The Otakon Anime convention took place the weekend of August 9-11 at the Walter E Convention Center in Downtown Washington D.C. The convention, run by the non-for-profit organization OtaKorp, describes the con as a “convention for the Otaku generation.” With a promising guest list and a host of fascinating events, I decided to make the drive down to the nation’s capital and get a glimpse for what is called the largest anime convention on the East Coast. With close to 30,000 confirmed attendees, the convention lived up to this claim.
From the moment I walked into the Walter E Convention center, it was clear that this was not an ordinary Anime convention. I’ve been used to smaller conventions and being in this center was shocking. Walking into the convention center, my friend and I were immediately greeted with exceptionally done cosplay (pictured below).
From Aladdin and Attack on Titan scouts to Jean from Outlaw Star, it was clear that the fans attending this convention weren’t just passionate about anime: They made it a part of their lives, and a lot of them did this through cosplay. There were even entire suits dedicated to Pokemon and The Legend Of Zelda. While the cosplay was great, we were here to meet members of the anime industry. As a gamer and anime fan, it was incredibly special for me.
Several major voice acting personalities were present. Erica Mendez, the voice actress behind Retsuko, the most recent Sanrio show Aggretsuko, provided several Q&A’s. The voice of Saitama from One Punch Man, Max Mittleman, created a new comedy show called LAVA (Loud And Very Annoying) which was performed at the con. The trio performed clever and intelligent improv comedy in an entertaining fashion. Lucien Dodge, the voice of Dust from Dust: An Elysian Tale, was available as well. Josh Grielle, who voiced Armin in Attack on Titan and Inspector Ginoza in Psychopass, was also in attendance.
Despite the mammoth size of the convention, there was time to greet and get to know the talents behind our favorite shows, which was welcoming. However, no convention is without the main event, and Otakon was the stage to several.
This year, Otakon was home to several events that could be described as earth-shattering. Legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu presented his legendary concert series, Distant Worlds, a traveling concert series that showcases the music from the Final Fantasy franchise. I had the pleasure of seeing him for a Q & A session, where his love for classic rock, ramen, and the hope that binds humans together was revealed.
Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh joined Otkon for the special SAO Summer Festival, where the audience was treated to a celebration of Sword Art Online, as well as teases for Season 3 of the wildly popular show.
Funimation and Sentai Filmworks showcased their present and upcoming goods, and a variety of panels, celebrating Gundam Wing and 80’s anime filled the schedule. Press conferences from animation professionals, like Studio Trigger, were present as well. For those looking for a more exciting evening, the convention center was open until late, showcasing a large variety of 18+ panels.
Finally, there was a mammoth game room, showcasing brand new local indie games, and a huge arena of freeplay games. If attendees needed a break or wanted to try something new, this room provided that. Hundreds of gamers were battling across space, ranging from Naruto to Dragon Ball FighterZ and even Rockband. The indie games were representative of local game developers and demonstrated neat offerings in the gaming space. Local arcade companies supplied Japanese-exclusive arcade games, such as dancing and rhythm games, for eager players to try out.
Otakon didn’t just feel like a regular anime convention, but a full-fledged celebration of anime here in the United States. Looking at the people, the cosplay, the panels, it was evident that this medium meant so much for people. I was amazed at the enthusiasm and passion coming from the fans, the members of the industry, and the voice talents. It was more than what was seen, but what was felt. Everyone I came across was genuinely happy. They were embracing their creative selves unapologetically. They were unafraid to dress in their favorite characters and walk across the streets of D.C.
These feelings are contagious, and in fact, they can lead to a positive change. The same weekend that Otakon was happening, Neo-Nazi and white-supremacist groups announced their intent to march in downtown D.C, mere blocks away from the convention center. They had hoped to gather a large group to march, and one report from an attendee indicated they intended to get close to the convention center.
Throughout the three days, the white-supremacists were nowhere to be seen. Later on, Josh Grielle tweeted that the turn-out for the white supremacists was severely low, primarily due to the fact that every downtown D.C hotel was filled with Otakon attendees, keeping the white supremacists from amassing in the city. It was clear that the power of love, especially for anime, certainly outweighed the power of hate.
It was a special kind of enthusiasm and commitment. I’ve been to plenty of conventions, where attendees were united in their interest in video games or comic books. But at Otakon, it was how anime had a special meaning to everyone. What that meaning it can be interpreted to everyone differently. Some are sharing the love. Some pursue adventure to a lost world. Some are searching for friends for life. Through the tales told in anime, a reflection is made about ourselves and our own lives that get us to think.
These shows and the passion behind them have gotten viewer the courage to think, as well as viewers the courage to take initiative in their lives. It was a strong feeling felt throughout Otakon, and even as I departed the center on the last day for the drive home, it was a feeling that came home with me. Otakon was an amazing experience, and I hope to experience it again next year.