I’d like to summarize some of the impressions I had regarding Katsucon 2011. As this was my third year in attendance at the now 17 year old convention, I have seen it move from the crammed hallways of 2009 to the often bewildering size of 2010, to the obviously more settled and “fluid” 2011. While Katsucon is far from perfect, in just three years my own experience has improved immensely from previous years, enough so that what I thought might be my last year in attendance might not actually be that. Only time will tell in that regard.
- The Gaylord International: This is an amazing venue to hold the con. It is one of the largest spaces I have ever been in, and thankfully the flow is amazing. It’s perfectly possible to get bunched up in a hallway and still not block the flow of traffic. Plus the aesthetics of the resort lend themselves perfectly to cosplay shoots.
- Breadth of Programming: Despite what many say and think of fan panels, Katsucon managed to schedule quite a few good ones, alongside industry-related fare. For one like me, who tends to only attend “Fanels,” I can appreciate the amount of time some panelists throw into crafting a quality lecture. And, while I’m not always a huge fan of “OMGSQUEE!” style show/cosplay-specific panels, they do add to the energy of the con as a whole, and help further the fandom.
- National Harbor: While last year I would have ranked this a “Con” of the convention, the area has improved quite a bit in the past 12 months, so much so that there is ample things to do, buy and eat outside of the convention itself. Plus the views at night are amazing (provided you don’t get blown away literally).
- Guests: There are a lot of them. Again, I don’t attend for industry guests at all, but it’s nice to see the positive energy that comes from guest panels, autograph lines, Q & A sessions and generally anything with Greg Ayres in it. Katsu seems to be styling itself as a more industry heavy convention as it moves forward, which is fine. Given its age, time of year and size, it leads only to more exposition for the anime industry and those new to the fandom looking for a place to go.
- "Vibe:" Katsucon has a very strong community presence, at least from what I saw. Spontaneous gatherings, photoshoots and random happenstance tends to be the rule of the day (and especially the night). For those congoers who attend solely for the social aspect (and those are a lot), this is one of those cons that will satisfy you immensely. I think I’ve made more friends courtesy of Katsucon than any other convention I’ve attended.
- The Online Schedule: Katsucon introduced an online schedule this year which allowed attendees to filter, view descriptions and even save custom schedules on their phone. The color coded system allowed to see what was going on in each room on each day, and could be linked up to alarms alerting attendees of when and where the panels they wanted to see were going on. It made navigating the often complicated paper schedule that much easier.
- The Marketplace: In a word, it sucked. It’s not really anybody’s fault when you get own to it, but the policy regarding fan-art (and its eventual retraction) left half the room empty, and the other half seemed to contain less merchandise than it did last year. I spent almost no money at this con, on anything. Not for bad goods, just for the lack thereof of any goods.
- The Dance: I don’t attend for the rave, but sometimes, when I’m with my friends, I want to let off some steam. Unfortunately, this rave was tepid. Off-putting policies (I mean, what’s so wrong with wearing a blazer into the dance?), loud but nearly un-processable music and a glut of kids there to simply thrash around made it feel less like a rave and more like a New York Hardcore show...and a bad one at that.
- The Wind: Also not the fault of the con at all, but Mother Nature, after giving us a balmy Friday where shorts were the rule of the day, decided to make us pay for her generosity by sending gale-force winds off the water all day Saturday. People got blown down, blown into things, lost wigs and hats and saw cosplay destroyed. And by night, it was downright frigid.
- The Gaylord International: Yes, this is also a con. The room rate was extremely high given the fact this was an anime con (one person told me they paid around $225/night plus a “Resort Fee” of around $30, which priced it past Inochicon and even Anime Boston, which are held in major cities). Even with the addition of a lower-priced menu created for congoers, it was not exactly uncommon to see 8-10 people stuffed into one room to save money, and still feeling ripped off. (I used hotels.com to book the Westin Waterfront, across from the Gaylord, and it was much more reasonable, but still set me back about $130.)
- Undersized Panel Rooms: Not as big an issue as last year, but there were still some panels placed in rooms too small to fit them all. Bad Anime, Bad!, my Miyazaki panel and Con Horror Stories all had to turn people away for lack of space. And a lot of them had people sitting on the floor in just such a way as to not set off a fire code violation. While I know the con has to make do with what they can get, I was privy to quite a bit of grumbling about people waiting on line for some time only to be turned away at the door.
Like I said, Katsucon isn’t perfect. But when looking at what went wrong versus what went right, it isn’t a bad con by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not plagued by technical difficulties, priced out of reach for congoers or suffering from some fatal flaw that makes the trip a total waste. It has the same issues a lot of cons have to deal with, and it manages to soldier through them extremely well. And, above all, it listens to the people. Each day had a “Katsucon So Far” feedback session where the con chairs would sit in and listen to gripes and praise about what they were doing wrong/right and in some cases managed to fix it on the fly.
Katsucon will remain at the Gaylord for a few years, giving it a chance to grow even further. Which is a good thing. It already has 17 years under its belt (which is, coincidentally, older than a lot of its attendees) and shows no real signs of stopping now. After all, its already proven it can overcome crowded halls, blizzards, poor venue choices and disgruntled hotels.
For a full review, keep checking Real Otaku Gamer.