Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My First Otakon: What’s Big?

The first time that I have heard of the word “otakon” was in college, which was more than three years ago. I only recall learning that it was the name of an anime theme convention and nothing more. As the years gone by, I heard that it was considered one of the biggest anime/manga conventions along the East coast. A few of my college friends decided to go to Otakon in 2009. After hearing about their experience, others and I followed suit.

Because of my friends’ enthusiasm on how “big” Otakon was, I had some expectations from this trip. I thought it was going to be like the New York Comic Con of anime/manga conventions (keep in mind that I have only attended New York Comic Con (NYCC), Anime Boston (AB) and New York Anime Festival (NYAF) and smaller ones in New York City); tall convention buildings and elaborate booth displays. Yeah, I was wrong; my expectations were not accurate.

Let’s start with the Baltimore Convention Center (BCC) solely on observation. When I first drove by the convention center, it looked shorter than I thought. The length of the building covers 3 blocks and 4 streets, so it sounded like a short easy walk. However, when I walked outside from one end of the building (S Howard Street) to the other end (S Charles Street ) I felt like I was walking between avenues in New York City! The Jacob Javits Center in New York goes from W 34th Street to W 38th Street, not including the Jacob Javits North. Even though it has four street blocks in between along 11th Avenue, I never felt like I was walking a long distance outside the building. It makes me wonder if the BCC or Inner Baltimore is on a hill or on a slight slope (after S Charles Street, Light Street is a sloping street).

In regards to the booths, it was barely similar to the extravagant ones at NYCC. Instead, they were simple booths with displays hanging off the curtains/wall of the booths (similar to what I have seen at AB). The only thing that stood out was the Aniplex object hanging off the ceiling right above its respective booth. Some booths looked the same as it did at previous conventions, while others lacked the visual kick. I comprehend why some companies reuse the same booth display (it is not broken and saves money), but I was hoping to see some wow factor.

However, the unfulfilled expectations were made up with its abundance of content. In regards to the panels, everyday there was at least one industry panel (this does not include guest panels). For example, on Friday there was a Crunchyroll panel, on Saturday there was an Aniplex of America panel and on Sunday there was the Geneon, a FUNimation Retrospective panel. At AB, at least from my experience, I recall FUNimation Entertainment panels, but there were no other industry panels. When I compare Otakon to NYCC, it is definitely similar in that regards; everyday was some industry panel. Regardless, NYAF, NYCC, AB and Otakon had guest and fan run panels, workshops, concerts and other events for the attendees to enjoy.

Also, it seems that no space was left unused. Now comparing to the map that was provided by the Otakon guidebook in the Guidebook App to the floor plan on the BCC website, it appears that the event took over the entire building, which is more than 400,000 sq feet (at least whatever space was available and permitted to them for use on the four levels). This way of occupancy is similar to AB (not including the lower level of the Hynes Convention Center), but differs from NYAF and NYCC. Since I have been attending those two conventions, there was either another event happening at the same time in the building, like SatCon 2011, or it did not occupy the whole building. Unfortunately, I do not know what was the amount of square feet that NYCC or AB occupied. So, I cannot judge whether it was more or less than the space occupied by Otakon. Nonetheless, similar to the NYCC and AB, Otakon required a lot of back and forth walking around the building. Yes, you can get lost. We need more directional signs at Otakon!

After my experience at Otakon, my perspective of it is that it is a larger version of AB, but with the abundance of industry related content like NYCC. It is the place where companies go to interact with the fans and get the word out on new licenses and products. So is Otakon really that big? That depends on who you ask and what do you consider “big.”

© 2013 Linda Thai
Photography by Linda Thai

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