Otakon Baltimore: 2016 Convention Recap
Last month, I visited one of the largest anime conventions on the hunt for tokusatsu fandom.
As I write this, my left index finger is wrapped in a splint thanks to a rather silly accident that happened on Day 1 of Otakon. I had ordered an Uber to take me from my favorite lunch spot, the local grilled cheese restaurant, back to the convention. I’m not sure how, but my finger ended up jammed in the car’s door as it closed. I let out some expletives before heading into the Baltimore Convention Center. I was on a mission to find some tokusatsu-related art in Artists Alley.
Eventually, I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t in pain any longer, and took myself to the nearest Patient First. I got patched up and made my way back to the convention in time for the first toku-related panel of the weekend. I mention this just to provide context to my mindset that weekend. I was a bit grumpy to say the least, but that all changed when I found what I came to Otakon to find.
My first panel was, “Shin Giant Monsters A-Go-Go,” run by Renzo Adler with his friends Mike Hernandez and Casey D’Elia. The panel was an interesting look at the history of tokusatsu, with a focus on Godzilla, Ultraman, and pop fiction esoterica related to the two. They started out with the history of Eiji Tsuburaya himself, then from there on through Godzilla, Ultraman, and the legacy of each.
They even went on to list certain popular creative figures inspired by Tsuburaya’s work, most notably Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno of Shin Godzilla fame. My favorite part was the side by side comparison of shots from Ultraman and Anno’s popular anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion.
After the panel, I had the chance to speak with Team A-Go-Go about their love for toku and its place in Otakon. They originally began attending as friends who loved anime, but they noticed a lack of kaiju related panels and decided to do something about it. They said the audience was already there, and was emboldened by the recent films like Pacific Rim and 2014’s Godzilla, and just needed a push in the right direction to discover more.
After talking with Team A-Go-Go, I decided to call it a night. Early Saturday morning, I went to the first of two “Henshin Heroes” panels put on by married couple Joseph and Amanda Mettle and their friend Chris Brown, an eleven-year Otakon veteran.
Both panels, the first focusing on Kamen Rider and the second on Super Sentai, served as quick introductions to each franchise and their history. The panelists would play a clip from a show and discuss that show’s place in history and their opinion of it. These panels were much more informal, as the audience would often chime in with their favorite parts of each show. I even got in on the fun: when someone asked why Kamen Rider Meteor mimics Bruce Lee, I had to shout, “because it looks cool!”
The last toku-related event at Otakon was an unofficial photoshoot on Saturday. Usually, groups apply to rent out designated areas for cosplay photoshoots during the convention. For whatever reason, this group didn’t do that, and instead organized through social media. Luckily, I overheard a Kamen Rider Decade cosplayer (who I later learned was @gootarts) mention it during the first Henshin Heroes panel.
When the time came, I scoured the halls for any flash of bright spandex or giant insect eyes. Eventually, I noticed a bootleg AkibaRed and found myself among a half-dozen Kamen Rider and Super Sentai cosplayers looking for good spot to have the photoshoot. Their original plan was to shoot on the terrace, but nobody in full costume could stand to be outside in that 92 degree weather. We finally found a secluded spot near the edge of the convention center, and got to work.
By Sunday, my finger was still throbbing in pain and I had pushed my Dr. Scholl’s to the limit, but I refused to leave the convention before doing some shopping. Team-A-Go-Go had already warned me that the pickings were slim in the Dealer’s Hall, but I hadn’t been there all weekend, so I made my way down there. I quickly realized just how right Renzo and company were. There was even less toku merch than last year, and the whole venture would have been a bust save for Megaroad Toys. I had heard about them during previous day’s photoshoot, and was ecstatic when I found their booth. Thanks to them, I left with a Detail of Heroes: Kamen Rider Gaim book and a smile on my face.
What strikes me most about my weekend at Otakon was the joy in everyone’s eyes. I have to admit I can be a bit jaded, looking at everything from this corner of fandom, but the con-goers’ unabashed love for the genre was inspiring. I do have beef with the lack of Ultraman cosplay, but that’s neither here nor there.
Amanda Mettle’s Custom Plushies
The work the panelists and cosplayers put into their passion is inspiring, and as tokusatsu slowly crawls into the mainstream, necessary. All the panelists told me about plans to expand their subject matter in the coming years as Otakon moves to Washington D.C., and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.
It’s thanks to the work of people like Team-A-Go-Go, the Mettles, and Megaroad that tokusatsu fandom has grown so much since the first time I went to Otakon, back when I was just getting into this stuff and couldn’t find a trace of it there. It’s nice to know that new fans of karate bugmen and silver giants can find like-minded people willing to welcome them into the fold wherever they go.