Thought it’s been going strong for 21 years, this was only my second attending Otakon which took place August 8-10 in Baltimore, Maryland. I made my way North to see if I can put what I learned after my first year to good use, i.e. be a bit more productive than last year. It was just me and over 30,000 individuals for the day.
Much like last year, you’re immediately hit by the shear amount of people attending as they flowed down the streets into the convention hall, many dressed in cosplay (and I think this is the most cosplay heavy show I attend easy year). This year was a bit different for me as well, since the Baltimore Orioles also had a game, adding those there to see baseball into the mix. Pretty much, downtown Baltimore was hopping.
Blocks away the crowds gathered in the scenic plazas and skywalks perfect for taking photos. The positive vibe filled the area as folks chatted costumes and what brought them to the show. What strikes me about this convention is it’s for fans, by fans. While many conventions are about the creators, publishers and product, this was all about the fans. This was truly a convention that celebrates fandom, exactly the otaku culture the convention is named after.
The convention was filled with dozens of events, official and unofficial. Video games, anime, photo shoots, workshops, autograph signings, art shows, music and more. I was again bombarded by geekdom, most of which I knew little to nothing about. I was absolutely out of my element. Would I go to panels this year (something I don’t do often enough at any convention)? Would I just check out all of the cosplay again? Should I play some games? Wander the floor? I know little about this culture, so I thought it best to again wander the floor, chatting folks up and seeing what I can learn. Though show is packed with panels, more than enough to keep one busy, but for me walking the floor, I was overwhelmed.
After picking up my pass from the press office (very professional and friendly) I made my way to the convention center. I’ve been to shows there before, but nothing like this. Where crowds have gathered for other conventions to get to the hall floor, instead was a mass of individuals celebrating each other’s cosplay, snapping photos in flashmob like opportunities. Again, I’ve seen cosplay, but nothing on this level or in one location. The costumes were so varied too. Anime, manga, comic books, movies, video games, television, cartoons, toys and more were represented by the fans and many of the costumes were amazing to look at.
I learned my lesson from last year at the different layout of this show than I’m used to. I headed straight to the dealer room, thinking I’d chat with folks working booths and checking out the cosplay on the way.
Just making that walk, one is bombarded by costumed individuals meeting with friends and showing off their creative talents. Out of all of the shows I attend, this one to me is the most focused on cosplay.
The dealer room was as big as other conventions I’ve been too, with an intelligent layout that allows you to wind your way up and down the aisles and space enough that you weren’t forced to squeeze your way through. The fact I was out of my element and comfort zone again became more apparent. I really know little about this world, having only read some manga and watched maybe a dozen anime movies. Comics, art, cosplay, prints, it was all there and the convention had something for everyone. I checked out the art showcase and auction and found beautiful works that I wish I could buy. And took a spin around Artist Alley, seeing the untapped talent that you can usually find in this area at conventions.
From there, I decided to check out the whole cosplay aspect of it all. I decided to seek out the crowds of folks gathering to snap photos, and the numerous professional photographers covering the convention and photographing the talent.
This is something I’ve never experienced, crowds of individuals lined up in a “U” shape waiting for folks to get together so that photos can be taken. It was really efficient, and fascinating to watch and be a part of. If only we could set this up for all cosplay photography.
After a few more hours of stumbling around, I decided to head home, planning out what I could do differently next year, and how to make it a more productive convention. But, most importantly I walked away wanting to find out more about this world. And that’s what struck me the most about Otakon. This is a show that’s truly about fandom, and all that’s positive about it. The kids attending (and it seemed to be a lot of kids) showed an excitement and level of enthusiasm that is missing from many other shows. They love what they love, and want to discuss it and share it with others.
I found that over and over from everyone I chatted with. When I was asked numerous times what I was there to check out, I couldn’t name anything other than the convention itself. When I was asked what anime, manga or cartoons I liked, I stumbled for an answer, saying I was a comic book fan. But instead of the conversation ending, I was engaged with enthusiasm and warmth that’s missing from so many jaded fans. They wanted to tell me what they enjoyed and why they enjoyed it. The fact that the people doing this were so young made me walk away with a positive vibe about the next generation of geekdom.
I had heard many stories about Otakon going into it, but coming out of it, sign me up for next year. I have many months to brush up on my manga and anime, so that next year I can hopefully share my enthusiasm with someone else.