Otakon 2014 – a con in review

Otakon returns to the Baltimore Convention Center and Inner Harbor for another crazy fun weekend from August 8-10. Last year was their 20th year celebration and the schedule reflected that with special guests, events and the like. This year was not to be outdone. With the weekend surrounding the premiere of Kill la Kill and Sailor Moon, Aniplex and Viz took over the anime weekend with their voice actors and industry guests. For Kill la Kill, there is Christine Cabanos, Carrie Keranen, Erica Mendez and David Vincent. For Sailor Moon, we have Robbie Daymond and Stephanie Sheh for the new cast and the legendary voice actors of the original series: Linda Ballantyne, Katie Griffin and John Stocker. There is also the famed Dante Basco, Wendee Lee and Tony Oliver amongst others. From Japan we have producer Kashiwada Shinichiro, director Katabuchi Sunao, mangaka Kozaki Yusuke, seiyuu Hayami Saori, game designer Ishii Jiro and animator Matsubara Hidenori…but that doesn’t end there. Otakon staff honoree Masao Maruyama returns to speak about his new projects with MAPPA, as well as producer and musician Yura Hiroaki in attendence. Musical guests are Altima and Yoshiki of X Japan. Otakon is the last stop on Yoshiki’s classical tour and his piano concert will close the weekend. Throw in two sumo wrestlers, Kelly Gneiting and Yama and we have a weekend that we won’t soon forget! It’s chaos central here on in!

Thursday: August 7

line con

With the expanding number of attendees, Otakon had an attendance cap this year. With over 30,000 pre-registered, there is an estimate of over 17,000 attendees who pick up their badges on thursday. As per usual, the pre reg line on thursday was very long. But, they were cooled with the return of the $1 water guy.

By 8pm, there were signs and comments that there are technical issues. Obvious, by the line moving at a snail pace. Previous years show that even with increase in attendence, the lines are usually a slow walk but not full stops for hours at a time. We learned that the computers were down which led to a huge delay in getting pre-reg badges. Staff cut the line before 8pm. I learned from a staff member that there were problems with the new system and even at the latter end of the pre-reg thursday pickup, there was only 9,000 out of 33,000 pre-reg attendees that received their badges. o.O In the press release, Otakon said that they processed only 10,000 by midnight.

Even when they cut the line, they had to tell everyone outside the con that they weren’t going to be handled that night. And even the ones inside had until midnight to be processed as the BCC didn’t allow staff to be in there after midnight. Due to the sheer number of pre-registered attendees, many people opted to stay overnight to stand on line since they knew that friday pre-reg will be just as bad.

Otakon explained the technical issue and noted that a lack of communication amongst the staff prevented information to be relayed in a timely manner which caused some attendees to wait over 5 hours for badges. I believe they handled the situation as well as they could despite the chaos and thankfully, the weekend went smoothly afterwards.

Friday: August 8

press run

Unlike previous years, Otakon badges are now made of hard plastic. No more different choices of badges but at least they don’t break easily.

I checked in with Press Orientation at 10am. They announced some of the press meets and the concert information. Besides the sign up for the press meet, there is also a lotterfy for the Yoshiki concert. I’m glad that press had their separate lottery since we couldn’t enter the attendees lottery.

Katabuchi Sunao Q&A

After signing up for the press conference and the concert I headed over to the Hilton where they were holding Katabuchi Sunao-san’s panel. When I got to the panel room, they were cleaning up the ‘Traveling to Japan’ panel.

Dealer’s room fun

As usual, the industry area was at the opening of the Dealer’s Room…which was the location of the major (paid) autographs of the weekend. The back wall held a large X Japan booth with a few cds and concert live dvds. Alas, Yoshiki would not be signing this weekend…which was a good and bad thing. (Bad since we won’t get his autograph…good since we won’t have to wait in line indefinitely hoping to get an autograph.)

I found Vertical and bought Clothes Called Fat and Chi’s Sweet Home vol. 11, the newest volumes. I said hello to Ed Chavez before making my purchases and continuing along to the other booths. Kodansha sported the newest volume to No.6, volume 8 which will be released later in the month.

I dropped my favorite Funimation booth and confirmed that they do not have any special events going on during this weekend…as Aniplex’s Kill la Kill and Viz’s Sailor Moon events have taken over. Instead, Funi had an awesome promo item, Psycho Pass ID cards for any who dropped by. Quantities were limited but they were doing this for the entire weekend.

Simply put, an enforcer would take your picture with an ipad aka. The Sybil System to analyze your mental state. A color is given and given to the another enforcer who takes your picture via webcam and an id card is created 10 minutes later. I was given the Enforcer position…though my color was light coral which meant that I have a higher possibility to go crazy than others. It is the second most rare color as opposed to those who are actual criminals. XD

I also got to speak with Peter S. Beagle about the new illustrations on the reprint of the novel. They’re so pretty!

To celebrate the return of Sailor Moon, Viz had many events throughout Otakon weekend. Besides the premiere of the English dub, the booth and panel have several promo items including a special event shirt, two types of posters (paper posters at the booth and matte card stock for the autograph signings and panel) and an exclusive coin that is only given out via a stamp rally in the Dealer’s Room. The five main senshi would wander the Dealer’s Room and stamp a special card given out at the Viz booth. Sailor Moon herself would issue the last moon stamp and give out the coins.

Aniplex had a listing of cosplay events at the booth as well as special panels with the voice actors.

With the postcard in hand for the stamp rally, I walked the aisles and found Sailor Mercury first. She gave her stamp for correct math problems…like 2+2 and 3+4. Guess she knows the math challenges of the typical otaku. I bumped into other cosplaying senshi but not Viz’s booth babes…but found them easily enough.

Once I found them all, I headed back to the Viz booth and got my medallion. Coin in hand, I stepped on the line for the original cast signing for Sailor Moon.

Autographs were for Linda Ballanytne (Sailor Moon for S and Super S series,) Katie Griffin (Sailor Mars for all four seasons,) and John Stoker (voice director and Raye’s grandpa). Some fans on the line were complaining about the $10 fee for each cast member. I explained to some of them that the rarity of their appearance at cons and signings, their celebrity status (being the forerunners of anime VAs in the 1990’s,) $10 is a small price to pay. It also deters non-fans from selling the autographs at high prices, keep the line shorter and give more opportunities to real fans to meet the VAs they love.

The autograph signing began at 2pm and I got the Linda Ballantyne and Katie Griffen to sign a single shikishi. (Usually I would get a pic for them to sign, but being who they are, I thought to commemorate history with a shikishi.) I told them that I was a fan of the series, watching it in the early mornings.

Next to the Sailor Moon autograph booth is the signing for sumo wrestlers, Kelly Gneiting and Yama. They were selling little sumo dolls, shirts and their autographs with their hand print on it. In Japanese, I asked for their photo. I asked Yama what his favorite food was and he said white rice.

more autographs

After speaking with them, I headed to the autograph area. Unfortunately, the Hiroaki Yura, Kozaki Yusuke and Ishii Jiro signing was closed. My main focus was Ishii-san as he is the producer for Layton and director 999. Instead, I hopped on the line for Stephanie Sheh and Robbie Daymond, the redubbed voices for the original Tsukino Usagi and Chiba Mamoru.

The signing started at 2:30pm and at 4pm, I got their autographs. I got a chance to tell them that I’m looking forward to hearing their voices in the original series.

I hopped back in line for the Matsubara Hidenori-san (animator for Evangelion and Ah! Megamisama) and Katabuchi Sunao-san (Kiki’s Delivery Service) signing at 5pm. I got in rather quickly. I told Matsubara-san that his artwork for Ah! Megamisama was gorgeous.

For Katabuchi-san, I mentioned that I really look forward to his new movie, This Corner of the World.

back to the Dealer’s Room

I dropped by the Viz booth again and spoke with the Viz staff there about releases. I asked if Loveless will be getting more omnibus releases, mentioning that I knew that usually omnibuses are for releases that have been out for some time. The staffer reminded me that the only reason omnibuses were put out for Loveless initially was to allow the series to catch up to Japan and where Tokyopop left off. However, I also pointed out that the omnibuses included the booklets from the limited edition releases. I emphasized that fans would definitely double dip for the limited edition materials. I also suggested that they could consider releasing the LE material with the regular tankouban releases like Kodansha’s current No.6 line. The staffer thanked me for my input and thoughts, redirecting me to contact Shoujo Beat editor who is also working on the current Loveless releases. If more fans contact her, than she may consider including LE info. *take notes*

*points above* Cid was putting a cigarette in the horse’s mouth. XD

Saturday: August 9

Sailor Moon dub episode 1

The first panel of the day was the Sailor Moon premiere panel. I got there just as they were announcing Stephanie Sheh as Sailor Moon and Robbie Daymond as Tuxedo Mask. They brought up the same cast list as the one from Anime Expo:

    Kate Higgins (Sakura, Naruto) – Sailor Mercury
    Cristina Vee (Mio, K-ON) – Sailor Mars
    Amanada Miller (Megumi, Accel World) – Sailor Jupiter
    Cherami Leigh (Himawari, xxxHolic) – Sailor Venus

    Michelle Ruff (Kotori, X) – Luna
    Johnny Yong Bosch (Ichigo, Bleach) – Artemis

    Danielle Nicole – Osaka Naru
    Ben Diskin (Yata, K) – Umino Gurio
    Tara Platt (Temari, Naruto) – Tsukino Ikuko
    Keith Silverstein (Mikoto, K) – Tsukino Kenji
    Nicolas Roye (Mikey, Digimon Fusion)- Tsukino Shingo

    Cindy Robinson (VV, Code Geass) – Queen Beryl
    Todd Haberkorn (Watanuki, xxxHolic – Jadite
    Liam O’Brien (Gaara, Naruto) – Nephrite
    Lucien Dodge (Tatara, K) – Zoicite
    Patrick Seitz (Germany, Hetalia) – Kunzite

The voice director is Suzanne Goldish (Tiger and Bunny) with producers Jamie Simone (Tiger and Bunny) and Rita Majkut (Digimon).

They show episodes 1, 2, 8 and 10 of the original series introduces Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury and Sailor Mars. I was only able to stay for episode 1 which was very good in execution. The voices were appropriate for the roles and I didn’t feel that anything was out of place or jarring. I have one qualm with the voice casting thus far and it’s a minor one, Shingo sounds too mature for elementary school…as in, his voice is too deep. Puberty came early?

Translations are definitely closer than the previous DIC version. However, there are some weird translations that weren’t in the Japanese. One obvious one the “purple pants” bit when Usagi met Mamoru for the first time. The audience laughed at that though so I assume it’s for humor value. However, I was hoping they would stick with the actual Japanese script.

In any case, this is starting to sound like a brillant restart of the series.

Hayami Saori Q&A panel

The panel for Hayami Saori began at 12:45 so I left the Sailor Moon panel at 12:30pm. The room was one of the smaller panel rooms and it was packed with every seat filled. Found a seat near the front left of the room. Staffers told the audience (and I confirmed with her concerning press) that no photos were allowed during the panel.

Since I needed to go to the Yoshiki press conference at 2pm, I left the panel at 1:30pm.

Yoshiki Press Conference

Surprisingly, there weren’t that many people gathered at the press conference. As we were waiting, a staff played X Japan music on the tablet. Through the music, I heard a piano melody…coming from outside the room. Yoshiki was playing on the baby grand piano located outside the room with his entourage and staff. It was beautiful preview to the concert on sunday.

Linda Ballantyne, Katie Griffin and John Stocker Q&A

I slipped into the Funimation panel at the end in order to wait for the Sailor Moon panel with the original voice cast. My only voice actor panel of the weekend, but it was filled with interesting information about the changes in the industry.

cosplay break

After the panel, I was heading back to the hotel when I found this Haikyuu group in the registration area. All male sports anime cosplay group is quite rare in the present days of ever popular crossplay. They were awesome so I grabbed a pic when along came this Free! all male cosplay group. XD

Than a bit of chaos….

Masquerade fun

I headed to the Mariner Arena for the masquerade. I have high hopes for Otakon and my expectations were met many times over. The cosplays were beautiful and best of all, the skits were varied and detailed in plot and not just dance moves.

fun with VAs after dark

I got my 18+ bracelet went to the Voice Actors After Dark panel. It was already underway when we found seats in the middle back rows. No pics or details as it’s a laugh-listen-don’t tell policy, but the VAs in attendence were Dante Basco, Robbie Daymond, Carrie Keranen, Wendee Lee…and I think Tony Oliver and a few others. The spin on tonight’s panel was Cards Against Humanity. Occasionally, the MC would flip a black card and ask the guests to answer it. They still took questions from the audience with the usual round of perverted questions. And occasionally they would respond with a white card. It was awesome fun! An extension was provided and the panel lasted until midnight.

Sunday: August 10

last round of the Dealer’s Room

Yoshiki Classical Concert

After the dealer’s room, I headed to the front of the concert hall for Yoshiki’s concert. Press was seated at the extreme right and front of the huge screens. I chose a seat in the 3rd aisle so to get as much of the stage as I possibly could since photography was allowed throughout the concert from our seats.

first and last round of the Artist Alley

The concert ended around 1:20pm but we hung around the hall talking about the awesomeness that is Yoshiki, the tears that were shed and just trying to get our breathing back to normal. Than I headed to the artist alley for the last half hour.

Unfortunately, they already put away Katabuchi-san’s sketch gallery. I don’t normally go to the Artist Alley at Otakon…could this possibly be my first time?

last of the cosplay

Found the ball pit…the meme from Dashcon. He was trying to get rid of his balls…so there was alot of hilarity of “Have some of his balls! They’re free!” and “Catch some balls!” and other inneundos that I couldn’t help but laugh at.

last thoughts

This has been an interesting Otakon for me…some good and some bad. It began with registration failure for the attendees…a major failure that resulted in 3-7 hours waits and only a fraction of pre-reg were able to be processed. It also meant that many people camped out in order to get the most out of their friday. Otakon also surprised me by not having any paper schedules in the booklets…only printed a limited number for the information booths which I got.

The way they handled Yoshiki’s concert tickets were good…with some bad points. Good, in that attendees don’t need to wait on line. Bad since I hear they didn’t utilize all the tickets (though the room was packed.) Simply put, not all the attendees that entered the lottery were those that wanted to attend the concert. They just entered just because they wanted to or their friends asked them to. Which meant that a good number of real fans didn’t get the tickets and had their heart broken. On the other hand, the tickets that were not claimed were able to picked up at a locatin. However, not everyone who was NOT able to get online were able to be privy to the information. It should have been announced beforehand so that people could plan. And the tickets were announced until late friday…as opposed to their thursday planned announcement. All in all, it was a messy process…but it could be tweaked.

It was a weekend of memes as usual and though I thankfully didn’t hear anything bad about the Homestruck cosplayers, nor did I hear excessive calls of ‘buttscratcher’ and ‘Rick Rolled’, I did see some Dashcon memes and understood Cards Against Humanity even more. Definitely a lesson well learned.

The weather was pretty good for the entire weekend…minus sunday which started to get quite warm. Also, the walkway between Hilton and the con center was really crowded each time I passed through with waits on friday and saturday. Sunday, thankfully was better. The Dealer’s Room was equally crowded…but that’s allowable. It takes about 25-30 minutes to walk from one end of the con to another…horrendous really, but it shows that we’re really outgrowing this venue.

Otakon will be in July 24-26 next year…a surprising date since it haven’t been in July for many years. Until next year!