Saiyans, Sailor Scouts, and Steven Universe: A Quick Look at Otakon 2015
Otakon, Baltimore’s annual anime/cartoon/gaming/pretty much everything convention, was held July 24th-26th this year and was another amazing weekend of fun and fandom. Before we launch into any heavy content though, let’s take a quick look at what went well, what went wrong, and what stuck out as spectacular for 2015.
The Badge Line Went Remarkably Fast
While I personally didn’t have to snag my badge from the convention center, my boyfriend had to grab his and I was dreading it. Anyone who’s been to Otakon in the last few years is sure to remember the absolutely horrendous line to get their badges that usually meant waiting in the hot sun for well over an hour on both Friday and Saturday. And while Otakon hasn’t released the official figures yet in regards to total number of guests once press and vendors and other people get added in, attendance has been unofficially set at 26,500 people (which places attendance at potentially the lowest it’s been in 5-6 years) This fortunately meant that lines for badges were essentially nonexistent. Unfortunately…
Every Other Line Was Way Out of Control
Look, I get it. Roughly 30,000 people are all trying to see panels and watch anime and whatnot. Obviously 30,000 people can’t all jam into one room to watch hilariously bad anime. However, the lines at Otakon were getting started well in advance by fans to the point that people were waiting in lines for over an hour and a half to discover that they wouldn’t even be allowed inside. It was already impossible to catch everything you wanted to see but this was expanded upon by the fact that you’d have to skip other panels just to make sure you even had a chance of seeing the ones you wanted to see. And once you add in things like eating it became almost impossible to schedule your day.
This was not only frustrating as a fan, but frustrating as a press attendee as well. When I was already struggling to determine whether Viz or Funimation was worth seeing to get the scoop on their various titles, doing so often meant I’d have to forego a fun panel like the aforementioned bad anime panel or yet another industry panel like Kodansha.
Otakon also desperately needs to figure out how to manage its lines for panels. While some of the bigger rooms and rooms off by themselves had ample space for the humongous crowds to wait, other panels and rooms often had lines that made little to no sense because no one was controlling them until it was far too late. Or no one kept up with them. During the wait for one panel, apparently a staff member had told people waiting to split for another room clear, only to have these 2 branches form their OWN lines that snaked in different directions.
Otakon Needs to Understand Fans and Trends Better
We all know that certain franchises will always draw large crowds. Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball are just a few that instantly come to mind and it’s pretty certain that these absolutely need to be held in the larger rooms. Yet somewhere along the line of scheduling panels someone needs to be able to take a look and see what’s trending because there were some bad decisions that ultimately left fans dry.
The best example of this was the Steven Universe panel. The popularity of that show has essentially exploded which is largely due to the fact that it is now on Hulu (it’s first season is at least) and that it is a damn good cartoon that expertly combines humor and action with heavy themes that often aren’t present in shows aimed at kids. Add in a wide variety of characters that are lacking in media in general and it’s easy to see why the show is popular with kids, adults, boys, girls, and pretty much anyone who sees a single episode. Yet for some reason this panel was held in one of the smallest panel rooms.
This ultimately led to people waiting in line for close to 2 hours with some of said crowd not even being able to get in. And considering this panel was going on at the same time as a 90’s anime panel, a visual kei panel, an Evangelion, AND the Dealer’s Room opening you definitely can’t make the claim that there wasn’t anything going on.
And considering that cons tend to be a really good place to figure out what’s popular among people these days just judging by cosplays, I honestly may have to say that Steven Universe beat out all other fandoms. It more than deserved a spot in a larger room capable of holding a larger crowd and once again, it was only the fans who lost out. The fans who no doubt spent hours crafting perfect cosplays. It was a damn shame.
Can We Please Get Room Clears?
I understand the pros and cons for clearing rooms between panels. On one hand it rewards people with multiple interests who show up early to stuff to get good seats who definitely don’t deserve to get kicked out just because they decided to attend a less popular panel over the more popular one when they enjoy both. On the other hand, it’s really not fair to anyone to let people into panels they care nothing about so they can get seats for upcoming panels. This unfortunately happened during a Teen Wolf panel when a staff member let people waiting in line for the panel right after about the “Worst Anime of All Time” that they wouldn’t be clearing the room so they may as well just go inside.
The problem? Fans of Teen Wolf now had to deal with a large crowd making their way into a panel they didn’t care for just so they could get seats. And while the Otakon crowd is potentially the friendliest group of people I’ve ever seen at a con, I also know that crowds tend to get a bit louder and not pay attention to panels they lack interest in. This can clearly be disruptive for fans but also prevents any actual fans who may have arrived a bit late from getting in (which was definitely a problem due to the amount of panels and the large size of the convention center).
Not only that, but now any people who were choosing to get to panels an hour or so in advanced were ultimately waiting in lines for panels that wouldn’t empty which wasted a hell of a lot of people’s time. Imagine deciding to choose to skip multiple panels to wait in a line only to find out that that line is never going to move.
Otakon’s Panels are Stellar
Otakon excels at having a large mixture of panels and things to do which is why I think it’s so disappointing to see the fact that panels are hard to get into. While other cons like to focus entirely on news or celebrity status, Otakon does a great job of mixing news and fandom with fun. Along with seeing entire panels devoted to Sailor Moon or seeing Funimation announce their new stuff, there’s a remarkable amount of panels devoted to things like Japanese game shows, awful anime, terrible dubs, and other highly comedic things.
And of course, once night rolls around all the 18+ panels that are adult oriented or just way too gory make an appearance which gets hilariously rowdy crowds for panels stretching until 1 am or even later.
It’s truly a con where there’s something for everyone and it makes it accessible to a wide range of people that might not feel quite as welcome at other cons because they might not feel that informed about the panels going on. Otakon has pretty much the exact problem because even the friend who doesn’t like anime is sure to discover that a panel about Japanese folklore or wacky music videos is more to their liking while you sit in on the history of robots in anime.
Otakon Might Have the Friendliest Fans
One of the best parts of going to cons is connecting with like-minded people and I personally feel that Otakon has not only the most diverse crowd of people but some of the friendliest overall set of attendees.
Some cons occasionally feel a little too elitist as if everyone is judging you according to how much obscure knowledge you have about a certain topic. Other cons have struggles in regards to treating cosplayers with respect but the exact opposite seems to be the case at Otakon. Cosplay is the norm here and it’s not unusual to find entire casts of characters running into each other and stopping to take photos for crowds who clearly love it. And con etiquette is at full force here, with very few people stopping in walkways (which is often a problem when people want photos) and almost everyone actually asking cosplayers for photos because everyone understands it’s a busy and big con.
And that atmosphere is found throughout Baltimore, with compliments being thrown in restaurants, bars, the hotel pools, and just about anywhere you could possibly go.
It’s Getting Harder to Recognize Cosplays
I don’t even think I can consider this a bad thing to be honest. These days we have so many options to find anime that it’s getting harder to keep up with stuff. A few years ago, Attack on Titan cosplays were huge despite the show being fairly new but even if you hadn’t seen the show it was easy to figure out what the hell it was (oh, and consider it a plus that Titan bodysuits are no longer popular because that was terrifying).
But now that there’s hundreds of titles available instantly on sites and services like Hulu, Netflix, and Crunchyroll; anime cons are becoming more of a place to ask people just what they’re cosplaying as because their costume looks so damn cool that you know you have to rush right out and start whatever anime they’re from immediately.
Some people may find this a bit of a let down because it means that you won’t be able to find people cosplaying as your favorites but I consider it to be a sign of just how big the genre is and how lucky we are to be in an age where we don’t have to wait for Toonami to give us a heavily edited English dub.
Ultimately, 2015 was a good year for Otakon but it was clear that they still suffered from some setbacks that truly makes them succeed. They have a good foundation and the definitely have a great set of panels and people but they’re struggling to accommodate the heavy crowds that actually want to participate in the panels. Otakon has one more year in Baltimore before they make their way to Washington, DC in 2017 .
I’m curious to see if the move will be a good one because if it allows for larger crowds then Otakon will be even better but if it lacks the space to hold the same crowds who clearly have wide interests then Otakon can quickly become a con that’s better being remembered than it is being attended.
But I think it’s safe to say that for fans of this con, we’re all desperately awaiting the final year in Baltimore because our year is spent desperately counting down the days until we make our way out to Inner Harbor once more.
All photos except for Sheik can be attributed to Halim Mohamed .
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