Otakon 2009: Geek Convention?

Is Otakon really still an anime convention? This is the question that I asked myself this year as I walked the halls of the convention center. With anime becoming drastically more of a main stream staple in America you would expect a greater interest at a convention such as Otakon. The sad thing is, despite anime’s popularity and the ever increasing attendees at conventions, the overall atmosphere at Otakon seems to have changed. The change wasn’t particularly sudden but it seems that Otakon has become more of a hang out for people with semi-related interests as opposed to a place to really learn about and experience Japanese culture and animation.

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If you bothered to pay close attention to the dealers room this year you probably noticed that only about half of the merchandise sold had anything to do with Japan or wasn’t a carbon copy of something from another booth. I am still wondering how air soft dealers and companies that sell random leather apparel make it into the dealers room. Back when I first came to Otakon (2002) I distinctly remember there being a much greater percentage of anime and Japanese related merchandise as well as a greater variety of it. After speaking to a friend who worked in the dealers room I became aware that there are only a handful of companies that actually sell merchandise in the dealers room. They simply use multiple names to buy numerous tables. This may have been a practice in the past, I don’t know, but it is more obvious now with the same merchandise being sold all over the place. Overall the dealers room now seems geared towards appealing to the (new) crowd that is attending Otakon as opposed to being focused on Japanese culture and animation. The extreme lack of industry now probably has a hand in this.

My next experience is with the rave. In previous years I had attended the rave occasionally and while it was always incredibly crowded it was fairly easy to get into and participate in. This year I wound up jumping a line you would expect for the masquerade just to see what it090718-413 Otakon was like inside. On top of that, once inside you literally couldn’t breath or move, and as such it was an unpleasant experience. I had the opportunity to speak to a few of the people in line and found out that quite of few of them only went to Otakon for the rave itself and to hang out with their friends. Obviously hanging out with friends is part of the equation however the problem lies in the fact that the true reason behind an anime convention is being lost.

3737175737_74629a7455Being an avid gamer, many of my friends share my interest in gaming. I spoke to a few of my acquaintances who go to Otakon and found out that quite a few of them only go to Otakon for the gaming room and tournaments. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing this as the gaming room is quite fun and the tournaments draw out good players, however it begs the question, how many people actually attend Otakon for their interest in anime and Japan?

While it remains to be seen what will happen in the future, I hope that Otakon can find a way to promote itself better as a convention for anime and Japanese culture as opposed to every day geekdom. Otakon is still an enjoyable convention, I just wonder whether we will still be calling it an “anime convention” in a few years.

~Brian Goldstein

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