Otakon 2017 was a year of change for the long running anime and Japanese culture convention. It marked the second time the convention would change venues over its 23-year history. Due to an aging convention center and need for more space, Otakon is now held in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC. Roughly an hour away from its former location in the Baltimore Convention Center. Otakon reached peak attendance in the BCC in 2013 with over 34,000 attendees. During that year the decision to move to Washington was also made. Although attendance had been in decline since 2014, space was still limited at the BBC. The increase in space at the Walter E. Convention Center and a decline in attendees because of the move (24,894 in 2017 vs 29,113 in 2016) made for a much roomer convention all around.
From a personal perspective there was a learning curve, as all I had learned about Otakon from 10 years of attendance in Baltimore was gone. The area, the hotels, and the convention center were unfamiliar. In addition to the new venue, bag checks were a new element of security. (Fortunately, my time at Anime Boston had prepared me for them.) While the lines to get into the WWCC were long, they moved swiftly. Nevertheless, the positives (a larger convention center) outweighed the negatives.
On Thursday afternoon we stopped at Union Station instead of going straight to our hotel. There I sought out a Bojangles’, eager to try out the chain since they’re not located in Philadelphia, Southern Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. Surprisingly, it took a half an hour to find parking. Once we parked and settled in, I had the opportunity to meet up with Drew, who works in the area. Sadly, he wasn’t attending the convention with us.
After parting ways with Drew, we found our hotel. The parking was expensive, so we found a cheaper public parking garage under a supermarket. I’m not sure how it works or why the parking isn’t exclusively for customers of the supermarket, but I’m not going to complain. We then picked up our badges from pre-registration and (unsuccessfully) attempted to meetup with Justin of OASG.
Friday was the day I realized getting around the WWCC would not be so easy. After clearing security and learning the layout of the convention center, I was ultimately late to the Sentai Filmworks panel. I again missed my chance to meet up with Justin.
While waiting for the next panel to start, we went to the dealer’s room. It was then that the full scale of the WWCC hit me. The convention center is more than double the size of the BCC, which makes it great for space and a refreshing lack of choke points, but tiring to traverse quickly. I was somewhat tired in my rush to check out the dealer’s room and make it to the Viz Media panel in a timely fashion. However, the rushing worked out as I made it to the panel early, and finally got to meet Justin. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hang out for long, as he had multiple interviews to conduct for his own coverage for OASG. After the Viz panel, we headed back to the dealer’s room before retiring to the hotel for the night.
Saturday flowed a bit differently for me than Friday and Thursday. This time I made it a point to get out of bed early (a somewhat challenging feat when your normal working hours are from 6PM to 3AM). I made it to two photoshoots I really wanted to see, namely the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei shoot, followed by the Fire Emblem shoot. While both shoots were fun and were roomy enough, I disliked the shoot being held in front of the windows. The glare from the sun made some shots worse and threw off the brightness and contrast. Additionally, I was a little disappointed that more characters from the Shin Megami Tensei games weren’t represented at the shoot. It was namely a Persona 3/4/5 shoot, with one character from Catherine, and two from Devil Survivor 2. All and all, it’s a minor complaint.
After the photoshoots, I made it to the FUNimation panel early. The line to get in was long, but unlike previous years, the line organization and room clear made everything much more efficient. A room clear meant that everyone who wanted to see the panel could mostly get in, without having to worry about seats being taken by people who sat in one panel just to see the following panel. As for the FUNimation panel itself, nothing really noteworthy happened, it was mostly recycled material from Anime Expo. The Black Cover hype was really high.
When the panel finished everyone was cleared out of the room, and I ended up returning to the same room for the Crunchyroll panel. There I saw and was able to chat with Justin for a while. The CR panel was fun and included a few new faces. After the panel, I parted ways with Justin to attend a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure photoshoot. Unlike the earlier photoshoots, this one was held in stairwell. Space to shoot pictures was tight, as was space for larger group shots. Here’s to hoping that next year Otakon has a dedicated place to take photos.
When I finished with the photoshoot, I decided to check out the gaming room. It was a marked improvement in space. The area was much bigger and the selection of games was much better. It was easier to find areas for card games as well as board games. Charging stations for handheld games was a new addition.
Sunday ended up being a short day. After checking out and loading up the car, we headed back to the WWCC one last time. We spent some time in the dealer’s room. However, we decided to skip the final panels and the closing ceremonies, due to wanting to hit the road early. Given previous conventions like Katsucon in the DC area, we knew how bad the traffic could be. A mishap with the car prevented us from leaving, though. The car battery was dead and it took nearly an hour before anyone could give us a jump. Surprisingly, it was other attendees from Otakon who came to the rescue. If we had stayed for the entire closing ceremony, it might have been harder to get a jump, so the decision to leave early actually worked out.
Overall Otakon in Washington went smoothly and it has plenty of room to grow. As people become used to the new venue, I suspect Otakon’s numbers will recover and perhaps grow beyond their 2013 peak. I look forward to seeing how the convention grows in DC.
Click here to see all of the pictures I took during the convention.
On a final note: I did mention attending the various panels at the con, and yes, I took detailed notes. I’ll leave it to you dear readers to decide if I write up those notes into panel coverage or not. Let me know in the comments or via social media. I do plan to change my schedule for 2018 so I actually have a day off from work after the con to edit pictures and turn my panel notes into articles.