So I don’t normally write reviews of conventions, because I normally have a really good time at conventions. But Otakon 2017 was such a mixed bag of a con, that I don’t really know how to process it right now. Thus, Pros and Cons
- Location– Otakon used to be held in Baltimore, but by last year, they had outgrown their space, and so this year they moved into DC to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. This is a great location for an anime convention, since it’s only a couple blocks away from Chinatown. Weebs really like ramen, so this was a great thing.
- Panels– I like panels in general, but sometimes the panels at cons are terrible. The three panels that I went to were all wonderful. Two of them were by the same people (Gay Breakfast; check them out), and I am a noted fan of these people, so there’s that to be considered when I think about panels, but the other panel I went to on using anime in the classroom was pretty cool, too, and my best friend the public school teacher really enjoyed it. So the panels I went to were a win.
- Staff organization– Every corner and intersection of the massively sprawling convention center was staffed by information desks or bag checks, and the people who worked at each of these stations were all incredibly friendly and helpful. It would be very easy to get lost in a place like that, but every time we did feel lost, someone was right there with maps to give us detailed directions on how to get to where we wanted to go.
- Dealer room– The dealer room at Otakon was overwhelmingly large. It was easily three times as large as the dealer room at Zenkaikon, and almost twice that of Anime Boston (at the very least, the space felt that way). I got lost and turned around and confused every time I was in the dealer room, and it was crowded enough to create an overwhelming atmosphere, but not crowded enough to feel justified, which left me wondering if it was just me overreacting or if it really was too much. On top of that, the merch available was really generic. The booths were overwhelmingly selling one of three types of merch, all of which is available on Amazon: manga, wall scrolls and vinyl figs, and plushies and pillows. I’m certain there were booths with unique merchandise, but the dealer room was so large and so overwhelming, that they were impossible to find.
- Artist Alley– The artist alley was smaller than the dealer room, but still very large. It also suffered from too many booths and not enough variety, making it difficult to want to engage in a purchase. I went into artist alley on a mission — Find Gay Breakfast. I own four of their prints already, and I was more than willing to buy another one. But I couldn’t find them. And I couldn’t find them. And I couldn’t find them. After their second panel last night, I literally followed them back to artist alley (not in a creepy way; they invited us), only to arrive and find out that they were clearing the room because of a leak in the ceiling caused by the thunderstorm outside. I didn’t get to make my purchase then, and after a lot of deliberation, we’ve decided to not go back into the con today, so I won’t get to. Because of the overwhelming layout of the room and the ceiling leak, those beautiful ladies are missing 15 dollars of revenue that they would have had, and I have to wait until the next con I see them at, which might not be until Zenkaikon 2018, to get that Korrasami in the flowers print.
- Panels– I know I put panels on the Pro list as well, but that was just the panels that I went to. I’m adding them to the Con list because of location and offerings. There were so many different panels being offered at a time (I think there were eight different panel rooms), but there honestly weren’t many panels being offered that I was interested in. And the panel rooms were located in two different locations that were pretty far apart, so getting from panel 8 in the Marriott to panel 1 in the convention center with only a 15 minute gap and the crowds to push through was pretty difficult. Like the dealer room and artist alley, the panel situation was too much of not enough.
- Location– Otakon just moved from Baltimore to DC, and with that, it’s moved into the cavernous Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and it is not big enough for this space yet. My guess is that Otakon will continue to grow, and in the next few years it will fill out the new space well enough, but for right now, it is weirdly situated in a box that’s too big. It’s like if a person gained weight and immediately went from wearing a size 8 to a size 14. That person might get to size 14 in time if they keep gaining weight, but they really only need a size 10 to be comfortable. I found the size of Otakon to be intimidating, but this was partially due to the flock-together nature of humans. Some places would be jam-packed and others would be nearly vacant, and there was no in-between.
- General Attendee Atmosphere– One of my friends (you can follow her on Twitter!) was cosplaying as Kanbaru from the Monogatari franchise on Friday. So this guy stops us and they get into a conversation about body positivity and fitness, which seems like a great conversation until he literally grabs her ass. I know a lot of people deal with harassment at cons, but I have been lucky enough that I’ve never really dealt with it. I’ve never witnessed anything like this happen to me or my friends before, and I have been to a lot of cons. I have been going to cons since what, 2011? This was my first Otakon, and also the first con where someone I know was physically violated. There were digital screens up everywhere throughout the con reminding people that cosplay is not consent and to not touch people without permission, but this obviously didn’t stop Ass-Grab-Dude.
- Money– Otakon is overpriced. There is nothing to distinguish this con from Anime Boston, Colossalcon, or even Zenkaikon which is smaller, but it is significantly more expensive. The con itself was $95 for first-time attendees who preregistered online; it was $100 at the door. To compare, I think Anime Boston 2017 was $70 at the door, and that was the most expensive con I’d been to until now. Colossalcon East, which will be September 8th thru 10th, is $50 for the whole weekend, and I believe that gives you access to the Kalahari’s waterpark as well. Zenkaikon 2018 has their rates up, and if you register before the 15th of August this year (two days from now), you can do the entire con for $40. At the door rate will be $60. In addition to that, hotel rates in downtown DC are ridiculous compared to any of the other locations of those other cons. If my teacher friend didn’t live in Alexandria, there’s no way we could have afforded to go to this con.
In conclusion, Otakon 2017 was an underwhelming convention and an overwhelming experience that was overpriced for what was offered. I was disappointed enough to write this post, and I wouldn’t go to this convention again.