Written by Riri (@lillyums)
This was my first attendance to Otakon especially as press for Lifted Geek. Located in downtown Baltimore, Otakon is one of the largest east coast anime conventions, capping at 35,000 attendees and it completed its 21st year. They have even expanded the convention to Las Vegas rececntly, calling it Otakon Vegas. I thoroughly enjoyed Otakon and its cosplay splendor. There were plenty of areas to allow cosplayers to rest and socialize and participate in photoshoots. Lines and crowds were controlled better than what I've seen at other conventions, and overall the experience was very positive.
Otakon was organized quite well overall. Otakon staff even owned walkie talkies to efficiently communicate when needed and seemed to know exactly where things were.
Additionally, they were incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, and did a great job at crowd control. They had security to maintain flow into and out of the convention center while staff maintained traffic within the center. However, what made me frustrated as an attendee were the lack of signs to mark exits and entrances, and lack of signs in common areas to direct crowds towards prime locations such as the Exhibitor's Hall, Artist's Alley, and Registration, and perhaps other locations. Security often turned me away from one entrance only to direct me to another location to enter a building. Putting temporary signs up would have been more efficient, in my opinion. It also took me all weekend to actually find the Artist's Alley, and I only found out because my roommate had told me where to go.
The convention center itself was fairly large and spacious. The preregistration/registration was located inside the main convention center, near the entrance, which explains the long lines that wrapped around the entire convention center... twice. There really wasn't much room inside where it was stationed to loop the crowds around without violating any codes. So these attendee's picking up their badge were basically cooking outside for a good couple of hours (or longer). However, the lines did move quickly and we didn't stand in place for more than a couple of minutes. Staff controlled lines to ensure pathways were clear.
Exhibitor's Hall and the Artist's Alley were also located inside the convention center at the lower levels. Press badge pick up and Press Relations were located at the Sheraton hotel, which was just South of the convention center. They held autograph signings and meet and greets at the Hyatt, which was just kitty corner from the convention center, and then the Masquerade was held at the Baltimore Arena, about 2 blocks north of the center.
All in all, the Otakon definitely made use of the space availability wherever needed and quite efficiently.
EXHIBITOR'S HALL/ARTIST'S ALLEY
The Exhibitor's Hall and the Artist's Alley were all located down in their lowest level in two locations. Both spaces were incredibly spacious and able to accommodate crowds really well. In the Artist's Alley, the highlight of that area was this chalk artist, Eric Maruscak, who spent the whole convention creating this:
He has been travelling around conventions chalk drawing a huge piece of work and the whole progress is recorded with a video camera installed at the ceiling over the piece, and a TV monitor was present for us to view his work in progress from the top. It was pretty amazing.
I ran into the artist, Garth Graham, who creates works of art using Fairy Tale characters reimagined in different themes. One that I had recognized was actually the piece where Princess Ariel is this scary pirate holding Prince Erik as a prisoner:
I had the opportunity to interview him for our next Artist Spotlight, stay tuned for this article!
Other than that, the Exhibitor's Hall and Artist's Alley isn't very different from our local Sakura Con, but it was certainly larger and had a variety of art and crafty merchandise to look at!
Cosplay was definitely far and wide, as expected. I didn't really see too much from one anime or game, except perhaps from Sailor Moon and we'll likely see more Sailor Moon cosplay coming in the near future. But I have to say the Sailor Moon photoshoot had the largest group I saw among all the other groups, maybe even larger than the League of Legends photoshoot group. In fact, the Sailor Moon photoshoot was trying to beat the record that Anime Expo had. Nope... It didn't, but it was certainly a super big group!
Besides Sailor Moon, we had a pretty large League of Legends group, which I think had relocated their photoshoot meet to a larger, outdoor area. Those were pretty amazing to see as well. I had a lot of favorites and I summarized them in my Otakon cosplay round up top(COS) article HERE!
The Masquerade was held on Saturday night at the Baltimore Arena. The layout of the show started with Hall Cosplay contestants, Cosplay Skits, Talent Show winners, Hall Cosplay contest winners, and then Cosplay Skit winners.
The Talent Show event is new to me, I believe this is not really a cosplay specific event but that anybody - in cosplay, or out of cosplay, may participate. So they had the winners from the Talent Show to go on stage to show us their stuff! The Hall Cosplay winners (who were not all there during the walk on) were actually announced on only on screen and not brought on stage. I thought that was interesting, it would have been kind of cooler if the actual cosplayers were brought on stage to be recognized. Each judge who had given a certain award actually discussed why they gave the award to the cosplayer.
Cosplay Skits were really interesting - I actually have never been present for any skit contest in the past, so this was my first attendance to one. I thoroughly enjoyed each one of them, marveling at the group's creativity and humor.
Hall Cosplay awards were given by several Judge's Choice type awards, and then the usual 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in Youth, Journeyman, Novice, and Craftsman, and then Best in Show. Cosplay Skit awards system I was a little lost, but I believe it followed a similar Judge's Choice type awards (and there were about 5-6 judges for the skit contest), and then best overall in youth, journeyman, novice, and craftsmanship, as well as best performance in each of those divisions. Tons of awards!! This whole event was really great, and being first time press at Otakon allowed me to be up front to photograph the entire event.
One of highlights for Otakon were the concerts that took place - Friday night was ALTIMA, and Sunday afternoon was Yoshiki. I didn't get to attend either of them, but ALTIMA's certainly looked like was a blast! I don't know who ALTIMA is, but maybe I should start looking into them.
Yoshiki's name I am more familiar with. Due to Yoshiki's popularity and the type of performance he was going to give, Otakon implemented a lottery system to randomly select 1000 or so attendees to attend the concert. I heard from another press attendee that previous years, people would camp out overnight to go to these concerts!! I didn't realize lines could be that bad outside of San Diego Comic Con >.< I didn't get to go to the Yoshiki concert, but this was certainly an effective way to control crowds. Aside from that, it looks like what made this concert especially unique was it being a classical performance which apparently is super rare. I love when music artists incorporate pianos into their music. I wished I had tried to enter the lottery for this! I just never have luck so I didn't think I'd have a chance.
Overall, I hope that someday I can return to Otakon! Thumbs up to the Otakon staff for being so organized and helpful and making this convention happen! I didn't get a chance to attend either of the concerts, including the Yoshiki concert. Additionally, it was an absolute positive experience to see how ethnically diverse cosplay is here on the east coast. The cosplay community everywhere has been fighting for the whole "anybody can cosplay" issue but if anybody can see how diverse it is here, we shouldn't be having that argument. If anybody is able to attend Otakon, I suggest you make plans to go next year! Thanks Otakon for the great first time experience!