Katsucon 8 was held February 13th through 15th, 2002, at the New Waterfront Marriot Hotel on the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, Maryland. This convention drew close to the pre-set limit, 7000 people. This is a big move for Katsucon which had previously always been held in Northern Virginia; the last three Katsucons were held in the same hotel in Crystal City. The move for Katsucon to a high-scale hotel and a different part of the huge Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area had a big effect on the convention.
Welcome to the Orobouros.net Katsucon 8 Web Report! The pictures have been up for a while now, but I've finally got my report up, too, even if it's almost a month after the con. Oh, there's also an easter egg here; see if you can find it. (It's been here since the pics first went up, but nobody was able to find it.) I took almost 200 pictures on my Olympus D-360L camera, all in large 1280 x 960 format. Each gallery page has thumbnails of those pictures, so you don't have to actually view each large picture to see it.
There seemed to be a trend amongst anime cons recently. More cons were showing up all over the country, and the already well established cons were growing in size dramatically. But it seemed that as the cons grew, they lost something, and people just weren't enjoying the con as much. This was certainly true of Katsucon. Katsucon 4 and 5 were great. But then along came Katsucon 6, which a lot of people didn't enjoy at all. And then Katsucon 7 really seemed to be a waste of time for many people. Katsucon 8, though, would be different.
Katsucon eight seemed to fix a lot of problems. The organization was better. Most of the big events came off without a flaw. The staff used the convention area quite effectively. There weren't even any kind of large scale travel problems for people traveling too and from Baltimore that weekend. Perhaps most importantly, despite Katsucon's poor record for the past few years, people were still enthusiastic to be at the convention, eager to enjoy another weekend filled with anime goodness. Much of this was probably due to something of a fresh start for Katsucon in a new city, in a new hotel.
But, this new hotel would bring a whole new set of problems with it. I had visited the hotel around the middle of December, to take a look at the layout of the convention space and to get an idea of what to expect. My experience there did not exactly bode well. A large telecommunications corporation had been there that weekend, but were already well into the process of breaking down their displays and cleaning up. Before I even had a chance to walk up and down a hallway, a hotel security officer asked me what I was doing there. I politely explained that I was simply interested in the facility, because I would be attending a convention there in the near future. Well, he not-so-politely told me to leave. Granted, I wasn't part of the convention that had been there, so I certainly can understand that the hotel wouldn't want anybody there who didn't need to be there. There would have been many more polite ways to inform me of this.
Well, two months later, it seems everybody is having these same kind of problems. Hotel security would hardly tolerate even a small conglomeration of people in the halls. A lot of costumers were asked to change to "more appropriate attire." Parties were shut down long before they even began, because they were already "making too much noise." (Three people talking normally apparently already constitute a noise disturbance.) All this put a big damper on the convention.
This isn't, however, necessarily all the hotel management's fault. Most hotels do have a lot of regulations, some for legal reasons, some for private reasons. Many convention hotels don't enforce these, especially not for fan conventions. In particular, fire codes often limit the number of people in a single room to six, which is certainly broken at most room parties. There are often also minimum attire clauses, which state that guests of the hotel must dress at least decently, if not professionally. Of course, what constitutes decency for the average anime fan is going to be a lot different than what it constitutes for a conservative corporate businessman. Just as a side note, decency doesn't even necessarily mean how much skin might be showing, but the style of attire. I know of one case where somebody was asked to change because they were wearing really baggy jeans and a shirt. The hotel probably didn't have any problem with anybody wearing a formal looking costume that was still somewhat revealing.
Where I see the real problem is with the convention staff. It is their responsibility to inform themselves of what conditions the hotel has. It is also their responsibility to inform the attendees of these conditions. If it had been announced ahead of time that the hotel had a specific dress code, a lot of people would have been angry, but at least there would have been no surprise by the time the convention actually took place. What probably upset people the most is that they came to the convention thinking it would be, well, just like most any other convention; you could dress how you please, and even a little bit of rambunctousness and silliness would be tolerated. But then comes the surprise, the hotel all of a sudden is pushing itself on you. It's not something you're prepared for. In fact, how do you know it's actually the hotel and not just this one old coot? It's this uncertainly, this unannounced change of plans that gets people as much as being forced to change.
The Waterfront Marriot is this nicest convention hotel I've ever been in. The prices are almost 50% higher than what most con hotels charge, but you are getting what you pay for. The hotel has bellhops to assist you as soon as you step out of your car. A gentleman is always by the door to open it for you. The lobby has fresh flowers brought in every day. The lobby has a real fireplace. The restaurant views right out onto the famous Baltimore Inner Harbor. Quite simply, it's a high-class hotel.
And, well, anime con attendees simply aren't high-class -- nor do I wish we were. Katsucon was the hotel's first fan-based convention, and they didn't really know what to expect. They're used to a clientele of businessmen, corporate executives, and rich vacationers. Not the young and energetic fans interested in those weird Japanese cartoons. As far as I've been told, though, the hotel certainly liked the convention, even if it had to keep things under "control" most of the time. Doesn't surprise me, that they'd be interested by money first and foremost. So the long and short of it is that the hotel wasn't expecting us, and we weren't expecting them. Hopefully, it's something that will get fixed next year. I, for one, hope we go back. High-class obviously has it's drawbacks, but it's got some nice benefits, too, so I'd be happy to have one of the many cons be at an upscale location.
Well, I've lingered pretty long on what really only amounts to one aspect of the convention, but it's probably what set the mood for the whole con, so I think that's appropriate. However, there are a lot of good points that the con had, too, so it's certainly time to go into those.
Friday morning, I took a cab down to the inner harbor (I live about three miles away, so there was no need to stay in the hotel, certainly not at those prices). I helped set up in the dealer's room, and I've just got to note that the hotel staff there was most helpful, providing fork lifts and carts to bring the many boxes in from the loading dock. Soon after that, it was time to see what was going on with the rest of the con, and I walked around and took plenty of pictures. One of the first things I did was check out the art show.
Normally, I find a lot of good pieces at the art show, but only a few really great pieces that stand out. Well, the art show this year was spectacular. Most of the art I saw was very nice. The pieces I really liked were both quite well drawn, and showed original thought, something I find lacking in most fan art, no matter how well drawn.
Most of the rest of Friday was a lot of picture taking, giving out badges to my club members, and greetings people I hadn't seen in a long time. After a while I got hungry, though, and went out to dinner. Even though I was completely sure that we could easily find a good, cheap restaurant in Little Italy, none was to be found. Luckily, we went past Fuddruckers and got a good meal there. Anna-neko got some great quotes from that evening, so check out her page for those. After dinner, I went back to Kareoke, which was also very nice. Everybody who got up on stage did their best. For the few that didn't quite have the best singing voices, they still had a great presence. People danced, got into the songs, and generally had a great time. Then came the real dance. The music was good, but things got a little hectic, a little too crowded, and it just wasn't for me. One day down, and two more to go, so I decided it was best to get some sleep before I might be staying up all night Saturday.
Saturday morning we took a slightly later departure to the convention. Of course, I took a lot more pictures. One of the highlights of the con for me was the Anime Industry panel. I learned a lot how the people who are bringing us anime view the current state of the industry. The representative from Media Blasters gave out free Berserk Episode One Preview DVDs. As for that, all I can say is that I can't wait for the DVDs to come out. However, what I found most fascinating and important was their take on fansubs. Fansubs have basically lost their purpose, one of the panelists said. They used to be samplers for clubs to show, so that anybody who was interested could go out and get the Japanese tapes. Well, then fansubbers started subtitling entire series, and once the internet came along, it wasn't just clubs that were trading stuff they subtitled, but anybody could get fansubs through distributers. Well, for a long time, that was still all good. Even though some people would get fansubs and never buy the commercial releases when they came out, most people still did. Fansubs basically promoted titles, so more people actually bought them because of the fansubs. By now, though, transfer and decoding speeds have gotten fast enough to allow entire episodes to be encoded digitally and transfered over high speed internet connections or CD-ROMs. And when they're online, anybody, including people from Japan and other parts of Asia can access them. Well, what does that lead to? If people in Japan can just download series instead of paying for them, the anime industry will be severely hurt. Even worse, bootleggers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malasia can take the English scripts and put them on their bootleg DVDs, then export them to the US, where American consumers will buy the bootlegs instead of the commercial releases, this time hurting the American anime industry. They brought up many other pertinent aspects of the interaction between western fans and the Japanese industry. It's a very interesting topic, and I really hope to learn more about it as time goes on.
Just as a side note, I recently had the great opportunity to briefly speak with John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He had a very interesting view on basically the same topic. His belief is that information should be made available to all. When Napster was shut down, record sales actually went down, since people didn't have the opportunity to download music for free. Basically, it wasn't promoted as much, so people weren't as interested in actually buying the CDs. Of course, this is a huge topic, one that I don't really feel qualified to get into. But I think the parallels to anime fansubs are obvious. I feel privileged to hear the two of the most different sides of the issue. On the one side, I got to hear from people who were certainly fans themselves, and certainly understood the desire for fansubs. They were of course interested in protecting their investments and the industry as a whole. Then on the other side, I got to hear from somebody who seems to have a much better view of the situation as a whole, somebody who feels that free access for all still leads to the greatest profit for the creators. Again, I must state that this is an incredibly interesting topic, at least for me, and I encourage you to go and find out more about it.
More photos, more such stuff. Five in the afternoon came around, and it was time for dinner! We had a reservation for 30 at the Hard Rock Cafe, but only about 20 people. No problem, though, we got seated quickly. I had missed the big cosplay escape dinner last year, so I was eager to go this time. And I was certainly not disappointed. I had a nice time away from the con, enjoying good food, talking with friends old and new. What was particularly interesting was the dome above us. It reflected and focused sound so that you could eavesdrop on somebody several feet away. We had quite a bit of fun with that little toy.
Well, my cosplay escape dinner didn't work out quite as I had hoped. I got back, just in time for the cosplay to start. Well, I figured that it was an opportunity, so I took a seat in the back and watched. I had no hassles with waiting to get in, or get a good seat, and waiting while the last preparations were made before the thing could actually get going. I watched the skits, and with only a few exceptions, they were are very good. They were well thought out, well performed, and most importantly, entertaining. My personal favorite skit was the Rose of Versailles skit at the very beginning. The two girls wrote a nice poem and worked on corresponding stage action. They pulled it off very well. What particularly appealed to me was the original idea, the original poem, and that they were up to par with some of the best costumes and skits from the rest of the cosplay, even though they were in the youth category. For better or worse, the cosplay contest has become much more competitive and strict than it used to be. But if people keep coming up with new ideas, new performances, new materials, the cosplay should be able to rightfully remain the biggest event at any con.
Despite seeing how well the cosplay went, I was still glad I chose to take a break from cosplay for a while. To start off, I probably would have felt deprived missing the cosplay if I had to worry about my own skit the whole time. More importantly, I believe in moderation. I have nothing but respect for all those cosplayers who have new costumes and new skits at every con. But for me, the time just isn't right. I've got other things to worry about than getting a costume done on time, a skit to practice and such. Additionally, cosplay has changed a lot since I got into it. I've noticed a trend towards stronger competition, more concentration on just cosplay instead of the con as a whole, and (I'm sad to say) some of the cliquish behavior and hostile attitudes common in high school. There are a lot of costumes I still want to do, lots of skits I'd like to perform. All in due time.
After the cosplay, we were treated to a very special event, a concert by Maria Kawamura. I really didn't know what to expect, other than just maybe her getting up on stage and singing a song or two. Well, it was far different. She sang for close to an hour. She got the audience all involved, even bringing up a lot of us on stage for a while! And we even got taught a parapara dance. And if you ask me, the highlight was her singing one of her new songs, Princess Kururu. She really knew how to perform on stage, draw the audience in, and she entertained spectacularly.
The dance fell far short of the excitement of the concert, so I left after only a few songs.
Then it was time to do what Saturday nights at cons are for, sit (or walk) around and just talk with people. I've said it before, and I'll certainly say it again. People are what make cons, and being able to catch up with old and new friends is what keeps bringing me back.
Sunday was typical. People say their goodbyes, pack up the last of their stuff and get on their way. Since I live so close, I was probably one of the last to leave, except for the dead-dog people staying till Monday. Really just for the heck of it more than any other reason, I decided to take a few last shots of the hotel in it's deserted state. Another con has come and gone.
So far this year, cons have been great. Ohayocon was a blast, as always. Katsucon was very enjoyable, too, despite a few hitches. Recently, I've felt that cons have been declining in quality, but if things keep going like this, 2002 should be a great year for conventions.
Due to misconduct of a small number of individuals attending the convention, Katsucon will no longer be held in the New Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel. This announcement comes directly from the Katsucon website. The convention is looking for other locations in the greater Washington, DC, area. This announcement comes as a disapointment to some, a relief to many, but a surpirse to none. This is also the most public a convention has been about in regards to the hotel prefering the convention not to return the following year.