Otakon 2018 — And We Were So Optimistic, Too

Man, listening to the last couple of episodes before the trip to Otakon are rather jarring in hindsight, don’t you think? I couldn’t quite explain it, personally, regardless of how much I look back on it, but I was jacked for Otakon more so than prior years.

I do have one possible explanation. While I do enjoy road trips to conventions and the like, what I don’t enjoy about them is how much of a money sink some aspects of the trips can be. Sure, gas, tolls, and stopping to eat are things I’m accustomed to, but I have railed against the borderline exploitative costs of parking, especially for a city like Washington, DC. And don’t think you’re off the hook for this either, Baltimore; those hotels don’t show any mercy to folks who are—oh, I don’t know—staying at the hotel for the convention. If DC and Baltimore are trying to beg off the “tourist trap” label, they’re doing a fairly poor job of it.

Anyway, to alleviate the cost of travel down to DC, I sprang for a Greyhound ticket Thursday afternoon. Considering it was less than half of what I paid for parking in recent years to go to Otakon, this was a much lighter hit on the wallet than driving down (by myself) and running up the miles on my car. The only major downsides were the speed of the bus itself, which, admittedly I shouldn’t’ve fretted too much over, considering the driver has to keep the passengers safe, and comparing a bus driving down the highway to my driving is a little bit of a mismatch, and the fact that bus seats are uncomfortable as all hell. And it wasn’t just for me, either; I felt bad for anyone having to sit next to me while I try to stuff myself into a seat, and the gods forbid if I had to get up to use the bus’ “bathroom” during the trip.

Regardless, I made it to Union Station, the big hub for all the buses, taxis, trains, and the like for DC. And since it was my first time going through there, I had to admit, the place was very beautiful. It was also rather confusing, as the buses disembarked their passengers on what was, essentially, the opposite end of where we needed to be to get a cab. Thankfully, cabs were plentiful and relatively fast, and I got to the Marriott in decent time. I just had to wait for others to arrive so I could get into the room.

Thursday was mostly about Thursday things, getting unpacked, settled in, and me, like a fool, forgetting that the hotel where we stayed didn’t have a pool, meaning I brought my bathing suit for nothing. The hotel was the same as it ever was the last few years we were here, with the connecting tunnel straight to the convention center, though the security checkpoint after the first-floor escalator was laughably easy to get around…again. Also, you didn’t have to go through security clearance if you came into the convention center from said bridge, unlike if you were stopped at the front door. In any event, Friday morning came, and there was still the issue of me having to go get my press pass. Unfortunately for me, I was not informed until I got there that the press ops had been moved to the first floor of the Marriott I was staying at. And I was in cosplay, too, meaning I trudged from my room to the con back to the hotel. And I was sucking wind. The pain in my back and my heels was outrageous and it made me realize just how…out of it I really am. Sure, I got my press pass, but I ended up going back to the room and hiding for a few hours, just too embarrassed to show my face around anywhere.

So far, the con was not off to a good start.

I did manage to pull myself together after a while, but there was no denying that there was a dark cloud hovering over me during the weekend, and I fear it might have affected my interactions with others in ways I may not have noticed in the interim. In any event, I managed to get to a panel called “America (According to Japan)”. You might be thinking this is a shoe-on-the-other-foot kind of ordeal where the Japanese take on Americans and our culture is juxtaposed against how weeaboos blindly worship all things Japanese, then you’d be wrong. It’s way worse. The stereotype/s of Americans include (and this is not a complete list) being loud and/or obnoxious, being from New York, being from Texas, wearing cowboy hats, wearing sunglasses, wearing American flag themed clothing, and having no filter for anything that comes out of their mouths, including profanity. Yes, it’s both hilarious and cringey. But as shown with games like Metal Wolf Chaos, no one does hyper-American patriotism like the Japanese; and if that statement blows your mind, I apologize.

By the way, do Japanese have the same obsession with American (or just Western in general) animation that the West does with anime? Is there an equivalent to anime cons over there? And if so, what do they call it? Mation?

The next panel looked especially interesting when I first saw it in the Guidebook app, and I made a point to get to it as quickly as possible; it was an MMA demonstration put on by Roxanne Modafferi and Serena DeJesus. It certainly ticked the “beautiful women” box, as well as the “kicking people’s asses” sub-box for getting my attention. While their demonstrations on holds, grapples, submissions, and other such techniques were what you would expect from an MMA demonstration, the two’s only real connection to anything anime related was that the girls’ fight gear was modeled after Goku and Vegeta…not that it was a problem at this point. What was especially interesting about the two demonstrators was Roxanne was in two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, and Serena is the first pro female MMA fighter who’s autistic. Though if it hadn’t been brought up beforehand or in the guidebook, I wouldn’t have caught that detail.

The next couple of hours were spent wandering around the convention hall, seeing if anything had significantly changed from the year before. It hadn’t; the game room was in the same location it was last year, as were the video rooms and the manga library. Against my better judgment, I ate at the little café just outside of said game room, and it became clear that if I kept this up throughout the weekend, the money I saved on travel would be quickly eroded. A bottle of water and a salad cost me around $15. Suffice to say, I didn’t make a mistake like that again that weekend.

The last real panel I checked out on Friday was one that also immediately grabbed my attention. “Japanese Pro Wrestling Primer.” As well as showcasing a few highlights from recent New Japan shows, the panel was a history lesson in Japanese pro wrestling, discussing promotions such as New Japan, All Japan, as well as numerous smaller and independent leagues, including parody leagues like Dramatic Dream Team. They also had information on which one had streaming services, and where you could go to subscribe to them.

The rest of the night was filled with winding-down-the-night things, as I was in no hurry to go to the rave and was just feeling overall exhausted that Friday, more than usual for the first day of a con. I would’ve loved to have learned that there were food trucks hanging outside the convention area, as they would’ve been perfect for an evening snack. It just sucks missing out on little things like that.

Saturday I was in a better mood, though that has to be taken within the context of the convention so far. Though I did find another panel that really spoke to me in “Realistic Fighting Poses for Cosplay.” It was a workshop run by a judo master who was giving instructions on how to, well, commit to realistic looking poses when getting your photo taken, either by yourself or with someone else. There were full demonstrations on how to throw convincing punches, kicks, and blocks. I found this to be quite easy once we got through the initial warm-up, and as the panelist was critiquing everyone’s stances, he could tell not only that I did martial arts, but correctly guessed Tang Soo Do without me having to show off the tattoo to him. I was impressed.

After doing a bit of interview work for the website and the YouTube channel, there was more wandering around the convention center, playing around in the game room, as well as walking out into the city in search of a good, modestly priced place to get some lunch. It was a bit of a hike, though my back probably exasperated things for me, I’ll admit. At least the waiters and barkeeps knew about the convention and were nice to people with con badges on, regardless of whether or not they were in cosplay.

It would end up being the last panel I went to this weekend, but I wound up in another martial arts related panel entitled “Gentle and Not So Gentle Arts: Martial Art, Combat Sports, and Japanese Culture.” At its core it was another martial arts demonstration panel, but it also gave a history of martial arts going back to the time of the samurai, and how common techniques in this day and age had variants that broke bones and severely damaged muscles and the like. As well as showing us the difference—without actually breaking someone’s arm, for example—they showed how Japanese martial arts, from judo to Okinawan karate to jiu jitsu have influenced anime throughout the years, including a demonstration taken right out of Attack on Titan…and this was when the fighters in question were in their Titan forms.

The rest of the evening was filled with wandering around and gaming, before heading back to the hotel room to have a few drinks and prepare for leaving tomorrow.

I typically don’t do many panels on Sundays, if any at all, and this year was no different. Only this time, I had to worry about catching my bus and making it home in a timely fashion. Getting to the bus station was no big deal, but the multiple stops along the way home were. The last stop before my final destination, in Philly, involved clearing out the bus, waiting to get on a new one, and then the bus driver asked if anyone was going to Mt. Laurel, whereupon I foolishly raised my hand. I was then escorted off that bus, made to wait for another one, at which point it took the long and winding road back to my original bus stop. I should’ve just kept my mouth shut and gotten to Mt. Laurel much more quickly.

If nothing else, I wasn’t there to see the alt-right/white supremacist “rally” taking place. From what I heard, it got “rained out” (and it was drizzle in most parts of DC that afternoon, from what I heard). And many people hoping to attend the rally because there weren’t any hotel rooms available that weekend. The irony is astounding.

I’ll be honest, this Otakon was a bit of a bust for me. Not that it had anything to do with the convention being in the wrong about something; this was all my problem. I’ve always known I’ve had issues with my…physiology, but it was here that I realized just how bad it was. It’s definitely making me think twice about wanting to cosplay again, at least until I make some major changes. The only solace is I can point at one of the racist shit-bags infecting DC that weekend and go, “At least I’m not that much of a fuck-up.”

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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