Otakon 2021 – The Con and the covid gap

Otakon 2021 was an unexpected convention. I was half expecting it to be canceled, as I was watching news out of Japan and it was grim.

Otakon has always been a cultural gateway, a glimpse and connection of guests and presenters from Japan on U.S. soil and with international travel restricted, it meant that many of the guests would not be available. Panels and presentations were up in the air, would the Delta variant close down the D.C. convention center?? it was all up in the air.

Last minute selections of guests, announcements that the event would be held but the hours were not set as time may be shortened for cleanup procedures all added to uncertainty.

One of the things I was asked is what I wanted to cover this year, and it was Covid in relation to Cosplay and Anime Conventions. One of the presentations was listed as “Fan Events Overcoming Covid: Otaku Summit 2020 and the IOEA.”

Sadly, this session failed to address Covid directly. I expected a topic of communication, prior actions and research, and mitigation during the Covid restrictions, industry impact overall and any reasonable discussion of how it is affecting the community. I learned more about how the IOEA (International Otaku Expo Association) works, how it accepts only “not for/non profit groups”, how it is looking for more members and since it is not associated with profit organizations, had no real data from the entire convention scene to relate and compare. The only side thing on a slide that drew my attention, because the presenter liked them was Sumo’s. It seemed more of an advertisement on the IOEC and less on the topic of COVID.

Since the panel ran late, there was a brief question session in the hall. I found out the presenter liked sumo, he started to talk USA Sumo. I asked him about Convention restrictions in Japan and how Sumo was allowed an exemption as all other events were shut down including the Olympics. Overall this Session and even the answer session did not address anything about Covid impact, other then it had an impact and groups were working to continue operations.

Leaving this Panel, I was underwhelmed. It was already clear to view some of the impact, simply by viewing the dealer’s room from overhead prior to it’s opening, that it was about two thirds of the size of the 2019 Otakon. Late in the week D.C. put in place mandatory masking inside, Otakon already had mask rules, but was allowing Photography without a mask, as long as proper distancing was in place. This allowance was removed but never published in any releases.

I went to a second unrelated panel and was pleasantly shocked. This session was from veterinarian care personnel for a Zoo who was reviewing “monster girl” anime and how the shows did, in most of the cases, reflect real life vet care. From harpies who are bird creatures and egg binding, a common avian stress reaction, to Centaurs and how hoof care and shoes, lack of shoes, Farrier work and as far down as hoof deformities affect the Ability to stand and race.

How does this relate to Covid? As the topic of Monster/animal medicine was part of the pre convention notes, I in my own reasoning, took it to how monsters and animal creatures have been demonized in western fiction, and in this Monster Girl Anime the cures were simple and complete.

The treatments in medicine or magic always provide a cure for the Anthropomorphic / part human creatures. I refer to yokai – or the Obake type. Often shape-shifters, (foxes raccoon dogs, badgers and cats) Tanuki and Kitsune (depicted as fox and raccoon or panda people).

The topic of animal humanoids in society, how they would be treated? Unlike the Cute graphics, reality and the risks entered my thoughts. Anime often shows the both cultures and groups working together, but due to Covid or former zoonotic plagues, how would it alter a society with human like animal creatures? Would that human/animal blend, increase the likelihood of zoonotic issues, and genetic crossover by offering a medium for both crossover and faster virus mutation across species? In doing so would the animal creatures not bear the risk of hatred and blame, isolation and culling as a vector?

For Animal Mutation and carriers we can look to rats and the Bubonic plague, or The 1918 influenza pandemic, a product of mutation by avian origin, to (H1N1)pdm09 cropped up in the spring of 2009 and was a mutation of pig herds, all the way to HIV mutation from SIV in Chimpanzees.

Though it was not the direct topic, I was pleasantly surprised not only at how animal medicine was properly presented, but unknowingly it offered me by introspection, a concept of how in a real world setting, especially during covid, how would a society deal with creatures that could carry a plague or offer a vector for mutation of a virus?

Unfortunately, Otakon 2021 seemed like a rushed push to have the first big post Covid convention and get it hopefully in before the pending Delta variant… caused a shutdown again. I hope they can return to an unrestricted venue as soon as possible, and we can all regain a sense of normality.



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