This year is quickly shaping up into my best convention-going experience yet. It was the first year for Smudge! Expo, the second for Awesome Con (although my first attending), and now my first time attending Otakon, which is also my first attending an Anime convention. So many firsts, and all of them fantastic! Never mind that Baltimore Comic-Con and Small Press Expo are just around the corner, and that they are sure to cap everything in grand fashion.
But, Otakon! Why did I enjoy my first time so much? Truly, it’s because it guaranteed that I am now completely, unabashedly back into manga and anime. I’ve gradually found my way back for a little while, but this one event kicked all of that into gear. Which is fantastic! Mostly because it’s helped me broaden my horizons, and placed so much on my radar. So, let’s talk about it!
There was so much to take in. From all of the artists and creators I recognized, to all of the new ones I just learned about, or for that matter the new anime I now have to watch. Then if that’s not enough, I actually went to some panels, and had a ball. Seriously, there were some good and incredibly informative panels! Oh, and did you know? Anime conventions have great cosplay, so there was a lot of that! A LOT! You could probably spend the entire convention admiring just that.
In fact, the cosplay was everywhere from the convention center to the rest of the inner harbor area. Photo-shoots seemed to spring up out of nowhere, whether impromptu or planned. Which is saying something considering the sheer volume of people. Between the baseball crowd that weekend and the con-goers the mood was quite festive, even though some people seemed a little perplexed by the cosplayers.
A nicer moment involved an older gentleman asking me whether I was in town for Otakon. He’d noticed my badge, and wanted to express his appreciation for the whole event. It was a random sort of thing, but one that made me realize that Otakon has a positive impact in Baltimore, outside of the obvious economic one (the food industry I’m sure made a killing). I certainly think it will be missed in once it moves to DC in 2017.
That said, the convention will benefit from the larger convention center in DC. As things stand it stretched the bounds of what is possible in Baltimore. It’s spread out between a few hotels and the convention center. This affords ample space for each individually defined area, but creates some rather problematic, crowded, and smelly choke points. Much was done to direct traffic as effectively as possible, and credit goes to the organizers, but there’s only so much that can be done about narrow stairways.
Along the same lines, it felt like Artist Alley was harder to access. It was separated from the Dealer’s Room, with its entrance tucked away in the back. Unless you were gunning specifically for it, odds are you could have missed it entirely. I’m sure this was born of necessity, as well as the fact that the Dealer’s Room was huge (and also where wallets went to die). Nonetheless, it made it harder to just stumble upon Artist Alley, and maybe discover something new.
However, these are small nitpicks. Generally this is a well organized event, especially considering its size. Yes, there were some encounters with less than helpful staff, but that’s inevitable when you’re dealing with the sheer volume of attendees and volunteers.
So panels! That most elusive of con-happenings, at least for me. I typically get so caught up in Artist Alley that I never make it to any, but this time was different. I made it a point to explore more, and this included making time for panels. Specifically, Kurosawa: Romancing of the Samurai and World War Two in Anime. In the latter’s case it turns out that Japan is obsessed with WWII – who’d have thought!
Both were incredibly informative and insightful, and especially in the case of the WWII panel avoided predictable pitfalls and provided a fair and funny perspective. In the end, this all made me want to watch a lot of what was discussed! From Girls und Panzer to Grave of the Fireflies - which is pretty much the whole point, isn’t it?
These panels were also longer presentations, which with varying skill were crammed into one hour slots. While this did not detract from the informative and even entertaining nature of either, it did prevent any kind of Q&A session. Is it possible that the lack of longer time slots was the result overbooked programming? If so, this brings us back to the need for a larger space.
Between these panels, I got a chance to stop by the video rooms where movies and series played for the duration of the convention. Not only were these great for resting, but also proved to be a gateway into new anime, which means they brilliantly achieved their purpose. I will definitely watch more Silver Spoon and Koroko’s Basketball, and rather look forward to both!
Which brings me back to Artist Alley! My usual hang out! So who did I get to see, and what new things did I get? First of all, Jade Feng Lee, and her table-mate Nadja, were kind enough to let me use their table as base of operations. This meant I didn’t have to haul all my stuff everywhere, and for them it meant that I could facilitate food and water, which also proved a boon for their neighbor Chris Scott (whom you may recognize from an art spotlight on this very site). Suffice to say that there were shenanigans, puns, and tons of fun! Plus, they gratiously let me have samples of their work!
Square City Comics was represented by Emily R. Gillis and K.S. Brenowitz, so of course I had to stop and get something, namely Emily’s Cranky Cthulu, which is a 24-hour comic, and Kat’s A Tale of Aliens And Electricity. I look forward to reading both! Toril Orlesky, the creator of the webcomic Hotblood, was also at the convention. I love the comic, which is a gorgeous mix of western and fantasy elements (*ahem* centaurs!). Naturally, this meant that I had to get a Star Trek print by her, because logic? But it’s a great bit of art, and I look forward to finding place to display it in my apartment!
Speaking of prints, I found two great ones by Laura Langston, which join my growing collection of Totoro paraphernalia! Emily Smith‘s Acanthity, which was a definite eye catcher,made it home with me. Plus, I got a creepy Gravity Falls commission by Coey Kuhn. Finally, I briefly chatted with Anii Stoll, who did an excellent Totoro commission for me last year at SPX, and is the illustrator for the webcomic Ode, as well as Shelby Cragg, creator of the now successfully kickstarted Apothecia.
And much, much more! I somehow managed to do more at this convention than any before, and fully enjoyed every bit of it. I am definitely following some new creators and artists online as a result. All of which should hopefully translate into some new art spotlights.
Will I be coming back next year? You bet! In fact, I’m already looking forward to it. This is one of the best conventions around and it shows. If you haven’t attended yet, you should probably make time. Even if you’re new to anime and manga, you’re bound to find something to dazzle!
[Otakon 2014] My First Anime Con – From the Cosplay to the Panels!
This year is quickly shaping up into my best convention-going experience yet. It was the first year for Smudge!