Katsucon 2015 – It’s Too Cold; Let’s Chop Up the Gazebo for Firewood

When it gets as infuriatingly cold in the winter as it has been, you look for just about anything to break the monotony, especially when it looks like cabin fever is about to set in. Now I’m definitely not saying that an anime convention would be the one thing that keeps me from going completely batshit—in this context, at least; plenty of things can happen at a con to completely wreck your day worse—but if preventing boredom and misery means getting out of the home and bombing down the highway to a con several hours away, then I’ll be all for it.

Katsucon 2015 happened again this year at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Maryland, the 21st iteration of the convention, and my first visit to the Maryland area for a con this year (it would’ve been my second, but I had to pass on MAGFest seeing how I had neither the time nor money to make the trip). I had to make the trip down solo this year, though I was meeting the rest of the typical adventuring party when we got to the Gaylord.

And since I’ve discussed the Gaylord National’s annuities plenty of times before in past reports, I’d just as well forego them this time; I’ve repeated myself enough. Though there is one thing that bares mentioning. In past years, for whatever reason—zero-fucks-given attendants, charging it to your room without telling you beforehand, I don’t know—the hotel’s parking garage wasn’t always evenly enforced. But this year, they instead got everyone as they were coming in. When you pulled up and told them you were here for the con, you got hit with a $56 fee for parking the entire weekend. Good grief. I wasn’t even at the con or even in the hotel and I already had a big chunk taken out of my budget. I’m also not sure if it was just for con goers, but since I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t there for the con, it’s hard to say.

Thursday wasn’t very eventful save for unpacking, getting dinner, and resting for the next days ahead. We did manage to bring our own food with us this year, as the hotel’s prices were as extravagant as ever; even the buffet had gone up considerably in price.

By the way, I had a room pretty high up at the Gaylord, and if you wanted an idea as to how ball-bustingly cold it was this weekend, you needed to look no further than out the window out at the Potomac. Since the temperature was consistently in the high teens, much less near the freezing point, the water slowly and gradually turned more and more to ice, with parts of the river looking like the waves had frozen mid-crest. Breathtaking, for certain, but I wouldn’t try walking on it, that’s for damn sure.

Friday I started off in my Crazy Dave (Plants vs. Zombies) cosplay, but was only in it for a couple of hours; the lack of recognition didn’t bother me, but being mistaken for Davy Crocket did (I didn’t recall Davy wearing a sauce pan on his head…). I was supposed to attend a panel that was a spoof of The Dating Game but with anime characters—par for the course for an anime convention, I suppose—but a combination of too many people waiting in line, too many people not wanting to clear out when told to, and not honoring the press pass turned me off to it. This was around the second time I was called Davy Crocket, so I wasn’t in the best of moods.

Also: this is the one instance in which my press pass wasn’t honored. In retrospect, I’m not too worried about it.

I had more success with the more fun (and nearby) Anime Name That Tune. It was just what you’d think it is from the title—an anime themed version of the 80s game show, but the production value was…considerably more low rent. Granted, everyone had a fun time and were very much enjoying themselves, but the rounds were just a little different. It was just one round where five contestants got to buzz in and guess for points. The less of the track that played when the correct guess came, the more points they’d get. Of course this would result in players waiting well over 30 seconds before buzzing in. Also: there were nice buzzers set up, but they crapped out after the first game and contestants were reduced to having to raise their hands.

You know, with all the anime themed game show panels cropping up—usually done in Flash—it’s very surprising that a version of this hasn’t been given that kind of treatment. Has Greggo no memories of the original Name That Tune, I wonder?

I actually left that panel a little early because I wanted to check out another panel that started at 1:00 (and that one ended at 1:30), Elements of Style: Anime Openings. In it, the panelist showed anime openings from decades past, noting on their styles and aesthetics, and how they changed in the 50+ years—or, since Astro Boy. He also noted how rebooted series (Cyborg009, Cutie Honey) have their openings reflect to change the times. Also, oddly, while showing off the best anime openings of the 90s, while using the Japanese openings for Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, he showed the 4Kids dub opening of Pokémon. Even more hilarious, when the staff was setting up the room for the panel, he shared a bunch of interesting stories of when groups such as the military had to share a hotel with an anime convention…and how the reactions were quite mixed. While you had army people gawking at cosplayers and lamenting that they’re out there giving their lives to protect these assholes, you had a two-star navy general in the middle of the rave breaking it the fuck down. To say nothing of the air force guys who saluted a Guile cosplayer as he passed. Obviously, these events didn’t all happen in the same relative time frame.

I tentatively had Bad Anime! Bad! scheduled as well, but considering that was a rehash of another panel of the same name and I had already been through enough demoralization for one day, I decided to step away for a bit and enjoy the pool. It was just as shallow (literally) as I remember it, and the hot tub…well, the hot tub had taken a turn for the worse, as the neat waterfall slit in the back wall wasn’t working for whatever reason. Plus, the lifeguard who took his job way, way too seriously was enforcing a maximum occupancy limit of 8 for the entire weekend. If someone tried to walk in the direction of the hot tub regardless of whether or not they were going to enter it, he would run right over and talk down to them about the restriction. Even if you were just getting out of the pool near it, he descended on you like a plague. Oh well. At least I enjoyed myself swimming, talking to others, and having an improvised full-length catch with about half a dozen others with this little inflatable basketball (that bulged considerably from being overinflated).

The big panel everyone was looking forward to on Friday night was the Official Sailor Moon panel, which was a state of the franchise, more or less. There was an announcement of more Sailor Moon shipping out on DVD and Blu-ray, with contests held for copies of the second volume as prizes. There was a Q&A with the voice actresses from Sailor Moon Crystal. And while on the subject of voice actresses, Viz announced the voice actors for the rest of the dub—including Sandy Fox as Chibi-Usa, and Veronica Taylor as Sailor Saturn. That last one really took me by surprise, as it did everyone else in the room when I relayed the information. Of course, this cued up more than its fair share of jokes about Ash Ketchum being timeless or ageless or what have you. Still better than the coma theory.

On Saturday, I woke up at a decent time and headed to get some breakfast. I wasn’t kidding about the breakfast buffet being overpriced; especially since they introduced new tiers regarding what you wanted to get. The price I paid last year was for the cold stuff only…and it got worse from there. I instead opted for something more sensible at the coffee shop just across the path from it. Though it was only a slightly better value, considering the prices at the Gaylord.

The first panel I attended on Saturday was Cosplay Bullying—How to Identify and Rise Above It. It was a panel that detailed all the myriad methods of bullying, such as racism, homophobia, body-shaming (one way or another), and general negativity and shit that brings someone down at a convention…as well as how to overcome and cast it aside. It was very touching, and it seemed like everyone in the panel had a story to tell…or at the very least wanted to strike back against such levels of bullshit. Good for them; the community needs more people like them.

In between taking pictures of cosplayers and what have you, I managed to wander around to the game room and artists’ alley/dealers’ room. The game room was very similar to what I experienced last year at the convention, with almost the exact same floor plans. Some of the games were different, obviously, with two projectors taking up the walls for Smash Bros. gameplay, and a huge Just Dance display in the back. The pachinko machines were mostly the same, but a few new ones were in play; plus I don’t remember seeing the Ranma ½ machine anywhere. I also spent little in the artists’ alley/dealers’ room, and now that I mention it, I’ve started to develop this paradox of not wanting to spend anything despite having saved up money to spend at the con. Maybe I’m subconsciously too worried about needing money for some kind of auto-related inconvenience on the way home. But what I did find interesting was this vendor that sells rings that resemble dice…in that they’re wheels on the ring, and when you spin them (think the Showcase Showdown wheel from The Price is Right), it lands on a number. Spinning their own oversized prop D20 wheel netted you a prize, such as discounts on merch, should you land on a 20. I landed on 19. Still, it was a fun little item, and I ended up buying the d20 ring anyhow.

I had intended on attending a panel on Asian Brush Writing, but at the time I was summoned to help record interviews with some of the guests of the con. The staff was very friendly and accommodating to the press people, however the room they had us doing the interviews in was comically small—barely enough room for the three of us and our equipment. The interviews went well, though, and can be found on our YouTube channel.

Most of the afternoon after that was spent exploring the convention, taking pictures, and occasionally popping into the game room again. Later in the evening, though, I happened across a Pokémon panel, the 2nd Annual Katsucon Pokémon Game Show. The panel tested trivia of the Pokémon franchise, mostly the games, though, in several rounds for Pokémon related prizes. Each person who came into the room was given a ticket, and when your number was called, you got to play. The gameplay was an amalgamation of several game shows, a couple I recognize from game shows on Nickelodeon back in the early 90s.

The last panel I sat in on that night—and for the con itself, in retrospect—was for Abridged Series: Satire of Fandoms and Why We Love It. Another favorite thing of mine, the panel went into the satire behind the various Abridged Series floating around on the internet (mostly Team Four Star’s works, and some Sailor Moon and Yu-Gi-Oh!), as well as the use of techniques such as exaggeration and hyperbole to point out the flaws in a particular series, while demonstrating that they’re still fans of the source material. That’s something that a lot of people forget when they watch these things—the people creating it love it, but still acknowledge its faults.

The rest of the night was spent up in the room, drinking. We had by the end of the weekend exhausted our alcohol reserves, and as the liquor flowed, we began to get more and more philosophical with one another. Actually, it sounds a lot like we were talking constantly but having nothing to say, which is typically a major deal-breaker and serious pet peeve of mine. But I was in good company and I needed the weekend to relax and unwind. So it was plenty of fun.

We packed up and loaded up throughout Sunday, with DJ and me eschewing panels to get cosplay interviews. We got plenty of good ones, though they all happened in the shadow of Katsucon’s favorite false idol, the gazebo. I personally never saw the appeal of the damn thing, especially when the fountains on the lower floor (Otakon has taught me that fountains are major photoshoot real estate) are just as nice, if not better. Especially since the light displays in the bottom of the fountain make the water turn all sorts of neat colors. Clearly the gazebo’s reputation has preceded it by a considerable margin.

We said our farewells to National Harbor around mid-afternoon, and took to bombing up 95 so I could drop DJ off at his train up near Trenton. Along the way we stopped at the Maryland House to get lunch, which we noted was the same thing we did last year…and I’m fairly certain we ate at the same vendor as well. I managed to make it up to Trenton in very good time, and the two of us parted ways until the next convention.

I’m starting to like Katsucon more and more, despite my massive falling out with it years ago. I very much enjoy that DC/Baltimore area, despite its issues, and can very much foresee myself going back to it year after year. Hell, if it keeps growing at the rate it is, it may very well have to find a bigger venue…and with Otakon slated to move to DC in the next few years, I wouldn’t be surprised it Katsucon and Otakon end up switching places. Which…

…wait, I just started imagining Trading Places acted out by anthropomorphic anime conventions. I need help…

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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