What’s Up With Otakon? FAQs About DC’s Anime Convention

Hugging a random panda bear at Otakon 2014!

So… Otakon just happened. This blog is all about expanding your horizons and trying things, geek-chic things that you might not really be familiar with. So let me ‘splain-to-you-the-Otakons…

Otakon came stealthily into DC like a ninja and maybe even alarmed some people who weren’t aware of this giant, Japanese pop culture-themed (really, anime is the biggest draw) convention that’s been in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area for a long time now. For years, it was in Baltimore.

Sadly, scheduling didn’t work out for me so I wasn’t able to go this year. Though, if you follow me on Instagram, you know that, at the least, I made it to the afterparty. I cosplayed as who else but Lottie Person from Snotgirl! Not an anime, but I swear that comic has serious anime vibes and is just waiting to get picked up by a major Japanese production group. My version of Lottie involved a Powder Room D wig (thanks for the tip, Onlinekyne!) and some accessories I already had at home, so it’s not an exact match. More of a… if Snotgirl was a geek-chic girl hanging out in DC version.

If you’re unfamiliar with Otakon and it sneaked up on you like it did me this year, I can answer some typical questions about it and cons (conventions) in general to help you get ready for next year…

Do I have to be into anime if I go?

Cosplayers gathered at an Otakon of yesteryear
Cosplayers gathered at a previous Otakon.

I don’t want to break anyone’s heart but… yes. Well, mostly. If you really enjoyed Awesomecon, or cons in general, and you’re already happy with feeling lost and wandering around seeing people in amazing costumes that you don’t understand, then go for it. Here’s my interest/comfort level breakdown:

Anime Averse: I’m not sure you’re even reading this blog post… but if you secretly think you want to get into anime, I can recommend a ‘gateway anime’ (not unlike a gateway drug) to get you started. I’m old school, so I recommend the classic sci-fi bounty hunter adventure: Cowboy Bebop. After dipping your toe in, you may be more comfortable with trying Otakon.

Anime Casual: I think the average person who saw a few episodes of Dragonball Z as a kid or Sailor Moon would be intrigued by Otakon and should definitely go. The nostalgia starts as a soft warm glow in your heart…

Anime Fluent: You grew up with One Piece and you’re making your way through Attack on Titan. Right now, you’re just looking for tips on how to improve your cosplay for Otakon 2018. Sweetie, you don’t need any of my help.

Anime Superfan: You’re asking me in Japanese right now why I even have to write a blog post to convince people to go to Otakon. And Japanese is not even your native language. I wish I could be you.

Do I have to dress up as something?

Dress up as something? What the heck does that mean? Ohhh… you mean cosplay. That’s the language I speak. No, you don’t have to dress up like Goku, the entire cast of Attack on Titan, Inuyasha (he’s still around, slummin it with us mortals, aparrently), Madoka or Homura (from Madoka Magica, which I once obsessed about over on my fiction blog). But don’t miss a chance to wear your favorite geeky t-shirt, especially an anime-themed or Japan-themed t-shirt, wear your bright wig, furry ears and indulge your edgy creative outfit you’ve not been able to wear anywhere else.

Other than that, just covering your body with clothing is fine, per societal conventions.

I’m not sure about that one panel on the physics of boobs in anime I saw listed on the Otakon website. What else is there?

A lot of the panels can be so much fun. There’s usually something for everyone’s taste. You also get to see previews of new anime series that are coming out, get to wander around taking pictures with other fans dressed as your favorite characters, meet voice actors, play games, lots of things.

What the heck is an amv and why do they have them at Otakon?

The main thing that I don’t think anyone should miss at Otakon is… drumroll… the amv contest.

You ain’t seen anything like this, yet. An amv (anime music video) is a fan-made video, often a music video, created to pay homage to a certain television show, video game, movie, anything, really. The goal is to promote a certain aspect of the show that you like. A certain event on the show or a character you like, a pairing or a particular ship (a romantic couple—like Brangelina, but fictionally)… and then there are canon ships like Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask and crack ships like Sailor Moon and Spike, from Cowboy Bebop. (Whyyyyy would you do that? Ever?) And you can pair up a meme floating around the internet with scenes from the actual show (like Pidgeot Jesus which is a… Christianity + Pokémon mish-mash for some reason?) and expand on that… there are so many possibilities. In a way, it’s like turning a Reddit, Instagram or forum thread into a whole video. One of my favorite amvs of all time, Ship Happens (Otakon AMV contest winner, 2014) is a perfect example…

The song “Ship It” parodies the song “I love It” by Iconoa Pop, social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, and pairs together anime characters across generations in some of the most crack ships (as in what crack are these fangirls smoking…??) that my eyes have ever seen. And then, of course, the song nails the entire anime fan subculture: of getting really into the show, obsessing over the true meaning of every episode, cheering for one ship over another, and on and on. Most importantly, though, Ship It is just effing hilarious. The crowd screamed laughter at the screen when they saw it. That was a good time…

What do they have in the merchandise area?

Come ready to spend some money and buy something. I’m serious. A lot of this stuff is hard to find on the internet and it will be your one chance to get something you’ve fallen in love with, especially if it’s something an artist spent hours creating, specifically for a fan like you. I bought this tiny crocheted starfish with little button eyes that I don’t think I can live without, and a painting of a magical horse that looks like a character in a novel I’m still writing. That means a lot to me.

You’ll find items to help you build your next cosplay or Halloween costume, games, toys, posters, t-shirts, model swords (like giant model swords the size of an actual weapon that you can put on the wall at home, over your fireplace… I have plans for that. And to get a fireplace), books, anime dvds, official merchandise, autographs of your favorite voice actors… You know that guy who did Goku’s voice, shouting all the time on Dragonball Z? You never know, you might run into him at Otakon.

The Warrior Princess at Otakon

By the way, I want to give a special shout out to Jessica Crouse, the Xena cosplayer pictured above. Not only does she have an -authentic- Xena costume, created by someone connected with the actual show (and Crouse says Lucy Lawless herself complimented her on the outfit at one of the last Xenacons), Crouse was awesome enough to hand me a business card after I took a picture with her at Otakon 2014. Even more awesome, I randomly asked her to come play hostess at this Xena-themed birthday party I wanted to do and she drove all the way out, was incredibly electric, fun, blew the minds of several guys seated at the bar when she randomly strutted in, did lots of Xena poses with me and my friends, roleplayed a Xena scene where I got to be Callisto, and she knew all of the Xena trivia. This is an amazing woman. Be sure to check her out.

What if I don’t get all the anime references?

Don’t even try. Just enjoy the nods to the anime shows you are familiar with, and then decide to get acquainted with new ones. Otakon 2014 is one that stands out for me because I became aware of Pidgeot Jesus, Twitch plays Pokémon, Madoka Magica, made up my mind about going Steam Punk, and also made up my mind about getting a booth at a future con to sell my fantasy novel once it’s finished… you heard that right. For more on my fiction stories, check out Randitty. But what I’m trying to say is… it was life-changing. Life changing for my geek-life, to get a refresher on what’s big on the anime scene.

Does it get overwhelming, like if you haven’t been into anime for a while?

A creepy character from Spirited Away lurks in my shadow...
A creepy character from Spirited Away lurks in my shadow…

I was overwhelmed when I first went to Otakon in 2014 after loving anime from the 90s on. But I went in the first place because, as a kid, I would have killed to go to something like Otakon.

After two or three hours of Otakon that year, I asked my friend if we should go home. But then we took a break and he really felt we should go back. I’m so glad we did. Because the second half of the day involved the amv contest, and as strange as it sounds, I can’t imagine my life without that following week, bingewatching Madoka Magica or buying the song I Ship It on iTunes, to play every time I need a happy song. I love that song.

Is Otakon worth the price? It seems expensive.

I will give you a long answer to this question. I was the kid who watched Cowboy Bebop and struggled to find good English fan-subs of Inuyasha back when it wasn’t possible to just buy those anywhere. I remember that got sad when Escaflowne was on Fox 5 for only a few episodes before they cancelled it. I felt a stirring in my soul when more and more anime DVDs became available as we crept into the 2000s. It was a relief. Anime as an art form is something that molded me as an artist and continues to inspire me today. I seek it out. It is like nothing ever before created. My first exposure to anime was spiritually intense. It was like some ripped off the sky and I could finally see the stars. All these amazing characters, all this incredible music, all this intense drama… One of my favorite songs is “Kiseki no umi” or “Sea of Miracles”, which was the opening theme for Record of Lodoss War. I always close my eyes and can so easily see beautiful Amazons, huntresses racing through the rainforest…

Anime breaks all kinds of creative boundaries, it is not constrained by the social norms of regular television or even cable. Or even Youtube. Or even within the constraints of American media, or books, period. There is nothing like anime. Anime is weird, funny, hideous, heartbreaking, achingly beautiful, sweet, soothing, energizing, naughty, at times R-rated… it is wild and free. When Otakon comes to town, a lot of people, especially young people, use their savings and go because it is their only chance, once a year, to be truly wild and free.

So that is the price many people are putting on this event. Maybe some years, the cost will be alright with you and some years it won’t be. It depends on you.

Some people love nature, or appreciate classic music or theater, or understand the profound experience of athleticism, seeing a team they love go all the way and win. These all speak to facets of the human experience that make us who we are, and they help us to continue going on as we are, as human beings. I’m telling you right now, it is, likewise, a great gift to love anime.

Don’t fight it. Next year, save up, plan it and go to Otakon.


4 thoughts on “What’s Up With Otakon? FAQs About DC’s Anime Convention

  1. I went to Otakon, and will posting a blog about it tomorrow. I’m somewhere in bewteen Anime casual and Anime fluent. I’ve attended 3 Otakons in Baltimore and enjoyed my experience in DC. I hope to find more anime to watch and learn more in the future.


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