This past weekend, my daughter and I attended Otakon, an anime convention in Baltimore, MD, along with several other friends and family. Otakon is a combination of the words otaku, a Japanese word that refers to people with obsessive interests, and con, short for convention. This three day extravaganza of anime, manga, and some pop culture celebrated its 22nd year this past weekend, and we celebrated our fourth anniversary as attendees.
Over the years, our experience has changed drastically, as it is a very different thing to take a 12 year old to an event with 35,000 people than it is to take a 16 year old. The teens are more obsessed with photo shoots with cosplayers from their favorite animes, while we parents tend to go to all of the panels that they would never attend with us in the past-the academic ones and the ones that show anime from 20 years ago. That’s probably more indicative too of what cons are for the different generations-our daughters are more interested in socializing with people who share their interests, and we as parents want to learn more about what makes anime and manga speak to us (and to them).
To that end, my coverage will be on several panels we attended, as well as some of the photo shoots. There is a huge amount to do outside of this, from the matsuri (outdoor festival) that takes place the day before the convention starts, to the dealers room, artist’s alley, the art show, manga reading room, Otakon museum, maid café, and Hiro’s dance academy, which teaches k-pop (Korean pop) moves for the Saturday night rave (should you not be interested in that, the masquerade on Saturday night, as well as 18+ panels after 10 pm and concerts throughout the weekend can provide other alternatives).
To give you an idea of how big this con is, this is just one portion of the line to the dealers room – this line goes all the way to the end of the convention center, down the stairs and through another long hallway:
Our day started out with a fan panel for Danganronpa, a bizarre video game/anime (with about 6 different versions) focused on 15 students trapped in an academy run by an extremely cute, but murderous stuffed bear. The biggest appeal of this show for me is when the bear “poo, poo, poos” as his laugh (and it literally says that in the closed captions); I find the dichotomy between that and his Machievellean schemes to be wonderfully ridiculous. A fan panel is just what it sounds like-the panel is run by a fan, for other fans, where they simple discuss the show or game. In depth analysis is often not included, so while our daughters were excited, we were a bit bored. The young man running the panel did, however, know his subject intimately.
We moved on at that point, the girls splitting off to wander the dealers’ room and wait in line for a panel devoted to Steven Universe, a show on Cartoon Network. While this may seem odd given the focus on Japanese anime, Steven Universe’s roots lie within anime, and its characters have become wildly popular in the year it has been on television. We, on the other hand, went to a Japanese tea ceremony panel, or so we thought. Unfortunately, this panel ended up being 45 minutes about tea itself, and we were too mentally exhausted at that point to stick around to see if the presenter would discuss the actual ceremony in the last 15 minutes. I did learn much more about tea then I ever wanted to, and I found out that, yes, people will do a voice over for anything (there were at least 3 videos on tea grinding that were narrated by the same soft spoken woman).
Steven Universe cosplay:
Japanese tea panel (You can see from the second one why this panel did not really keep our attention):
We grabbed lunch after this, where I ran into the most amazing Pam and Carol/Cheryl/Charlene cosplayers that I’ve ever seen. I accosted them in the restaurant and took this picture:
For those of you not familiar with Archer, that’s a small bag of cocaine Pam is holding. And while it is not entirely clear, Carol/Cheryl/Charlene is holding a martini and a small sign for Woodhouse to rest in peace. This prompted the sad discussion that George Coe, the actor who voiced Woodhouse, had passed away on July 18th; I was unaware of this until I met these cosplayers. It is little things like this that bond the fandom, regardless of what the fans are actually focused on.
We then had lunch with our daughters; you can see from these pics how happy they are to be photographed. Our daughter is dressed as Toko Fukawa from Danganronpa, a shy school girl who we later find out (spoiler alert!) that she has a murderous split personality named Genocide Jill. Thankfully, my daughter was not embodying the split personality portion-I wasn’t sure how we would have done her crazy tongue.
One of the other girls in our group was dressed as Penny from RWBY (pronounced “Ruby”), an anime that focuses on four girls with supernatural powers in a land known as Remnant, and the other dressed as a Furry. The Furries are uneasily tolerated at conventions like this; because many video games have foxes or other animal characters, it is appropriate that there would be cosplayers. However, because of the odd reputation Furries have for role playing (it often involves petting and snuggling, since they are animals), there is a great deal of misperception about them in this setting.
Penny from RWBY:
Our resident Furry:
Then I had to get a group shot, because you know…parenting:
At this point, the girls moved onto photo shoots, and I, being an annoying parent, tagged along to take pictures. Here are some of the pictures from the Furries shoot and the Danganronpa shoot.
Then there was a costume change for my daughter, as the second show she was cosplaying had a shoot later that night. So we changed her outfit entirely to Lady Satsuki in the outfit below (thank God this wasn’t all day, as those boots are a little insane to walk in). Of course I had to obsessively take pictures of the Kill la Kill (in which Lady Satsuki is a main character) photo shoot, since this is the show we currently watch during Anime Night. And I had to show my husband that, yes, guys do really cosplay as Mikisugi, the undercover teacher with the glowing nipples and genital area (and amazingly at that):
The real Lady Satsuki:
My Lady Satsuki (FYI, her dad made that sword-just had to brag for a moment):
The real Mikisugi in all his glory:
Kill la Kill Shoot:
We finished off our day by taking in some of the worst anime of all time. No, really-that was the name of the panel: The Worst Anime of All Time. Classics such as Chargeman Ken were shared, which is the story of a young boy and his sister who fight aliens known as the Juralians. The animation is so bad in this show that I absolutely wanted to watch the entire series at the end of the panel. And any show that introduces its female character in an episode with her declaring “I’m a lady gunfighter!” while sitting on a horse next to her robot companion with googly mismatched eyes and a duckbill, while fighting a Native American chief WHO DOESN’T MOVE ONCE ON HIS HORSE, is a winner in my book. See below for this exciting clip (and yes, Caron, we all have the same reaction at 0:28 that you do):
(Ironsharp – YouTube)
Many episodes of Charge Man Ken can be found on Ironsharp’s You Tube channel and others; each episode is only about 5 minutes long, so it won’t overwhelm you with the poor animation.
We were fairly exhausted at this point, and had another early morning, so we headed home, tired and happy. Day 2 was equally crazy, which I will share in next week’s blog.
What fun con experiences have you had, at Otakon or others? Share them in the comments below!