Con Review: Katsucon (February 17~19, 2012)

I promised I get this out before a month had elapsed. Therefore, I win!!!

It had been four years since my last Katsucon. I sort of left that con with bitter feelings. I was hoping a change of venue and the passage of time would help smooth out some of the wrinkles I had mounted against this mid-sized anime/gaming convention. I decided to return to Katsucon this year to find things... in pretty much the same state as I had last seen it. I'll put it to everyone this way... there was the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The main highlight of Katsucon 18 was the Maid Cafe. It was very well organized and elegantly decorated with cherry blossoms. The maids were cute and the butlers were pleasing to the senses. The surefire way to get in was via online registration a few weeks before the con. Even though the place was busy on Saturday, the wait time was not bad at all-- five minutes tops. The cafe was located in a lounge on a secret floor (18th) of the Gaylord Hotel. It was bright, open, full of people, and easy to navigate. The staff was friendly and polite and seemed to be having fun. The menu was not extensive but it did serve up maid cafe staples such as omurice, gyouza, miso soup and ramen. The food was affordable and delicious. Two members of this blog were fortunate enough to interact with more than one butler, which made for a very memorable experience. There was a time limit on how long you could stay as indicated by a timer on the table (understandable due to the cafe's popularity). Forty-five minutes at a maid cafe honestly felt like the most relaxing and entertaining two hours of my life! It was a very pleasant experience.

Another pleasant experience was the merchant's room. Of course, it's not as massive as Otakon's dealer's room, but it was just the right size, spacious and full of wonderful vendors. Unlike at some other cons, the variety in merchandise was amazing. Not too many repeats and plenty of rare and unexpected finds. Prices were fairly reasonable although some vendors seemed just a little overpriced. Shopping around was the best way to find the greatest deal on "popular" items. For all you yaoi lovers out there, Katsucon featured two vendors... one of which was VERY INSANELY knowledgeable about what he was selling.

Artist's Alley was in a spacious room. There were a decent amount of artists present, although if you frequent the East Coast con circuit, many of the artists were very familiar. An interesting addition to AA was the inclusion of a photo op space. Four giant posters depicting various backgrounds or landscapes were hung up on a wall so that people could  pose in front of that. That was a very good idea; more cons need to have a space like that.

The attendees seemed to be having a good time. There was a lot of "classic" cosplay, perhaps because of the number of movies and anniversaries being celebrated this year for older programs. I hope this trend continues all years. Two of our favorite cosplayers included a really creepy Pyramid Head from Silent Hill and an awesome looking Nemesis from Resident Evil. They both had a habit of appearing out of nowhere and scaring us! Well done!

As always, communication among staffers seemed to be a bit off. No one is ever completely sure where certain things are located... like registration pick-up. This is further complicated when the location of such things changes daily (as was the case for VIP registration). At-Door reg seemed like a nightmare and proved once again how important it is to pre-register, even if you can't make it all three days. At least you won't spend half your time standing in a huge line.

Despite the chaos of at-door registration, pre-reg badge pick up was effortless and the staff were nice. Finding the correct location for VIP pickup was a little harder since no one seemed to know exactly where it was, but eventually, we found it without too much trouble. It helped that it was clearly marked. (THANK YOU!) Again, the staff was kind and explained the need-to-know stuff before sending us on our merry way.

Another sticky issue I had with registration this year concerns the "swag" you get... namely a program book and a pocket guide. Was it just me, or did normal attendees not receive a program book this year? It seems only VIP members received one. If I am wrong, feel free to comment on this post! The bags were given separately from the badges at the end of the register table and it was a bit chaotic down there so maybe a few bags were not properly stuffed with the essentials.... Everyone did get the pocket guide. It was about the size of a small map with a looooooooooooot of text to read. Somehow, they managed the squish all the programming, events and panels onto this single sheet of paper. Your eyes start bleeding if you stare at it too long, lol. Also, we couldn't help but notice how small the bags were this year. That IS NOT a complaint at all. That is good for saving the environment but, it was really odd at first especially when you consider the standard size of a con swag bag.

Due to all the legal stuff and the shrinking size of the distribution industry these days, programming continues to irk me. I know there will never again be times like the early 2000s when you'd sit in video rooms all day and watch interesting anime but really... the last few years have been so boring. I was happy to see the second season of Sengoku BASARA and Shoujo Kakumei Utena on the programming list this year, but otherwise... there weren't too many new finds or interesting things to watch.

Yes, there were a couple of ugly things at Katsucon this year, namely: excessive rules, crappy gaming and money needed for gaming.

If Otakon has a notorious reputation as "Line Con," I officially dub Katsucon as "Rule Con." As I had realized after my very first Katsucon back in 2005, this convention is very rule happy. Generally, rule happiness annoys people. The first two and a half pages of the big program guide were nothing but rules... some of which really shouldn't even have been in there because it is common sense. Some of the rules themselves seemed excessive and were prime targets to be abused by nasty staffers (hopefully such a thing doesn't exist these days, yes???). The rules were sprinkled all throughout the program book for every little thing. However, I think it was a good idea to include what guests would and would not sign. THAT was a good idea.

Also, although this wasn't a big issue for members of this blog, the drama surrounding the acceptable forms of ID to be presented at badge pick-up before the con was hilarious. So many concerns were raised that eventually Katsucon was forced to amend the rules a little bit. I don't know what started that whole issue but it really seemed to be an attempt to complicate a simple issue. Just say don't use your library cards!!! Also, the fact that the rule changes weren't clearly explained when first announced really seemed to confuse a bunch of underage and international attendees. Bad move there Katsucon.

My next major issue was with that pathetic thing they were calling a video game room. It was down right drafty in there. No, the air conditioner wasn't blowing extra high. There was just so much open space... a good two-thirds of the room was not being utilized and the one-third that was used, a good portion of that was dedicated to... coat check of all things. Now I've popped into a lot of video game rooms in my con going life but I've never seen anything as bad as Katsucon's game room. I know it may seem like I'm excessively complaining but the environment just wasn't there for an enjoyable experiences. Here's a list of a faults I found with the room:
  • One projection screen which was really dim so it was hard to see what you were doing at all (it was set up for that dancing game on the Xbox 360 at the time we entered the room)
  • Limited quantity of games to choose from and quality left a lot to be desired
  • No big draws such as Ultimate Marvel vs. Cpacom 3, Rock Band, Tekken etc. etc. 
  • An entire table of Xbox 360s had exactly ONE GAME hooked up to all of them.
  • Old school gaming was shoved in a corner near the door on a small table. Again, nothing terribly interesting there
  • You actually needed COINS to play the handful of arcade games present. All of said arcade games were dancing games. WTF?!
There was also a lack of table top gaming too, unless that had its own separate space on another floor? One tiny ray of hope for the game room was spotting a few people playing Soul Calibur V. Other than that, the place was dead. Everyone who was in there at the time looked kinda bored. There wasn't even security at the door. No one stayed for very long. The staffers also seemed very uninterested. But seeing the coin machine there... wow; that was truly a first. Remind me what the $60 registration was for again?

Well, let me say this; I AM SO GLAD Katsucon got away from the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington D.C. That place had some seriously bad vibes. The Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor seems like a much better fit for a con like Katsu. However, I feel as though had I skipped entirely this year, I wouldn't have missed anything... except for the awesome maid cafe.

Katsucon still has some chinks to work out when it comes to managing. My suggestions would be to first, chill out on the rules. Granted, I didn't see any of the staffers being a serious rule whore but there really isn't any great need to dedicate most of your programming book to listing all your rules either. Secondly, for the love of CAPCOM, upgrade the gaming room! Find a new company to host it for you or don't have one at all!

However, I guess the bottom line is this: everyone who was there on Saturday seemed to be having a good time. I didn't hear too many complaints among the attendees (which was sorta a first). There were plenty of panels to go to if that is your thing, interesting guests to get autographs from, a decent musical act and of course, the beautiful maid cafe. Keep doing what you ARE doing right Katsucon and amid some of your not so good things and you should be okay. All in all, if you're looking for something to do or have time to kill, go to Katsucon. If your a noob to con going, that isn't a bad place to start either. However, if your a veteran of the con circuit... unless there is something really pressing you need to do there or it is the only way you can meet up with certain friends... I'd be 50/50 on attending.

I guess I'd give my con experience 6 out of 10, mainly because of the maid cafe, the company I was with, the dealer's room, Pyramid Head and Nemesis. ^_^ The next con review will be after T-Mode in April but, before that, there is the Sakura Matsuri Street Festival coming up. Stay tuned for that digest!

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