Otakon 2013 – a con in review

Otakon wasn’t playing around with their 20th Anniversary celebration. They’ve been doing this for so long, they might as well make it as big as possible right? From August 9-11, attendees took over the Baltimore Convention Center, Hilton, 1st Mariner Arena AND the Inner Harbor for a weekend of Japanime music, cosplay, games and fashion. There was no doubt how awesome it was going to be when the guests were revealed. One by one. Week after week. From Japan, nine directors, producers and editors including legendary director Watanabe Shinichiro-san of Cowboy Bebop fame, Sword Art Online animator Kawakami Tetsuya-san, Yoimuri Producer Michihiko Suwa-san, two novelists, Fushimi Tsukasa-sensei and Kurosaki Kaoru-sensei and returnee author Sakurai Takamasa-sensei. Four musical groups, including ever popular Home Made Kazoku, the prominent TM Revolution, the ethereal Ishikawa Chikai-san and a rare visit from world famous composer and pianist, Kanno Yoko-san. Stateside, we have returnee author Peter S. Beagle and nine voice actors and ADR directors including Fairy Tail’s Natsu Todd Haberkorn, Naruto’s title character Maile Flanagan and up and coming VAs Jad Saxton and Micah Solusod promoting Shinkai Makoto-san’s Wolf Children. Give or take a few guests that I may have missed. How can so much awesomeness be under one roof? The better question is…how can one survive such a weekend? One thing we know for sure, this will be one birthday party that Baltimore will not soon forget!

Thursday: August 8

I arrived in Baltimore around 5:45pm…when the storm rolled in. I haven’t seen it rain in Baltimore on con weekend since my first Otakon in 2005. (Thankfully, the rest of the weekend was rain free. I DID NOT want a repeat of AnimeNEXT.) Weather-wise, it was realitively cool. Surprising even since Otakon is usually one of the hottest con on the East coast. It made cosplayers and those waiting on line very happy though. The water sellers, not so much. At least on thursday.

Every year when Otakon hits Baltimore, it feels like the entire city is a con. This year, Otakon really took over the harbor area with signs everywhere.

Unlike other years, this year’s prereg line looped from the inside of the con. They were doing this due to the rain in the afternoon. There was a Free! badge that I heard was gone by early-saturday. I assume the same from Sword Art Online, another popular series.

This year’s con schedule is made up of what is written…and the additional autograph ticket and concert ticket line schedules. The pick up for the autograph tickets for TM Revolution and Kanno Yoko-san were both on friday mornings, but an hour apart. But logic dictated that fans could only get one ticket because they couldn’t possibly wait on one line and make it to another line to get the ultra limited ticket. And limited they were. 100 or 200 per day for two days? (They had signing sessions both friday and saturday.)

Due to the limited tickets, there were fans camped outside of the Sharp Street lobby since 1:30am for the 10am Kanno-san ticket pickup and 11am Takanori-san ticket pickup. *bows to their dedication* And this is just for the autograph ticket…not the actual autograph. Yet.

Friday: August 9

no sleep line con

Kanno Yoko-san’s music is indescribably beautiful. Her gentle melodies leave an impact that knocks everything away, leaving a sweetness upon the heart. As a fan, I decided to join the masses for her autograph ticket. I left the hotel at 6:45am and was told by friends that I may not be able to get on the line. Thankfully, I was. It seemed that people didn’t really start flocking in until close to 8am, when people normally wake. 9am, we were moved inside the building. 10am was the beginning of the chaos known as the Kanno Yoko autograph tickets.

Best case scenario: with two autograph sessions, those in line should get to pick which session. Those who got on the line insanely early would have a higher chance of getting the date they want. Makes sense right? Wrong.

Otakon ticket policy was pretty bad. They gave out the friday tickets first and refused to let us choose. Instead, they told us to stand on the side and switch with others when the saturday tickets were brought out. It was a like a market with calls of ‘Friday tickets for trade!’ At least people were courteous enough to trade ‘down the line’ rather than randomly going to any person.

Kanno-san’s sunday concert was also ticketed. I believe about 200 each day for the entire weekend? Seating in the main hall of the con center is really limited. The Friday tickets were given out at 1pm so after receiving the autograph ticket, we waited around to form the line for the concert ticket.

There was a funny moment when the staff was getting ready to form the line. We had a ‘slowmo bumrush’ at the staff’s request (his words, not mine.) It was funny seeing people move slowly…yet fast to their place. Attendees sure are obedient. Since it was Otakon’s 20th anniversary, the concert tickets was a plastic card which would make an awesome souvenior. We get to keep it on sunday too.

Opening Ceremonies = stage of awesome

When I arrived at the opening ceremonies, a line of guests filled the stage, giving us a hint of the weekend that is already underway.

TM Revolution Q&A

After the opening ceremonies was the T.M.Revolution Q&A in the same room. It was Nishikawa-san’s second visit to Otakon since first coming in 2003, though he did was in the US after that when he appeared at NYCC 2008.

voice request time!

I rushed over to the next panel on the list which was Seki Tomkazu-san. Same as Nishikawa-san, it is Seki-san’s second time at Otakon. When I got there, the Q&A was underway. The translator was Toshifumi Yoshida.

This panel…was filled with voice requests. Seki-san voiced many popular characters…many screaming characters. Thankfully, there was water on the table.

Anime Mirai

I went to the Suwa and Tachikawa panel which was promoting the Anime Mirai program. There was a bit of a delay with the tech issues, but we were soon on our way. It was unfortunate that the group was quite small for this panel…since there were wonderful things that were shared with the audience. Like hands-on copies of the story boards were passed around. *drools*

dealer’s room break

I wanted to get on the Fushimi and Kanbe line, but it was closed. *cries* Instead, I went to the dealer’s room. I found the music corner where the tables were set for the different musicians that were at the con.

Since TMR’s ‘Geisha Boy’ cd was sold out, I bought the Hello Kitty Takanori strap that features his hometown in the Shiga prefecture. At the Kanno-san table, there was a Petal Dance piano score and cd. It comes in box sleeve and has a separate book for the music. With beautiful photos, it was a mustbuy.

Ishikawa Chiaki’s table was right next to it. Since I wasn’t going to be able to attend the autograph signing, I bought a plushie strap and autographed photo.

An R2D2 that moves!

a few thoughts about Eva 3.0

One of the things about attending a screening by yourself is that you have a higher chance of getting a good seat even if you arrive close to went it starts. Also, you get to meet some interesting people. I found a seat near the middle aisle and bit towards the front. I sat next to a guy with 200 year old violin in an old violin case. Since they were playing classical music (while we were waiting for people to be seated,) he pulled out the violin and played his arrangement of Canon in D. *applauds*

Though the second movie of Rebirth deviated from the tv series, we were still rebooting some previous storylines. The third movie was new territory. Though we had a rush where many characters were re-introduced, Shinji quickly finds himself alone. With ‘Rei’. This movie quickly devolves into Shinji’s introspection of self and everyone around him. Ultimately, what Eva has always been about.

Despite the plot moving forward, Shinji seems to have devolved back to ‘tv series Shinji’. Only in dependency though. He quickly searches for Rei and tries to reach out to her emotionally. Unlike the tv series though, although his attempts to reach out is a hope to find a security blanket like before, his other reason is to search for the real ‘Rei’, the one who grew, had emotion and smiled. There is maturation here. Though in the slightest hints.

And Kaworu and Shinji. Kaworu’s presence in the tv series was short but incredibly powerful. In the Rebuild movie series, Kaworu has been hinted at for so long. A mere scene for each of the first two movies and a promise at the end for more. And we got more in this one. We knew all about the interactions between Kaworu and Shinji. Even so, the piano playing, hand holding and ‘We make beautiful music together’ made for some laughter from the fans. Besides the BL-tastic moments, the action and everything was awesome.

The action was awesome was putting it simply. Beautiful animation, designs, world building…breaking…. They wanted to surprise us and they did. Utada Hikaru’s song ‘Sakura Nagashi’ is beautifully sweet end theme. “Everybody finds love…in the end.” Even Shinji or so we hope.

Saturday: August 10

press privledges

Close to 8am, I got to the con center. They waved me through and I was given entry to the empty autograph area. Regular attendees are let in at 8:30am. Yay for press privledges! I walked over to the Seki Tomokazu line and sat down. When the other attendees were let in, the line quickly filled up.

From I saw the day before, due to the high profile for all the guests, this was probably the status quo throughout the weekend: if anyone wanted to receive an autograph, 2 hrs early was necessary.

After the Seki-san signing at 10am, I headed to the Kanno Yoko signing that was held on the 3rd floor of the Hilton at 11am. Probably to prevent forgery, the autograph ticket had an interesting stamp on the back. ‘Do not fold spindle, mutilate perforate, ventilate or fumigate. Do not laminate, aerate, excavate, masticate, desecrate or flagette.’ O.o ‘Flagette?’ XD

And yes, the friday tickets had a different stamp on the back. Only one item can be signed and so I chose to get the Petal Dance piano book signed rather than her 23 Jikan cd. Items were also sold at the signing.

Since the signing was held in a room, only a few went inside at a time. Photographs were of course strictly not allowed and so any electronic devices including phones and DS’s were asked to be put away.

When I met with Kanno-san, I told her I was a big fan of her music and that I was looking forward to tomorrow’s live.

a bit of shopping

I headed back to the dealer’s room for some more shopping…and pics.

Otamuseum – a bit of history

Holding a convention for the last 20 years means 20 years worth of schedules, booklets, badges and articles. Should be enough paper to hold a exhibition to display bit of history…like a museum perhaps? 20 years of memories in one room!

Ishikawa Chiaki Q&A

It is truly unfortunate that there wasn’t that many people attending Ishikawa-san’s panel…and I’m sure the later autograph signing will be very light as well. Though her following may not be as big as Home Made Kazoku, it is still quite large. She sang the opening to Bokurano, ‘Uninstall’ and a favorite of mine ‘Prototype’ for Gundam 00. Still, placing her panel right before the TMR concert AND her autograph session during the concert itself where all the musiclovers will be…was bad scheduling. Can’t totally blame Otakon though. There was little space to move her panel. If it was Saturday morning, they would be fighitng the Seki Tomokazu signing and his second panel. Too many Japanese guests…too little time…but I digress.

When the questions got underway, she was well received by us fans who were there. And due to the low attendence, some got to ask 3 questions. ^_^

concert press issues

After the panel, I headed to the arena. Outside the con, I saw the $1 water guy. He was strangely absent yesterday…but most likely due to the storm. Cold weather, no business. Today he is out in full, singing away on his megaphone. Gotta love the water guy. ^_^ The press seating area on the floor was already filled and unfortunately, they didn’t reserve a wider space this time. We were initally seated in the VIP area than some of us moved to the right of the stage. But there was not enough room. -1 for press organization.

We were told to take photos at the front during the first 3 songs of Home Made Kazoku and T.M.Revolution…as well as encore songs for TMR.

Home Made Kazoku in concert

Check out Melissa Castor’s full report on the Home Made Kazoku concert and panel complete with photos.

Seeing MICRO and KURO live with DJ U-Ichi in the background was amazing. The energy those two have were on high, always dancing and signing and keeping the fans excited. Not easy when the stage was only set with the DJ table and no other live music besides the mix tracks. But they got it!

The fanclub from Japan (filled with middle aged obaasan’s) in the front as well as the two ojis in the 3rd row were great examples of ‘what we need to do for this song at this moment’. They were armed with t-shirts, towels, headties and awesome swag that we never get to see here.

Raised in Chicago, KURO spoke the most English, engaging the already excited crowd with his words. The fans all sang along, with even the audience singing in turn for a two part song.

    01. AKATSUKI (Intro)
    02. FREEDOM (Naruto Shippuden ED)
    03. L.O.V.E.
    04. Shonen Heart (Eureka Seven OP)
    05. Live On Direct
    06. Itoshi no Mic Check 1,2
    08. We Are Family
    09. Shooting Star (Naruto Shippuden ED)
    10. Superman
    13. Kimigaitakara
    14. Thank You! (Bleach ED)

HMK sang an entire concert set with no encores. This was surprising since I assumed that they were only ‘openers’. Actually I was additionally surprised they were ‘openers’ since Home Made Kazoku is HUGE. But to push us past our expectations, it was a full concert.

T.M.Revolution in concert

Check out Melissa Castor’s full report on the concert of T.M.Revolution including the HMZ collaboration complete with photos.

The staff pulled down HMK’s banner, revealing the drumset onstage along with the set up of the guitars for TMR. There was a 15 min. break before the Voice of Otakon announced the start of the next concert.

Nishikawa-san’s dance moves have evolved since the last time I saw him in concert at New York Comic Con. No more of that hip thing that he used to do…sad for us fans. He is still totally sexy even without the hip thrusts. Of course, he still does the head bang. XD

    1. Preserved Roses (Valrave the Liberator OP)
    2. FLAGS (Sengoku Basara ~The Last Party~ OP)
    3. Zips (Gundam Seed)
    4. Invoke (Gundam Seed OP)
    5. Save The One, Save the All (Bleach the Movie: Hellverse ED)
    6. resonance (Soul Eater OP)
    7. Naked arms (Sengoku Basara 3 OP)
    8. SWORD SUMMIT (Sengoku Basara OP)
    9. ignited (Gundam Seed Destiny OP)
    10. HEART OF SWORD ~YOAKEMAE~ (Rurouni Kenshin ED)

    En 1 The party must go on (Sengoku Basara ~The Last Party~ ED)
    En 2 Tomorrow Meets Resistance (with HOME MADE KAZOKU)

The concert was an anime freeforall with Nishikawa-san hitting all our favs with a bit of the old and a bit of the new. The biggest surprise for us all is the collaboration at the end. T.M.Revolution invited Home Made Kazoku back onstage to sing one more song with him, ‘Tomorrow Meets Resistance. Yay! It was an awesome moment and we all cheered wildly for it.

masquerade love

I was sorely disappointed during AnimeNEXT’s masquerade and my high hopes for the Otakon masquerade were met beautifully. It opened with a tribute to Marty Gear, one of the main contributors to the cosplay masquerade circuit on the East coast for the last 20 years. He passed away on July 7, 2013. With slides and details on his presence in the cosplay community, it was sweet for Otakon to acknowledge him in this way. A talented cosplayer, a sweet individual who is missed by all.

Sunday: August 11

Kanno Yoko day

Press seating for Kanno Yoko-san’s concert was limited. So limited that it is decided by lottery…or popular vote as I’m led to believe. Which is why I went ahead and got a ticket on friday. There will be no recording, photography for this concert so press seating is purely for writing and enjoyment purposes anyway. I thankfully got on the line before it doubled soon after.

Inside, we were seated at the right side of the room. Even though we were not center, I was very happy with my seat. It was not a popular spot since we didn’t get to see Kanno-san’s face and we didn’t get the full view of the special effects as we weren’t at the center. However, as a pianist, I was happy with the right side of the room since the right side had a full view of her piano keys.

the concert where everyone’s feelings overflowed

Ishikawa Chiaki-san is a good opener for Kanno-san. Instead of movement, both musicans have movement in their pieces along. Their melodies slow and fast are powerful simply because of their voices and melodies. To enjoy them, one may not need to dance, just listen with eyes and ears. Just has Ishikawa-san have pointed out the day before.

This concert is truly special. Kanno-san’s Piano Me concert has not even been shown in Japan yet. She decided to share it with us, her fans in the west first. (I didn’t mention US because it is obvious, there were many from other countries who came to Otakon that weekend to see her.) The concert was filled with feelings from the melodies that was played. The audience was in tears. It was a unique closing concert for the con.

After the concert, the Voice of Otakon announced the merch that was being sold (but the piano books were sold out,) and that Ishikawa-san will be holding an autograph signing in the autograph area. For those of us that missed it, we were all heading in that direction.

last autograph

I got upstairs in time to get into the line. And than the line diminished some as they announced only official merch will be signed. (Though they allowed non-official merch to be signed…as long as the fans had official merch on hand. Like the shikishi could be signed if someone had a cd too.) Awesome policy! I give props to the management for allowances like that. (Truly, this year’s Otakon autograph policy-besides the ticket fiasco-was very good. But it all depends on the Japanese managers.) They also did the raffle prize of the signed banner there.

Ishikawa-san signed my Prototype cd and I told her that I was a fan of her music and that I look forward to her new songs.

last thoughts

Otakon really outdone itself for it’s 20th anniversary celebration. With so many industry guests from Japan, four musical groups plus a mix of popular as well as new, up and coming voice actors…the schedule was overflowing with awesomeness at every timeslot. Yet, there was no doubt that having two concerts in a row on saturday, the biggest day of the con, really cut into panel and guest times. Majority of fans were waiting in line rather than attending panels. That is unavoidable and a noticable change at the con. Otakon isn’t line-con in essence that Anime Boston was line-con. But on lines we were for most of the weekend. Besides the usual for autographs and panels, there were signing passes, concert tickets, waiting for concerts that added to the usual chaos.

Having more things meant missing out on more things. That may be bad, but for a con of this scale, that is understandable. Prioritizing is important and as fans, the skills we acquired and honed all these years in scheduling, waiting at insane hours, reviving ourselves with sugar and water, gaming at every opportunity just to grab a good seat, to see who we want and to simply have fun…all these skills were utilized. And to pull off a con that surpasses all previous cons, guests, premieres, concerts and panels…we applaud the Otakon staff. This is definitely a con to remember.

Otakon has increased to over 34,800 attendees. The steady increase that is evident throughout the years is starting to show in the Baltimore Convention Center. Just this past weekend, there was a line just to get on the stairway between the Hilton and the con center. I never seen that before even on saturdays. Still, places like the Dealer’s Room and the Artist Alley are spaced generously and shopping is not a problem. However, Otakon is looking for expansion. The biggest news of the weekend was not the BD release of Cowboy Bebop by Funi or Aniplex’s new season, Oreimo 2, but the surprise announcement at the closing ceremonies was that Otakon will be moving to the Walter E Washington Convention Center in DC in 2017. In honoring their contract with BCC, Otakon has 3 more years in Baltimore. The new site has another 1 million square feet. It will be interesting to see what will happen and how they will utilize the space.

But we have 3 more years! Otakon 2014 will be from August 8-10 and as of writing this, hotel blocks are already out and some are already sold out. It will be hard to top this year’s events but I don’t think it is necessary to make it any bigger. (I don’t think many of us want to be on line for that long. XD) No matter what though, Otakon will be sure to surprise us again and again. Happy 20th birthday, Otakon!