Report and Notes
Otakon one again showed why it is the biggest convention on the East Coast. One could have spent the whole weekend focusing only on guests, concerts, cosplay, or videos and not run out of things to do. In fact, in part due to Otakon's need for some extra convention space, the city of Baltimore opened up the brand-new Hilton to the con for extra panel and autograph rooms. Connected by an enclosed (and air-conditioned) walkway, the new space shows clearly how Otakon is almost an unstoppable force. Otakon booked around 4,500 hotel rooms in 2008, and the brand new hotel will probably easily drive that number past 5,000 this year. Consider also the more than $25 Million brought in and over 26,000 attendees from 2008 and it's no wonder 2009 has become even bigger. But those are just numbers. Looking at what all Otakon offers its attendees and the origin of those numbers should become clear.
When Otakon started in the mid-1990s the whole event would probably have fit into the Hilton expansion. Many of the shows that were popular at the time are now long forgotten by many attendees. However, some of these older shows still have large following and avid fans. Much of the staff from those great old shows is still around and working on new projects. Unforgettable classics like Ah! Megami-sama! and Legend of the Galactic Heroes are still popular today and many fans are being reintroduced to these shows as predecessors to some of today's big hits. Otakon knew to appreciate such timeless shows and invited some timeless guests such as actress Kikuko Inoue and producer Masao Maruyama this year. Otakon's websites's guest page is chock-full of such great guests and we can easily see how many attendees spent their whole weekend.
As has become tradition at anime conventions for the past several years, guests include musicians who perform a concert as well as holding more regular panels and autograph sessions. Echoing back to 2004 when rock group L'Arc~en~Ciel came to visit, this year VAMPS visited Baltimore (and Otakon) as part of their US tour. And though the VAMPS concert was not directly part of the convention, they still held panels for the many fans who had come to see them. Not to leave other attendees hanging, though, Otakon put on three additional concerts over the weekend in the enormous Main Events hall.
Too big for even the huge Main Events hall, the centerpiece event at every convention, the masquerade competiton was again moved to the 1st Mariner Arena across the street from the Convention Center. This venue seating more than 12,000 was fairly packed Saturday as the big event unfolded. Many of the participants had not only been preparing well before the convention but also spent much of their time at Otakon preparing for their big show. Perhaps because of Otakon's large size or in the spirit of friendly competition, the participants really pulled out all the stops and put on a great show. Many masquerades, including ones at past Otakons, are often riddled with poorly planed or executed skits which makes the show drag out needlessly. This year, though, almost each and every single skit was entertaining and enjoyable. Dancing, singing, martial arts, and more, Otakon's masquerade had it all. Perhaps it will mean next year the bar will be raised even higher.
While this so far covers three of the biggest events at Otakon, the convention is made up of much more than just a few big events. If anything, what really makes the convention are the many, many smaller events, panels, meetings, and such. The official cosplay.com meet-up listing was over four pages long. Panels consisted of industry, fans, and guests talking with attendees, often with six different panels running concurrently. Video rooms had premieres and the ever popular Anime Music Videos. And at no time could you count the number of cosplayers around on only one hand unless you only counted those over seven feet tall. And as expected, the dealer's room was once again large enough to actually launch small planes. If the point wasn't already clear, there was no lack of things to do at Otakon.
And yet, many of the 26,000 attendees were at any given time not specifically doing anything related directly to the convention. The Baltimore Convention Center's large open spaces gave many people a place to sit down and socialize. And as many people were taking a break and resting inside the convention center, many more were out in the Inner Harbor. Though mid-summer Baltimore can be hot and humid, Otakon attendees were quite visible amongst the many regular tourists all throughout the Harbor and surrounding area. No restaurant ever had less than a party or two from Otakon, at least. Even when it was only for a "quick break" meal or such, Baltimore's big tourist area is as much part of the convention as any of the hotels, at least as far as attendees are concerned. While there will always be tourists looking on in amusement (or "astonishment" as the case may be), local businesses and restaurants know to prepare for Otakon and welcome the attendees. It's really only fair to say that Otakon takes over the Inner Harbor.
In conclusion, Otakon is clearly a huge event. No one person could hope to do everything that is offered, and for many that wouldn't even be an idealistic goal. Some even spend more time away from the convention than directly at it. But Otakon and Baltimore offer plenty of opportuneness for attendees to have fun, relax, get excited, and socialize. And while Otakon officially only runs for three days, Thursday has become a de facto pre-con night with as much going on as any other day. A testament to Otakon's sucess can be seen on the day after the convention. Hotels are already flooded with requests to book hotel rooms for the next year, even before the excitement of the last Otakon has faded at all.
Otakon 2010 will be held July 30th through August 1st, 2010 at the Baltimore Convention Center
You can find some more of my thoughts and personal experience of Otakon on LiveJournal.