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Otakon 2006 Report
Writen by Ciello
Posted on March 03, 2007 at 03:43:29 pm

        If you havenít been to Otakon yet, you should go. In ten words, thatís pretty much the gist of it. For anyone living on the east coast, itís the biggest and easiest con for you to get to, and chances are youíll find at least a small handful of things thatíll be right up your alley. More often than not, con attendees have to choose between events because thereís just so much fun stuff going on around them. Of course, along with the good points, there are some downsides to a convention this large, so without further ado, hereís a breakdown of this past weekendís events by category: Travel-wise, the location is ideal. Otakon has now started to host an aptly-named page, [All roads lead to Otakon]. Itís true.


Location:
        If youíve never been there, you might not know that Otakon is located centrally in Baltimoreís downtown bay area. To the conís advantage, the convention center is located right next to the mariner arena, the aquarium, and a mall. Hereís a map. So aside from the small shops, bars, and restaurants in the area, there are two food courts near by. These seem to be where most otaku find their meals. While it might not be the healthiest choices, you can fill yourself up on Chinese food or burger king and be ready to dive back into the conís events. For those who would rather eat food that wonít shorten your lifespan, there are some very nice and affordable restaurants within a 20 minute walk from the convention center, and the Otakon magazine that comes with your badge gives some good advice on where specifically you can find some good eats.
        Safety isnít as hot in the area. During daylight hours, the worst youíll get is a panhandler asking for spare change. For those who can get rooms in the hotels right across the street from the BCC, this wonít really be an issue. If youíre coming from farther away, be prepared to deal with a homeless guy who might follow you for block or two while trying to win your sympathy. After living in New York for five years, I can say that even I was surprised at how aggressive they were. Some good advice: travel in groups if you can, itís the easiest way to avoid having to worry about stuff like this.

 

 

Cosplay:

There were some really good costumes this year, and some really funny ones as well. When this many cosplayers gather, youíre bound to find an obscure reference or two. In our travels for the weekend, we came across a Pandaren from warcraft, a freakazoid, and there was even this cute little Korean girl dressed as a zergling, just to name a few. Every year has a prevailing costume (three years ago Otakon was dubbed the ďStampede of Vashes", for example) and this yearís popular choice was Kingdom hearts. There were a lot of Bleach costumes, but as far as complexity and sheer number of costumes, Kingdom hearts took the prize. I even saw a heartless Sora wandering around. Kudos to that one.

The masquerade this year was leaps and bounds better than before. Iíll review how the con staff handled it in a later section, but from the performerís standpoint it was a really good show.

There were a couple acts that were (to put it nicely) extremely lacking. A couple of the skits featuring bleach and kingdom hearts seemed to be lacking in practice. It should be stated here that wearing a nice costume does not excuse a poorly executed skit. Honestly. However, skits like those were few and far between compared to the good ones. There were a couple musical solos that get an A for effort, as well. As I understand it, one guy who played a violin (and a song from Firefly) won an award, but he was not wearing a costume. This is an open call to the con staff, whatís going on there? Itís a masquerade, right?

  

Putting those few examples aside, the rest of the show was a blast. One group featured a fully choreographed color guard. Group dancing is entertaining, but group dancing with giant spinny flags is doubly so. Soon afterwards, there was a street fighter battle skit which can only be described as ĎOMGí. Not being trained in a martial art myself, I can only rely on a nearby friendís reaction (who does have said experience) and her jaw was on the ground for the duration of the show. Find the video when Deathcom.net posts it and watch. ĎNuff said. Also, there were some other creative skits, including a song about the horrors of getting into a complex costume and then wanting to pee. We could barely hear the lyrics, but they get points for a good idea. Props are also being given to the dancing Sora to the right. If everyone danced like that, the Otakon Masquerade could take Broadway by storm. Overall, a very good show.

 

Events:

Probably one of the biggest good points of Otakon is the sheer number and immensity of its events. Hereís the schedule so you can see yourself. Seven video rooms, at least one of which is so large it took over an hour to fill with a steady stream of people, contain the visual fun of the weekend. Added to that you have a 35mm room showing a mix of classics (Akira everyone needs to see) and recent movies (Howlís moving castle, also something everyone needs to see, and with a good English dub to boot).

If you were feeling more active, there were a series of workshops to keep you busy, including several on cosplay techniques. There was one on Go, which has suddenly become the new favorite game with my buddies and I. Seriously, give it a try if you can, itís simple to learn and pretty fun. There were even more workshops on webcomics, computer art, and the like. I was thoroughly amused by the photoshop workshop, mostly because it was lead by Jack Sparrow. Who else to teach you photoshop but a pirate? A word of advice to con-goers, when you get to see the schedule of events, it is wise to think ahead of time and come up with a couple questions about the workshop you want to go to. It seems that every year a couple of them are thrown together last minute, and it gives you an excellent chance to make the session help you learn something new. Someone else will probably have the same question, too, they just donít know it yet.

The otaklause challenge gets its own paragraph, because my team won it this year :3 Sorry, I just had to brag. But seriously, Iíve been going to this event for the past three years now and it is probably the highlight of my trip. Itís like an old nickelodeon game show mixed in with cosplay and a good measure of ridiculousness. They take teams of 4 people (all must be in costume) and set you against each other in a daring battle of catching flying pikachus, or poor-english-dubbing-face-off, or dressing in a Godzilla suit and stomping on a 25 foot model of the BCC. Some events have a point system, and some events require you to win the affections of the crowd. I donít want to tell you to go to it, because that will mean more competition next year, but the objective writer in me wins out. If you havenít seen this part of the con yet, youíre totally missing out.

Although I didnít go to the game tournaments this year, word on the grapevine is that they went fairly well, and at least the guilty gear tournament was a good demonstration of gentlemanly (or gentlewomanly) showmanship. If tournaments arenít your thing, the game room itself must have been roughly the size of a football field and covered everything from vertically scrolling shooters to Mario party. They had the usual fighting games of smash, naruto (gamecube), halo and guilty gear. As a side note, I noticed that the popular games all had clusters of big screens that held most of the crowd, but there were also smaller screens sort of hidden in the corners of the room that also held a game or two. So if you want to play naruto and donít like the crowds around the big screens, look around ;) They had old arcade games, and even some of the old arcade boxes. There were two DDR pads which tended to have a very long line. Waiting 40 minutes to get three songs in doesnít work so hot, so if youíre a DDR fan you might consider bringing your own pad to the hotel. There was also one display with Rez on it, yay!

 

Con Organization:

If thereís one beef I have with Otakon, itís here. Everything else is pretty much stellar, so this should be put in perspective. The crowd control had periods of complete breakdown, and some of the events just didnít seem to be thought out.

DJ at the fountain: What was this guy doing there? And next to a new concessions stand, to boot? The fountain is already always crowded, and now weíre blasting music from some guyís laptop? To top it off, he was missing several themes from recent anime. Having him at an anime con seemed sort of like a mistake.

AMV contest: the ďline"for Friday nightís show was just wrapped around itself on the floor. After about 20 minutes of waiting past the supposed start time, people got itchy and the line devolved into a blob of people pushing their way to the front. The stafferís answer was to have two guys with a megaphone bottleneck the crowd. Thereís an easy way to fix this, and it requires two things.

1) invest in those little poles that places use to direct lines, that way you can make an ďS"shape that will stay true to form and keep anyone from getting squished.

2) AMV simulcast in a different room, since the AMV is burnt onto DVD by Otakon staff this should be easy to burn another copy and hold a simultaneous showing elsewhere. As always, itíll be hard to find space for it, but the demand is there.

Panels: While simulcasting that might be more difficult (and more expensive) , panels like the 4Chan one could use that. The lines for these panels had to be closed, prompting several unhappy cosplayers to denounce the weekend as ďLine-Con 2006".

Security: this isnít a bad comment, just an observation. In previous years, people climbed up the slanted walls in the fountain area and were shooed off immediately. This year nobody seemed to mind. Interesting.

Pre-Register line: This was such a breeze that I almost forgot to add it to the review! In previous years, Iíve had to stand on a line for a couple hours on Thursday while waiting to pick up my pre-registered badge. Iím not sure how they did it, but this year the line was about 20 minutes long. That was pretty flippiní sweet.

Masquerade: And for one final positive note: The masquerade was AMAZINGLY handled. The event started right on time, there were no delays in seating, the acoustics were great and the pictures were clear. Iím sure the 1st Mariner Arena was more expensive, but if any Otakon staff read this, you guys did well here, I tip my hat to you.

Review written by Ciello.

And now for some random pictures:

  

Overall Score:

Location (8/10) Everythingís in the area, it just all closes really early.

Cosplay (9/10) Some great costumes to be seen!

Masquerade (9/10) Every masquerade is going to have a few ďiffy"skits, but the ones that were good here made up for it in spades.

Events: (10/10) thereís so much to do, youíll never be able to do it all. Unless you happen to be Hermione Granger.

Con Organization (6/10) Some events were masterfully run, and some just had too many people trying to get in. Unless you like waiting in line, be prepared to give up on an event or two.

 





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