By David Cabrera
I'm taking my recent trip to Otakon as an excuse to talk generally and specifically about the American anime convention, as I spent a lot of time doing when this column first started. The first thing you need to keep in mind about the American anime convention is that it's both a vacation and an endurance test: you have to balance the two.
At this con, the doors open Friday morning at 9 AM. If you can spare the time, it's a popular choice to show up Thursday evening (or earlier!) so that you won't miss anything. The doors close at 2 AM (3 AM for the dance), and the programming and events never really slow down for those 15 hours. You rise early, you go to bed late. This continues until Sunday; the convention closes at 3 PM and all the exhausted congoers leave town with baggy eyes, trying to remember what a full night's sleep was like.
Just like with Comiket, you have to plan for this. Otakon published its schedule a few weeks early online and in a smartphone app (http://bit.ly/6jCZ4), and that's when we all rushed to make our personal schedules.
If you just ignore the schedule, you're definitely going to miss something you would have wanted to see: on the other hand, if you lock yourself in too tight you won't so much as have room to eat, sleep, breathe, or enjoy your fellow human beings. Furthermore, the popular events and panels will often take an hour or more of lining up just to get into, so that time has to be budgeted in as well.
I have friends who spend the entire weekend at panels, others who spend it partying, others taking photos of cosplayers, others in the game room. Lots of people never actually go to an official convention event all weekend. I know all my geek friends are AT Otakon, but I don't even see most of those people at any time, because we're all busy with different things. The appeal of the event is that you can do whatever you want in an environment full of people who are basically like-minded.
I try to keep it even: mark off events I definitely will not miss (Q&A with Gen Urobuchi, my friends' panels, my own panel) and leave a wide space open during which I'm not tied down and can walk aimless and free. To me, this is breathing the fresh air (okay, it's not fresh, it can stink) and smelling the roses: making sure you're around to see the little surprises that will play out when 30,000 super-geeks get together.
Stuff happens that you don't expect. One of the most gratifying events of the weekend was comparing Japanese superhero cell-phone cases (mine was Kamen Rider Fourze, his was Garo) with a guy dressed up like Kamen Rider OOO. If you're ever at an American convention, leave some time on your schedule for a good amount of nothing: something fun will probably happen.