I’m on record as being a fan of small, local cons. Sure, I’ve been to the enormous shows in San Diego and New York, and there are absolutely pros and cons for that type of show. But they’re definitely not to everyone’s taste and they’re really not the most kid friendly of places – especially for wee ones who are easily stimulated and overwhelmed by large crowds.
After last year’s Otakon, I came to the defense of small cons. Now, Otakon isn’t exactly the smallest show around. It still attracts 30,000 guests and takes over the Baltimore Convention Center, but it’s not claustrophobic in a way that some of the megacons can be. It’s also specific in a way that New York and San Diego aren’t.
It’s a convention for fans of Asian popular culture. It originally began as an event for fans of Japanese animation, but has since expanded to include fans of entertainment from a wide variety of Asian cultures. It also happens to be the largest and longest-running Japanese animation convention on the East Coast of the United States.
This means that almost all of the fans who attend share a common fandom, which makes the community and general atmosphere feel smaller and friendlier.
This year’s Otakon (the 23rd!) is this weekend: August 12-14, and you can still pick up tickets!
Like most cons, there are dealers, an artist alley, screenings, and programming throughout the weekend. There are also musical concerts in the evening and a rave that goes until the wee morning hours.
More unique activities to this con, though, include open-mic karaoke, a lounge with dance lessons, a manga library, a maid cafe, and a cosplay masquerade that has no rival. It’s so big, in fact, that it’s outgrown the convention center and is housed in the nearby Royal Farms Arena–the venue where shows such as Cirque du Soleil and Disney on Ice perform when they come to town.
Kicking off the weekend on Thursday, though, is the Matsuri Festival. Held at West Shore Park, near the Inner Harbor and Maryland Science Center, the outdoor festival runs from noon to 9pm and features live music, booths, and food. Best of all, it’s 100% free to attend! You don’t even need a badge to go hang out and enjoy.
If you’re in the Baltimore/Washington, DC, area this weekend, I’d highly recommend you put Otakon on the top of your list. And if you see me there, say hey!