Baltimore, MD, USA. August 4-6, 2006
Every year, Baltimore denizens welcome (whether they like it or not) thousands of screaming, sometimes rabid, otaku to the largest anime convention on the East Coast: Otakon. This year, Anime Secrets was able to send a few intrepid field agents along with the flood to the Baltimore Convention Center (BCC) to cover this annual three day orgy of cosplaying, impulse spending and Japanese culture. The experience was unforgettable, for a myriad of different reasons and Anime Secrets was glad to be able to be part of it all.Thursday, August 3rd – Pre-ConThis being my first Otakon, I was naturally very excited and anxious. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough to keep me from having to go into work that day. I toiled away at me desk until around noon, when I hopped into my car and made my way down into New York City to pick up Anime Academy alumnus Tyrdium, who had taken the bus down from Boston. After rendezvousing with him in uptown Manhattan, we finally got underway for Baltimore around at around 2:30 in the afternoon. Armed with MapQuest directions, we made excellent time down the Garden State Parkway, making the trip into Maryland in about two hours. Once in the general area of Baltimore, however, MapQuest failed us utterly. An hour and several wrong turns later, we finally pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express where we had lodging arrangements (which had been arranged by our very own Administration Officer,sohryu), only to find that our reservations were not for the Holiday Inn Express, but for the regular Holiday Inn at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Thankfully, the hotel staff seemed to get travelers making that mistake frequently, and they gave us easy directions to our actual hotel. Tyridium and I quickly dropped off our bags in the room and hopped back into the car to pick up our membership badges at the BCC. Being a veteran New York driver, I was able to weave my way though the mucky downtown Baltimore traffic, fortunately avoiding hordes of jaywalking bums and cosplayers alike. After parking at a rather expensive underground lot, we navigated ourselves to the BCC, which at first sight is rather impressive and daunting, especially with masses of ravenous otaku lined up all around it, waiting not-so-patiently to be admitted entrance. Luckily, we only had to wait outside in the humid August heat for a relatively short time. Once inside, Tyrdium went to join the maze-like line in front of the registration booths while I headed over to pick up my press pass at the aptly named Special Needs booth. I was surprised when they simply processed my pre-registration and sent me on my merry way, leaving me to try and figure out where to get my press pass. With some help from an usher, I found the press room, which was locked for the day, meaning I’d already missed the press orientation meeting. So far, my first Otakon experience was turning out quite lovely.Tyrdium and I piled back into the car and as we headed back to the hotel, got a call from the other half of our group, fellow Agent Lady Sage and some dude she met on the Internet, I think he called himself Le Bread. They were supposed to be arriving from Washington, but as it turns out, Le Bread‘s car had broken down right outside D.C., and as such, they had no way of transporting themselves to Baltimore. I briefly entertained the idea of going to get them, but the darkening sky and my grumbling stomach told me otherwise. After figuring out logistics for the next day with our stranded comrades, Tyrdium and I returned to the hotel, had a quick dinner, planned our itineraries and got some much needed sleep.Friday, August 4th – Day One
Being out the door by 8:15 AM wasn’t quite enough to keep us from being waylaid by confusing roads and inconvenient detours, so Tyrdium and I pulled into the same overpriced lot from the day before around 40 minutes later. Trekking to the BCC, we observed the still humongous line outside the building proper. There were, of course, many cosplayers among them; I noted a few of the more popular ones being Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy VII, which was unsurprising. Once inside, I flitted off to the Press Ops room to pick up my press pass, as well as a ticket for the Nana Kitade/MUCCConcert later.
It was then I spotted a short, bespectacled cosplayer wearing far, far too much pink. Working on a hunch (and a previous phone call), I walked up and introduced myself and was promptly glomped by Mana, fellow AS agent at the time. She had a rather impressive entourage from Anime Academy with her, including Kain, Mugs, Eek, Roark and Alex. After some quick and dirty introductions, Kain proceeded to give a tour of the BCC and its various amenities, which was quite helpful to an Otakon first-timer such as myself. The tour ended with a trip out side to the nearest ATM, as the ones inside the convention center had already been sucked dry by the hordes of otaku. It was there we encountered Mira, another fellow agent as well as director of publicity for Sakura-con. More introductions were made and meet-ups planned, as I was starting to wonder just who we would run into next.
After returning to the BCC, I made my way to the OverClocked Remix panel at around 10 o’clock. It turned out to be their first Otakon panel and they were reasonably nervous, so I was able to sympathize with them in spirit. I was a bit unprepared as well, not having a notebook to write notes in, so I had to make do with the fact sheet provided in the press package. The first half hour consisted of explaining what exactly OC Remix is (a website dedicated to remixes of video game music). After explaining, the panel members played a few examples of their music, most of them being from older, classic games, the overwhelming favorites being Chrono Trigger, Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy. They also had a few live performances, which were fairly decent, though I was reminded why most music is recorded in studios.
Having had my fill of Uematsu remixes, I went off to meet up with the others at the AMV overflow. After watching a few of them, I quickly realized why they were part of the overflow and not the actual competition. Not really wanting to subject our senses to the seemingly millionth Naruto AMV, our group decided to head for the Dealer’s Room. As we approached, I was somewhat alarmed to see the tail end of a rather huge line that was indeed for the Dealer’s Room, which was set to open at noon. However, Thanks to Kain‘s slick manipulation of a security guard and the vibrant green press passes a few of us possessed, we were able to squeeze into the Dealer’s Room half an hour before anyone else.
The room had a very bazaar-ish feeling to it, with vendors as far as the eye could see, peddling wares ranging from cheap gashapon sets to ridiculously expensive figurines. I took advantage of the relative emptiness and calm before the storm and availed myself to a few of the vendors, securing a number of neat souvenirs, including a NERV messenger bag and a notebook. After all, I couldn’t very well be a proper member of the press writing my notes on the back of the pocket program guide the whole time. Noon rolled around soon after, and with it the masses who had been lining up since early morning to get in. To our chagrin, the downpour of people was quite orderly and not the chaotic mess of pushing and shoving we’d thought it would be. The room did get a bit difficult to breathe in, however, so we hastily made our exit.
The next few hours involved finding a place to eat lunch, a quick check back into the Dealer’s Room and meeting up with Lady Sage and Le Bread, who had finally made it into the BCC following an almost cartoon-esque drive from Washington, D.C. The next panel we’d scheduled to attend was the Madhousepanel at 5 PM, so most of us killed time in the large theater showing Ouran High School Host Club(which is probably the best anime of the season to this point).
By 4:55 PM, we were safely seated in the second row of the Madhouse panel, ready for the goodies the venerable Maruyama Masao was to entice us with. The teaser included such shows as Redline, Black Lagoon, Yume Tsukai, Kiba and Highlander: Vengeance (the last one causing me to do a double take at the sheer ridiculousness of the trailer). Afterwards, Maruyama fielded questions, which ranged fromMadhouse‘s animation production (mostly traditional paper and pencil with digital enhancement) to the sources of Madhouse‘s original concepts. Maruyama stated that sometimes manga artists such as CLAMPwill come forward and ask for a particular work of theirs to be made into an anime, and that at other times, Madhouse will approach a manga artist and ask if they would like their work to be animated, as it happened with Black Lagoon. He assured us, however, that manga was not the only source Madhouselooked to for their projects. At that point, Kain questioned Maruyama about the delay in Redline, an extremely stylish racing show that apparently had been in production since the last Otakon. He informed us that it was the pet project of Koite Takeshi (of Animatrix fame) and that Koite was handling almost all aspects of Redline, including directing, producing and animating the whole thing. Maruyama stated it was tentatively scheduled for a 2008 release, though he said it with a rather rueful expression, making me think that even he wasn’t sure when exactly Koite would finish it.
It is at this point that we decided to attend the Nana Kitade/MUCC concert, which took place at the Ram’s Head Live, a club a few blocks away from the convention center. This event though was covered much more in-depth by Agent Lady Sage, so I’ll let her report do the talking.
After returning from the rocking MUCC concert, we spent a little downtime at the BCC before heading back to the hotel. Little did I know that my night was not yet over. As Lady Sage, Tyrdium and I sat at a gas station fueling up, who was to call but Le Bread, whose car had broken down for the third time in two days. Sighing wearily, I got back into the car and drove us down to where his car was and waited there with him until AAA came to tow it back to the hotel. Needless to say, none of us got a proper dinner that night. I can’t remember exactly when we all finally put in for the night, but I’m pretty sure it was after two in the morning. C’est la vie.
Saturday, August 5th – Day Two
Thanks to our wonderful late night excursions, Lady Sage, Le Bread, Tyrdium and I finally arrived at the BCC around noontime, after taking a detour for Bread‘s broken down hoopty. I was just able to dart upstairs to catch the tail end of the Yoshiki panel with Mana. The X-Japan veteran had come to Otakon as a guest, not as a performer. This didn’t stop the crazy fangirl groupies from nearly assaulting him onstage, however. He announced that he would be starting a new band with Gackt soon and touring the USA. He also quashed any doubts as to his sexuality, stating that he was decidedly straight and that he enjoyed it when people dressed up as him. In other words, he was pretty much like any modern day rock star.
After ducking my way out of the panel by wading through the mass of fangirls, I made my way to the ADV panel where I met up with Mana and Roark. It was run by a rather goofy, but very friendly PR corps who seemed to revel in their geekiness. They answered a few general Q&A questions, then gave the audience a sneak peek at the first episode of an anime they had recently acquired the rights to, Nerima Daikon Brothers. The show was irreverent, perverted and completely off-the-wall, which was probably why the ADV panel members were so delighted to show it off. Afterwards, they took more Q&A, then launched into their interactive games with the audience, giving away prizes to those who could answer questions relating to the episode. My mind is a sieve, so naturally, I could answer none of them. Fortunately, Roark did pay attention and was rewarded with an Excel Saga box set.
Following a quite enjoyable lunch with Kain, Alex, Roark, Mana, Eek, Mugs, Mira, Lady Sage, Le Bread and Dirty Harry, I spent a good part of the next three hours darting in and out of various panels, none of which were very interesting as they were mostly fan-run and not industry like I had hoped. I dropped by the Dealer’s Room on a lark and managed to snag a very cool Zeta Gundam box set for $50, which was an absolute bargain as it usually retails for close to $150. It was also during this time that I came to decide that I absolutely loathe yaoi fangirls. As I was flitting about the convention center, my long hair and Asian features made me the target for said fangirls’ giant wooden yaoi paddles. Now, I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to craft up a large piece of wood, write the Japanese for “yaoi” on it and give it to a hyperactive and probably unstable lover of boy-on-boy ecchi. But I sure do hope that that person suffers horribly when he/she/it dies. I cannot tell you how many times I got hit with those damnable wooden implements of overzealous fangirlism. The worst part was that there was no stopping them. It’s as if they were deaf, whacking me with reckless sugar-induced abandon. Definitely not one of my favorite Otakon experiences.
Pulling my weary body into the massive Geneon panel at 7 PM, I managed to secure a seat near the front along with Kain and Eek. Now, being a first-time con goer, I wasn’t an expert on panels, but from the get-go, it wasn’t hard to tell that the Geneon staff wasn’t quite up to the task of making a good presentation. Only the sheer enthusiasm of the gathered audience kept the panel halfway interesting as the overwhelmed staff resorted to inane guessing games with neat little knick-knacks as prizes (read: bribes) to keep people involved. The teaser trailers were flashy and eye-catching, but the dodgy audio made for a lukewarm experience. Pretty much the only good thing I got out of that whole thing was the definite release date of the Paradise Kiss DVDs (December 19, 2006!) Hopefully they have a better set of people running it come next Otakon.
After exiting the panel, I headed over to find the room where the 4chan panel would be held, so I knew where to go at 11:30 PM, which is when it was scheduled to start. Imagine my surprise when I saw a rather long line already queued up at the door. From the looks of the people hunched up against the wall, I could already tell that 90% of them were /b/tards, scum and detritus of the internet that inhabit the Random image board at 4chan. I idly wondered what they would be like without the green text of “Anonymous” to hide behind.
Needing a place to kill time at before the 4chan panel, I headed over to a Transformers panel and met up withLady Sage, Le Bread and Dirty Harry. Unfortunately, it was one of those fan-run panels and probably one of the worst I’ve ever had the experience of attending. There was nothing better to do, however, so we contented ourselves with sitting in the back and watching the sophomoric antics of rabid Transformersfanboys.
At around 10 PM, I left to go check on the 4chan line again. It had nearly tripled in size, wrapping around walls to either side of the door. I could already tell it was going to be sheer madness trying to get into it. As I still had an hour and a half to kill, Mana and I decided to sate our curiosities and head over to the “Do It Yourself Bukkake” workshop we had noticed in the program guide. We obviously weren’t the only ones curious about it, as there was a line that stretched all the way around the corner of the far wall, not quite as large as the 4chan one, but still quite substantial. Using my nifty press pass, I secured a spot in the back of the room. After a few minutes, we noticed Mira pass the doorway from the next room over, so we decided to bring her in on the fun. Little did we know we were in for one of the weirdest and most disturbing experiences ever.
The workshop started out fairly innocuously, with the middle-aged, cat ears-wearing host putting up an overhead of an anthropomorphic dog, known colloquially as a “furry.” The concept of furries is fairly harmless in and of itself; it’s just when a sexual aspect is introduced does it become a bit of an issue.Mana, Mira and I were a little wary when the first slide was put up, but wariness turned into abject disgust and loathing when the second one went up, depicting a rather lewd scene involving more furries. More than one audience member voiced their displeasure as the host ratcheted it up with more slides, each one more vile than the last. We could only look on in horror as she continued her campaign of animalistic debauchery. Mira was the first to excuse herself and leave, with Mana following soon after. I sat in my seat for a few more minutes, furiously scribbling in my notebook such ramblings as “OMG WRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY” [Lurk moar. It’s only 20 “Y”s! – sohryu] to keep my sanity. Finally, the host stepped up to the podium and announced that the workshop was for drawing bukkake and not the actual act itself. Several members of the audience took this time to enumerate their discontent and storm off in a huff; one particularly zealous con goer who had an empty water jug, a towel and what looked like a tube of lubricant got to his feet and voiced his thoughts using a number of choice expletives. I decided then that my journalistic duty was finished and promptly bolted out of the room, my tail between my legs, as it were.
Needing a jolt of reality after such a mind-bending experience, I joined Lady Sage for a small portion of the Voice Actors Uncut panel. The English VAs in attendance were suitably hilarious, and that is all I’m allowed to say on the subject, thanks to the non-disclosure agreement. It kept me suitably entertained until it was time for the 4chan panel to begin. Finally able to squeeze my way into the room, I found a seat near the front as the audience started filing in, raucous in their exultations of “POOL’S CLOSED!” and “It’s a trap!”. Once the room was filled, the panel proceeded, with a blessing from Raptor Jesus to start it off. 4chan owner moot gave the state of the website address, citing needs for more money due to burgeoning bandwidth costs, a constant problem that 4chan faces. Unfortunately, the staff said it was not able to accept donations, and must look to alternative ways to generate revenue, which includes ads and merchandise. I did my part by purchasing a 4chan T-shirt [And just where is the 4chan button you promised your editor?! – sohryu] from moot himself, surprised to find that he wasn’t a dirty man with a high school diploma, but a decent, sociable boy. The rest of the panel was filled with loud Q&A, with a large smattering of 4chan memes and catchphrases, all of which made me feel right at home. After suffering through Do It Yourself Bukkake, 4chan was definitely the best part of the night for me.
By the time the panel finished, it was well past midnight and I gathered my thoroughly entertained party and headed to the hotel for a well-deserved night of sleep, praying the whole way that Le Bread‘s disturbingly bad luck would not follow us back.
Sunday, August 6th – Day Three
Being that this was the last day of the con and we didn’t really get to attend very many things due to extenuating circumstances, my little band and I made it to the BCC relatively early. I was able to attend the impromptu Anime News Network panel. ANN is a popular online encyclopedia of almost everything anime-related. It is completely fan-run, which has both advantages and disadvantages, as one can imagine. The panel stated that about 95% of the encyclopedia entries are user submitted, indicating a large amount of fan participation, but also allowing for quite a number of inaccuracies. The staff also stated that they were pro-industry, encouraging users to buy series DVDs once they are licensed in order to support the business. I particularly liked that when asked what their favorite anime of the new season was, all of them responded with the same answer: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya [*vomits loudly and profusely* – KRS], which happens to be one of my favorites as well.
I rejoined the rest of my party in the Dealer’s Room for the traditional last day scrounging, when the vendors lower their prices in hopes of getting rid of their wares. Unfortunately, there were no more deals like the Zeta Gundam box set I nabbed earlier, but I figured it was for the best, as my wallet had already been put through quite the workout over the course of the weekend.
Goodbyes were short and sweet, as we saw Mugs andKain off at noon, then said our own goodbyes a little later. They were punctuated by Dirty Harry showing up fashionably late in his cosplay. At first, I couldn’t tell who he was supposed to be, as he looked like some sort of intergalactic mummy. Fortunately, Le Bread was able to explain to me that he was cosplaying Griffith fromBerserk. It suited Dirty Harry that he would play someone all beat up, and I let him know that’s what I thought. Pictures were taken and final goodbyes were exchanged, and Tyrdium and I set off on the long trip back to the Big Apple.
All in all, my first Otakon experience was just as I thought it would be: memorable and filled with good times with good friends. I’m so thankful to have met so many of my Internet compatriots in one go and in such a setting. There were almost no moments of awkwardness, as Otakon didn’t really allow for such times of uncomfortable inaction. Finally being able to put faces to screen names was an added bonus and it made me feel that much closer to them all. Meeting and getting to know everyone was definitely the best part of the entire con experience. That is not to say that the actual con itself wasn’t awesome, because it truly was. I was not disappointed with my first Otakon, as it definitely lived up to the hype. Everything was as I expected and most of it went above and beyond my expectations, from the industry panels, to the Dealer’s Room and the absolutely rocking MUCC concert. It was also quite the learning experience for me, as I know for the future what to look and plan out for, as well as what to avoid (damn furries and yaoi fangirls). I will definitely have a full itinerary planned out for myself when July 2007 rolls around. There is just so much fun to be had and not to plan out for it would be a total waste.
Here’s looking forward to the next Otakon! See you in July 2007!