- if at all -- carry at once. This is doubly true for cosplayers. The most common solution was to drive in, unload, then drive out to park and return with the metro. This is a pain at best. Additionally, many people store their luggage in their cars after checking out on Sunday. Instead, even the huge lobby was filled Sunday with guests attending their bags and waiting to leave. The hotel did prepare well with both a coat check, a luggage check, and a loose items check, but with thousands of attendees, these solutions are inconvenient at best. Many people probably chose to pay the approximately $80 for parking over the weekend in order to avoid such hassles. In the end, though, this is probably just another facet of convention going that attendees and hotels will learn to deal and live with quickly.

Facility

The convention facilities of the Omni Shoreham match the rest of the hotel. Built and kept in a classical style, most areas have high ceilings and many mirrors adorn the walls. Even the hallways are wide and adorned with chandeliers and moulding. The wide hallways -- though often not wide or bright enough for photos -- give attendees plenty of space to move around in, even with benches, tables, and chairs off to the sides. The facilities stretch from one end of the hotel to the other, connected by the main hallway which passes through the lobby.
Built on a hill, the convention area spans several floors connected by many short stairways. This can be quite confusing at first, as the hallways branch off in all directions, including up and down. More than once, I got the impression that after going down, down, down, I ended up on the entrance level again! It is almost like a maze, since rooms and halls have been squeezed in behind staircases and other hallways. After a few hours, though, the layout becomes much clearer. Despite the seemingly haphazard layout, most everything is linear. To get to any point from another point, there is pretty much only the right and wrong way to go. As I've mentioned before, this is a good feature for any convention area to have, as it makes orienting oneself easier. "Next to Artist's Alley" is pretty much clear without further explanation. Such a layout does increase the feeling of size of the facilities, though, and is somehow appropriate for such an old hotel.

Each meeting room or function space also had the same grand design as the rest of the hotel. Other than the exhibit hall used as the dealer's room, ceilings were high, carpets were plush, and the walls moulded and adorned with mirrors in many cases. With such large function space, only the hallways ever really seemed crowded. Even the hallways and lobby were still fairly spacious, with plenty of seats and chairs to sit on. The lobby, wide and fashioned with lots of marble, was fairly well lit and made a good meeting spot. Even with the thousands of Katsucon attendees, it never seemed all too full.
Perhaps the best part of the facilities, at least for cosplayers and photographers, was the back courtyard. From behind the hotel restaurant, a covered balcony led to two curving stair cases, which led to first a patio, then a fountain, then a small garden with a stone gazebo in it. Words can't really describe it; one has to see it to fully appreciate it. With Rock Creek Parkway in the back, the only real distraction was a small mesh wire fence at the edge. Trees and maintained shrubbery provided a pretty decent backdrop. There was plenty of space back there, too, with several patios leading out from other sections of the hotel and grassy areas between them. And, of course, the decoration was as fancy as the hotel itself. Despite the cold weather, especially on Saturday and Sunday, many cosplayers braved the near-freezing weather to take pictures. (Photographers are fortunate enough to be able to bundle up.)

Hotel

While the hotel is old and fancy, the rooms are more or less what one would expect from most any modern hotel. Beds, a small desk, a chair, a TV, and a dresser. Even wireless internet access for free. As a fancy hotel, though, they did have bottled water and assorted snacks available. If they need to be replenished, it goes to your bill. The cost was about six dollars for the kind of bag of peanuts one gets on an airline flight these days. For such a fancy hotel, though, room service seemed to be fairly lacking. The maid who serviced my room forgot to give us fresh towels, and other rooms apparently were completely neglected.

As a convention hotel, though, it was fairly good. Four main elevators serviced eight guest floors, with at least one or two other elevations available if one knew where to look. The elevators were small, and predictably broke down occasionally, but generally serviced the hotel guests well enough that there was never any major line to go up or down. (Sunday around checkout, though, I'm sure that was a bit different.) For those willing to undertake some exercise, at least eight stairwells went from the convection area up to all the floors. Again, they never seemed to be too crowded or busy. That being said, though, people with disabilities may have a number of extra inconveniences staying at the Omni. While it does conform to engineering codes, the accessible areas are usually a bit difficult to get to and out of the way.

Staff

While every convention will suffer complaints about the staff, Katsucon this year seems to be getting a lot of specific complaints. Most importantly, though, the hotel staff seemed very accommodating and friendly, which is almost a surprise since fandom conventions and classy hotels usually don't mix as well. A lot of the dedicated Katsucon staff also seemed helpful and friendly. However, many of the staff in charge of wrangling attendees and organizing lines seemed either clueless or incompetent. If one was lucky, a staff member would be helpful, informative, and professional. If not...
I heard numerous and consistent complaints about staffers yelling angrily at and touching attendees if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. While many attendees are far from courteous or mindful of rules, in most cases, people just aren't aware that they are causing a problem or doing something wrong. It's always only fair to give them the benefit of the doubt and speak politely to them. Touching another person, while in reality probably completely harmless, does cross a boundary which has legal implications. It just shouldn't be done.

My personal experience was so absurd it was almost funny. I had taken a picture of a girl in costume while she sat in a chair in the lobby. I doubt I was in the way, but that doesn't really matter. After I had thanked her for letting me get a shot, a staffer came up to her and asked her to move. The costumer's reply was an (appropriately indignified), "I'm just sitting here." The staffer replied that somebody could take her picture and that would cause a traffic problem, and that she should go somewhere else. Now, if there was a real such problem, she should have asked me not to take pictures and block traffic.

I strongly suspect this is a case of somebody being told not to let people take pictures in a way that blocks traffic. Then, without thinking and without guidance, less experienced staffers may come up with their own ideas on how to deal with it. What really needs to be done is to take all junior staffers and give them a through lecture on how to go about their job. All attendees owe the staffers a great deal of respect and gratitude for making the whole thing possible in the first place, but that's no excuse to entrust a degree of power in somebody who doesn't have the responsibility to use it correctly. In the end, it sounds like a general communication problem from the top to the lower echelons. Convention staffing is no easy task, and new volunteers need to be eased into it carefully. If staffers are almost literally put into an authority position sink-or-swim, there are sure to be problems adjusting. For what it is worth, as the convention proceeded this seemed to be a much smaller problem. Along the way, somebody probably started doing something quite right.

Attendees & Atmosphere

Katsucon in 2002 -- when located at the Balitmore Inner Harbor -- showed that convention attendees will, despite any particularly classy venue, still behave at the lowest acceptable level of conduct. Of course, the vast majority of attendees at any convention will be able to behave maturely. Or at least, semi-maturely; in any case well enough to avoid making a blatant pain of themselves or others. As those with the worst behavior are those that get noticed, though, that is the metric by which attendees in general will be judged. This year, it seems the maturity level had gone up at least a small notch.
This year, there seemed to be a considerable lack of asinine (and prohibited) signs. Even the most excitable fans seemed to keep a hold on their enthusiasm until the right moment. And despite some displeasure about being herded about like cattle, most attendees complied with out much complaint, although in many cases begrudgingly. In short, there were fewer instances of attendee-caused trouble than one would expect. Of course, with such an enjoyable area and location, people probably also had less stress to deal with over the weekend.

And so, the atmosphere was quite enjoyable. With plenty of room and activities, as well as a gorgeous hotel to stay in, the only things that could really go wrong were personal issues. Luckily, it seemed most people avoid any sort of serious convention drama or other problems. Sickness, though, is often a problem at Katsucon, being held in pretty much the dead of winter when colds go around quickly. As convention attendees gain experience with this part of the hobby, though, most learn to prepare ahead of time to avoid such problems. Pepto-bismol and cough drops are probably in many attendee's stapel.

Unfortunately, there were two attendee related issues -- one serious, the other less so -- which were bad examples of how conventions can be annoying and frustrating. The first, the serious issue, involved an attendee who had been injured. While in the lobby, I heard somebody yell, "fell down the stairs." That's not a good thing to hear. Moments later, I see blue-vested staffers carrying a person through the hallway while almost running. I'm going to assume that they knew what they were doing. However, for somebody who's on the outside, it's almost chilling to see somebody who just had a bad fall be jostled around like that. The last thing I'd want if I was in a sitation where I make have broken a neck or spine would be to be moved around like that. The whole thing was probably the result of somebody thinking jumping all the way down a flight of stairs would be a good idea -- only to land wrong and sprain an ankle. In any case, this goes back to a communication issue between convention organizers and staff members. If nothing else, yelling out the details of what happened is probably not a good idea. At best, it clears people out of the way; the same thing a hearty "MOVE!" would do. At worst, it would attract a bunch of onlookers and gawkers, embarrassing the injured and hindering help efforts by staff and paramedics.

On whole, the maturity and behavior of convention attendees seems to be going up slowly. However, at the mc chris concert, I thought anything but that. Scheduled right before the Saturday night rave, mc chris put on a show. While many there were maybe too enthusiastic, a crowd dispersed throughout the back was waiting for the dance to begin. Apparently, they didn't like the performance so much and didn't really care about anybody who had come for it. So, between songs, they chanted, "get off the stage." Just plain rude, just like that. I could go into the reasons that's pretty much shooting themselves in the feet, but such words would probably just fall on deaf ears. I'll just say that the rave was scheduled to go until four in the morning, plenty of time for anybody there to dance their heart away. Many long-time convention attendees tend to get disillusioned with the convention scene, and leave taking their wisdom, tales, and anecdotes with this. This is one of the reasons why.

Guests & Programming

Looking at the lineup of guests before the convention was less than impressive. While it's always a pleasure to have many of the common American guests, the ones who always have new stories and inside jokes to share, the Japanese guests are often an attendee's only chance to get to know and experience the Japanese side of the industry. This year's big guests were Big Fighter Project. Though they were involved in a few known shows, undoubtedly most people's first exposure to them was the convention itself. Luckily, Katsucon had chosen wisely to provide a strong performing group that could easily entertain the attendees, despite a possible lack of US exposure. Unfortunately, the convention seemed to do poorly as far as promoting them went. Big name guests will get plenty of word-of-mouth exposure, but unless the guests are known to the attendees one way or another, the draw will be much smaller, no matter how talented and interesting the guests are.

I've been told that turnout for Big Fighter Project's events was much better Saturday than Friday. No doubt due to word of mouth by the smaller groups who went to see them the first day. While providing more exposure on the website may have helped, a number of things at the convention itself probably would have been wise. At opening ceremonies, the group was pretty much just ushered on and off the stage after only a few words. Seeing as they were the big guests, I'm sure a bit more time would have been appropriate. (Though, opening ceremonies has a lot to cover, and probably had to make cuts in a lot of places; it's no easy job, I can say from experience.)

For reasons unknown, the Big Fighter introductory panel session was scheduled after their concert. Introducing them first would probably have given people a chance to find out about what they would be doing over the convention and what to expect. Instead, these guests really only got exposure to fans who particularly were interested in seeing them. In fact, I don't think their big Friday concert was even announced as a concert. That alone, or at least pushing them more actively, may have really increased attandance. As it was, only about three front rows were filled, with maybe another three rows of people dispersed throughout the main events room. (Conventions should take a cue from Anime USA. Move performed in a smaller room, probably not a fifth the size of the Katsucon main events hall. This packs people in and gives a much better appearance to the performers.) A notice of no cameras beforehand would have helped; I can imagine many otherwise interested people turned away rather than have to ditch their camera somewhere. (Having a press pass, this luckily didn't effect me.) Being visual artists, the group needs to protect their most important commodity, their image. However, some work ahead of time may have found a better balance between all the issues. Many people probably missed out on a very enjoyable preformance.

Dealer's Hall

The Dealer's Hall, in many ways the center of a convention, was located on the lowest level and behind two staircases. In contrast to most other conventions, the room had a low ceiling and a lot of support columns. (Actually, it reminded me of the days of conventions where hotel basements were the only place they were held. I'll stop dating myself now.) Blue carpet covered a concrete floor for the most part. The unused far edges of the room were barren and dark, even though lighting kept the used area fairly bright. The low ceiling and close booths made it feel like a maze, appropriate to the whole hotel.

As far as merchandise goes, I don' remember much out of the ordinary. The usual staples of EGL clothing and swords were there, as were countless booths selling figurines, manga, dvds, and doujinshi. Having no contractual conflicts, Katsucon vendors could sell food items, and whole tables were devoted to Japanese snacks. In fact, that booth may have been the busiest of all. With most stores operating internet outlets and eBay profiteers everywhere, few items really seem new and unique these days. But, with a wide variety of stores and services represented, I doubt anybody could have left unsatisfied unless they tried. If you wanted it, it was probably there somewhere. In fact, one quite interesting item for sale: Taiko-drum hats.

Cosplay / Masquerade

Cosplay generally improves as the convention grows in size. The more people likely to see somebody, the more effort a lot of people put into their costumes. This in turn raises the standard, and people want to keep up. Katsucon had a lot of good costumes this year. While I didn't see any particular showstoppers, I had plenty to do to keep up with all the great costumes I saw. Overall, it was pleasing to see a relative decline in the number of "out of the closet" costumes. Makes me want to get back into that part of the hobby again.

I can't praise the back patio and garden of the Omni enough. The setting was almost perfect. Only some chain-link fences in the back and aluminum framework on the hotel spoiled an otherwise pristine classical setting. Grand staircases, a fountain, and a stone gazebo in the back made for perfect settings for almost all costumes. Particularly elegant or old-fashioned themed costumes matched the hotel decor even better. And even the weather was good for photos, though the cold winter was not as kind on the cosplayers themselves.

The pinnacle of cosplay at any convention is the masquerade. While again the cosplayers had to deal with some problems (the nice room they had been promised by the hotel was flooded and they ended up herded into a back delivery area), the performances were grand. This masquerade is certainly in the top five of any convention I've attended. Practically each and every skit was pulled off fairly well, even ones where technical difficulties caused snafus, and none dragged on long enough to become boring. And not only were the skits interesting, almost all the costumes were interesting on their own. While some were about what one expects, some were downright amazing.

The trophy for Best in Show was actually larger than some of the members of the group receiving the award. Fitting, if you ask me, for a masquerade that exceeded most expectations.

Conclusions

Katsucon, due to its location, will always be compared with the much larger Otakon, currently held a few miles to the north in Baltimore. Despite some communication and organization problems, I think it's finally a fair comparison to make. Katsucon has grown well and been pulled off well for many years now. Now (and for the next two years at least) in a fantastic location and facility, I expect Katsucon to continue to be one of my favorites to attend. Even if the programming sags a bit, pretty much every other aspect of the convention makes up for it. In the end, it's always the attendees who make the convention. With such a great location and great setup, about everybody can come and enjoy themselves profusely.

About the Photos

You can browse the photo gallery using the menu to the left, or below if your have a non-css compliant browser. The galleries have been built using JAlbum 6.2, a multi-platform program which is quite powerful and customizable. The gallery pages here are based on my own, custom-tailored page template. Thumbnail pages will link to larger images along with photo information. Click on the image to get the full-sized image. Dial-up users beware: these are around half a megabyte in size. Most images were shot in JPEG and processed automatically from 8MP down to just under 4MP. Images shot in RAW have usually been custom processed. If you'd like any of these images in higher quality (full 8MP size and without any processing done, and no extra compression) just let me know. However, this is only for the subjects of the photos themselves; I'd like to keep a handle on where the originals go. On a final note, I have a f/1.8 lens for the next convention. Should make for some better pictures, so check back on the main page in April for Tekkoshocon pictures!

Links

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Photos, layout, & content 2006 Oliver Oberg