REPORT ON THE 10TH ANNUAL OTAKON:

Land of the Rising Hon

by Brett Rogers

Anime has come a long way from Astro Boy and Speed Racer to become a permanent part of pop culture outside of Japan. "Hundreds of thousands of anime fans around the world will wake up tomorrow wondering what was announced in Baltimore," said David Sherry of Westminster, speaking at this year’s Otakon in Baltimore.
Over the weekend of August 9th, an estimated 17,000 fans of anime (Japanese animation), manga (Japanese comics) and East Asian culture descended on the Baltimore Convention Center for the 10th annual Otakon. The event, which grew from a four-person project in State College, Pennsylvania to become the largest anime convention on the East Coast, immerses its attendees is a frenzy of films, music, costuming, shopping and industry panels.

Weekend visitors to the Inner Harbor were treated to colorful crowds of mostly age 30-and-under anime, manga and video game fans who took in the sights downtown in full costume, dressed as their favorite anime-related characters. Inside the Convention Center, otaku (a Japanese term loosely translated as extremely dedicated fans) from across the country enjoyed the festival atmosphere to the sounds of a live broadcast from Iron Otaku Radio, a Japanese pop music-themed radio show on Harford County Community College's WHFC 91.1 FM.

costumed couple
Folks got into the mood for Otakon by wearing costumes from popular works.

Susanne Poole. a 21-year-old Kansas native, gazed across the Pratt Street lobby at the swarms of fellow anime fans who enthusiastically socialized and posed for pictures to show off their carefully crafted costumes. "I'm really impressed," Poole said as she flipped through Otakon's lengthy schedule of anime and live action film programming. "The costumes are amazing."

While the action inside kept most attendees within the walls of the Convention Center for most of the weekend, the host city's charms didn't go unnoticed. "I'd love to see more of Baltimore," said 21-year old Sean Quinn, who traveled from Boston, "I hope I have the chance to do that either during the convention or maybe I'll come back later on."

Seeing their hometown become a Mecca for fans of Japanese animation for one weekend every year is a thrill for local anime fans, who hope to see Baltimore embrace the growing popularity of anime. Now a $500 billion market in North America, anime has come a long way from Astro Boy and Speed Racer to become a permanent part of pop culture outside of Japan. "Hundreds of thousands of anime fans around the world will wake up tomorrow wondering what was announced in Baltimore," said David Sherry of Westminster, referring to the anime industry practice of announcing major acquisitions and new releases at Otakon panels. "That kind of publicity has to be good for the city."

crowds waiting to enter convention show
Otakon's popularity was apparent well ahead of the opening, as ticket lines began forming the day before.

Early estimates using a formula provided by the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association place the economic impact of Otakon on Baltimore at nearly $41 million. The cultural impact is evident as well. Jim Borland acquiesced when his 11-year-old daughter, Tori, asked him to take her to Otakon for her first anime convention. While not an anime fan, the elder Borland enjoyed himself. "I'm kind of tagging along, but it's fascinating just to see. There's a lot of variety in anime. There's stuff for small kids and there's stuff for big kids too." Tori was especially enthusiastic after watching a panel presented by Dr. Susan Napier, author and professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Texas at Austin on the cultural background behind “Spirited Away,” the Oscar-winning anime feature film. "I'm very excited. The ‘Spirited Away’ panel has been my favorite thing so far. I'm a huge fan!,” she said. “I'm going to do the drawing workshop and the costume contest tomorrow, so that should be a lot of fun."

Dozens of Japanese and American guest speakers, including voice actors, authors and entertainers, kept the crowds happy at panel discussions, autograph sessions and concerts. Two centerpiece events were clear crowd favorites. The costume contest, in which hundreds of costumed attendees show off their outfits to an audience of thousands in the Convention Center's main ballroom, and the North American live concert debut of Japanese rock sensation T.M. Revolution won the fans over.


Otakon will return to Baltimore next summer for three days. More information is available at otakon.com.

Brett Rogers is a local anime fan.


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This story was published on September 16, 2003.