The annual Otakon anime convention may have originated from Pennsylvania, but after calling Baltimore its home for the last 18 years it's hard to imagine it taking place anywhere else. For better or worse, the sights and sounds of Inner Harbor have become synonymous with the convention and with the overall Otakon experience. But just like everything in life, all good things must come to an end. Otakon has long since outgrown the physical capacity of the Baltimore Convention Center and the BCC itself is woefully aged and decrepit. Thus Otakon will be moving to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown DC until at least 2024. The city of Baltimore has pledged that they will do whatever they can to bring Otakon back to the city, but we'll have to wait and see if anything comes to fruition in the next eight years.
And so we come to the last hurrah here in Baltimore as the convention was held this past weekend from August 12-14, 2016 and was preceded by their now-traditional Thursday Matsuri festival in West Shore Park by the harbor. When I came up to Baltimore on Thursday to attend the Matsuri I spent some time just walking around the area taking in the sights as I braced myself for the sad state of affair that the harbor is in. I had already been made aware of the numerous store and restaurant closings in the area (partly in anticipation of the overall Harborplace renovation) and of the fact that the skywalks connecting the convention center to Inner Harbor had already been demolished. But seeing the McKeldin Fountain fenced off, drained, and being prepped for demolition was what really struck home the pain. The fountains have always been a nostalgic symbol for the harbor and for the convention as people love to congregate around the fountains to hang out or to take cosplay pictures. The fountains aren't technically related to Otakon, but seeing the sad state that it was in really struck home the fact that we were coming to an end of an era here in Baltimore.
Leading up to this weekend I wasn't entirely optimistic about how organized or smoothly things would be run seeing how they were still announcing Guests a week before the con and the schedule wasn't published until just days before the start. However, my fears turned out to be unfounded as this year's pre-registration pickup ran incredibly smoothly and there was literally no line whatsoever after just an hour after it started. Plus this year Otakon finally wised up and actually let people line up inside the convention center instead of having to wait outdoors for hours under the hot sun. This is in stark contrast to previous years with long lines and technical malfunctions making badge pickup a total nightmare. And this streak of smooth operations continued into Friday and Saturday as well as there were very little to no lines for registration all weekend.
As for the Matsuri itself, there seemed to be less tables/booths set up this year in comparison to previous years. Things were a bit less lively than before but it was still a nice sight. For events, I had wanted to attend the Yukata contest scheduled at 3:30pm but they must have started it like half an hour early because when I got there at 3:15 it was already over and waiting for judging. I definitely enjoyed the short concert by Diana Garnet who is a Silver Spring/DC native and now lives in Japan and signed to a major music record. I especially enjoyed listening to her sing the song "Secret Base" which was used as the ending theme song to the anime series "AnoHana". It's definitely one of my all time favorite songs from one of my all time favorite shows. And the night ended perfectly with the concert by Lotus Juice and Shihoko Hirata. I've never been a fan of rap but Lotus Juice's performance was incredibly entertaining and then ending the night with a number of songs from the Persona 4 games was just magical. And major kudos to the IT guy! Being an IT guy myself, it was really fun seeing the IT guy getting cheers when he had to come out to fix Lotus Juice's MacBook that kept freezing up.
And so we finally get to the Otakon convention itself. I spent the vast majority of my time running from one cosplay photoshoot to another so I didn't actually attend very many panels. I did go to voice actor Sunny Straight's panel on Friday and also Alexis Tipton and Aaron Dismuke/Zach Aguilar's panels on Sunday. And of course I always go to the cosplay Masquerade contest held on Saturday. It's always my favorite event as nothing speaks "by the fans, for the fans" more so than the Masquerade contest. But it's also kind of sad to see the number of people attending the Masquerade decrease every year. I remember the first time I attended Otakon back in 2011 how the long lines were to get into the Arena and how hard it was to get a good seat closer to the stage. This year there was absolutely no issue with finding a good spot as there were just so many empty seats. There were a number of good skits this year which was preceded by an exhibition performance by the awesome Flash Step Dance Crew. Considering that next year the Masquerade will take place in a new venue, I really hope that Otakon will change their draconian policy on forbidding people from taking video recordings of the performances.
The con itself seemed to be run pretty smoothly this year although I did read on social media about the usual complaints about the disorganization of the autograph lines and how much of a mess the lines for the Voice Actor After Dark panel was. The convention halls themselves were fairly crowded again. Last year they saw a huge drop in attendance numbers which led to there being visibly less congestion but that was definitely not the case this year. Early projections says that there were somewhere between 29,000-30,000 attendees this year but we'll have to wait a few more weeks before the official numbers are announced. It was kind of frustrating though how they sometimes closed off the pathway connecting the BCC to the Hilton to just one-way traffic. This means that you had to go outside and cross the street in order to get to the Hilton which leads to my next topic.
Anyone needing to walk outside the convention center this year was in for a rough ride considering the unbearable heat and humidity that we experienced all weekend long (heat index was well over 110 degrees Fahrenheit). This problem was compounded by the demolition of the skywalks connecting the BCC to Inner Harbor because it meant having to cross the busy streets which increased the amount of time that you had to suffer the heat. I probably ate more snow cones/Italian ice/slushies this weekend then I have in the past five Otakons combined. I have to give major props and kudos to the cosplayers wearing full body suits, fur, velvet, and other heat-trapping costumes as it must have been absolutely hell on earth for them.
The Artist Alley and Dealer's Room this year was exactly what you'd come to expect. Both were large and full of vendors although I do have to agree with the criticism by some people how there wasn't much variety in vendors at the Dealer's Room. I was happy to see that in general Otakon is receiving more support and visibility from Industry entities as there not only were a lot of industry panels but a huge presence by those companies in the Dealer's Room. Heck, even Good Smile was there showcasing their ever adorable figures. (Damn you Good Smile for making me buy yet another Saber figure, like I don't already have 15 of her displayed in my house).
And so we get to the end of my really long post. Overall, I thought that this was a great last outing by Otakon. They had invited a number of great guests this year (many of whom I didn't get a chance to see as their events conflicted with certain cosplay photoshoots that I wanted to attend) and as a whole the con was run pretty well. With the move to DC next year, I'm anticipating that there will be a drop in attendance numbers as I've already talked to several people who are thinking about skipping out next year to wait and see how things go and to allow Otakon to work out the kinks of the new location. I myself am not especially looking forward to the longer commutes to get into DC but I do hope that the new location will allow Otakon to grow and prosper and continue being the symbol of Otaku-dom here on the East coast.
And so, farewell Baltimore. So long Ice Cold Water guy. May we meet again in better times.
Click here to check out my Hall Cosplay photos.
Click here to go to my Facebook photography page where I uploaded the photos that I took at various photoshoots including the Tales of Series, Overwatch, RWBY, My Hero Academia, Nintendo, One Piece, Fate Universe, Type Moon, Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, and Studio Ghibli.
Click here to go to my YouTube channel where I uploaded my video recordings of Diana Garnet's concert, the Lotus Juice and Shihoko Hirata concert, Sonny Strait's panel, Alexis Tipton's panel, and Aaron Dismuke and Zach Aguilar's panel (with guest appearance by Caitlin Glass).