Every few summers I make a trip out to Baltimore to hit Otakon, one of the biggest east coast Anime convensions around. It’s always an interesting experience, but it hasn’t exactly been a good experience since the first time I went in 2000. That year was the Year of Lain, where the entire con seemed to be structured around a show that I loved dearly. On top of that, Anime hadn’t quite cracked into the full-on American genre scene yet, so there was the feeling that you were seeing things you’d never be able to see otherwise. And to top it off, Cartoon Network premiered Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz at the con. I don’t think there’s been a truly big premier here since.
Every con since 2000 has felt less well organized and less interesting than that golden year. It hasn’t been bad, exactly, but it’s felt a little empty for a con that has so much technically going on. The anime that gets shown feels less and less like like a group of crazy fans trying to show you something new and more and more like whatever the studios felt like dumping off. The panels feel more perfunctory; it’s a press junket with costumes, anymore.
I have fun. I do. Artist’s Alley still has that thrill of discovery, and the dealer’s room does have some crazy Japanese stuff that youd otherwise have to buy online. There’s something to be said for getting to touch that Gundam model before you buy it. And it’s more than a little fun to make fun of terrible shows like Moon Phase Tsukuyomi (“Kitty ear mode! Kitty ear mode! Big brother kiss!”) and Mai Otome (“It’s finally time to fight the Schwartz!”).
The problem is that it’s all stuff you could get off of Netflix or Jlist or Anime News Network. I caught Otakon in what must have been the last year when Anime was truly underground; before Media Play added anime toy sections and shows like Naruto got 12 year olds foaming at the mouth. And so, in comparison, every subsequent con has felt like a marketing show.
But you know what? The cosplay girls look really, really, really good, so it’s probably the best marketing show you could hope for.