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By Charles On 3 Feb, 2015 At 12:30 AM | Categorized As Conventions, Editorials, Featured, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No Gravatar“You should go to Magfest”

I remember the first time I was told this, way back in 2012. As someone who attends a lot of conventions in a year, names of new events are tossed my way by friends eager to show me something I hadn’t been to before. Most of them are, of course, anime cons: because when you write your thesis on anime convention culture, and spend countless weeks traveling to said cons to speak, everyone you have met AT the con wants to tell you about their favorite events here and there, in hopes of bringing you along and sharing the love. This is nothing new, and is a lot of fun when your friends come along with you.

But Magfest was something else. I had a lot of friends who would “boost” for the convention, telling me about how laid back it was, how it felt more like a party than a con, how it was a lot of music and a lot of games, so there was always something happening. And of course, it was always finished by “you should go to Magfest.” 

By Charles On 23 Feb, 2012 At 01:52 AM | Categorized As Conventions, Reviews | With 1 Comment

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Program Art by Stan Sakai

I’m always amazed at how fast Katsucon sneaks up on me. I’ve been attending it faithfully since 2009, and until this year it was the only winter con I went to. And yet, unlike cons like Nekocon or Anime Boston, which I spend weeks preparing for, Katsucon always ends up just being there, right around the corner, waiting for me to make that long drive down on Friday morning, sweeping me up in a whirlwind of events and interactions, and sending me back on my way home a scant 50 hours after I arrived. It’s a trip I’ve grown accustomed to, and in fact anticipate, every year.

This year was no different. Same tradition as always: awake at 5:30, pack car, drive to National Harbor, panel, dinner, sleep, repeat, drive home. And yet, unlike previous year’s Katsucons, this year felt different. It might have been the nine hour of programming I was part of, might have been the long discussion on anime, Doctor Who and fan culture I had with Chris Ayres Saturday afternoon, might have been the fact I was on my feet the entire weekend, but this year’s Katsucon was both satisfying, and rushed.

Last year I made the distinction that I would not be back for 2012. But, as with a lot of my other predictions for cons, this was ultimately a fallacy. I realized that back in August, when I put submissions in for panels- a lot of them in fact. I wanted to give the con variety to choose from. I never expected to get them all. But three weeks before con time, there they were, a huge schedule with everything I could hope to offer to the con, split out in a wonderful schedule that I later discovered was the exception rather than the rule. Well, at least I wouldn’t get bored.

Badge Variety

Not that boredom is even a possibility at Katsucon. This year’s attendance of over 12,000 people made sure of that. I’ve never seen the Gaylord so packed, or the energy so consistent throughout the weekend. Even finding a secluded spot to play Magic, or watch anime with friends, was nigh impossible. And for the first time, panel lines snaked around the entire suite of National Harbor rooms, so many lines that they often crossed and mixed themselves up. People shared stories as they waited, and there was a strong tone of anticipation by the panel rooms, one that rarely dissipated, even in the late night hours.

While I am reluctant to assert that such a large con could be conducive to first-timers (a critique I often levy at Otakon), Katsucon was again an exception. While it was a very large convention, it didn’t feel like a very large convention. Maybe it was the distribution of space, maybe it was the intimate nature of the panel spaces, maybe it was just all the large clusters of friends wandering about, but Katsucon felt like a small con in a large suit- all the trappings of smaller fare were there, while the space made larger-scale interactions not only possible, but likely.

Pros:

Always something to do- It’s true, Katsucon had more programming than any con I went to last year. 5 panel spaces, 1 workshop, two video rooms, and enough floor space to spawn impromptu gatherings meant that those who courted insomnia would always be in good company. While my day ended around 2AM, those who stayed up longer would have had no problem finding others like them.

Variety in Vendors- Given the massive failure of the Marketplace last year, the return to split-rooms and retraction of fan-art restrictions meant that there was a lot to choose from. While certainly not on the same scale as Anime Boston or Otakon, Katsucon did offer a rich selection of goods and services for those seeking material validation in their fandom.

Location- I love the Gaylord for two reasons: National Harbor is huge and self-contained so you never need to walk far to find something, and it’s far enough away from the rest of civilization that you don’t feel the need to wander off exploring. It’s rare that a con in or near and urban center has this- Boston is just too big to resist wandering around in, and Chesapeake is too spread out to have enough options for those without transportation. But National Harbor is a perfect venue for this con. I hope they stay there a long time.

Cosplay- Some of it surely had to do with the presence of the World Cosplay Summit during the con, but Katsucon cosplay truly went above and beyond this year. Anime, fandom, science fiction and some more esoteric outfits filled the halls in 2012. I’m used to the multifandom nature of the attendees for sure, but this year threw even me a few curve balls. Kudos to all who participated.

Cons:

Would you trust this man to teach you about hentai?

Pocket Schedule- In a word: tetched. Abandoning the more “traditional” grid layout structured around time slots and concurrent panels, this year Katsu elected to list room/day/time. The end result: a schedule that was unreadable. Attendees needed to pour over the tiny text to discover what was happening when. While there was a fabulous online option as an alternative, those without internet access or smart phones were at a loss.

24 Hour Programming- I’ve had one late night panel at Katsucon: in 2010 I gave my Con Stories talk from 12-2AM, overflowed to 3 since the room was empty. Then the con staff politely told me the room was closing for the night. Not an unreasonable time frame for scheduling. This year, however, programming never ended. The end result: a number of panelists found they were presenting at 4 and 5 AM, sometimes in a row. For those insomniac attendees, this provided options. For the panelists, well insomnia is a great way to meet people and test your mettle.

Communication- It was hard to get in touch with certain staff departments prior to the con, if there were conflicts or one needed to cancel a panel. As a result, a lot of panels ended up being listed despite their hosts not showing. And in at least one case, a panelist had their slot changed without being informed first. It’s understandable, given the size and scope of the con, but has the potential to be infuriating if you are one of the people awaiting a reply that never came.

It’s interesting to note, however, that the flaws associated with Katsucon 2012 were along the lines of logistics and not content. The activities and panels were very well attended, and the variety more than made up for the often odd hours and random changes.

All in all, I enjoyed Katsucon 2012 a great deal. Will I return in 2013? I’m going to say no…because I also know I won’t be able to live up to that assertion.