Otakon 2016 – Goodbye Baltimore, Hello Washington D.C.

Otakon this year was both a closing and opening up for new possibilities.

I first visited Otakon in 2011 and fell in love with the whole Idea. Otakon brought before my very eyes an entire massive display of anime that I had never viewed, a large and exuberant convention, and a massive display of cosplayers.

I returned to the Baltimore conference center for Otakon 2013 and was pleased to find that it has grown, and it was obvious in some area’s like the AMV (Anime Music Video) contest, that both the pure numbers and building obstructions in traffic patterns, that Otakon was in need of both changing the floor plan and path of traffic and/or expansion.

Due to Baltimore City’s constant decision to bring up increasing hotel and convention space but not doing so because of budget issues, Otakon was forced to look for a new place to call home.

2013 marked the public notice of Otakon’s departure and its last year for Baltimore would be 2016 and would move to Washington D.C. in 2017. (Otakon was contracted through 2016) The same year Otakon announced the creation of Otakon Las Vegas.

With the Baltimore riots, continuing financial struggles in the region, and now a west coast Otakon, the numbers dropped in Baltiomre. This was not just for Otakon but also for BronyCon. (Most conventions saw a drop in attendees) This relieved a little pressure on the 2014-2016 years, but was too late to prevent the move and even with less numbers; the Baltimore Convention Center was a less than ideal host.

I returned in 2016.

My comments below are a bit critical of the convention because I want you to understand both good and bad. I also want you to understand, with all the downside, I would not hesitate to block out my calendar and head to Otakon.

Otakon has at any one time running on schedule, 26 separate events, and game room going at the same time, that’s not including information booths, onsite medical, special needs services, dealers and artists LARGE rooms and Convention Registration. With the BCCC having a total of 1,225,000 square feet of space, it was still not enough and in 2016 Otakon expanded into the adjoining hotels. (Otakon staff and assistants really have a LOT to handle at the same time)

It is a treat in itself just wandering the convention, and you don’t need to rush because of short convention hours. Otakon’s main two days, Friday and Saturday, run from 9 AM to 2 AM (yes, 18 hours) taking a 7 hour break to start a second 18 hour day.

Otakon has so much going on that you can’t see the whole convention, you can plan and move from place to place, but there will always be things you will miss and things scheduled in conflict.

With all that… Why even go? Well that’s simple. $80 or $100 at the door gets you 43 hours of convention possibilities. The Breakdown at $100 for the event, you’re paying $2.32 an hour.

What do you get?

  • Anime artists, Voice actors, U.S. Anime Companies and Those from Overseas as well
  • A large sales floor with a somewhat diverse selection of goods, including movies, games in development, wall scrolls, figurines, Manga and even this year one of the Anime Artists doing etchings on site.
  • Artists Alley, that has both a fair number if artists but moreover a large variety of prints and products. Unfortunately there is an overabundance of pre-printed poster/prints and not a large enough or concentrated artists area. Artists Alley also holds auction items that are donated for the Otakon’s Charity events.
  • Often premiere showing of a new Anime or Movies (US exclusives). In 2013 they released the anime Wolf Children at Otakon and brought along the voice actors. If you have not Wolf Children… do so.
  • A large game room with console games, as well as Japanese imported games (arcade style)
  • Autograph rooms scheduled with artists
  • Photo shoots in various areas for convention goers. This includes getting groups of cosplayers together who are all doing the same anime or game so they can get together as a group.
  • The ability to see large numbers of happy people wandering about in all forms of cosplay (dress-up) not just anime, but Marvel Comics, DC comics, TV shows and this year we even had a great Silent Bob cosplayer.

Due to this year being oppressively hot, there was not much of a chance except for Thursday afternoon’s outdoor event to get pictures of people in costume wandering all around the inner harbor. With a heat index topping 111 Degrees/ 48.8 Celsius, inside the convention center was the photo opportunity this year. (without melting)

If you’re interested in seeing people in costume, then Otakon is a MUST. You will see someone in costume every 15 steps, and almost everyone in costume is more than willing to pose for a picture. The only downside of this was the schedule missed a lot of groups. It would have been nice to have a whiteboard in the main info area to add information on later added photo groups. (Avatar/Korra as an example was not listed for cosplay photos but they got together on Saturday, but it was nowhere to be found on a schedule.)

The biggest downside this year was a lack of Convention staff coordination with directions, the artist alley Information booth being unmanned most of the time without any maps or schedules, being directed to the exact opposite side of the convention center from where you wanted to go, and the schedule/maps not being as clear as they could to where each event was being held. Confusion when you have 26+ things happening at the same time is not your friend.

Otakon is an experience, it allows a glimpse into the production of animation, you get to ask questions to the creators and companies, you get a chance to purchase memorabilia that is not normally available in the U.S., and you get to be a part of 29,000 people who are all there for the same reason. It truly is a celebration of Asian anime culture, the freedom to dress up and be part of the anime you love and the friendships of finding others who are just as enthusiastic as you.

Looking to Otakon 2017, the traffic around Washington D.C. is horrible, but for both the staff and attendees I can only hope the new location will offer the attendees the convention traffic flow improvement, that has been needed for so long.


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