Every year for one weekend the Baltimore Convention Center turns into the Mecca of Japanese-inspired geek culture on the East Coast with the anime convention. . Every aspect of Otakon seems large enough to be its own distinct individual convention and for my first assignment DC Geeks tasked me with covering it.
Like any good convention, the fans are what make Otakon an experience like no other. About mid-day on Saturday I bumped into a group of Kingdom Hearts cosplayers. Each of them was in a different costume, spanning at least a dozen games. Much to my surprise they hadn't coordinated my personal dream photo opportunity, they just dressed up as characters they liked and randomly found each other. This situation accurately describes most interactions at Otakon, spontaneous and friendly.
Not Kingdom Hearts, but the range of cosplay and fandoms is still impressive (Image from )
Every single person I met in every single line I waited anxiously in was overjoyed to drool with me over some obscure, short lived cartoon series without rhyme or reason. There's an atmosphere at Otakon that echoes a community that has been thriving for longer than some of its attendees have even been alive, but it is still open and receptive to first timers like myself.
If you think this is just a collection of Japanophiles, you'd only be partially correct. As the second largest anime convention in the United States, enough powerhouse weight is tossed behind Otakon to topple a Gundam. Major Publishers like and hold industry panels where they showcase and get feedback on their latest works. You can meet with well known voice actors (like from Nartuo), Artists (like Shingo Adachi from Megaman EXE) and Directors (like Hiroyuki Kanabe from Wolf's Rain).
The biggest guest stars I encountered were at the concerts. On Saturday I was stunned by the high energy raps of (featured in Naruto) and the heavy rocking sounds of (featured in Mobile Suit Gundam). On Sunday I was blown away by the stunning vocals of (featured in Mobile Suit 00) and the beautiful piano arrangements of (Featured in Ghost in the Shell).
T.M. Revolution (Image from )
If you're not into concerts or getting autographs, you can treat the convention as your own East Asian film festival. There are six theaters in the convention that play serialized anime and live action television series and movies starting at 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. the following day. I watched classic cartoons from my childhood like "Lupin III:The Mystery of Mamo," and discovered my new secret obsession, "". I was even able to catch the world premiere of the , which proved to me that not all live action adaptations of classic cartoons have to suck. (I'm looking at you Transformers.)
When I got tired of seeing oversized, sparkly, kawaii eyeballs I went to the video gaming hall. There I encountered probably the largest temporary arcade on the East Coast. Throngs of cheering fans crowded around arcade style Dance Dance Revolution and Pump It Up machines. Competitive fighting gamers competed in tournaments on 80 inch screens with titles like Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Street Fighter AE:2012, and my favorite, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.
At the back of the oversized arcade the non-profit, , had - using Japanese arcade gambling machines to raise money for the disabled. In the front, a playable prototype for the side scrolling Otakon inspired video game: . I was even able to introduce my 16 year old nephew to a few classics on console and arcade cabinets like Contra and Killer Instinct.
At the end of the weekend I was exhausted. Otakon offers so much to attendees it's impossible to experience every aspect of it. In this article alone I'm living out real Japanease cultural events, card playing tournaments, Cosplayers, panels with titles like: "Pokemon as Mythic Narrative," and a dozen other things I couldn't possibly do justice. To make matters worse, Otakon is planning to expand its prime convention to larger facilities in Washington D.C. and next year will be adding another convention to their roster in Las Vegas. I hope my next DC Geeks assignment comes with paid airfare.
Ryan made a video too! Check it out on our YouTube channel.