Conventions: they are the great symposia of people with similar interests sharing, participating, educating, and enjoying. Although conventions exist for all kinds of things, from hardware to professional associations, in my mind there is nothing better than anime conventions. They are dreamy, almost surreal. They are as if Halloween is happening but only within a certain space, like October 31 exists only in a time chamber that happens to be a convention center.
Otakon, for those of you who do not know, is the largest anime convention on the East Coast of the United States and has been running for over twenty years. This year was my ninth time attending Otakon in the Charm City itself, Baltimore. It was pleasantly sunny all throughout this past weekend at Otakon, although a plague of frogs could have descended on Baltimore and a significant percentage of attendees would not have noticed since they have little use for this fanciful place called “outside.”
I was one of the luckless many who did not pre-register early enough to receive my badge in the mail ahead of time, so I stood in line for three and a half hours to get it at the door. That’s a lesson learned! Afterward, I met up with my friends at Matsuri, a concert up Light Street, only a few blocks away from the Baltimore Convention Center. Since I was gone for so long, I came in right at the end of the last band’s performance, but that was okay (I never heard of the band or any of its songs).
On the first day of the convention proper, I met the voice actor couple Lex Lang and Sandy Fox, whom I had heard through the dub of Rurouni Kenshin. Due to certain hilarious outtakes, I had him sign in my autograph book, “Two-hit combo with super size fries!” I would go to Lex’s Q&A panel later that day (after waiting in line another three and a half hours in the unsuccessful hope of meeting voice actress Romi Park) and hear him comment about how he has people routinely talk to him about that particular set of bloopers to this day. I had the chance to ask Lex about the funniest thing he ever did in the recording booth. He said that he liked to mess with the sound engineers by moving his mouth but not speaking, making the engineers worry they had a fault with the sound system. Voice actors have all the fun!
I spent a lot of time in the dealers’ room. There is everything an anime geek could ever want in that place, which is basically the entire basement of the convention center. I can’t even begin to estimate its size properly, but commerce goes on farther than the eye can see. Booths are full of people peddling services or wares, like giant plushies. Next to the dealers’ room is the artists’ alley. I have to give a shout-out to the artist whom I hired for two commissions, Sukesha Ray, who is a really nice person and an excellent artist. Also in the artists’ alley was a section dedicated to an art auction. Artists could have patrons bid on their works. The most elaborate work was a painting of various robots playing a poker game: Wheatley, Alpha, Bender, Gir, and Glados. The last bid I saw for that painting was at close to $500. It was certainly worth it, given the craftsmanship behind that art.
I also attended a panel called Dub Actors After Dark. This panel is limited to attendees aged 18 or older, because it involves various voice actors saying very impolite things. This has been an ongoing tradition for eight years at Otakon and its popularity can be summarized by the fact that the line for that panel began three hours before seating began. The room was filled to capacity. I’ve gone to each session of Dub Actors After Dark since its inception in 2008 and it has always left attendees howling in hilarity. A few years ago, someone had the brilliant idea of no longer leaving out the deaf and sent in a sign language interpreter. Given the raunchy things said at this panel, the sign language interpreter has had to sign things I’m sure he never expected to have to sign to a large audience! The hilarity of his signing has made him a minor celebrity in his own right; when he took the stage at the beginning of the panel this year, he was greeted with a standing ovation. That’s how you know you have made it as an interpreter.
I also got a chance to get into the gaming hall, a sizable room dedicated to electronic entertainment of all kinds. Video games of all stripes and generations were clustered together. Some of the titles on display were Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Dance Dance Revolution, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Left 4 Dead 2, Super Mario Kart, Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing, Guitar Hero Eleventy-Billion, Injustice, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and so many more besides. After playing so much of the latest iteration of Smash Bros., playing Melee again forced me to relearn a lot of old techniques in a hurry. I am happy to report I crushed the competition there. More impressively, I had flawless muscle memory of the zones in Sonic 2 despite not having picked up a Genesis controller in a decade.
The last day of the convention was dedicated to another concert, this time by OreSkaBand, an all-female Japanese ska band. They were great! Even if ska is not your thing, the band had such energy that the crowd was on its feet the whole concert. The trumpeter and the trombonist jumped off the stage and started marching through the aisles at various times. Proving that music is the universal language, age was of no import here. Old men were in front and back of me, dancing and waving peace signs with the performers. A little kid in front of me was brought onto the stage and gleefully bounced with the music while his family recorded him. Those are memories that will last him a lifetime. Why couldn’t my parents be that cool?
All in all, I had a great time at Otakon this year. Next year will be Otakon’s last year in Baltimore, at least until the Baltimore Convention Center has finished renovations. Otakon will move to Washington DC starting in 2017. I plan to keep going to Otakon for many years to come. Will I see you there?