To walk down the streets of Baltimore during a specific weekend in the summer, you will find people in costumes of all sorts milling around the central hub of the Baltimore Convention Center.
If you know whom you’re looking for, you may even find some locals among the crowd.
“(My favorite part) is all the people in costumes,” Crystal Wimer, 25, of Keyser, W.Va, said, “with huge papier-mache swords and bright colors. It’s like Halloween gone mad.”
Wimer, who considers herself a “closet geek” has attended Otakon for two years, including last weekend. The convention, held each year in Baltimore, brings together the fans, artists and others involved in the production of video games and Japanese anime or animation as well as other aspects of Japanese pop culture.
Ashley Andersen, 20, of Frostburg said that for her, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the world sees the convention or its focus as “nerdy.”
“It is,” she said, “and I’m OK with that. Really, if you take anything to an extreme, it’s nerdy.”
For the last four years, Andersen has attended the convention, and while she said it took some time to get used to the lines and the crowds, she was glad she returned after her first year.
For Sarah Sine, 21, of Frostburg, it has been three years since she last attended the convention, but she said she enjoyed participating in it. She went to panels that discussed aspects of Japanese animation, as well as watched editors piece together music videos and did some shopping. While there, she joked that she bought a collar with a bell so her friends would stop losing her in the crowds, “which didn’t work.”
Recent Frostburg State Universiy graduate Laura Meese, 21, of Buckhannon, W.Va., said the drive is worth it, as is the entire experience. She wished expenses like parking and hotel could be cheaper, but that the convention is not very costly. She said she enjoys the informative panels as well as the artist gallery where she can browse other people’s art. She also likes to get photos of really elaborate costumes.
Meese said after hearing about the con four years ago, she first began attending, but she has had an interest in Japanese-style animation for years partly because of the story lines available in the various works.
“The notion of being an independent person is something edgy and new there,” Meese said. “And I think it makes for better coming of age and independent stories than what we have here. Feminism is also a newer concept.”
Wimer said that she watches for the story lines as well, saying that they are far different from anything she could find on American television and that some of the series and movies are “visually stunning.”
Jonathan Lesher, 25, of Cumberland said his attraction to anime started early. Born in Alaska, Lesher said that anime was always present in his house, where he didn’t know who Bugs Bunny was until he was 10.
It was Lesher’s first year to the convention, and he said he definitely enjoyed it, getting to see new releases that hadn’t made it into the main stores in the United States. Though he said he had issues with the planning of the convention, overall, he thought it was worth the drive.
As for his initial reaction when he arrived, Lesher said he wanted to say, “There are geeks here. I am not alone.”