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Otakon: Too Big to Succeed?

Otakon

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the largest anime convention on the east coast: Otakon. Calling itself the “Convention of Otaku Generation” and having historical notoriety, it’s to be expected that it’s a big convention. You’re sharing a space with people who have your same “niche” hobby, the more the merrier right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case any more.

I’m no stranger to anime conventions in the Mid-Atlantic region, Katsucon, Anime USA, MAGFest, I’ve attended each of these conventions multiple times. So when I was invited to attend Otakon THE premiere anime convention in the area, I was expecting an experience surpassing all those other events. What I got was something entirely different.

Crowds are normal and expected, but I felt like the convention couldn’t manage them. When I arrived (admittedly later than I’d have liked) I was in line for over two hours to get my badge, waved through by someone who was supposed to check my vaccine status (I brought my card, vaccinations were required to attend Otakon this year), and then passed along to a member of Otakon staff who looked like he wanted nothing to do with me. I don’t blame him though, I blame whoever set these events in motion. I feel like somewhere along the line they should have made sure they had enough staff for the morning rush, or maybe they should have just had the wisdom to stop selling tickets a few weeks ago. Based on the photos I saw of Anime Matsuri, at least they had room to sit down or wander around.

Otakon

Once you’re in the convention center, it’s packed. Crowds were huddled together shoulder to shoulder and herded to places of interest like the Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley, at one point they had to divert the traffic to the Dealer’s Room and forced people to arbitrarily detour up a set of escalators and back down on the other side of a balcony.

Thankfully I’m not alone in noticing just how absurd the lines and crowds were. Some attendees reported being caught out in both the heat and rain, parts of the line were in direct sunlight in almost 90 degree weather.

The Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley were admittedly the best parts and the convention hosted an impressive guest lineup including Mariya Ise, Kaho Shibuya, Hiromi Wakabayashi, and more (and I guess some English VAs were there too). The panels were varied and covered interesting and niche topics from “A Practical Demonstration of Ikebana” or “Godzilla! Heisei and Beyond”. Between the panels and vendors, it’s never been more clear that it’s the people who volunteer or even pay to provide content for the convention are the real stars.

Maybe it’s nostalgia for a time when anime was more niche, or maybe I’m just a big grouch, but if I had to sum up Otakon in one word it’d be: commercialized. I remember being in the dimly lit basement floor of a convention’s hotel where they hosted the dealer room. It was relatively quiet, one guy was selling mall ninja weapons and Yaoi paddles, the con staff was friendly and easily visible among the more subdued crowd. In comparison to Otakon’s rat race, I think I’ll be sticking with smaller conventions going forward. With over 20 years of history, I have no doubt that Otakon knows how to run a proper convention; but the Otakon of today is awkwardly big, difficult to navigate, and about as impersonal as a McDonald’s. My advice is to go only if you really want to see one of the guests. Maybe I’ll see some of you at Anime USA this October.


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A basement-dwelling ogre, Brandon's a fan of indie games and slice of life anime. Has too many games and not enough time.