Highlights and Stories from Otakon 2009

Ah, Otakon. That time every year when all the otaku living on the east coast make that pilgrimage to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for three days of anime craziness.

For a more in depth report of my time down in Baltimore, you can read my complete coverage of the event through my “In Tweets” posts last weekend with Day 0, Day 1, and Day 2. Sadly, my server wasn’t working correctly on Sunday and so there is no Day 3 report. But there should be more then enough details for you all to read as is.

Here are a few stories and highlights I’d like to share with you from last weekend.

Smooth Sailing

“Please be kind to all the guests and treat them with respect,” reads Reverse Thieves‘ Narutaki off of his cell phone. With in an instance, all the fellow bloggers sitting in the row with us out whipped out their cell phones. We had all received the same message from the Press Operations center.

“God… I’m resisting the urge to send back a sarcastic response!” I joke with the crowd. What kind of act would have caused the press ops to send out such a text?

But this episode in which all of us reached for our cell phones to read the same message at the same time was the perfect example of just how organized the con was. Otakon is a massive event. MASSIVE! Everything from the venue to the crowd size to the types of guests and concerts made this con one giant beast. Yet despite the enormity of the convention, everything just ran so smoothly and perfectly that I never once felt annoyed or overwhelmed.

I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Narutaki himself for getting to Baltimore and back. This was the first time in years that I traveled to a convention with a group of people, and I had put my trust in him to work out all the transportation details.

Well, it turns out the he would make the perfect travel agent. He had the bus booked well in advance, the local transportation figured out a head of time, and even organized a dinner for us all to go to the first night we arrived. He constantly updated the whole crew a head of time with a complete itinerary of and the total costs that everyone owed. He was on top of the whole trip the whole time, and all I had to do was show up and follow his directions. This made the transportation no hassle at all.

The Press Ops was similarly on top of their game this year. When I submitted my badge application months ago, I heard back from them with in a week. In the months that followed, I received press releases earlier in the day with embargoes for that night, thus giving me time to do my research before breaking the news with everyone else later. When I submitted an application for a guest interview, they handled it with no issue. And on top of all this, they created a private Twitter account to send out updates to all the press members through out the weekend, leading to the aforementioned episode with everyone checking their cell phones.

I really racked on AnimeNEXT this year for disorganization and poor planning, and the explanation I got was “Well, it’s a volunteer staff, you get what you pay for.” Well, Otakon is also run by a volunteer staff, and their convention was much, much larger than AnimeNEXT. Yet Otakon has consistently run smoothly every single year that I have attended it, and I’ve got to give mad props to that staff working behind the scenes.

Like a Ninja

“Where the hell have you been?!” asks Ani-Gamers‘ Evan Minto on Saturday evening. “I haven’t seen you at all today.”

“I’ve been like a ninja,” I joke. “I’ve just been lurking in your shadow all day.”

Well, that might not have been that far from the truth.

Just like a ninja, I was EVERYWHERE around the convention through out the weekend. There was so much going on and I wanted to sample it all, but I very rarely spent time in any one place very long. This often lead to me having to leave early from a panel in order to run across the convention center and secure a front row seat to the next panel.

For example, on Saturday I started off at Alex Leavitt‘s Eva panel, left 15 minutes early to go to the FUNimation panel, skipped the Q&A to dash to Becca’s panel, ran to the press ops to get information on my interview with Becca, ate a quick lunch, went to the Eva movie screening only to have it canceled by technical difficulties, used my free time to check out the dealers room, ran into Bandai Entertainment and arranged to have an interview an hour later, sat down and wrote questions for the interview, went back and interviewed Bandai, dashed to the Kanon Wakeshima concert, pushed through the crowd after the show to go to interview Becca, interviewed Becca, ate a quick dinner, went to the masquerade to catch Reni’s opening number, ditched the masquerade after Reni was done, went to the “Anime Reviewing the Right Way” panel, and then met up with the rest of the blogging crew…

… and that’s when Evan asked me where I’ve been all day. (-_-)

I had made a set schedule prior to the event and each morning, I tweeted out what I was planning to do that day. But I often didn’t follow the schedule, and mostly just ran around like crazy all over the place.

The Road to Stardom

Readers may remember a piece I wrote about Reni, a Japanese singer aspiring to be America’s first moé j-pop idol. I was absolutely enthusiastic about this idea, and I’ve been keeping my Twitter readers updated on the latest news on the up-and-comer.  But unfortunately, her manager is still very unfamiliar with the American market. So since working on the piece, I’ve been helping him out with information on American anime fandom and how to market to otaku.

I encouraged them to pursue the local anime conventions this con season, and then one day, I got an email from the manager: “The New York Anime Festival is offering Reni a spot performing before the masquerade contest. Is this a good opportunity? Should we accept it?”

“That’s a fantastic opportunity!” I told him back. “The masquerade is the biggest event at the con, so she’ll get a huge audience. The only thing bigger would be if she opened for the masquerade at Otakon.”

And so she did.

Reni made her big con debut last weekend by opening for the Otakon masquerade, and it was based on my suggestion. She also had a 30-minute show at the Otacafe on Saturday. But because of my role in her debut, I somehow ended up feeling nervous over this performance, and took all the criticisms to heart after the show.

The reaction was weird. All my peers were generally negative over it. The song she selected to play was a saucy sexy piano lounge song which she nailed down perfectly. The problem? She was dressed as a cutesy bunny girl, and it completely didn’t match the song she was doing. So the general response was, “Reni needs to drop the moé act and start singing in a piano lounge.”

However, after all of her shows, a huge handful of new fans waited outside to get her photo and autograph. Despite how I thought she wasn’t at the top of her game in Baltimore, she still managed to acquire a significant amount of new fans who later visited her blog and complimented her on her performance. Reni and her manager actually considered this reaction to be a success.

That is why I just don’t think she can drop the cosplaying moé act. It grabs the anime fans’ attention and that’s clearly a good market to be going for. The New York Anime Festival masquerade is her next big show, so hopefully her management team (with my help) can figure out the best way to appropriately market her to American otaku.

Do I Know You?

A very jittery girl sat next to me for the Yamamoto panel early on Friday. I was already talking with Omo and The Big N, both of whom I’ve met before, and the girl seemed to know the two as well. So when I saw her Twittering on her cell phone, I figured this was probably someone I knew online.

“What’s you’re Twitter name?” I ask her.

Anime Miz.”

Anime Miz… that name sounded very familiar to me through the Twitter community, but she was not one of the people who I regularly follow on Twitter. So I gave her my name as well.

“My name is Scott.”

Blank stare.

“Anime Almanac?” I clarify.

Suddenly the girl’s eyes widen and her jaw drops a little.

“I see that my reputation precedes me,” I nervously laugh, and she nods her head a little. For better or worse, my website has been gaining a lot of attention from readers all over the place in the past year. It seemed to me that Otakon was the first time I was actually meeting them face-to-face.

Among them are two guys that have been very supportive of me through the blog and Twitter, Ed Sizemore from Comics Worth Reading and Patz Prime from The Gaming Dungeon. I’ve spent so much time corresponding with these two online that it was nice to be able to finally put a face with the avatars.

But unfortunately, one of my biggest problems is that I have a tough time remembering people and faces, so through out the weekend, people came up to me to say hi, and all I can respond with was, “Hi, do I know you?” or “Do you have a Twitter name?” Probably not the most polite greeting, but there was really nothing I could do. (^^;)

Some of the time, they were people who I met at the convention last year, but most of the time, they were just readers who followed my blog and Twitter feed. One of the coolest things I experienced at Otakon was overhearing a conversation between two strangers talking about my website without realizing I was within earshot of them. They were saying nice things about me, but I was still too shy to speak up and let myself be known to them.

But that shyness is not going to be too much of a problem for my final convention this year, the New York Anime Festival, because I will be on an Anime Blogging panel hosted by the Reverse Thieves. The line-up for that panel looks great as it includes Gia from Anime Vice, Deb Aoki from About.com Manga, Carl from Ogiue Maniax, and other bloggers that I’ve already mentioned in this post. And looking over the set of questions that the Thieves have prepared, I can tell this is going to be one entertaining panel to be on. (^_^)

So if I missed seeing you at Otakon due to my ninja-like appearance, then please come see me at the NYAF in September. Baltimore was fine and nice this year, but now I’m even more excited for my hometown con to return to New York City in only a couple of months.

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