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Monday, August 1, 2011

Thank You: Otakon 2011

It's that time of the year where tens of thousands of anime fans gather in downtown Baltimore. Of course, this gathering is Otakon, the second largest anime convention in the US. Last year, I made a fairly critical look at the failings of Otakon. However, I am pleased to say that this year, most of my complaints have been addressed. So without further delay, let's get into the details.

The best badge!

It's Friday morning and I made sure to line up at around 7 AM to get into the convention center. I was quickly reminded that it's the summer and this year has been especially hot and humid. Needless to say, when the doors opened at around 8:20 AM, I was drenched in my sweat. That said, not only did they let people in the convention center on time, but also 10 minutes early! Holy cow! All along my goal was to be one of the first people to get into the dealer's room. This is the first time in 7 years that I decided to do that. My motivation was the Puella Magi Madoka Magica charity poster. We had no idea how many Otakon was selling. Their website implied that there were limited quantities. Noon came and the doors finally opened. With few people around, I was able to get a good look of the dealer's room this year. The quantity and variety of exhibitors was quite an improvement. I think most notable additions were probably the Bandai Entertainment and Sentai Filmworks booths in the industry section. Very little space was wasted on large and lavish displays. The usual dealers were in attendance plus a few new ones. Overall, I spent a good chunk of my time at the dealer's room.

Scout beat everyone to the front of the line. Must have used Bonk!

Last year, Otakon's guest line-up was fairly lack-luster. This year, Otakon stepped up their game and offered a plethora of Japanese guests. Unfortunately, there was really too much to do and too much to see and I only managed to check out Atsuhiro Iwakami who was responsible for producing many Aniplex series such as Kara no Kyoukai, Bekemonogatari, Ore no Imouto Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga nai and most importantly the new Puella Magi Madoka Magica. He was a pretty cool dude and introduced Madoka to many people who never seen it. On Saturday, I managed to get his autograph on the limited edition Madoka poster. For a better coverage of Japanese guests, I recommend you check out Reverse Thieves' post on this matter.

Atsuhiro Iwakami just signed my poster.

What would a convention be without major industry panels? There was fairly a good number of industry panels which is a good reflection of the recovery of the anime industry. The Funimation panel was fairly straightforward as usual. There was a Sunrise panel that showcased some of their newest and upcoming shows. Most suprisingly though, Bandai Entertainment threw a hell of a presentation with the voice actresses of K-On! singing fuwa fuwa time. A violinist and composer who was responsible for the soundtrack to Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya played one of the tracks from the soundtrack while on stage. As fun as the panels were, however, most of them were fairly disappointing in terms of announcements. Surprisingly, the best announcements came from the Bandai Industry panel who announced the acquisition of Nichijou and Gosick. Aniplex USA announced Oreimo. ...and Funimation picked up the Sora no Otoshimono movie.

Typical Bandai Entertainment panel.

Despite the guest and industry heavy schedule, I managed to attend some fan panels. On Friday night, there was a Let's Play Eroge panel. It was a fairly entertaining panel. It was run by trio of girls so yaoi content was inevitable, and as an eroge panel it was quite mediocre. On Saturday, I attended the excellent Investigating Detective Anime panel which was presented by the Reverse Thieves. On Sunday, it was proven to me that the Touhou fandom is insane when I attended a Touhou panel. Finally, I wrapped up the convention with a Puella Magi Madoka Magica panel that went fairly in-depth into Madoka and was quite full of delicious spoilers.

There was also this Anime Amazons panel about strong female characters.

Every year of Otakon is remembered by something. For example, 2004 was known for Larc ~en~ Ciel's concert. 2010 was of course known for the massive fire alarm. And this year is known for the ice cold water man. His enthusiastic approach to selling water has turned him into an internet meme. His "I've got that ice cold water" jingle could be heard repeatedly during the weekend in the hallway repeated by con-goers. Hopefully this will replace the buttscratcher and marco-polos that are growing increasingly tiring.

In conclusion, Otakon really got their shit together for this year. They managed to finally get people in on time; managed to get a hold of interesting Japanese guests; made crowding seem like a non issue; got rid of the staggered schedule. Even the convention center improved. They put in new carpeting; put in new maps and signs; painted the doors and walls; and even opened up a food court in the dealer's room. Overall, Otakon 2011 has been very good.

I spent too much money.

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