Baltimore, MD, USA. August 8th – 10th, 2008
After many years of anime and manga fandom, Otakon 2008 was my first con experience. It was suitably impressive in scale, with over 26,000 attendees wandering the halls, many in elaborate cosplay. It also boasted hundreds of different scheduled events, from anime and live action screenings to panels and workshops and concerts. There were tons of interesting things for your average diehard fan to do, but unfortunately not so much for an overly discriminating fan like myself.
The Dealer’s Room that I’d heard so much about was a bit of a disappointment once I got there. I came to the con with some pretty unreasonable expectations of being able to find manga that I’d had no luck locating – the rare or older manga that you can’t really find anywhere anymore, the ones that had been sitting unsold somewhere and were being pawned off on con-goers. Instead, I saw an overabundance of current manga series that you can easily find in your local Borders or Barnes and Noble. I’d budgeted a bunch of money to spend at the Dealer’s Room when I came, but in the end I didn’t buy a thing. Anime was pretty much in the same boat as far as variety went. However, there were plenty of Japanese cultural tables, anime-related knick knacks, and plushies, so people who were looking for collectibles would definitely have been happy.
The greatly-hyped JAM Project concert was a mix of the good and the bad. While they weren’t performing my favorite style of music, the singers were all excellent, especially the lone female singer in the group, Masami Okui. On the other hand, it was disappointing to see that their entire entourage was not present, in particular their musicians. Songs, for the most part, were sung to a recorded backdrop, which really decreased the power of their music. Also, the venue was a bit on the large size, leaving the audience dwarfed although there were a good number of people present. Fan seating was apparently the priority in the concert planning; press were sequestered behind all the fans, and while we were granted the privilege of taking flash photography for the first few songs, this was a dubious privilege and ultimately moot as flash photography doesn’t quite work at a distance of more than 100 feet. As press, I was extremely disappointed to not be able to take any decent photos of the group to accompany my review, but for the average attendee of the concert, this was no doubt pretty exciting as it enabled them to get right on the frontlines, up close and personal with JAM Project.
The presence of the big name JAM Project undoubtedly affected the Otakon budget for the rest of the con, because other than a few lackluster industry panels, there were very few VIP events to see. On the other hand, there was a broad range of other events to take in. In particular, I was impressed by the number of current anime titles that were being screened. However, I was less than impressed by Otakon’s rather stultifying fan panels. One unfortunate live action fan panel we attended suffered technical difficulties which could not be resolved by the thumb-twiddling Convention Center technical assistant standing by, leading to an extremely dull and spoiler-heavy discussion that would have killed any interest I had in the genre if I wasn’t already a fan. Other panels were equally unexciting, leading me to wonder who ultimately selects the panel speakers… or if there really is any kind of selection process in the first place.
In the end, I discovered the terrible truth that I’m definitely not a fan of cons, despite my love for Japanese entertainment. There are only so many panels you can sit through, after all, and screenings of anime that no doubt have already been seen long ago by intrepid, internet-savvy fans do not a good con make. But none of this seemed to dampen the spirits of the thousands of other con attendees, who were out in full force to revel in their fandom. And in the end, that’s really what a good con is all about.