Baltimore, MD, USA. August 19-21, 2005
by Kuzu Ryu Sen
[Operation Codename: Camden]
[Event and Location: "Otakon: Convention of Otaku Generation," Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America.]
[Investigating Agent: Kuzu Ryu Sen]
[Primary Objective: Investigate and report on movements in the animation industry.]
[Secondary Objective(s): Investigate and report on the nature of the event, focusing on fanbase and organization; to promote Anime Secrets awareness; and to strengthen Anime Secrets staff relationships.]
Well, prior to the actual start of the operation, I had to clear up a few logistical matters. Namely, completing pre-registration and attending the press information meeting. Now, Otakon had announced that the doors to the Baltimore Convention Center wouldn’t open until 1700, but people began lining up at 1200. Personally, I lined up at about 1500, and surprisingly, once the doors open, was able to complete pre-registration in less than half an hour. The press information meeting also went well, opening at 2000 and finishing about an hour later. There was a surprising abundance of interview slots still available, and I used this opportunity to sign up for an interview with Kawamoto Toshihiro and Kanemori Yoshinori, two character designers working in major Japanese animation studios.
On the first day, I arrived at the BCC at around 0900, and it was good. Since there wasn’t anything planned in terms of the operation until 1100, the first hour or so was used to get acquainted to the environment, locate key targets like panel rooms, showing rooms, and the dealer’s room, and finally, to watch the last half of the ridiculously hilarious Otaku no Video. After the conclusion of the flagship program of the convention, it was now time for the Politics in Anime panel. Naturally, this panel had little relevance to anything in the greater scheme of things, but the subject matter is highly intriguing (also, there was nothing else of interest at that particular timeslot). Following a very intriguing panel that focused on some more obscure titles like Silent Spring, it was time for the first major event of the day: the Kanemori Yoshinori panel.
Kanemori-san’s panel was followed by Mizushima Seiji-san’s panel, the Madhouse Studio panel, and finally Kawamoto Toshihiro-san’s panel. All the panels were highly informative, and the three panels involving Japanese guests consisted of a short introduction, followed by a lengthy Q and A session. There were many interesting details and quirks about life in the animation industry offered up, as well as some commentary about shows that the guests had worked on. In particular, Mizushima-san got a lot of questions about Fullmetal Alchemist, and Kawamoto-san got a lot of questions aboutCowboy Bebop. Transcripts for each of the guest panels can be accessed via the provided links. However, perhaps the biggest news came from the Studio Madhouse panel, where Maruyama Masao-san announced that due to the overwhelming support from this side of the Pacific, Madhouse is tentatively planning for the production of a Trigun movie to be released in 2007.
Between all the panels, I had a chance to stop by three important places: the opening ceremony, the dealer’s room, and The Indigo‘s concert. The opening ceremony was fairly standard, but the sketch by the Anime Parliament group was quite good. The dealer’s room was one complete and utter maze, but thanks to the trusty pocket program guide supplied by the Otakon staff, acquiring one’s bearings was not a difficult task at all. The best part of the first day came upon the discovery of the Buy Rite DVD booth, and their utterly unbelievable “3 DVDs for 20 USD” sale. Despite a somewhat limited selection, the ability to pick up such cheap merchandise could not and would not be passed up. All in all, the first day’s shopping ended with a few Furuba and Kare Kano manga volumes, as well as a few Someday’s Dreamers and Master Keaton DVDs.
Of course, the mention of Someday’s Dreamers inevitably brings one to The Indigo, and from what I observed, they deserved far better than what they received. The concert itself was excellent, with The Indigo playing at least seven or eight songs (I wasn’t keeping track), including “UNDER THE BLUE SKY” (the ED to Someday’s Dreamers) and “Namo Shirenu Hana” (the Ai Yori Aoshi ED). However, the sound system was rather sub par, with the bass turned up to its highest levels to the extent where Miki’s voice was being drowned out. Furthermore, the concert was held, rather than in an auditorium or the empty ballroom on the 400 level, in the Camden Lobby, a fairly well travelled area that was the access way to several workshop and panel rooms. As a result, the concert was certainly subject to quite a bit of background noise. Nevertheless, it was still a rather enjoyable experience and a nice breather after running from panel to panel.
Now, after the Kawamoto Toshihiro panel, Otakon had arranged a special surprise for the guests, and that was a rather impromptu Puffy AmiYumi panel. Demand was surprisingly high, and despite not having any background knowledge on the band or their TV show, I decided to attend for the sake of a) education, b) journalism, and c) to use the press badge. The panel was an utter hit, and the crowd ate up every last second of it, despite not really having any particularly special or interesting information. It was a fairly standard panel with a little Q and A, a little product pushing, and a few giveaways, but as already mentioned, the atmosphere was terrific, and that is what made it entertaining. Regardless of entertainment level, it was still rather relieving to escape from that sea of humanity after the conclusion of the panel. Yet, with relief came disappointment, simply because well, there was nothing left to do. Otaku Idol had been cancelled, and with the cancellation of Hellsing Ultimate, there was nothing particularly of interest in any of the showing rooms. As a result, actions on Day 1 were terminated at approximately 2130, and I returned to my base of operations to prepare for the most important aspect of the whole operation: the interview.
Day 2 opened with great tension and even greater stomach upheaval, since I was about to conduct an interview for which I had really not prepared for whatsoever. Then again, I wouldn’t have even signed up for the interview had Otakon not had switched to a “press conference” style of interview rather than the conventional one-on-one this year. Arriving at the Baltimore Convention Centre at about 0930, I spent the 30 minutes I had prior to the interview essentially just wandering aimlessly around the grounds.
The interview with Kanemori Yoshinori and Kawamoto Toshihiro began at 1000 and concluded at 1130, and a transcription can be found here. Overall, it went pretty well, and my initial nervousness was vanquished by how relaxed the atmosphere was. Following the interview, I returned to the Convention Center. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anything of interest planned, so the only natural course of action was to head to the dealer’s room and spend all my food money. Once again, Buy Rite DVD was a stop, and more Master Keaton DVDs as well as a DVD of Haibane Renmei was acquired. Aside from some assorted manga, I also managed to find the Seikai no Senki III(Banner of the Stars III) novel. Not that I can read too much Japanese, but I’d like to think it would be a good assistant for my continuing studies.
After all of this… it was only around 1300, and yet, there was really nothing to do until the Tokyopop panel at 1430, and even that didn’t seem all too appealing. So… it was time to pull out the secret weapon. Of course, the secret weapon surprisingly hadn’t even arrived at the Convention Center yet, but after a nice phone conversation and a little orientation, the rendezvous with Off-Duty Agent Mira was made. After the necessary introductions, it was decided that, well, again, that we wander around, since she didn’t have anything planned until the showing of The Place Promised in Our Early Days at 1500. As such, we (read: me) decided to proceed back to the dealer’s room, so that I could introduce her to Buy Rite DVD, something that she is probably still cursing my name for at this very moment.
Following a little bit of cruising around the dealer’s room, we (this time at her behest) headed to Artist’s Alley, which featured some very nice (albeit out of my budget) pieces for sale. It also featured some *ahem* not so nice pieces of artwork, but that’s to be expected obviously in a public exhibition area. After leaving Artist’s Alley, we then proceeded to the 35mm Theatre for their screening of The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
After the completion of the light show (sorry, inside joke), once again, we were left without anything to really do. The Viz panel didn’t seem all that interesting, we were both broke, and there wasn’t anything particularly interesting in any of the showing rooms. So, we just decided to sit and chat until it was time for Mira to leave.
After Mira‘s departure (in the wrong direction at first) at 1800, I decided to well, wander around again. Finally settling on the showing room marked “Right Stuf Premieres.” After watching an episode of some bizarre half modern half feudal anime that I didn’t even know the title of, it was time for the Masquerade. Of course, having really zero interest in cosplay, I was just going to get a good seat for the surprise Kato Kumiko concert that Mira had tipped me off to.
Of course, by that point, I was a little tired, and was feeling well, kind of listless from having done really nothing special all day. But wow… that concert was something. Kato-san possessed an amazing amount of energy, and despite really not having any particularly striking songs, her on stage movements were more than sufficient to energize the crowd. Her finale was amazing, namely because in lieu of candles, glowsticks, or anything of that nature, the crowd pulled out their cellphones, and waved them in time with the song. It was really quite a scene to behold, particularly indoors, (can you tell I don’t go to many concerts?), and demonstrates just how things change from generation to generation.
Naturally, the good part of the 5 hour event was over after the first hour, and I slipped out of there as fast as I could during the interlude between the concert and Masquerade. Once free, I decided to go see the Geneon panel, although it was just ending. As I walked up to the room, whom did I see inside giving a panel but The Indigo, despite the fact that their panel wasn’t slated until 2230. Inquiries to the Information Desk revealed that the two panels had in fact swapped times and locations, but this information was not given to any of the general public, nor was it even supplied to the Information Desk, an inexcusable slip up.
Having seen Plan A dashed to pieces, Plan B was rapidly formulated and put into action, and I headed towards Video Room 1 for the showing of Spring and Chaos, a surprisingly good film detailing the life of Miyazawa Kenji (plus, it struck a chord with the cat lover in me). As an added bonus, it ended just as the Central Park Media panel was starting, allowing me to catch both in essentially their entirety. The CPM panel well, aside from flying Narutaru plushies, was rather uneventful, although their latest hentai releases did spark my interest, much to the distaste of Mira, who had returned and was also in attendance.
Following the CPM panel, it was time for the Geneon panel, who showed a video tribute to their 10 year history, then showed a few trailers of their newest acquisitions, including Ergo Proxy and the new (and fairly uninspiring – from the trailer anyway) Hellsing OVA, as well as announcing the appearance of Angela at CNAnime in Toronto, Ontario. Following the panel, as it was nearly 0000,Mira headed back to her hotel, and I returned to HQ, fairly content with the day’s activities, and relieved knowing that I could finally relax on Day 3.
Originally, the plan was to arrive at 1000, in time for the Mihara Mitsukazu panel, but a combination of oversleeping and traffic on the I-395 made that impossible. Arriving at 1045, the first destination was, for the last time, the dealer’s room. It was nice to look around at the merchandise without really buying too much for once, but I did walk away with the Here is Greenwood DVD, a must have for any anime fan.
After departing the dealer’s room, it was time for the official Kato Kumiko concert in the ballroom. Despite attendance being noticeably lower, the concert was still very entertaining and energetic, with Kumiko-san even performing some additional songs that weren’t presented at Masquerade. After the concert, I decided to wrap up Otakon by watching the parts of Otaku no Video that I had missed on the first day, departing the Convention Center at approximately 1300.
Well, to summarize, Otakon was certainly fun, but was it worth the 10 hour drive? The Japanese guests were very entertaining and informative, and the concerts were energetic and positive. However, there were quite a few problems with reference to logistics and organization, as well as the sound system that rendered the Otacafe uninhabitable to all but the deaf. Overall, Otakon was a good convention, although it didn’t quite live up to the tremendous hype. It should be considered that 2005 was a “recovery year” for Otakon, and 2006 should be much better. Still, a thank you is in order to all of the hard working staff, to the press department, to all the guests, and to the fans, even if most of you like Inuyasha.