I’ve been to many conventions in my time as a cosplayer, but my absolute most favorite has become the one I’ve attended for the last three years: Otakon. Otakon 2016 will always be an unforgettable experience for me – from the cosplays, the photoshoots, the panels and workshops, the people I was with… and most of all, it was a goodbye to its longtime location. Because of that, con attendees made sure to to make it one for the memory books.
Otakon has hopped locations from its start in 1994 – from Pennsylvania, to Virginia, to a few pitstops in Maryland, before finally settling in Baltimore in 1999 where it remained until August, 2016. Thanks to overcrowding, the convention will be held in Washington D.C. from 2017 until at least 2021 where all of the events, panels, sales, and excitement will be held under one building at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
When people ask me what conventions to try out and attend, I always start off with local conventions in my home state of New York. However, the anime programming in the area is lacking, which is why I set my sights out of state. It’s a bit of a commute if you’re not a local, but it’s absolutely worth it. Here’s a breakdown of why…
There are people everywhere – in cosplay, “casual cosplay,” geeky shirts, and regular clothes. I’ve seen it all at Otakon, including Disney, Marvel/DC, and including obscure costumes – characters from shows that aren’t as popular or from older anime. Something I always truly loved about anime conventions is how intensely friendly everyone is. People will run to you or call out your character name and are never shy about passing compliments, asking for selfies, or just bonding even if only for a brief moment.
I’m a big fan of anime and manga, comic books, video games, and sci-fi. However, #1 in my heart will always be anime. Because of that, I gravitate a tad more toward anime conventions because no matter what they have, there will be multiple things I will enjoy no matter what. I never have to worry that there won’t be enough things for me to enjoy. Even if I’m not familiar with a show, I can appreciate the time and care and attention to detail put into everyone’s costumes, panels, workshops, and even photoshoots. It’s fun to just walk around and check out what everyone is wearing. Just to give you an idea, here is what the full Otakon 2016 schedule looked like. It had a nice mix of everything for everyone to enjoy.
Otakon 2016 had a room for cosplay repairs that came in handy for my group when my boyfriend’s shoe decided to fall apart during our photoshoot. Located conveniently near a few of the official cosplay locations, they were there in case of a hem rip, a role, wig or makeup issues, and much more. They were able to salvage my boyfriend’s shoe and help a ton of other cosplayers in need. I noticed this at AnimeNEXT last year, as well. I hope more conventions lean toward the use of cosplay repair; you never know when it’ll come in handy, and it’s a fantastic stress reliever!
Gender, body type, height, weight – none of that matters when it comes to cosplay. No matter where you look, you see a hundreds of people in an array of costumes. It’s calming. People genuinely do not care. Are there those that will nitpick regardless? Of course, unfortunately. Yet, even myself who was feeling a little shy and hesitant in my costumes was assured by many strangers that the costumes came out perfectly. It’s so appreciated!
In my opinion, one of the best places to find a great mix of cosplayers all at once is in either the Dealer’s Room, or Artists’ Alley. Otakon’s Dealer’s Room doesn’t play around. It’s packed with wall to wall goodness: video games, apparel, figures, keychains, plushies, pillows, cosplay props, and more. There’s always something going on in the Dealer’s Room – for example, Viz Media always provides free tote bags of some of their popular anime for those that make a purchase. The past three years, they’ve had the Sailor Guardian Game, where you have to hunt down their “official” Sailor Moon cosplayers to get a stamp in order to win a prize. This year’s prize was a very handy Sailor Moon water bottle. They’ve given out rare coins and keychains commemorating the series in the past, as well. Crunchyroll always has their oversized bags with their popular anime series on it as well, and usually if you show them that you’re a Premium Member, you get some sort of little gift for having an account with them.
Artists’ Alley is a treasure. Not only will you find another crazy mix of cosplayers, but you will find yourself in aisle upon aisle of talented artists and their incredible work. Just the first row of artists had me spending money, and I hadn’t even tackled 25% of the room yet. The artists are easy to talk to, and it’s very easy to get lost in conversation about a piece, a commission, cosplay, or the con as a whole. Sometimes you’re looking for just the right keychain of a particular character, or just the right rendition of one of your favorite pairings, and official merchandize just doesn’t get it… Somebody in Artists’ Alley will, for sure. Never doubt that. I have not once been let down – thanks guys, for all the Gremlin D.Va art!
Something that Otakon does is add “official” photoshoots to their panel roster. What that means is, you can apply on their website to have your photoshoot of a show or video game reserved for a location. Everyone will know where and when your shoot is, and there are tons of photographers and fellow cosplayers to enjoy the time with. These photoshoots end up in their schedule of events. There are “unofficial” photoshoots as well, but those need to be manually organized and don’t have as many professional or press photographers. Those shoots also don’t have reserved space, so you have to be cautious that no one else is doing a shoot where you are.
When you walk in front of the Baltimore Convention Center on any day, you walk into photoshoot central. If it’s not a photoshoot, it’s attendees with their camera and phones snapping photos left and right. Everyone feels like a celebrity. People will stop walking in the middle of a hallway or the dealer’s room to be met with either a few quick snaps, or suddenly dozens of cameras and flashing lights upon them. It’s pretty cool to witness.
I was actually one of the four in charge of the Sailor Moon “official” photoshoot held on Saturday. We chose one of the bigger photoshoot locations: the 3rd floor terrace outside of the Baltimore Convention Center. It make for amazing light and has plenty of space. The downside is that when it’s hot, it’s hot, and cosplaying in such heat is no fun for anyone – cosplayer, fan, or photographer. We ended up moving right through and ending the shoot about 45 minutes early to keep everyone safe since many cosplayers had a few layers on.
Because our photoshoot was one of Otakon’s “official” shoots, we had a huge amount of photographers taking photos of all the shots. The best part of photoshoots, is the the majority break it down for you to see different versions of your favorites. For example, our photoshoot went by character – Mercury, Venus, Tuxedo Mask, Mars…etc., then by group, then my characters paired together, then by type of costume – school girl, Sailor Guardian, Princess, etc. So if you were a fan of a particular costume or character, you had a chance to see many of them at once, and see everyone’s different takes on a character. Everyone was incredibly nice and friendly to each other which helped to ignore the heat for a bit while we were out there. One thing that keeps making itself apparent to me every year: Sailor Moon fans are amazing.
Panels & Workshops
Since it was my third year attending, I had finally enough of an idea of my surroundings and where things were located. I didn’t need a map anymore to hop around from panel to panel. When you arrive at the con, you get a clear bag with a map, a list of panels, and the annual book with all sorts of details and information about the year’s convention. That way, new attendee or not, you can find your way without a problem. Otakon also hosted their schedule events on the Guidebook app which I 100% recommend for any future con-goers! It’ll list panels, photoshoots, autograph signings, workshops, and more by day. You can then create your own schedule with reminders to not miss out a single moment.
My first panel of the weekend ended up being a K-Pop dance workshop called K-Pop: Let’s Get Sexy! It was an interactive workshop where they would teach you the exact choreography to a part of a song and break it down until you could do a few counts of eight in a group. The workshop was pretty packed, a mix of people participating and sitting waiting for a turn. People were able to switch out to try out the choreography as well, and there was a water cooler in the back in case anyone needed to cool off. It was a fun workshop, and a great way to get acquainted with the genre if you’re unfamiliar. Those that ran the panel played a trailer prior to the start of the lesson – a video with a few clips of multiple K-Pop music videos to get the excitement rolling. I can safely say it did its job. If you’re new to K-Pop or are already a big fan, Otakon has had K-Pop dance workshops for the past two years. If they do it again next year, try it out! It’s fun, you get to learn something new, meet new friends, and who doesn’t love dancing to K-Pop? And in cosplay, for that matter? It’s a win-win.
I only attended two other panels, but the one I really want to discuss is the Lip Sync for Your Cosplay contest hosted by Jez Roth. It was so. much. fun. 14 songs were selected and listed, and the goal of the contest was to have two volunteers for each song to come up and duel each other. Then, a panel of judges would vote for a winner for each song, and would win a Starbucks gift card. It was incredibly entertaining and got people to let loose and have fun with friends and strangers. People were dancing, actually singing!, acting, and really getting into each of the 14 songs that played. The host was energetic and lively and captured your attention immediately. He made me want to participate, as did the audience’s enthusiasm, which is why I jumped up for the chance to compete, too. I ended up going in against another cosplayer for the last song, Hatsune Miku’s PoPiPo. I think we both did an awesome job, if I may say so! But check it out for yourselves. If that contest appears at next year’s Otakon, I am absolutely recommending it to everyone. You won’t regret it.
Otakon 2016: Overview
As a whole, Otakon 2016 will go down as one of my favorite conventions. It might also go down in my list as one of the hottest conventions I’ve ever attended, beating last year’s AnimeNEXT by a few degrees.
The video game room is a room I’d recommend to anybody who’s even slightly interested in video games. They have everything from retro consoles, new consoles, and arcade games including Japanese ones that you won’t get to play anywhere else. They have tournaments for Super Smash Brothers and Dance Dance Revolution, for example, and have plenty of setups of consoles like the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, all the way to the current models of PS4 and XBOX One. My favorite thing is checking out the Japanese arcade games – all of the instructions are in Japanese, so you have to watch the people playing before you and kind of hope for the best. In my opinion, that makes the experience more entertaining and fun. I ended up trying out a choreography game with a stranger and even though I didn’t know him nor what I was doing, we had an amazing time and played a second round together because of how fun it was. Most of the consoles set up have a three win rule to ensure everyone gets to play, too. That way no one is hogging the systems and everyone gets a turn. It’s a friendly environment and I’m already excited to see what new arrivals are there next year.
As for me? I made the majority of my cosplays this year, and I was scared out of my mind to wear them and parade in them! Were they okay? Did they look authentic? Were they ugly? Should I not be showing so much skin? Thankfully, every single day, all of my concerns were terminated by the love, appreciation, and kind-hearted comments I received. It made me want to work harder on my costumes, learn more about makeup and posing, and get to another convention ASAP. I danced to K-Pop, tried some new games, won a contest, joined photoshoots, helped run a photoshoot, and was able to just be myself in all four costumes which to me is a gigantic success. The biggest thing I can tell people about cosplay is to never let your looks dictate what you can or cannot do. As long as you feel comfortable, and as long as you are happy with what you are wearing…you’re cosplaying right. Enjoy yourself, be yourself, and have fun! That’s the whole point of these conventions. I meet so many wonderful people and this con was no exception.
Are you wondering if you should give Otakon a try next year? I say: DO IT. It’ll be a whole new experience for everyone because of the new location, but that just adds to all the potential of what’s to come.
100% marking Otakon 2016 as a success. Cheers, Baltimore! Thanks for the memories.
See you guys next year in Washington D.C.!
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