Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Otakon Isn't Perfect

As big and popular as Otakon is, no convention is perfect and flaws do existence. Every convention has that and all they can do is learn and try to amend and/or improve it.

Volunteer Appearance

The volunteer staff members were easy to spot, because they each wore a black Otakon shirt. However, the non-staff volunteers were dress down and some were in cosplay. I am not even sure if they had special name tags because all I saw were badges around everyone’s neck that looked like the tickets to the con. It would have been useful if the volunteers had a color theme that would help identify them as such, like having them wear yellow shirts and/or have each of them wear a sticker name tag that says “Otakon Volunteer” on their shirt. Unfortunately, they blended in with the rest of us. Having something visible and uniformed amongst the non-staff volunteers would make it easier to spot them out. If I cannot find a person in black, I would not have known WHO to ask for help to get help from a staff member.

Otakon does not have to spend money on this; they can ask the volunteers to contribute, like bring your own color shirt. Regardless, if I cannot identify you as someone who can help me, I will not be approaching you.

Just an FYI - I was in the Art Gallery where one can bid on artworks and I saw a girl in a lovely white and crème Lolita outfit wearing a dark blond wig. Now keep in mind that I cannot take photos in that area; I can lose my badge. I approached her and asked if I can take a photo of her outside the gallery. She gave me an awkward smile and told me that she is working. I think she was monitoring the premise. I guess now I know why she was in a lovely Lolita outfit. ;-)


Here’s the thing to keep in mind with the convention center, it is a maze. It is not easy locating a room and you can get lost. I know someone who did. My friend’s dad was looking for the Dealers Room, because that was where his family was and by sheer luck he bumped into my friend and I in the Artist Alley. He mistakenly thought that he reached the Dealers Room and then realized that it was not. He could not figure out how to get back to his family. My friend, who has been to Otakon before, went with and guided the father back to the Dealers Room.

Because of the crowd, I really do feel that directional signs are needed. The rooms themselves had identifiable signs indicating what room it is. However, signs with arrows pointing which way to go once you reach a certain point on the floor would be helpful. Although there was a lack of these signs, there were staff members located at certain points to guide you. For example, once you get up the stairs from the main building entrance, all you saw were the ticket booths. I could not see any other signage but those, and I had no idea which way was to a certain room (cannot remember where I wanted to go). Thank goodness there was a staff member at the top of the stairs to give me directions. Since there were no directional signs and if you could not find a staff member, bring a paper map or have the map stored on your phone or electronic device. You might end up having to figure out how to navigate the building on your own.

Dealers Room

Now here’s the problem with the Dealers Room; there were no signs to tell you what aisle or row you were in. Then there were two sets of doorways to the room: one was definitely the entrance (near the FUNimation booth), and the other one was used as the exit and entrance by some (behind the Anime News Network banner). So, if you were new to the place (assuming that they did not change the set up from last year), you would probably be wondering was this the front or the back? You could assume that the front is where the bigger players of the industry were, while the back was everyone else.

Then you might be wondering, where was this booth that I am looking for? Since there were no visible signs, one would have to figure out the location of the vendor. Some of the dealers covered their signs that have the booth numbers, which was not helpful in figuring out how to find them. Another thing to keep in mind was that not everyone has internet access. As a result, some people did not have the Guidebook App nor were they able to look at the Otakon website.

However, if they did, the information was not consistent. The Guidebook App had the information on the avenues (columns) and streets “st.” (rows) of the show floor, but the Otakon website show floor map does not. Another inconsistency was that the booth numbers do not match: S05 on the website and S5 in the app. After putting the general booth numbers, st., and avenue together, it appears that the setup was this: retailer located at booth X at the corner of street y and avenue z. Would you have known about this setup if you did not have the app? Probably not.

Randomly by chance, I saw a large sticker on the floor that provides the name of the row/street. Unfortunately the stickers were not of much help to me, because if you were looking straight ahead and not looking directly at the floor, you would surely have missed it. So, having more visible signs, ideally large ones hanging from the ceiling or even large stand ups, and consistent information would improve the navigation of the enormous Dealers Room.

Autograph Policy

I wanted to get Gen’s autograph; and I figured that there were going to be some rules implemented. I read up on the information about getting autographs in the Guidebook app. It stated that for each session, staff will issue a limited number of autograph passes or tokens. I thought it mentioned that a limited number of passes will be made available during the guest’s Q&A panel, specifically for those who attend the panel.

Well to my surprise nothing was given out. When Gen's Q&A panel ended, I went up to the people in charge of the panel and asked about these passes. They told me that Otakon is first come first serve. I was like what? So I doubled check what I read, because maybe I made a mistake and misread something. The fact that it listed that the policy can change; I ended up talking to a staff member at the autograph area 2 hours before and asked how the autograph session works. She told me to come back an hour before the start of the session to line up. FYI – no passes or tokens were given out. The staff member was WAY more helpful than reading the policy, so I think I would just go straight to a staff member next time.

Here’s another thing about Gen's autograph session, but this time it was at the Aniplex booth. During the Gen Q&A panel, it was announced that he was camera shy, so photography was not permitted. When I was walking around the Dealer's Room, Gen was at the Aniplex Booth having an autograph session. During this session, there was a cosplayer dressed up as Sayaka Miki from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and I wanted to take a picture of her NOT Gen. I recognized one of the people at the booth, who was at the other Gen autograph session, and asked about taking photos of the cosplayer. He told me that I would have to take photos on the other side of the booth, basically away from where Gen was. Understandable.

I went up to Sayaka and asked if I could take a picture. She apologized and told me that I cannot take pictures of her until Gen’s autographing session was over. Then I told her that the man over there told me something different. I totally comprehend about the extra need to prohibit photography, because of Gen’s presence. However, 1) it does not make sense and it was not helpful that not everyone at the booth knew this and 2) what was the point of telling me that I cannot take pictures until Gen’s session was over when it ends the same time as the Dealers Room closing (look at picture above)? I went back to the booth and not to my surprise Sayaka and Gen was not there anymore. They could have just said no pictures instead of giving me some hope.

These are some items that can be improved upon or amended if they chooses to do so. However, it is their convention and they can do whatever works for them. So attendees just keep in mind what I said, because it can happen to you and have an open eye. Have fun and enjoy Otakon!

© 2013 Linda Thai

Photography by Linda Thai

For more pictures, check out the Something Deeper: Anime, Manga and Comics Page on Facebook

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