Convention Coverage: Katsucon 13

In case you didn’t know, Katsucon 13 occurred on Presidents Day weekend (February 16–18, 2007). Katsucon, which has consistently been one of the largest US anime conventions for the past several years and has been located in the general DC area for most of the last decade, topped over 7,100 attendees. The convention staff was, once again, more than up to the task of making sure all of those present had a great time.

The Katsucon senior staff is large and very diverse, with people from all over pitching in to help ensure the convention goes off without a hitch. One of the senior members of this year’s con was Jim Miller. Miller has been involved with Katsucon for several years, starting as a volunteer with con security and moving up through the logistics department, which he later oversaw. Now, as vice-con chair, Miller runs “Katsucon Command Central,” the main hub that works to ensure that the convention runs smoothly. Keeping in mind what a large and sometimes difficult job it is to run an anime convention, why does Miller do it?

“I love working at the convention. You get to meet tons of people who aren’t ashamed of who they are,” Miller told me as we toured the Omni Shoreham Hotel and Convention Center, the current home of the convention (which has been running since 1995). Miller is, of course, referring to the thousands of people who come to the convention dressed as their favorite anime and videogame characters, the dozens of artists who can be found in the Artist Alley, and just about everyone else who comes to the convention simply for their love of anime.

It truly is a labor of love for those who work at the convention, especially as Jim, nicknamed “Sir James,” reminds me that, like many other American anime conventions, Katsucon consists entirely of volunteer staff. For Jim, Katsucon is far from a full-time job; he also works as a shipping-and-receiving manager for an East Coast company and spends his time as a swordfighter for a Maryland Renaissance faire group. But even though Katsucon isn’t their main job, the convention staff is able to do something spectacular for the weekend.

The convention spills out through three floors of the Omni Shoreham Hotel. This hotel is used for many different reasons, ranging from the ever-important size considerations down to more human reasons of how well the hotel staff will treat all the con-goers it has staying with them and taking part in the activities on site. The hotel’s decorations are also a nice touch, giving a convention a pleasant atmosphere that was lacking in some earlier locations.

The main programming room of the convention is able to accommodate several thousand people, which is important as it will be where the biggest events of the con will occur. As Jim and I toured the hotel on Saturday morning, he was sure to point out the stage, the multiplex-size video screens and the industrial sound systems that the convention’s engineering staff had put in place. All the equipment through the convention was set up in less than a day, with previous years’ equipment being taken out of storage on Wednesday morning, arriving at the convention center in the evening and being ready for use by Thursday. When the convention started on Friday morning, everything was prepared for the long weekend ahead.

The main programming room was where the Anime Music video contest, a staple of any anime convention, was taking place Saturday morning. Peelander-Z, one of the main guests of the convention, appeared in concert there as well. On Saturday evening, the biggest event being run was the cosplay contest, where dozens of acts and hundreds of participants appeared on stage, with acts ranging from extensively choreographed fight scenes involving the Dead or Alive 4 characters, to Celebrity Jeopardy starring Grimlock, Ryoga Hibiki from Inuyasha and Sean Connery, to a PC/Mac ad parody starring Ash Ketchum and Team Rocket. Emceeing the event was Captain Jack Sparrow, or at least a con staffer cosplaying as the character. The emcee was very capable to the task, as when technical difficulties appeared throughout the show (due to the many different formats each act was using for their accompanying audio and video files) and in keeping the audience from becoming restless.

There was also an extensive videogame room, with not only DDR pads and multiplayer console games in abundance but also Wii systems playing Wii Sports and classic arcade-style videogames such as Marble Madness and Donkey Kong. The Merchants hall was open each day with enough to occupy even an anime fan with a massive collection. The imported game selection was especially extensive, with everything from a Katana PS2 controller to a Final Fantasy I cartridge for the Famicon.

The panels and workshops at Katsucon were very well done. “Cell Painting with Steve Bennett,” formerly of Studio Ironcat, taught con-goers all the steps that go into producing each animation cel for their favorite anime. “So You Want to Teach English in Japan” was an informative panel by Katsucon staff member Scott Argenziano, who taught English in Japan for 4 years. “Female Main Characters in Webcomics” was a different sort of panel, which included many webcomic artists and writers who talked about trying to have strong female protagonists in their work. Many of the panelists from that panel later appeared in the “Fan Art and Copyright Laws” panel, which did a great job of explaining the pertinent laws that affect artists who draw art containing their favorite anime characters. Not only was the panel interesting, but everything in it was factually correct, as I was told by my friend and fellow con-goer, second-year law student Scott Dubin.

Anime conventions are the best time to see new anime. One of the new anime that I checked out was Paradise Kiss. For a review of that series, see the Paradise Kiss article elsewhere this month.

Katsucon 13 was great fun and a great start to the 2007 anime convention experience. If you’re planning on going to any of the other conventions on the East Coast, I suggest you start preparing your costume now and booking your hotel room. If any of the other conventions are as much fun as Otakon, you certainly don’t want to miss them!