National Harbor, MD, USA. February 12 – February 14, 2010.
My last time at Katsucon, it was my first time attending a convention on the East Coast; I didn’t know anyone who was going to be there, and I was already tired out from a 12 hour bus ride to get there. Even so, the convention managed to exceed my expectations, and I had a great time. This year saw Katsucon (nicknamed KatSNOWcon by many, due to the fact that it took place during the snowpocalypse of the Mid-Atlantic) again ushered in with a lot of stress, mostly due to a lot of people (including myself) wondering whether or not they’d be able to make it to the convention center at all, much less be able to leave when it was over.
Katsucon celebrated its 16th year this year, moving to yet another new hotel, the Gaylord National, right on the Potomac, just south of D.C. The hotel is on pretty much its own little island, and has its own convention center, which was rather convenient for congoers. The facility was huge; while Katsucon was taking place, there were no fewer than two other conventions going on at the same time, and aside from a mad rush to use the stairs after one convention’s events let out (which I only knew about because I was conducting a photoshoot in a stairwell at the time), you’d never know (although we did have one great moment when some of the attendees from the Navy Seals and Marines gala came over where we were hanging out late Saturday night and asked to take some pictures of us. They were very impressed by our costumes, and one of them actually chatted us up a bit about what series we were all representing. Apparently some of them crashed the rave that night, which I now sort of wish I’d gone to!). Although I didn’t have much interaction with the hotel staff, they seemed very able to handle three conventions going on at once. I did get to speak with a staff member who was very excited that they were hosting an anime convention; however, some of my friends did not have as satisfactory experiences with the hotel staff. The Gaylord National is a gorgeous hotel, and its location lends itself to all sorts of photoshoot opportunities for cosplayers. There is a little village on the very ground floor, complete with a tropical-esque garden, and the second floor has a gorgeous gazebo that looks out on the glass walled side of the hotel – the side facing the Potomac.
Although Katsucon is definitely growing in terms of attendees (one of the reasons why the hotel change was such a welcome one, after last year’s attendee cap of 6,000), it still has yet to catch up to itself in terms of pretty much everything else. Guests included the commonplace English voice actors whom, while fun to see once, seem to show up at every con on the East Coast. Katsucon had more webcomic artists as guests than any other type. The AMV contest was lacking in comparison to some that I’ve been to, and the masquerade has definitely fallen in quality. (According to some of my friends who performed in the masquerade last year, the staff running the masquerade has changed, and there are new policies that a lot of the previous performers didn’t particularly like, so they didn’t enter) However, the Dealer’s Room, where I did not allow myself to buy anything at all, having just returned from a two week stay in Japan and about to embark on a semester-long study abroad there, was surprisingly well-stocked. I found many a rare item, and some good deals which sorely tempted me to break my vow not to buy anything. The Artist’s Alley was also well stocked, in part because that was where the webcomic artists spent their time. Many of the artists could not make it because of conditions, but it was definitely a good showing, nonetheless.
One thing I really appreciated the Katsu staff doing this year was allowing registration over the internet. I just don’t always trust our lovely postal service when it comes to some things, and the thought of sending a check with the registration money just made me shudder. (also, last year, whoever was typing in the names once they received the forms couldn’t decipher handwriting very well; a friend with readable handwriting had quite a time registering, as a letter in her name had been changed, making it harder to find) The only problem with registration was not really the fault of the staff; the badges were shipped to the hotel via FedEx, and due to road closures and Maryland’s general lack of snowplows, the badges did not make it to the convention until Friday afternoon. Attendees who picked up their badges beforehand were granted a printed slip of paper, which they could go back and trade for a plastic badge once they arrived.
The only real downside to Katsucon this year was the surrounding location. Because the hotel usually caters to higher-class conventions, the in-hotel restaurants were incredibly classy and priced as such, and as the hotel is basically on an isolated island, we were pretty much stuck with what was around – restaurants that catered to more of the same. Our saving grace was a sandwich chain, and a Ben N Jerry’s, though many of us weren’t really feeling ice cream while surrounded by hip-high snowbanks. In my last review of Katsucon, I mentioned that it had a reputation for excellent cosplay. In this, it was not diminished at all. Even if the Masquerade was lacking, the cosplayers that could be found wandering the halls were definitely impressive. Many cosplayers took advantage of the fact that we’d be at a very fancy hotel to break out cosplays that would be more at home in such a setting, resulting in many long coats, full skirts, and fancy fabric. Others, once the news of the snowpocalypse set in, geared their plans towards characters that would be right at home in the snow. No matter what the cosplay, there was a spot in the Gaylord that would fit the character.
All in all, I’d grant Katsucon as worth the stress of getting there (and believe me, I was extremely stressed out by the time I arrived on Thursday night); seeing friends, getting to frolic in a fancy location, and generally partaking in something that clearly gave its attendees a lot of joy was definitely worth it.