Otakon 2015 – a con in review

Otakon returns for the 17th year to the Baltimore Convention Center. From July 24-26, attendees descend upon the Inner Harbor enmassed to check out the latest in Japanime releases, get a behind the scenes look with creators and voice actors and simply create memories with friends. The highlighted guests of the weekend include Mappa CEO Iwase Yasuaki, CEO and President (and Otakon’s own) Maruyama Masao, Troyca studios’ Producer Nagano Toshiyuki, Producer Kurosaki Shizuka and Director Aoki Ei for the English dub premiere of Aldnoah.Zero. Sponsered by Aniplex to promote the second season release of Durarara!! is seiyuu Toyonaga Toshiyuki and Producer Yokoyama Shuko. Of Fullmetal Alchemist fame is the seiyuu Romi Paku and for the Gintama fans we have Director Takamatsu Shinji amongst many more. Stateside guests are not to be outdone with legendary voice actress Sandy Fox, Laura Bailey, Bryce Papenbrook, J. Michael Tatum, Travis Willingham and many others. To kick off the awesome weekend is Otakon Matsuri guest, Back-On with two strong female bands for friday’s concert, Draft King and Sunday’s Oreskaband. This doesn’t encompass the weekend! The question is, what shall we do first?

Thursday: July 23

Otakon Matsuri

For the first time ever, Otakon mailed out badges to the first 10,000 pre-reg orders. However, I heard that only 8,000 made the cutoff date for the mailing. When we arrived at the convention center, there was already a long line in front for the pre reg pick up. Later, we learned that the line was cut at 8:30 though they continue taking attendees until 10pm.

After checking in at the press lounge, I headed over to the Inner Harbor where the Matsuri was taking place. Previously, the matsuri was held in the area between the two Hilton wings. Currently, the it has grown so large that it holds the space right behind the Science Museum next to the waters.

It was already past 6pm when I arrived. There were tons of anime clubs from the area there as well as food trucks and stalls selling food and snacks.

Back-on concert

Throughout the day, there were various bands at the Matsuri and performances. During the downtime, the sounds of taiko drumming and traditional Japanese music could be heard from the speakers. People were dressed in kimonos and some were already in cosplay. There was already a large crowd in the area but even more gathered when it neared 7pm for the Back-On concert.

The Otakon Matsuri always gets awesome guests to get us hyped for the start of the con, but truly, Back-On was a special treat. There are many theories as to why such a high profile band ended up as a thursday concert, but regardless, they gave us a full on concert to the thrill of the fans, closing out the matsuri and giving us a taste of the weekend to come. It only just started!

Friday: July 24

from one autograph to another

The way the autograph line works is that fans can start lining up 1 hour before the official start of the signing. However, Romi Paku starts 2.5 hours before. Since the Drrr!! singing was at 11am. The line didn’t officially start until 10am. And even before then, there was a crowd standing around the entrance into the autograph area. That was the unofficial start of the autograph session.

I first hopped on the line for the Drrr!! signing. No photos were allowed at the signing. Director Yokoyama Shuko and seiyuu Toyonaga Toshiyuki greeted fans and signed official merchandise or shikishi.

When I came out of the signing, I asked the staff if the Aldnoah.Zero signing was still going on since it was 11:15am, close to their closure at 11:30am. I was able to get in and get the three of them to sign a single shikishi. I received permission to also grab pics of them as well as the Aniplex ACP cosplay staff.

Producer Kurosaki Shizuka-san.

Director Ei Aoki-san and below is Producer Nagano Toshiyuki-san.

By the time I exited the Aldnoah.Zero signing, the line for Paku Romi opened up. Of course, that was where I went.

We were allowed into the Romi Paku signing room and was told that no photographs were allowed, even for press. I brought my FMA dvd…but decided to get the shikishi signed instead. I told her I like her in FMA, Princess Princess and Gundam 00, all three I was a big fan of. She appeared surprised and I noted that I look forward to seeing her in future anime.

Drrr!! Creator Panel

After the signing, I rushed to the panel room for the Drrr!! panel . Of course, I got there a bit late and Toyonaga-san was already greeting the audience. I received permission from staff to take photos but still, a few clicks later, one of the Japanese staff was stopping me. I presented my press badge and they understood. Still, I didn’t notice any other press there and kept my photos at a minimum.

Dealer’s Room

At the Dealer’s Room, I caught sight of the Vertical booth and greeted Ed Chavez. I grabbed pics of the Aniplex booth and others before making my way around the room.

Surprisingly, I didn’t find ANYTHING by Back-On although they were signing at the con. There wasn’t a booth for them near the other two bands.

Aniplex took center stage this weekend with Drrr!! and Aldnoah.Zero events happening at the booth.

Viz had a Sailor Moon rally which had us looking for 3 different sailors before obtaining a special lanyard. Sailor Venus, Sailor Mercury and Sailor Pluto were giving out little pins of Luna, Artemis and the Time Key. We would get the final Crystal Broach from Sailor Moon. Unlike the previous year, I had a more difficult time. I think it was because I was busy shopping and didn’t find Sailor Pluto in time. XD

Funimation had a huge booth as always with Haruka dominating the view.

Some of the booths had signing right at the booths. They may require purchases in order to obtain an autograph ticket and some give tickets for signings at the autograph area. (Aniplex had an official Aldnoah.Zero on sunday that require a purchase.) For Pony Canyon, Takamasa Shinji-san had a signing at 5pm at the booth for those who purchased the Cute High Earth Defense Club BD/DVD vol. 1. With the purchase, buyers could pick 1 out of 4 card pics of the characters as well as 1 sketch art of Yufuin.

I made it back to the Pony Canyon booth for the signing. I told Takamasa-san that I enjoyed Gintama and Ixion Saga as well amongst his works.

Saturday: July 25

Sailor Moon panel

The first event of the day was the Sailor Moon Panel with Viz. It was held in the larger panel rooms it was definitely packed when I arrived.

hotel room break

Housekeeping revealed a contest..’For the Cleanest Room’. During checkout, the cleanest room will be given free hotel stay for next year’s Otakon. This started last year but I didn’t note it since I was not at the Hilton last year. I initially thought it was pure laziness since at face value, it sounds as if housekeeping want us to do their job. I discussed this at length with several others and have concluded that there is some merit and logic to the contest. Though our room tends to be neater since we have the usual number of inhabitants, other rooms may have more plus cosplayers. The usual chaos with cosplayers in the room may range from makeup stains, wig fibers not to mention extensive amount of garbage and general mess. Respecting that, I can see why housekeeping wants us to be more aware of how we leave the room. Let’s clean up!

Aldnoah.Zero panel

I got to the panel on time and settled down near the front near the middle right of the room for the Aldnoah.Zero Panel with Troyca.

Romi Paku panel

To see Romi-san in person is amazing. She is so expressive, adorable, charming and full of energy. To hear her voice, is almost like seeing my favorite characters come to life. There is a hint of Romi-san in all the characters she portrays. Her fiesty attitude, her subtle tenderness…all wrapped up in a sweet smile. Definitely one of my favorite seiyuu panels to date. It’s a pity that we couldn’t video tape her because she is just so vibrant. And simply doing the transcription, I can see picture her smile, her gestures and energy which is definitely true in the voices that she voices that she portray.

When she stepped onstage, the crowd went while with cheering. Romi-san commented about how cute we were and the interpreter noted that she was cuter. Romi-san’s response, “I know.” XD

back to the dealer’s room!

Ed Chavez surprised us with his older Joseph cosplay. Such a perfect expression!

A few booths had a ‘subscribe and spin’ promos like Daisuki and Viewster. By subscribing, we can spin the wheel for a prize. Viewster had an interesting prize of a talking mameshiba…the beans which give oh-so-interesting facts. I won a green mame which is my fav. Too bad they speak English and I don’t think the voice is as cute as the Japanese one. ^^;

I stopped by Vertical again and Ed show me a chibi Zaku, made by the winner of the Gunpla competition. That’s so awesome! (Obviously, the Zaku was not the winning gunpla.) Its so tiny and so well made!

Otakon Masquerade/Back-On mini concert

I grabbed around the con before heading to the masquerade, getting there around 7pm just when it started. *whew* Being held at the Mariner’s Arena has it’s perk since it’s a full stadium, but the no video recording for press is certainly bothersome.

Remember the BACK-ON autograph signing they promised right after the masquerade? When we exited the main arena, there was only a small line at the signing. The line was not super short, but it was still shorter than the signing at AnimeNEXT. (I think it’s said more about the location of the venue and timing rather than the popularity of the band. This was an impromptu signing so con attendees didn’t know and not everyone who attended the masquerade is a fan. Not to mention, as noted, not many stay after the masquerade itself.) Still, nothing was being sold so I was iffy about staying for the signing since I didn’t even have my shikishi. Good thing we left though, since later, we heard that the band had already left since they didn’t even know about the signing. o.O Was that a whim of the organizers of Otakon? Did the handlers make a mistake? That is a pretty big mistake. The fans were waiting for quite some time…an hour at least which is pretty bad for a saturday night.

last of Saturday night cosplay

Sunday, July 26

one more autograph session

The line wasn’t closed when I arrived I believe around 12pm. It was for Lex Lang and Sandy Fox, both veteran voice actors and pros at their craft.

Both Lang and Fox had photo cards created depicting their roles which could be purchased. What a smart idea! They’re unique and I’m certain, only sold at cons at the autograph sessions. I asked them both to sign the shikishi. I told Lang that I really like his work in video games, especially Vergil in Xenosaga. That iconic voice, I can tell everywhere! For Fox, I told her that I really liked her singing in Magic Knight Rayearth and noted that I’ll be looking forward to her as Chibiusa.

last look around

Autographs done, I headed to the Dealer’s room for a last look around as well as catch the last of the cosplays.

I didn’t get a chance yet so I went to the artist alley. The way they set up the artist alley is not very good in that I had a difficult time trying to walk through it methodically. Perhaps the booths are too square so that I lose track of which aisle I walk down…. Difficult if I want to go back and buy something.

I was able to see the sketches that Aldnoah.Zero staff brought over in the Artist Alley. Of course, no photos allowed. It was a small enclosed area with character designs, mecha designs and the like. Really interesting.

At 3pm, they were kicking us out of the room so we made our way to the front.

con in retrospect

For the first time ever, Otakon updated their badges so that it is hard plastic eliminating badge choices but allowing for collectability. Also, to address the pre-reg disaster of last year, Otakon allowed for mailing out of badges. I believe it was only the first 10,000 badges, though I wondered why they don’t just mail out all who pre-reg before a certain date but I guess they didn’t want to test those numbers. Despite their preparations though, there was still an issue with badge pickup, albeit, it was not as bad as last year and they did cut off the line at an earlier time to prevent people from waiting too long.

Unlike other cons, I decided to stick closely with the guests panels as opposed to the industry ones. There was too much to do and not enough time to do them. Instead, I concentrated on the autographs and guest panels. Still, I didn’t get to see everything…completely forgetting about the Takamasa-san panel and only being able to make it my autographs because I squeezed them all in one day by even paying for one of them. It was fine though and I didn’t mind.

Drrr!!, Aldnoah.Zero and Sailor Moon took over this convention with events and guests. Unbelievably, we were able to get Back-On to perform twice AND we were graced with the shonen voice of Romi Paku. With all the events, I had a bit of downtime in between and advance in Find Mii though I didn’t get any new hats. Got some new locations though. ^_^

The final attendance numbers dropped from 33,929 in 2014 to 26,500 or an estimated 28,000. The drop is significant yet understandable as it stemmed from several pertinant issues. First, many were deterred from attending due to last year’s badge problems. Secondly, due to vandalism on convention property, badge prices have increased due to additional insurance the con had to take on. Also, riots concerning the arrest and death of Freddie Gray was rampant in the Inner Harbor area only a few months earlier. Though the riots are over, Baltimore has its own dangers which many attendees have to be aware of walking the streets at night after the rave or late panels. By themselves, the issues are acceptable, but certainly each would be a cause of concern as the average age of con goers decreased from the atypical college student to younger teens.

That being said, Baltimore is a beautiful city with its’ special brand of festivities and Otakon is not one to be missed. 2016 will be the last year Otakon will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center in the cozy Inner Harbor. 17 years it has been there and next year will mark the majority 18th. Before it’s move to DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, let’s mark our calendars for August 12-14 and prepare for a moving party that Baltimore will soon not forget!