Halloween in February: A Katsucon 2011 Experience
By Charles On 25 Feb, 2011 At 02:57 PM | Categorized As Animation, Conventions, Reviews | With 1 Comment

No GravatarWhen one thinks of anime cons, February is certainly not what comes to mind. For a fandom focused on costumes, light clothing and activity, the dead of winter, with its associated snow, wind and other nasties is not the first thing a fan would think of for such a seemingly summer oriented event. The idea that a sudden snowstorm or burst of icy air could completely derail a convention might be a complete turnoff for some, trekking down streets in little more than thin material and forced to face the worst of a chill season. Conventions are summer fare, or at least milder times when the chance for sudden calamity is a bit less.

And then there’s Katsucon. For years now, this convention has been soldiering on on the middle of this dreary month, providing escape, community and fun for its several thousand attendees, regardless of snow, ice, rain or wind. And they show no signs of stopping. (Hey, blizzards in 2003 and 2010 didn’t stop them either.)

Location

Yes, THIS is where they hold the con.

Katsucon is something of a nomad in the con world. While Anime Boston is associated firmly with the Hynes Convention Center, and Otakon is synonymous with the BCC, Katsucon has had more than a few homes in its 17 years. From humble beginnings to mid sized mistakes, to finally its current residence at the Gaylord International in National Harbor MD, Katsucon had above all survived many storms (at least one of them literal) of its own on the way to its current state.

For those who attended Katsucon 2009, the new location is a vast improvement. For those who attended Katsucon 2010, the surrounding area itself has come a long way since the previous year. Whereas in 2010 the food choices were severely limited, in 2011 there were a host of new eateries, new menus for con-goers and more variety overall. National Harbor as a Complex has grown, and now fits the convention very well. Thankfully, the weather in 2011 was warm, if still extremely windy, and walking the streets by day was hardly a chore (night was another thing entirely).

Now picture several thousand costumed otaku milling about, and you get the general idea.

The con space was fluid and extremely full. Even as late as 2 AM, when a good deal of attendees ought to be sleeping, there were gatherings and meetings and impromptu photo shoots to choose from, or simply hanging out with new friends. The Gaylord itself, with its pseudo-village interior and ample seating, facilitated this admirably. Indeed, the hotel played as much a part of the convention as the convention itself, and  Katsucon is one of the most aesthetically pleasing conventions I’ve ever attended.

Much like last year, everything was spread out between two floors- the basement held registration, the Marketplace and the game room/dance venue, while the top floor held all the programming space. For first timers, this was a daunting task to confront, as the layout was confusing if you’ve never been to the Gaylord before. Some of the offices and administrative spaces were a bit off the beaten path, and it took me a few tries to find panelist/press registration, but after that it wasn’t hard at all to locate the panels and workshops, as everything was along one of two corridors, and each room was clearly labeled with the current panel and the upcoming one. For those without a schedule, it was great.

Programming

Katsucon is another one of those cons that loves to schedule a lot of panels and workshops over the weekend, so much that it starts at 8 every morning and ends at 1 every night. With 5 panel spaces, one workshop and several video rooms, in addition to the ballrooms, there is always something to do. And the variety of offered panels is great. What was also great was the ability to this year create “custom schedules” via their online listings that could be sent directly to your cell phone. It was easier than ever to know what was happening when, and to always be there on time.

My trip started with Aaron Clark’s “Brief History of Gainax.” For those who do not know, Aaron (who is also known by the moniker “The Eva Monkey”) runs several Evangelion-themed websites, and is proficient with all things related to that show. In this panel, he went over the other works Gainax has put out, from their start in the Daicon shorts, to Royal Space Force, to Evangelion (of course), Gurren Lagann, Mahoromatic, Abenobashi, Otaku no Video, Kare Kano and others. I personally had no idea how much Gainax had done, and this gave me more than a few ideas for other shows to look at (especially Panty and Stocking).

"Conventional Wisdom" courtesy of Simon Ladd

I also dropped by Eric Stehmer’s “Con Horror Stories,” a panel I have informally co-hosted a few times. This one was a riot, with several attendees coming forward to share their own tales of convention related snafus. The panel has also been known to go by the informal title of “Katsucon Horror Stories,” as a good chunk of it is devoted to some of the memorable “mistakes” in Katsu’s history, like Kat-snow-con in 2003, the disastrous split-venue year in 2004, and the layout nightmare that was the Omni from 2005-2008.

I didn’t get to see Psychology in Anime, mostly because the powers that be scheduled it up against my own panel, but host Michael Seay dropped by the latter half of “Modern Mythology” to help out on the Campbell archetyping in preparation for his own “Mythology in Anime” panel Saturday. He focused more on the epic stories themselves and mythology as a product of the collective experience of mankind rather than symbolism, but it was still enlightening.

I ended my own panel-going with Rob Aldrich’s “Hentai vs Porn”…which is not what you think it is, unless you are a social scientist like me. Rob Aldrich is one of the unsung heroes of the VA con circuit- he writes, reviews and ruminates on anime, and is the author is several “anime-style” novels centered around a meta-plot he calls “Crossworld.”  He is also one of my own inspirations, so check him out if you ever get the chance.

I'm staring a a Death God, I just don't remember which one.

As for my own contributions: Despite an 11:30 PM slot, “Modern Mythology” was packed. “Castles, Forests and Bath Houses” was in a horribly set up room, but they left the doors open so more people could hear it, and “Dead Like Us” had a bunch of shinigami in the room. All in all, a productive weekend. I met a lot of great people and had some insightful discussions, along with new shows I now need to watch and incorporate into the latter panel.

Commerce

Katsucon made two little decisions this year, which colored the commerce experience greatly. Their first decision was to merge the Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room into one gigantic “Marketplace” where fans could spend their money. While this wasn’t a bad idea at all, it also meant that the artists were subject to vendor’s time schedules. At many cons, the separation of the two rooms allows artists to open up earlier and leave later, but this year all were held to a very strict “10-8” schedule on Saturday. Not a terrible flaw, but it did limit choices for things to do later in the evening.

Their second decision was to ban fan-art. While this decision was reversed a week or so before con time, its impact was very easy to see- the artist section of the room was empty. There were a lot of tables, with no artists sitting behind them. While the crafters and commissioners and original artists were indeed present, those who make a living off fan-art were noticeably absent, and it made that part of the con feel dead.

Artist Alley Saturday, courtesy of Lauren Rae Orsini

The selection otherwise was standard for a con this size, with the same vendors as usual. There were grumblings by some about ending the weekend close to the red, and the hauls I saw from those leaving the room were lesser than usual, which is unfortunate.

Main Events

…were skipped as usual. I honestly didn’t even know where the room was.

Vibe

There was a lot to see, as long as you made sure not to "Blink"

The Gaylord being what it is, there was ample chance to grab cosplay shoots, and this showed. Cosplay at Katsucon was stunning as usual, and the fans were more than excited to see it and participate. Multiple photographers were taking shots of congoers, who posed gladly, and the mood was light. This was especially true of Saturday night, where random groups of fans were wandering the floor looking for more people to talk to.

Casual meetups were frequent and easy to get involved in. I know I met more than a few groups of random fans that made my night more interesting, be it with singing, dancing or “rapping” to their boom boxes. All in all, morale was very high, thanks in part to the much warmer weather, the nicer atmosphere both in and out of the con, and the masses of other fans milling about. Katsucon is a very social con due to its location, and a good place to make or meet friends.

Overall Review

For those of you who want the “TL:DR” synopsis of Katsucon, then I can sum it up as this: despite being held at a notoriously unpredictable time of year, Katsucon still manages to put on a solid, quality event each year. It’s not perfect, it can be confusing, and there are definite issues with organization that spring up. But for a con with a 17 year history, Katsucon has had to overcome much and still manages to be here year after year. Quality programming, quality fans and variety are the name of the game when it comes to Katsucon, and it shows the devotion of all involved.

Sorceress Ultimecia made an appearance, but alas she did NOT compress time to give the con an extra day or two.

About -

Charles has written for ROG since 2010. An anthropologist and culture lecturer, he has previously been a featured panelist at Anime Boston and Otakon, the first educational guest at Anime USA, and frequently speaks at cons up and down the East Coast. He received his MA in cultural anthropology in 2011, and currently writes on convention culture, sacred culture in media, otaku identity and mythology.

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