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Otakon 2013: A First Timer’s Take

otakonI’ve made the trek from Washington, DC north to Baltimore, Maryland numerous times over the years for Baltimore Comic Con and other events. On August 9-11, 2013, I returned once again to the Baltimore Convention Center this time to celebrate fandom with the otaku that attend Otakon. While this was my first year, the convention celebrated it’s 20th with over 34,000 of its closest friends.

As I was stuck in traffic making my way slowly to a parking garage I was bombarded by the fans crossing the streets, walking down sidewalks and the excitement oozed from their movements. I’ve seen this before at the numerous conventions I’ve attended, but not to this amount. The shear count of people, blocks away from the convention center, hit me. What was I getting into? I decided that I couldn’t wait for traffic, and a quick fire drill got me out of the car and making my way to the convention hall.

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 bombarded by geekdom, most of which I knew little to nothing about. I was absolutely out of my element. Would I go to panels? Would I just check out all of the cosplay? Should I play some games? Wander the floor? I’ve never been a panel person, so being my first time, I thought it best to scope out the convention in hopes of having a better idea as to what to expect in the years to come. And even just walking the floor, I was overwhelmed.

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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 made my way around the hall, thinking the layout was what I was used to from other conventions, boy was I wrong. I walked into gaming central with the drum beat and thumping of video games assaulting me as I walked through the doors. Not what I expected, but more than cool. After circling the room, I wandered the hall some more attempting to find the dealer room and Artist Alley. I walked, finding sections of the convention center I’ve never been in.

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 became more apparent. I really know little about this world, having only read some manga and watched maybe a dozen anime movies. I had an agenda, searching for some manga and finding some series’ I never knew existed. After two spins around the floor I hopped next door to artist alley, a decent size space with varied talent and offerings. 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.

PIC_4105After 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.