Photo by Digital Photography Review
Otakon had a lot to prove this year. Attendance numbers were estimated to decrease given the convention's move from Baltimore to Washington D.C., though how significant those numbers would decline was up in the air. Some may have seen the transition as something they would like to wait out before witnessing in person. Others may have seen the move as simply too inconvenient to justify traveling expenses.
Thankfully, Otakon 2017 managed to successfully assuage fears. Though the convention was far from perfect, the relocation to a bigger space really proved a sound decision, as perhaps the biggest overhaul from prior iterations came in the form of better accessibility and less crowded hallways. The staff behind the event listened to long-time attendees and it showed, resulting in a satisfying payoff that will hopefully reoccur in 2018 and beyond.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center was an enormous improvement over the Baltimore Convention Center. Just walking around the floor for an hour made one realize how many problems Otakon's Baltimore iteration had. In fact, the new venue is so big that Otakon had trouble filling some parts of the center sometimes, as one could have often found vast empty spaces occupying the halls in between rooms. Though it was a bit depressing to see, it can be an exciting prospect considering how the event can now grow into something more massive in the future.
That's not to mention the surrounding area of Washington D.C., which is far superior to that of Baltimore's simply because of the fact that D.C. is a world-renown tourist destination. Hailing from New York City, I frequently found myself exploring D.C.'s museums and beautiful monuments on my down time, and a lot of Otakon's guests readily did the same – I was actually lucky enough to witness a cosplay photographer host a shoot on the lawn of the Capitol itself!
Other significant improvements the convention had were the implementation of free Wi-Fi, which allowed attendees to play their favorite mobile games (like Fate/Grand Order) while waiting around for a panel. It's a feature that should have a presence in any notable anime convention and ushers Otakon into the 21st century.
Rest assured knowing that bag check tedium was virtually non-existent as Otakon made sure to have multiple queues ready for inspection. Staff were generally very helpful in getting attendees where they wanted to go, though some didn't exactly know their bearings. This is somewhat excusable given the convention's move, but a let-down that can be improved upon through experience. As previously mentioned, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is big and hard to memorize for all of its intricacies. It takes some time getting used to, and Otakon could really benefit by introducing more navigation signage next year.
As for the entertainment itself, Otakon also delivered on that front. Masao Maruyama, the mind behind the phenomenal In This Corner of the World, returned to the United States and unleashed his vast and profound wisdom to audiences. Gundam Wing screenwriter Katsuyuki Sumizawa also made an appearance and offered interesting anecdotes from his life regarding his craft. It was a must-see for aspiring writers and introspective anime fans alike.
For those uninterested in the names I listed above, this year's Otakon also had names like Ei Aoki (Fate/Zero), Sandy Fox (Sailor Moon), Kyle Herbert (Dragonball Z and Dragonball Super), and Stella Chuu (cosplayer). That's not even going over those guests that appeared at Anisong World Matsuri, which included the likes of JAM Project, T.M.Revolution, FLOW and Yousei Teikoku.
Photo courtesy of Lantis
For those curious about Anisong, the concert series' goal is to deliver "Japan’s anisong concerts worldwide in the highest quality." These "anisong concerts" generally consist of video game and anime songs from popular Japanese artists. It's quite a marvel to witness the opening of One Punch Man or Soul Eater being sung live in person, though a bit disheartening that these Japanese guests are relegated to only anime and video games during their performances. To hear hits from their careers outside of the media would be interesting and can introduce a whole new audience into the world of Japanese music. This especially goes for T.M. Revolution and FLOW, who have massive musical careers that really don't rely on other forms of entertainment. Keeping all of this in mind, Anisong World Matsuri is definitely worth visiting if only just to see a whole room of nerds light up the air with glow sticks.
Otakon 2017 really delivered on the promises of a new convention space. It showed in that it was easier to navigate the venue's halls and less stressful to get into popular panels. The convention really has the makings to overtake the larger Anime Expo in the future should it play its cards right and manage to get more noteworthy guests and premieres in the future. Here's hoping dwindling attendance rates don't give it a run for its money.