Otakon Vegas 2014

By Caitlin Moore

otakon_vegas_header_logoOtakon Vegas was an interesting beast of a con: a small, intimate convention focused mainly on fan-run events, run by the same corporation as one of the largest anime conventions in America. I was fortunate enough to have an excuse to be in Las Vegas around New Year’s, allowing me to attend the nascent convention.

The con had a bit of a rough start, although it wasn’t entirely the fault of the conrunners: because of a huge blizzard on the East Coast, the money for their cash-only at-con registration wasn’t present. They recommended that people just register online and then hop into the much longer, but moving, preregistration line. My unfortunate boyfriend did just that… only to have the at-con registration open up right after!

After that, the con appeared to run very smoothly. Many of the staffers had traveled from Baltimore and were experienced with working at cons, and it showed; the smaller event space and attendance levels undoubtedly didn’t hurt in running things smoothly. I wasn’t a huge fan of the venue, though – Planet Hollywood has an extremely “bro-ish” atmosphere, with its female dealers clad all in lingerie and dad rock playing over the speakers. It made for a really odd mix and some interesting people-watching: for example, I saw a man with a very stereotypically “otaku” appearance explaining the concept of moe to a politely nodding dealer in a corset and hot pants. On another occasion, a couple getting married were stuck taking their wedding pictures in the area that was being used by the convention –  by their expressions, they were not pleased about it.

The highlight of the weekend was, for me, the premiere of Space Dandy. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, please do so.  They showed the dub, as their guest of honor list included director Zach Bolton, script writer Jamie Marchi, and Dandy’s actor, Ian Sinclair. Although since then, some issues with the English script making changes to key lines have apparently cropped up, the first episode’s dub was uproariously hilarious. With the opening line, “Boobies, boobies, boobies,” and Dandy observing shortly after, “Nothing trumps the rump,” the show isn’t exactly the classiest or most feminist friendly, but I was laughing too hard to care. Ian Sinclair’s Zapp Brannigan-inspired performance was pitch-perfect, skewing the space playboy archetype that was the mainstay of pulpy 70’s science fiction. The animation, too, was a treat – Dandy spinning his gun on his finger, only to try to holster it and miss, is an image that never fails to make me smile.

Other highlights included a panel on Women in Anime headed by industry veteran Ellyn Stern, a sort of call to arms for people to create better-written female characters combined with some anime-flavored Feminism 101; Mike Toole’s showcase of “Dubs that Time Forgot”, mostly cheesy old 80’s OVAs and, in another panel of his, some of the worst animated anime ever made; as well as a panel on the cultural interplay and exchange between Japanese and American media. Fascinating in a completely different way was a panel on “Moe Gone Bad”, showcasing moe anime that cross the boundaries and over the line into bad taste. Featured shows included Girls und Panzer, Chu-Bra, and Akikan, among others. All were horrifying in their own way, but I found myself shaking with rage and horror at a scene from Akikan in which the male protagonist forcibly transforms the can-turned-cute-girl back into her form as a can, puts her in a closet, and leaves her there overnight as she begs for him to let her back out. As the scene jumped to the next morning, her pleading had grown tired and desperate, and he still ignored her. The way the scene lightheartedly portrayed real-life abuse tactics was infuriating.  Fortunately, the panelist condemned the show as well.

Overall, Otakon Vegas was a ton of fun! Despite the initial problems with registration and some accessibility issues – the schedule was only available in a very unstable phone app and displayed on a screen in tiny print that would be impossible to read for anyone with imperfect vision – the whole thing was well run with solid programming and a good guest roster. Although whether I’ll attend again in the future depends hugely on my own budget and the convention’s timing, I have high hopes for its future.