The 2017 edition of Otakon made its anticipated move to Washington D.C. and the spacious Walter E. Washington Convention Center. As with most attendees, both new and returning, there was an excitement in the air about the new venue. Coupled with that was the natural anxiety of hoping everything would work out well for one of the most popular anime conventions in the country. As a native of Baltimore I have made the trip down to our nation’s capital more times than I can count. So despite no longer being in Charm City, Otakon still feels like my “home con”.
I’m going to talk a lot about the new convention center, and the Marriott Marquis which hosted some of the convention as well, because at the end of the day those are such a big part of this make-or-break year for Otakon. Beyond expected growing pains, for example on Friday morning there was an extremely long bag check line for entry, the convention center held its crowd very well. It never once felt too jam-packed, except perhaps for the main entrance and lobby where everyone was taking pictures of their favorite cosplay. The gaming room was spacious, the dealer’s hall didn’t even use all its available space, and the same goes for artist’s alley. Navigating the convention center is also rather simple as the main space used for panels and video rooms is just a handful of connected hallways. A couple rooms were off to the side, but still were easy to find. There is an order and a flow to the floor layout here that was sorely missing in the Baltimore Convention Center, where certain rooms felt tucked away and forgotten entirely.
As for the Marriott Marquis it was accessible through an underground tunnel by the artist’s alley. It had a couple instances where it had a traffic jam, but it never backed up into the convention center itself. The Marriott’s event rooms were all on a few floors in the basement of the hotel. Easy to get to from the outside entrance and easy to get to from the convention center, with the added bonus of queue rooms that housed people waiting for the next panel or event, the Marriott is a much-needed upgrade after the messy Hilton in Baltimore.
As someone on the short side I have always begged conventions to raise the screens in video rooms and panel rooms so that someone of my height doesn’t have their view of the subtitles blocked. I am pleased to announce that in nearly every room I went in, this was the case. I never had to crane my neck in an awkward way to see subtitles or most of the screen. This lends itself to the more capable facilities Otakon now calls home. Overall the WEWCC and Marriott are great venues for this convention, and feature plenty of room for it to grow into. I think over the next few years they’ll shuffle some room locations around and better accommodate what will likely be a growing amount of people who make the trip into DC for this convention.
But of course I should also talk about the convention itself and how it was yet again a jam-packed 3 days. Otakon’s big specialty has always been a combination of fan programming and guests. Between the two there will almost always be something on your schedule. This year they hosted two of the Anisong World Matsuri concerts. I attended Friday night to see JAM Project and T.M. Revolution. Nothing should need to be said about their performance capabilities; it was a fantastic concert and the performers had the room on their feet the entire time. Saturday afternoon featured FLOW and Yousei Teikoku.
The combination of the new venue, me running a panel on Friday morning, and the concert on Friday night made that day into a blur. Before I knew it I was waking up on Saturday, a day that started at 9am and didn’t conclude until 11:30pm. We stayed between the WEWCC and the Marriott the entire time, never once venturing outside. This is always a testament to the quality of programming a convention has, and Otakon’s Saturday was a special day filled with things to do. We watched In This Corner of the World, a fantastic historical drama I recommend to anyone. I saw many fan panels including the One Piece Podcast’s celebration of 20 Years of One Piece and Daryl Surat’s annual 30 Years Ago panel, which this year of course covered the anime highlights of 1987.
We all are holding out hope Otakon will eventually extend itself to four days like other major cons, Anime Expo the most notable. It’s a major event for fans on the east coast and much of the country, but in an increasingly-crowded convention space it needs another selling point to stand out. Furthermore as an attendee there is no time to sit down, relax, and enjoy the scenery. You’re going from point a to point b at a breakneck pace trying to see just half of the things you want to see and meet half of the people you’re hoping to meet. Four days doesn’t completely solve scheduling conflicts, but it allows for a much more relaxed pace to the convention weekend. I can tell you this from experience. My biggest feedback is an extra day, and the convention staff always rebuffs with how it’s impossible for them to manage logistically. Here’s hoping that one day that changes.
The attendance was announced at just a tad fewer than 25,000, which was yet another drop-off for the convention. I think a combination of factors lowered the attendance, and I won’t go into too much detail. However a combination of first-year jitters about the new venue, and increased saturation of well-run August anime conventions across the country, and the expensive nature of attending a convention in DC all played a role. I hope word travels about how good this year was and Otakon can return to the 35,000 person attendance level we have seen in the past. It’s a well-run convention with well-curated programming and I want as many people to experience it as possible.