Report and Notes
For the last few years, Otakon has maintained a stable size. The Baltimore Convention Center holds just around 25,000 people, and Otakon has settled in nicely with attendance numbers just about this size. Instead of spending efforts on growing, Otakon has been spending their efforts on improving the conventions existing programming. And it shows. Otakon has a wide variety of different programming tracks for almost all tastes and interests.
For a while now musical acts have often been the big "main attraction" events at conventions. While many of these acts have been great and successful musicians and artists from Japan, many of them have only had cursory involvement with anime shows. An opening or ending here and there has sometimes been the extent of some musician's involvement. This year, however, Otakon brought JAM Project to the stage. And not just any stage, but the Baltimore Arena, a full-sized concert venue used for many of the big name domestic shows when they come through town, as well. And JAM Project is a big name when it comes to anime. The five members are all accomplished performers in their own right, but together have created many of the best known anime songs around. If ever there was a group tying together pop music and animation, it would be JAM Project. No wonder then that JAM Project was by far the highlight of the convention for many attendees.
This is not to say that the convention attendees are so focused on anime and manga to have developed tunnel vision. Rakugo is a style of performance comedy in Japan somewhat similar to stand-up comedy in the United States and elsewhere. The Rakugo performance at Otakon was one of the biggest events in the convention center itself. Held in the largest panel room, the line for entrance extended though the expansive hallways long before the event started, and many people had to unfortunately be turned away once the room was filled. Though not directly related to anime or manga, the Rakugo event expended Otakon's domain into broader cultural appreciation.
Otakon's attendance numbers are large by almost any scale. And with such large numbers always come problems, too. Questionable actions by some members of Artist's Alley caused a big fuss from the moment the doors opened and continued well after the convention had already literally packed up and left the city. There is also the recurring problem of only being so many panel sessions available and many more people wanting to hold panels. There is probably no optimal solution, but in both these examples Otakon's staff and management has listened to attendee's concerns and made reasonable adjustments to their policies. With now a ten year history in Baltimore and solid attendance numbers, it seems Otakon is doing something very right.
Improvements for 2009 are already noticeable and worth a mention. The City itself now handles hotel reservations and has (at least in my case) called me up to make sure I had everything reserved as I intended to. The new Baltimore Hilton is now in service directly adjacent to the Baltimore Convention Center and is attached by a skywalk. It also includes some much-needed convention space that Otakon will undoubtedly make some use of. Otakon was in fact mentioned explicitly in the city council meetings as a reason more convention space could be used. The city values Otakon's presence and does quite a bit to help out the convention.
Otakon is a pretty big convention with a lot of attractions for everybody. And Baltimore, despite many of its problems, has some very nice areas for visiting and eating, many very close to the convention center. It's not as laid-back or relaxed as some smaller conventions, but Otakon will keep you plenty busy and plenty excited all weekend long.