by Victoria Erica | staff writer
Summers in Baltimore are humid, sweaty, and with a chance of rain. Baltimore is home to Otakon, the east coast’s largest anime and Japanese pop culture convention. Otakon took place on August 9-11, 2013. This three day anniversary celebration brought in over 30,000 attendees from all over the eastern seaboard. Headlining guests included TM Revolution, Yoko Kanno, Homemade Kazoku, Shingo Adachi, Crispin Freemen, and more. There was a huge number of guests this year in celebration for 20 years of Otakon.
Attendees of all ages and cultures carried their complimentary blue balloons to opening ceremonies. Otakon 2013 chair, Terry Chu, asked who in the audience loves shoujo, yaoi, and other anime genres. Prizes were given to people who had Otakon perfect attendance – 20 years of loyalty, now that’s hardcore. What was nice is that we were able to see a cultural display of dancers and drummers to kick things off. We were introduced to the guests in a very creative way; a short animation of the Otakon mascots were making plans for a birthday party and were figuring out the guest list and what music to play. The party guests were the guests of honor and the music choices were the musical guests of honor.
Otakon had plenty of panels by fans and by industry. There was a healthy balance of each. Con Culture covered the history of nerdy events from getting a bunch of nerds to a room with alcohol to what it is today. It was covered from an academic sociological perspective on how con culture has evolved and changed through the years. The Anime Industry panel had vets from ADV, Animerica, Anime Eigo, and other founding companies from the start of the domestic anime industry. There was much anecdotal tales of how a series was brought over back then. One of my favorite panels was the cat panel. To give you an idea how popular this panel was, there was a huge line that tailed around the convention center. The panelists covered cats in Japanese culture and some notable cats in anime (Korin in “Dragonball,” Kuroneko in “Trigun,” Luna and Artemis in “Sailor Moon.”) Another panel that I really enjoyed was Power Rangers vs. Super Sentai, it was an analytic comparison between the Saban adaptation and the original Toei show. We got to see clips from the original and sang along to various super sentai opening themes. There was a lot to see and do at Otakon 2013.
Unique aspects of Otakon were a plenty. I enjoyed the MST3K themed showing of “Origin: Spirits of the East.” We had people reenact the Satellite of Love crew; we even had puppets of Crow and Tom Servo! This really had the audience laughing in the aisles on late Friday night. Otakon also had their own Lounge 21 complete with a cash bar and swing dancing. No dress code required, just come in and show off your best Charleston. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, Otakon had a museum that featured past programs, badge art, t-shirts, mascot designs, etc from Otakon past. Otakon also has a local celebrity, the iced cold water guy. If you have friends who attend Otakon, they’ll tell you about the rapping water vendor that sells ice cold water for just one dollar.
The dealers hall was pretty huge – it took me most of late Friday afternoon to scour around to see what was there. Wig dealers, plushies, Lolita fashion, and so many figure dealers. If you are into figure collecting, this is the place to go. The art show also featured exclusive never before seen illustration work by Nobuhiro Watsuki of “Rurouni Kenshin” fame.
The main event was the concerts. I personally knew people who flew out from the west coast to Otakon just for Yoko Kanno, TM Revolution, and Homemade Kazoku. The Saturday night concert was huge – hardcore fans lined up outside the arena to ensure they would have the best seats in the house. Lines circled around the arena – people were willing to stand the humidity and heat for a chance to see TM Revolution and Homemade Kazoku perform live. Homemade Kazoku performed first – they are best known for their work on “Bleach” and “Naruto.” Their sound can be summarized by a blend of early 90s hip hop and soul. Fans chanted “arigato!” to show their appreciation for Homemade Kazoku. After that set, TM Revolution took over the stage. “Heart of Sword” and “Invoke” really got the audience riled for excitement. After the epic performance, both Homemade Kazoku and TM Revolution performed together live for the first time when they performed, “2 Tomorrow Meets Resistance.” For many, this concert was Otakon 2013′s best event.
(Note: We were unable to cover the Yoko Kanno concert due to our flight schedule conflicting with the 1PM concert time.)
I would recommend Otakon if you enjoy a mix of fandom and industry events. If there is a Japanese guest that you want to see, definitely take the effort to plan a weekend in Baltimore. Otakon has a different vibe from most cons; there is definitely an appreciation for 80s and 90s anime. Anime News Network’s I Love the 80s panel had veteran anime fans fill up one of the programming rooms. If you are a cosplayer, there’s a ton of places for nice photos and the people at the series specific cosplay meets are very friendly. While Otakon is a huge con with over 30,000 warm bodies, there’s something from every otaku. Definitely check out Otakon at least once in your otaku life and you won’t regret it. Just remember to fill up on that iced cold water.