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August 6, 2012

Convention Report: A Report from Otakon

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Vicky Kariolic, a staffer at TheBookReportNetwork, the parent company of GraphicNovelReporter.com attended the Otakon Convention in Baltimore on July 27th-29th. Here is her report on what she saw there.

 

To see a full photo gallery from the event, check out our Flickr gallery.

Is this your first time attending the Otakon Convention?

Yes, but it won't be my last!

What spurred you to want to attend this event?

In May, a Japanese Pop Rock band named L'Arc~en~Ciel played an historic concert at Madison Square Garden. I ran across a Meetup group online advertising deeply discounted tickets, which I immediately snatched up. The person who was selling them on behalf of the group was quite a personality. Instead of just completing the transaction and ending it, she ended up becoming a friend. Soon after the concert, she asked if I would be attending Otakon. I had heard of the convention, but hadn't made plans to go. When she started talking up her past experiences and described cosplays and events that were being planned out; I got completely swept up in the idea.

What did you enjoy most?

The costumes and the karaoke.I am not good atcostuming, but I do enjoy the challenge, so I have an idea how difficult it is to build these creations. Some fans poured hundreds of dollars and months of work into the costumes and props. The attention to detail was incredible! You could not go into the hallways without your mind being blown away by something. I saw video game characters from the past and present, Sesame Street aliens, Disney Characters, and incredible anime and manga characters. There were so many genres, memes, creations and innovations every step of the way; I don't think even the most mundane visitor to the event could've ignored it. I took a lot of photos, but couldn't even come close to capturing the con as I experienced it. I just had to drop the camera at some point and take it all in.

In the regular day-to-day world, even in New York, it's hard to find an audience that appreciates or understands Japanese/Asian Karaoke. In the Ota-cafe, attendees could sit and rest around tables or in front of the karaoke stage permanently set up for the weekend. Non-stop karaoke from 10am to 12am was one of my group's favorite draws. I got to hear so many different renditions of anime theme songs and J-pop (Japanese Pop) music. It was popular to dress as characters from various series before taking the stage and belting out their chosen songs. And before you ask…yes, I did sing and I do have the proof, but if you value your ears, you won't search it out.

Did you attend any of the programming? If so, what was memorable?

There was an incredible list of programming, and I really wish I could've split into a few different people so I could wait in the lines and attend multiple panels. There were over 32,000 attendees this year, so the good panels and workshops were closed well before they even began. If I had been able to get into them, I would have attended a workshop that was titled “Who Wants to Be a Voice Actor,” a panel called “Voice Actors After Dark” and the concert and autographing session of Japanese Seiyuu (voice actor) and Pop songstress Aya Hirano.

As it stands, I went to a few less popular, but no less interesting panels. The one that stands out most in my mind was one about death in anime and manga. It explored and contrasted Asian death beliefs to American/European practices. It was fascinating. The researchers running the panel were excited about the topic and made the time pass swiftly while still hitting every point.

What was exciting to see on the exhibit floor?

Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend much time in the dealer's room and artist alley. While it was a great place to shop and explore, it didn't seem as important a part of the “See and Be Seen” aspect that it is in most of the other cons I've attended. In those cons, the dealers room, exhibit hall and artist alley are where all the costumed people go to get photos taken as well as do their own shopping. I noticed that most people in these rooms were there to shop. Don't get me wrong, there was still photo ops blocking the intersections from time to time and fans asking favorite characters to pose for photos, but it was more subdued and less obtrusive.

In the hall and alley, there was something for everyone. Plushies, unique games, costuming, props and many things otaku. I spent my time running from table to table trying to discover any good deals for my favorite animes and mangas. One thing was prevalent in the entire hall and flooding out into the convention hallways and panels: the 'Nekomimi' Brainwave Cat Ears. In Japanese, Neko (pronounce Neck-o) is Cat, while mimi (pronounced: Me-Me) is Ears, but it is a name of a particular product by the company called neurowear. As the name of the product suggests, these cat ears respond to brainwaves. As cats are a popular anime and manga trope, with cat people at just about every convention, there was an incredible demand for these remarkable devices. Vendors in the room were buying them from other vendors just so they had some in stock at their booths. The ears wiggle and move with brainwaves, and they look uncannily just like true cat's ears in their motions. If you observe any group for a while --- and there was plenty of opportunity to do so through the convention --- you could see who was a bit attention deficit and who was excited or comfortable. By the close of the convention, the ears were everywhere and added to every cosplay. You couldn't move an inch without seeing them wiggling about on heads. I didn't buy a pair for myself, but I wish I could have.

What were some interesting things that you saw or heard?

Aside from the fascinating moving ears, there were quite a few things happening at the con that were interesting. Every night the convention ended with a Rave. I didn't attend, but some interesting sounds and scents emanated from the room. During the day, groups of people would just gather and do something. Some knew each other, some were Meetup groups, and others just came together for the one event. On the first day, I ran across a large group of people in cosplay dancing the cha-cha slide. On another day, I saw groups of girls gathered in a side hall practicing their dance routines for The Masquerade.

On yet another occasion, we were traveling through the empty area that was used for Registration and found a huge gathering of people surrounding an open area with more people frozen in the center. My group didn’t know what was occurring, so I approached a few spectators to inquire as to what was happening. It turns out that it was a game called “ninja.” It was a turn-based event where everyone makes a single move with the objective of tagging someone else’s hand. The rules were one of those simple yet complex things that such games generate, but the winner would be the man last standing. When we passed back the other way that day, a few hours later, the gathering was still there. I saw a report that at least one Ninja player played for five hours one day. I hope it was multiple games and not a single session.

Did you cosplay? If so, what were your costumes?

Thanks to the encouragement of my new buddies, I did actually cosplay. One of the guys was working on an elaborate suit of armor to recreate a character from the anime and manga called Fullmetal Alchemist, someone else was playing the lead character (Edward Elric), and one of the others was playing one of the antagonists (Col. Mustang), so I was encouraged to create a character from the series as well. I chose to work on the character named Winry Rockbell. She is the mechanic that works on the mechanical arm and leg of the main character. I created the outfit from scratch and even had to do my own patterns for the clothing. I didn't have my costume at 100%, but it was good enough for the con.

For the evenings, we decided to do group cosplays. One of the guys brought an entire makeup kit and turned us into Zombies. We left the rooms and shuffled around in the hallways on Friday night. On Saturday night, we transformed into various cats. We had a couple gothic cats and some alley cats.

What did you think was the best costume?

Best Costume? Oh, wow. That is tough one... My opinion changed time and again. That is a little hard. Best what? Anime, American Cartoon, Video Game, Board Game, Comic, Manga, Meme, Popular Character? There was someone dressed as the girl from the Progressive commercials and the Old Spice guy. Elusive figures like Waldo and Carmen Sandiego were even spotted. Fairies and Doctors and Robots and Demons.

The best, though... I guess if I have to pick one, I will pick a Le Chevalier d’Eon cosplay. Le Chevalier d’Eon is based on the French diplomat, spy and soldier d’Eon de Beaumont, a young man who was apparently born a woman, but was required to play the part of a man for his entire life. He was pardoned of some crime and allowed to return to court, but only if he dressed “appropriately” as a woman. Our cosplayer was a male who created a fantastic 18th-century gown and carried a stylized sword reminiscent of the one in the anime. We spied him from a distance and were unable to determine his gender (he was playing the part very well) until we heard him talking. This photographer did a fantastic job of capturing the character: http://morningaddict.tumblr.com/post/28516982249

Next year, I intend to go to the Hall Costume Contest to see what creations are there, and maybe I will finally attend The Masquerade.

What other cons have you attended, and how did Otakon compare?

My first convention was a unique con, though I didn't know it at the time. It was the North American Science Fiction Convention at Dragon*con. The sights and sounds and people I met there gave me the benchmark I would forever use to measure my con experiences. Over the years, I have attended several Dragon*cons, a couple of Star Wars Celebrations and San Diego Comic Cons, a World Con at Chicon2000, and every NYCC and NYAF since I arrived in New York in 2007. I have also attended festivals and other Japanese-themed events with heavy cosplay attendance in these last five years. I have enjoyed all, and only at one SDCC did I ever do any cosplay.

I might be biased somehow, perhaps I was borrowing Kamina’s angular orange-colored glasses, but I think this con topped them all. In my opinion, this convention is one of the cons that every fan of Japanese Anime and Manga should attend at least once in their con-going years. I have heard a rumor that the largest anime convention, Anime Expo, is all this and more. I might just want to go there next year.

You’ve been studying Japanese for a while now. How proficient are you with the language? And how has it enhanced your reading of manga?

My Japanese language

proficiency is decent. I can communicate in simple phrases without thinking too much. I can understand way more than I can speak or write. I have been reading manga in Japanese for about a year now. I don't understand everything since it is usually written in a slangy way, but I did learn that in Japanese there is a lot more said with a lot less. There are so many words with multiple meanings that translating transcend a skill and becomes an art all on its own. It is quite achallenge when the word used has several common meanings and the speaker intends all that and more.

For a short example, in the panel I attended about death in manga and anime, we learned that there is a jealous, greedy, hungry ghost called a Gaki. Gaki is also a word that is used for bratty children. In Japanese in the manga series Black Butler, people often refer to the aristocratic main character child, Ciel, as "gaki." When it is translated into English, it loses the double nuance as the translators typically translate it only as “brat.” The character is actually in a pact with a demon, who is disguised as a butler. There is word play in his lines as well. If I hadn't been learning the language, and by extension the culture, these are some of the things I would be missing.

There is also some things that cannot be translated; for instance, Japanese has phrases for polite and formal speech that embellish the sentences and hold an implied meaning. A reader of the language can see the phrase in a glance and know that someone is being polite or subservient or simply very formal, but translated, we have to rely on the context or the translator needs to get very verbose.

Overall, the more I learn about how the language is used in manga and anime, the more determined I am to learn it myself so that I don’t miss out on all the fun stuff.

Click here to view Vicky's photo gallery