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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What is wrong with Otakon?

Every year, in the hot and sweaty middle of the summer, Otakon, a large Anime convention is held in Baltimore, Maryland. The convention is so large that it practically takes over Baltimore for the weekend. To con-goers, Otakon is the Mecca of the east coast conventions and an absolute must go convention if you live on the east coast. You are almost guaranteed to have a good time if you attend the con. This year's Otakon has been my 7th year and I can comfortably say that it was the worst Otakon yet.

Don't get me wrong, Otakon is still a great convention and it is easy to list all the great things that it had to offer this year. Every year it has been always well organized despite the steady attendance growth to over 29000 this year. The quality of the panels at the convention was superb and there were fresh screenings anime and movies. The dealer's room as always had a large variety of dealers. The video game, as always, massive.

However, describing the shortcomings of the convention is a lot more difficult because it forces you to think a little more about the reasons for the shortcomings. Also, criticism is somewhat useless if you don't offer alternate solutions.


"Welcome to Otakon, anime and Japanese culture and freaking lines!" -fellow attendee waiting on the line to the dealer's room

This is a problem that every large convention is faced with. This is a problem that simply can't be solved by regular means. Otakon has been taking many steps in alleviating this problem and so it isn't as severe a problem as linecon. However, the symptoms are still there: inability to get into popular panels without lining up an hour before, large lines to get into the dealer's room, masquarade, and the rave. If you're claustrophobic, you're screwed. Unfortunately, not much can be done about overcrowding at Otakon without changing the venue completely. With the recent addition of the Hilton, a change of venue seems unlikely in the near future.

Getting Into the Convention

This problem was introduced last year. In the past, once you got your badge, you could pretty much enter through any entrance. For some inexplicable reason, they opened the convention floor with just one entrance and thus people who got their badges on Thursday night were screwed as they had to wait in a line to get in anyway. This problem became so ridiculous last year that many people who picked up their badges on Friday or even just registered, were able to get into the convention sooner than people who picked up theirs on Thursday. Oh yeah, and no one that was waiting got in till 10 AM. This year, was a repeat of the same problem but not only of Friday, but on all 3 days! Even though the convention is technically supposed to open at 8:30 AM, they didn't actually start letting people in till 9:30 AM. I have no idea why you would screw over panelists who had their panels scheduled at 9:00 AM like that, but the idea of only one entrance being open is ridiculous.

Is the Dealer's Room Shrinking?

In 2008, Otakon's dealer's room was at its largest size. Taking up the size of this year's dealer's room plus the artist alley. Last year, for what I thought was economic reasons, they shrunk the floor to what it is this year's size. However, I noticed a disturbing number of dealers that were at Otakon for many years and suddenly didn't show up this year. The additional space seems to have been allocated to dealers who needed the extra space, but the variety of dealers has shrunk noticeably. I really hope this isn't a trend that is to follow for the upcoming years.

Where Did All the Cool Guests Go?

Last year was probably the most amazing Otakon for guests ever. With many known musical guests and interesting anime production staff, Otakon 2009 was easily the best Otakon. This year, Otakon understandably toned down on the amount of concerts and musical guests. I would have been okay with this change as long as the guests that were brought over were just as good as in previous years. Unfortunately for Otakon, that did not happen. Home Made Kazoku was the best that they were able to do this year despite the fact that other conventions on the east coast like AnimeNEXT, Anime Boston, and New York Anime Fest had a much better success at getting interesting guests. I understand that acquiring Japanese guests is a very difficult especially on the east coast where it becomes more expensive in both money and time. It is also becoming apparent, that with the con industry booming, the competition of getting quality guests has really heated up. Otakon is in danger of losing it's east coast crown as the biggest convention to NYAF which merged with New York Comic Con.

Was the Staggered Schedule Necessary?

I figure someone has suggested a staggered schedule to try accomplishing two things: Allowing panelists time to set up or pack up; Giving people time to get to the next panel. Unfortunately, there were obvious setbacks of this idea. Since there was 30 minute break between panels, it was painstakingly obvious that there was about 50% loss in time that could have been filled with more panels. The staggered schedule sacrificed panel variety as well as added 'dead' time between panels. This made the schedule boring with fewer interesting panels. Now Otakon wasn't the first convention to have used a staggered schedule. New York Anime Fest uses a staggered schedule with much success. So why couldn't Otakon get it right? Not only does NYAF keep a 15 minute break between panels, but it keeps a much more constant panel schedule which Otakon also failed to do. I really hope next year, they try to improve on this.

Hotel Reservations

So Otakon offered reduced rate hotel rooms if you reserved through Otakon. Fair enough they were indeed cheaper. However there was an important catch to this deal. If you reserved through Otakon and not the hotel directly, it means that hotels will treat you like a second class citizen and were allowed to downgrade your reservation if they wanted to. So if you (attempted to) reserved a room with two queen size beds for two people and one guest, tough shit, the hotel can give you a room with one queen sized bed if they want to. I wish that Otakon made it clear to everyone reserving hotels through them of possible issues concerning room reservations.

Having Fun Not Permitted

Just like many jaded veteran con goers, I too get annoyed by people yelling catch phrases and sudden hallway huggers. Over the years, Otakon went out of their way to enact rules to stop people from annoying others. Unfortunately, this is a double sided sword because at the same time, you are restricting people's expression of excitement and subduing the atmosphere of the convention. Suddenly, the con felt less lively, and more bland. I really think there can be a middle ground on this issue. Surely, the vuvuzelas can stay banned, but there is really nothing wrong with signs as long as they don't incite disruptive behavior. Catchphrases allowed as long as they're not racist, inflammatory, or vulgar. And really, what's wrong with consensual hugging?

As everyone already knows, there was a fire alarm that went off at around 2 PM on Saturday. However, I can't really blame Otakon for the fiasco since it was completely out of their control. Regardless, Otakon did an excellent job handling this matter.

These were most of the negatives that I feel turned Otakon 2010 into a mediocre con experience. Please feel free to comment on anything here, whether it be agreements or disagreements.