Whether it was in Baltimore or DC, part of the Otakon experience for me has always been the trip there and back, for better or worse. It could be smooth sailing, or a train could break down and leave the passengers stuck for hours (this really happened). That’s why this year’s Otakon was such a pleasant surprise. Rather than the three-plus hours it would normally take, the total travel time from bed to convention was approximately 20 seconds. From the start, I could tell there was something very different about this 2020 version of Otakon.
Unlike previous years, Otakon this year was a Saturday-only event on August 1st, which had its ups and downs. For one, while I do like immersing myself in the con environment for an extended weekend, I didn’t have to take time off to attend. And although the food in DC has been great, it usually was a bit of a trek to get anything to eat (even inside the Walter E. Washington convention center). This time, amazing home-cooked meals were just a few steps away.
Panels and Workshops
Unfortunately, I did not have any panels accepted, so I was purely a spectator. This year, panels were significantly shorter, clocking in at 30 minutes per panel as opposed to the traditional one hour, but I saw it as a way to fit more presenters into the one-day event, making it a net benefit. Notably, the audience for every panel I saw was quite impressive, not only because they often numbered in the hundreds, but also because there was no trouble in getting into the panels despite such large attendance numbers. While there were some audio and video hiccups in some of the panels, they were fairly quick to resolve.
30 Years Ago: Anime in 1990
The first panel of the day I saw Daryl Surat’s “30 Years Ago: Anime in 1990,” which went through some of the highlights of anime from that time. It gave the sense of being a really transitional year, and I appreciated his highlighting of Brave Exkaiser, the first entry in the Brave franchise. He ended the panel with loving praise of the infamous Mad Bull 34, and tied its story of a rule-breaking, trigger-happy cop to current events in a manner humorous yet critical.
Carole and Tuesday
From there, I stepped into the Carole & Tuesday panel. The panel was already in progress, having started with a viewing of the first episode, but because I’d already seen the entire series, I thought it safe to skip. Amazingly, the travel time between Daryl’s presentation and this one was near-instantaneous, so I didn’t miss much. The panel started off with a beautiful musical performance by Celeina Ann (the singing voice of Tuesday Simmons), and led into an interview with her, director Watanabe Shinichirou, and (I believe) producer Makoto Nishibe. One thing I learned was that Alba City, the main setting of the show, is also a city in Cowboy Bebop. They also showed a vide of the recording and animation process, and seeing the amount of effort and collaboration that went into the show gave me a very positive impression.
Chibi Chibi Drawing Time
I normally don’t attend workshops at Otakon, but with things being so convenient this year, I decided to check out Chibi Chibi Drawing Time, which taught people how to draw super-deformed characters. It’s been a while since I scratched my art itch, and I used this opportunity to follow along with the spirit (though not always the letter) of the presenter’s guides. You can see the results below:
Into Another World: A History of Isekai
It’s the big genre that’s been sweeping the anime industry for a while, and thanks to this panel, I got to learn a little more about isekai. My main takeaways are that the introduction of gaming-oriented isekai helped to bring forth non-isekai anime in gaming-heavy settings (think Goblin Slayer and Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?), and that the number of shows seem to multiply exponentially. 2019 looked to have about three times as many isekai anime as in previous years, and I have to wonder when the juggernaut will finally slow down.
Godzilla, Kaiju Eiga and the Amazing Toho Studios
This was perhaps the best panel I saw of the entire convention, as it was meticulously researched and gave a lot of insight into the making of Godzilla as well as the kaiju movies that propelled Toho to additional fame. I was intrigued to learn about all of the different players of this time, including Godzilla director Honda Ichiro and Ultraman creator Tsuburaya Eiji. If you have the chance to see this panel, either in person or via recording, I highly recommend it.
Bootleg Anime from South Korea
I’ve attended this panel by Mike Toole before, but I always welcome an opportunity to see more “creatively appropriated” giant robots. It reminds me that, around the world, you really can’t decouple animation fandom from bootleg products, and it results in interesting products and cultural output nevertheless. I’m still waiting for that Soul of Chogokin Taekwon V.
I appreciated how different Otakon was for 2020, and the heavy focus on panels appealed to me a lot (I truly think they’ve always been the best part of the con). At the same time, I think I’m still a bigger fan of the regular version. The unusual format meant there were no autograph signings or big live concerts this year, and I didn’t really get to spot any unique or unusual cosplay. I also miss doing interviews.
I wouldn’t another Otakon like this, but I’m hoping 2021 provides a return to the tried and true classic.