When my colleague at TAS, Kucchi, asked me if I wanted a job for Otakon I was a bit conflicted. My first instinct was to turn it down, since I didn’t want to miss the entire convention on account of a job. On the other hand I was a recent graduate who had not worked in over three months. The idea of coming back from a con with more money than I had when I came was simply too attractive. Thus I accepted the job offer.
I only knew my employer as Takeuchi-san, who headed up the Manga Gamer booth. The company in question has made some interesting waves recently by offering translations of Japanese eroge for direct download. This creates an interesting conundrum for otaku as direct download cuts costs by eliminating packaging. Otaku are hoarders by nature, however, and most would shun the prospect of buying something that cannot be proudly displayed upon a shelf.
The booth itself was something to behold. The backdrop was one of huge promotional banners draped with a sampling of our wares. In this case t-shirts and scandalous dakimakura. Sales went fairly well and I got a chance to really experience the convention in a new way. One of the biggest problems with Otakon is its immense size, which makes it almost impossible to see everything. The dealers, however, is the hub of the convention. Everyone at the convention will visit the dealer’s room at least once and so by working in the dealer’s room you’re guaranteed to meet almost everyone at the con.
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.
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 it 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.
Being 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.
It was a pleasant surprise to see that the Otakon 2009 guest list included rather big names from Japan, particularly MELL, Kanon Wakeshima, and Kikuko Inoue. In particular, the eternally seventeen year old voice actress Inoue garnered a fair amount of attention, being the sound and soul behind popular characters such as Belldandy of Ah! My Goddess!, Mizuho Kazami of Onegai Teacher, and even I-NO of Guilty Gear. There were two opportunities for fans to communicate with Inoue, as well as several openings for autographs. These events became crowded quickly, with her autograph sessions in very high demand.
The Q & A session progressed as expected, with the voice actress cheerfully and at times shyly answering the many questions brought by her adoring fans. One particular fan flew in from South America just for the opportunity to meet with Inoue, an act in which the voice actress felt particularly touched. Fans learned interesting facts about Inoue, such as her initial plans to be a nurse rather than acting and the reason behind her favored number 17 (for aesthetic reasons). She was even more surprised, however, by her American fans’ knowledge of her past roles, even obscure ones like the hentai anime OVA Ogenki Clinic. When confronted with her role as I-NO, Inoue became particularly shy and reluctant to speak. This was reasonable behavior considering the role’s abrupt departure from her usual roles of mature, kind, and regal characters. Regardless, Inoue answered the questions as best she could, leaving both the audience and Inoue herself better informed of their respective positions.
Towards the end of the session, fans began requesting that Inoue act out certain lines and scenes from her past work, to which she did so gracefully. From the commanding Miria of Claymore to the tearful Sanae of Clannad, Inoue demonstrated her range and her ability to entertain.
Being a follower of Vampire Knight along with the rest of the fan girl population, I was ecstatic when I heard that Kanon Wakeshima was going to be performing at Otakon this year. Kanon Wakeshima is a fairly new artist. Signing with Sony in 2008, she soon after released her first single, “Still Doll”, which fortunately became the chosen ending single for the popular awaited anime adaptation of Matsui Hino’s Vampire Knight. Through the publicity it gained from Vampire Knight, “Still Doll” became an instant success and peaked on the Oricon charts at #33. Her second single for Vampire Knight, “Suna no Oshiro” also peaked at #39.
Because of Kanon’s recent debut, I had little exposure to her music. Like many fans, I had only heard “Still Doll” and “Suna no Oshiro”. On the day of the concert, I didn’t know what to expect. The line was long, packed with the usual con crowd and Lolita girls. After suffering a strong headache from the opening act, my only hopes were that the concert be worth the suffering I had just endured and that it live-up to all the hype it had generated.
The concert certainly was everything and more. Kanon lit up the stage in her black and red laced Lolita dress as images from Vampire Knight appeared on the screens. Her voice was as strong and clear as on her CD, but the highlight of the show was definitely her cello. Her cello performance was also impressive, and added to the energy of the show. I also found her personality to be extremely friendly and cute. She even had a name for her cello and introduced it to the audience. While she English was far from fluent, her accent just added to her cuteness. Overall I thought her stage presence was strong and her performance inspiring. This was certainly a great Otaku concert.
While the concert was one of the best I’ve ever been to, I do have one small complaint with the organization of the program. Since the Kanon Wakeshima concert was a day after the Mel concert, many fans had learned the previous night that autographs would take place immediately after the performance had ended. Having this knowledge, a huge crowd ran towards the autograph area, located on the stage right, as Kanon began singing her final song. While I can understand the excitement and desire to meet Kanon and get her autograph, I found that this was extremely rude and distracting. Perhaps next year there will be a better way to organize concert and autographs.
Having never been a fan of rock or punk music, I definitely would not be the best person to judge a visual kei band. I can honestly testify though that many of my fellow Kanon Wakeshima fans seemed just as shocked as I was when [geist] appeared on the stage and began playing their hard core music.
My first encounter with [geist] was during the 2009 Japan Festival at the University of Maryland in College Park. It was a family event. Professors, students, and many others in the Maryland community brought their family to enjoy an enriching night of cultural experience. The festival offered a show of traditional Japanese dance, and had a room filled with booths that introduced guests to various aspect of Japanese society. It was a calm and quiet affair until the stage was cleared in preparation for the band…
Standing there on stage, the members of [geist] certainly were more than just a face in the crowd. The audience looked at them with curiosity, and then…they played their first song… Saying that their music was a shocking contrast to the atmosphere in the room would be an understatement. The room quickly emptied as grandparents, children, students and professors sought shelter from the noise. The Maryland community was obviously not ready for [geist].
As I stood there in Hall D of the Baltimore Convention Center and saw the familiar faces enter the stage, I too was not ready for [geist]. While I can appreciate that there are many fans of visual kei and j-rock, I found their music too great a contrast to Kanon Wakeshima’s. I do wish the band luck in their climb to success, but I would just ask that they try to choose more appropriate venues in the future.
([geist] Photos courtesy of Lee Miller)