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Mumbling Kitsune: Otakon 2008: The Good, The Bad and the Costumed
This year's Otakon was a blast, barring a few small snags.
By Nadia Oxford
August 17, 2008
Otakon has come and successfully gone. The Otaku Convention's fifteenth year was a success, breaking attendance numbers with over 26,000+ anime-crazed souls bouncing around the Baltimore Convention Center. The special guests were a hit, especially Japan's own JAM Project, a music group famous for its anime and game-based tunes. JAM Project suitably entertained the crowd and flavoured the convention without crippling downtown Baltimore entirely (cough cough, L'Arc en Ciel, 2004). Author Peter Beagle made an appearance as well, performing running commentary during a screening of his most beloved story, The Last Unicorn.
For all the fun Otakon brings with it (at least until the inevitable Con-Death settles into everyone's heads and chests), there are a few factors that the staff—and attendees—can stand to improve upon.
Great Panels—When They Run
The schedule for the anime and game panels was a mess. Nearly everyone who hoped to attend at least one panel arrived to find out that it had been knocked back, forward or obliterated entirely. Disappointed attendees were told that they should have checked the schedule on Otakon's website for last-minute changes. Fair enough, but nobody really totes around their laptop as an accessory to their Naruto costume and even if they were going for a cyber-ninja theme, there's no free wi-fi inside the Convention Center. Hotel wi-fi access is a safer bet, but even that can be spotty. In the end, it amounted to a lot of disgruntled attendees who will think twice before bothering to line up for another panel.
Lots of Fun, Empty ATMs
Empty ATMs were another source of frustration; the majority of the Convention Center's cash machines were empty by the end of the first day. The machines that survived being entirely skinned were abhorrently slow, leading to long line-ups and short tempers. Most of the merchants in the dealer's room and Artist's Alley accept cash only, so accessible money benefits everyone.
(Shorter lines at the Convention Center's one Starbucks would also be very nice, though it's likely out of the Otakon Staff's control.)
For the most part, Otakon's attendees exhibit behaviour their moms can be proud of. People are courteous, eager to help and polite through the endless photo shoot requests. But disappointing behaviour still occurs: this year, one popular artist reportedly registered a bunch of tables in Artist's Alley under different names. Over a dozen tables that could have gone to different artists went to one person instead. Typically, when a popular artist outgrows the Alley, they move on to the dealer's room to handle increased demand. Artist's Alley is for anyone looking to make a few extra dollars and it's always heartening to see people share food, table space and advice. Watching the Alley turn into a Wal-Mart is depressing; hopefully it's a transformation that will be stopped immediately.
Cat and Mouse Cosplayers
Otakon was bursting with cosplayers, of course. This year's unofficial theme was Death Note, a trend that was long overdue. The Convention Center was filled with upstanding schoolboys in neat suits and ties as well as slouching detectives with mussed hair and darkened eyes. Death Note's popularity is certainly understandable, but admittedly it makes for some dull cosplay. A couple of creative souls tried to stir things up by cosplaying as Shinigami instead of the series' human characters, but they were disappointingly few.
Even so, some of the standard cosplayers deserve applause. One L cosplayer immersed herself fully in her role by surrounding herself with L's favourite foods: mashmallows, sugar cubes, chocolates and candies of all colours and kinds. Another L went around the Artist's Alley with a tupperware container of chocolates, silently offering his bounty to the weary artists. It's almost certainly out of character, but very much appreciated nonetheless.
Next Year in Baltimore
Con-goers who enjoy planning ahead as a way to stave off the post-con blues will be interested to know that 2009's Otakon takes place on July 17 through 19. Check this gallery for some excellent costume photos from this year's batch.
See you next year!