We assigned some of our East Coast members to check out Otakon 1999, held July 2-4 at the Baltimore Convention Center (BCC) in Baltimore, Maryland. Only six years old, Otakon has become one of the biggest anime conventions in the region. Over 4,500 in attendance hailed from either a New England, Mid-Atlantic or Southern state. Were you there too?
Extremely hot, great seafood, excellent pedestrian walkways; it's the ninth largest city in the country.
For some of us, this was not our first visit but the first opportunity we had to actually explore the city. Baltimore has cleaned itself up dramatically in the last ten years (according to recent news articles)--and it shows. The Inner Harbor has a pedestrian "Skywalk" which connects the convention center with most of the hotels, restaurants and bars in the area. Almost every location is within reach. You don't have to play "Frogger" in traffic to get to convention-linked necessities. Compared to Katsucon in Washington, D.C., this was a major improvement.
The major downside was the weather (102 for the highs and a muggy 97 at 1 a.m.)!
The Convention Center is divided into two halves. That weekend one half was for Otakon, the other half for a Muslim convention.
As we approached (amongst a stream of Muslims in traditional headdress) a bored-looking con center lady correctly pegged us and inquired, "Anime? Go down to the stoplight and take a right." (How did she know?) ;)
Registration was really easy (though we did arrive after the convention had started). We waited only 5 minutes in line. The hardest part was choosing which badge we wanted laminated (over 11 choices this year--including Sailor Moon!).
The Dealers Room
Many fans consider the English release of Rayearth (one of our favorite Anime) to be a huge event, as evidenced by Media Blasters' Summer catalog.
AnimeVillage had a nice booth with a big mural and a TV showing some of their titles (including the recently completed Saber Marionette R!). Media Blasters was on hand to air the subtitled first episode of the much anticipated "Magic Knights Rayearth" in their own mini-screening room. One of our Rayearth-savvy members sat down to review the translation. Clef's title, "Dooshi," was translated as "Master Mage" rather than "Guru" as Mixx calls him. The attacks and spells were given appealing names, such as "Icicle Onslaught" and "Lightning Call." "Mashin" became "Rune God," thus both preserving the singular/plural mystery and keeping the viewer from guessing what it is by pronouncing it "Machine." The only questionable renditions were the name suffixes; "Umi-chan" was subtitled as "Umi-ster." This reflects Hikaru's enthusiastic nature, but is a bit unnatural and distracting.
Music Video Contest
We viewed a PUMPIN' Blumchen remix of "Bicycle Race" by Queen, set to an episode of "Golden Boy." Some of us have never cared much for the series but this video was awesome.
Other good videos included "Du Hast" by a German Band to X, complete with subtitles for the song and a Slayers video to "Don't be Discouraged" by the goddess of all seiyuu, Megumi Hayashibara.
There was one "Sailormoon" video with "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal (which had been entered in AnimeExpo 1998). It was very romantic and concerned the love between Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Moon.
Other entries include "Like a Prayer" utilizing footage from "Oh! My Goddess" and "Wild, Wild West" done to Trigun.
The winning drama video was a "Lodoss" video using the "Duel of Fates" musical score from "Star Wars: Episode I."
Overall, the entries were pretty creative this year and well worth watching a second time.
These were held on Saturday, July 3 with the English Language Voice Artists.
The session started at 10:30 a.m. with a small but modest line. One of us felt a little edgy about how the staff at Otakon were going to conduct themselves because of his experience at Comic-Con almost a year earlier. There, most of the fans couldn't even get near Naoko Takeuchi (let alone get an autograph). But such fears were quickly dismissed at Otakon.
One of the biggest thrills was that fans were able to actually meet and greet some of the stars behind some of the characters from their favorite series. The "Gang of Six" were Lisa Ortiz, the REAL English voice of Lina Inverse; Rachael (we have conflicting information on how to spell her first name) Lillis, the English voice for both Misty and Jesse; Crispin Freeman, the voice of Zelgadis and Captain Taylor; Michael Brandy, the voice of Joe from "Crusher Joe;" Amy Howard, the voice of Nova from "Star Blazers;" and last but not least, Tiffany Grant, the voice of Asuka from Evangelion.
The autograph session was supposed to last 90 minutes but due to the extremely heavy turn-out of diehard and out-of-the-closet "dubbies" ("Yes, my name is Trish and I love Lisa Ortiz!"), the signings continued out in a hallway. Voice Artists autographed toys, posters, wall-scrolls and talked shop with fans far beyond the scheduled end.
The amazing thing was that the Voice Artists themselves understood how important their fans were to them and acted accordingly. None of them considered themselves "holier than thou" and they weren't going to finish until everyone who waited in line got something signed and said their "hi's" and "thank yous." This continued even after the session ended in the hallway.
The Q and A
Is anime seen by more people in Japanese or in English? Do the math! Which sells more units in dual release? Original Japanese language versions or English language versions?
The most interesting, unsaid aspect was that this program displayed just how popular dubbed anime is. If one considers the years and years of flack given to all dubs in general, this convention made clear that the loudest voice is not necessary the majority voice. The room was packed beyond capacity! There was not one empty seat and fans were lined up against the walls and the doorway. If anyone thought that dubbed anime didn't have a strong following, they were proven wrong at this gathering.
Here are some of the highlights:
Lisa Ortiz got into voice acting after her brother stole her car and wrecked it. To help pay for some of the costs, she heard about a voice acting job at Central Park Media from a friend of hers. Lisa's first role was Deedlit in "Record of Lodoss War."
Crispin Freeman considers himself "old school" otaku. Like most "first generation" otaku in the 60s, he grew up on "Speed Racer" and "Astroboy." He later got re-interested in anime in college but was turned off by some of the voice dubbing he had heard in past series. Crispin felt that he could do a better job with the firm belief that dubs CAN be done excellent.
The other four got their starts by knowing someone on the inside.
All six shared some of their favorite outtakes. One of the more popular stories we learned was that Rachael herself tends to blurt the "F" word in her sweet, lovable Misty voice whenever she misses a line or the line is out of sync with Misty's lips. Of course, according to Ms. Lillis that's not as bad as some of the things Brock's VA (Eric Stuart) has been known to say. The sad part is that most outtakes are destroyed so finding a copy in the archives is next to impossible.
While there were no Sailor Moon related guests (except Stu Levy) the series and its franchise had a serious impact at the convention.
Otakon presented the first 24 fan-subtitled episodes of the "S" series in two-hour chunks (4 episodes). Episodes 1-8 ran on Friday and then 9-24 on Saturday.
Checking out attendance at one screening proved to be a little difficult. The room was PACKED! This was firm proof that Sailor Moon was much more popular than the Otakon organizers had estimated, especially in previous years when no Sailor Moon was shown or the program guide denounced it as "Kiddie TV." The series was being presented in Video Room Five which was a bit out of the way and medium sized. It took ten minutes just to find an opening and get into the room! And even then one had to stand against the wall along one side. The audience seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it; no booing or groaning or Barney noises (common at other screenings). All in all, a very impressive reaction.
Many came dressed as their favorite "Sailormoon" character as well as characters from "Rayearth", "Rurouni Kenshin", "Evangelion" and even one of our favorites: "Airbats TTS!" A lot of fans came dressed as characters from the popular video game "Bust a Move" and performed live-action versions of the game to kill time in some of the longer lines like the Mari Ijima concert.
A major shocker here: The Cosplay ACTUALLY started on time with smooth transitions to where everything was done by 10:30pm! Unlike AnimeExpo, the audio worked and sounded terrific.
Some of us did object to the judging.
Another costume in the same Totoro skit was a dragon which was on stage for two seconds and did nothing but die. This cosplayer received, "Best Portrayal of A Character." Give us a break! The role of the dragon took no thought to enact and the costume wasn't better than the norm, and yet it won "Best Portrayal Of A Character"?
Are you a lousy Cosplayer? Then enter here! You will be recognized and amply rewarded. Good costumers or performers need not apply.
The one worthy winner was a very large and ornate Gundam mecha suit which had no actual skit but fulfilled every cosplay audience's secret desire when it toppled over on its butt--smashing it to pieces. Otakon staff leapt to pry the entrant from the wreckage.
So how was Otakon overall? It would best be summed up as the complete opposite of AnimeExpo. Everything ran smoothly, the equipment was running perfectly, the guests were happy and the fans left with great memories. So if anyone wants to go to an anime convention that we consider an almost perfect 10, make your plans for Otakon.