Ohayocon 2012 Commentary by Christine

Ohayocon 2012, I must say, was an interesting change of pace from what I had experienced the year before. Initially this convention had been crossed off of my ‘to-go’ list for the pure fact that by the end of it, I was miserable.

In 2011 I had experienced driving through snow, staying at a hotel outside of the city, dealing with terrible Columbus city traffic, and having trouble finding parking. The convention the halls felt cramped, I was continuously attacked by the constant stench of ‘con-funk’, and felt unable to find a resting area outside of the very cramped cafeteria hall because of the high traffic all around the convention. It was also frustrating when I was unable to sign up for the Masquerade due to confusing rules and terms on the website. One of the most disappointed and highly obnoxious moments of the event was sharing the convention and hotel halls with a cheerleading competition, who at least 90% of the time gave myself and other the stink eye as we passed. I was also unable to enjoy the rave for more than twenty minutes or so because the high bass in the cramped room began to manipulate my heart beat- a painful and scary thing. Mixed with that the constant feeling of being lost, cramped, cold, unable to hear over the roar of the crowd, being screamed at by staff while attempting to move down halls that were shared with the registration line, and feeling that the cosplay attendance at the convention was borderline ‘closet cosplay’ from Friday to Sunday; I was simply highly disappointed for the money spent to drive from eastern Pennsylvania. Because of this and other notations, Ohayocon became my worst convention of 2011.

The decision to try again was brought on by a dear friend who was staffing at the convention, and needed a few car riding buddies for the long haul from New Jersey. It was maybe three weeks before the convention itself I decided to help her out, and compared to last year the drive alone was less stressful. Instead of taking a cheaper hotel outside of the city (which, after adding in the gas and the parking, I learned was actually more expensive than getting one attached to the hotel) we stayed at the Crowne Plaza. The walkway across, though freezing all day and bitter during the night, actually made getting to the convention center a lot more comfortable without constant wind chill. It also aided in getting to avoid the constant elevator crowd that was in the Hyatt. The room was also very spacious and comfortable and was most helpful when rooming with two other cosplayers who also suffered from ‘costume moss’, or the growth costume parts and supplies spread over each and every corner of the room and bathroom. We didn’t have any loud obnoxious neighbors or partying in the rooms around us that we’ve had at other conventions before. Mixed with the cheap price that our friend had given us and the relative ease it was to get to and from the convention for costume changes, it was far nicer than staying away across city-limits or cramped up in the busy elevators constantly at the Hyatt.

As for staff and setup, the convention seemed much more organized and much easier to get around in then it had been last year. We had arrived early afternoon on Friday and the pre-registration wait for us at that hour was all of ten minutes. The staff’s efficiency and addition of more registers helped the line move swift and efficiently. Even the usually long registration line on Saturday was taken care of constantly by staff and security to make sure people stayed straight, did not block doorways, and also kept them tight against the wall so normal walkers were not mixed up with the stander. This was an issue I had constantly when passing the line the year before. They also seemed to do so without screaming every two minutes, which became the convention’s soundtrack in 2011: “form a single line” over and over again. Staff in general seemed a lot less stressed, were less bitter than the year before, and were calm and coordinated when faced with issues. This of course only counts the staff and security members I encountered.

There were far more people in costumes than the year before with a larger variety of fandoms as well. Although it is considered normal now to have a heavy influx of Hetalia, Bleach, Naruto, and especially Homestuck at conventions within the last year, there were still rather large groups with organized photo shoots throughout the convention hall. Although myself and Ross spend most of our time wandering, we were able to see, photograph, or participate in a few large photo shoots. This included Pokémon, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Inuyasha, Sailor Moon, and Durarara!! What was also very nice was the acceptance by relaxing attendees who offered to make room in order to allow the larger groups of cosplayers to have space to work for upcoming photo shoots. This had been a problem that continuously comes up in larger cons I’ve attended, such as Otakon, AnimeNEXT, and Youmacon. Overall, the cosplay community at the convention seemed to have grown within the past year. Though there weren’t many cosplayers of ‘insane’ caliber with massive outfits, props or details, there were still more than the token closet costumes. The overflow of the same fandom in every direction and costumes seemed better constructed and less haphazard.

One of the photo shoots I participated in was the Pokémon shoot. Initially this had been set up at the bottom of the Atrium stairs on Friday night, where it was dark, crowded, and terrible for photos at that time. The person who had set it up also was a no-show, so most of us stood in the darkness in a crowded room waiting for someone who never appeared. After we had all been gathered by a person requesting photos of all the Pokémon, I threw in my hat for running the shoot and moved everyone towards the large space below the Dealer’s room. Though this is not the first Pokémon shoot I have run (or taken over), out of all of the shoots that I’ve run this was the most pleasant group to work with. They were very fun, excitable but easy quiet down to listen, creative, and overall just happy to be in a shoot with other people. Never before had I worked with a group so fun and still easy to control, and it was one of the best experiences I had the entire convention.

This year I was able to compete in the Masquerade craftsmanship contest, as well as participate in the Masquerade itself. Both events, which seem to historically be chaotic every year, were enjoyable and overly-frustrating all at once.

The Craftsmanship contest was held in the same hall as it was last year, which made the contest easier to find for someone who was easily lost by the twists and turns of the convention hall. The staff had an organized set listing and ordering, though I found it odd when they released a list of all the judging times. This resulted in people knowing the amount of other contenders they were competing against, and even at Masters class I find knowing how many other craftsmen I’m against somewhat unnerving.

On a personal note, the judges at the competition seemed very interested in my costume and came over to inspect details and the quality of the costume instead of simply asking questions from afar. Though we were promised five minutes (three minutes for explanation, two for questions) my own explanation was cut off constantly by questions from the judges, resulting in me losing my place. In truth, we were give three minutes period for appearance, and the judges had two minutes of deliberation behind the door. This made the entire judging feel haphazard, rushed, and stressful. I submitted Ho-oh as my costume for the Master’s judging, and when you have a costume so detailed and a self-made gijinka design, you want to elaborate all the parts that you used to represent the character while also explaining the steps. After the three minutes and losing my track at least three times, I was unable to even able to explain how the headdress was made by the end. It seemed very rushed and I felt almost blindsided by the constant questioning. Three minutes did not feel to be enough time to explain with the amount of items they were judging on.

As for the Masquerade, it was actually a very well balanced atmosphere with good levels of competition and entertainment. This showed in the amount of costumes submitted that spanned quite a few fandoms and levels of creation. There was also a vast arrangement of skits that avoided memes and ‘Lost the Game’ tactics, and the arrangement of the stage was both beautiful and helped add atmosphere to the kits. The stage itself didn’t have speakers set up on the front which constantly block the view of characters and their costumes and had enough room to maneuver for skits. They also set up a rather nice backdrop of stars which gave it all a nice rounded appearance. The stage seemed a little low for crowds all in folded seats, but there seemed to be enough seats for all of the audience members. There were many entertaining skits, but it was difficult to tell what was actually going on during most of the text skits as they were very hard to translate over the sound static. Walk-ons were also very entertaining; it wasn’t the usual bland ‘walk to the center then disappear’ poses.

However, as someone participating in the Masquerade, it was stressful and confusing almost the entire time. The staff didn’t seem to have any idea of how to manage either the Walk-on group or the Skit group before or after the event. When we arrived we were told the skits were going to be sitting on the higher level, go down stage, and move to the opposing level. Walk-ons were to leave their items in the group of chairs on stage right and when the time came they’d move us behind the crowd to the left side of the stage. Not five minutes later we were told to leave our items at the chairs and we’d be moving up to the balcony. When we were all moved up, they grabbed all our items from the floor and brought them up to the balcony. We were all going to cross the stage and be seated in the section we had been seated in before, which seemed pointless when the Masters section arrived from their walk-on and realized the skits and the remaining walk-ons had taken all the seating. There was no order for Walk-ons to go on stage other than by class; no announcement of genre or names of contenders. We had no idea where we were going to go or when we were going to fetch our things that may contain money, food, ID, ect. The music was delayed, the MCs offstage didn’t seem to know what was going on.... It felt like a disaster from the back-end.

The last large, overwhelming complaint I have about the Masquerade were the award presentations. The craftsmanship judge who announced the awards had one of the most robotic and un-exciting tones, making me feel that she really didn’t want to be there. When beginning the Honorable mentions, she began the awards by saying: “We will start off with our Honorable Mentions. These are dedicated to those who did well with their costumes, but were not of major award quality.” I was standing with the Masters and leftover Journeyman group when announced, and everyone had this look of shock and disgust by what she had called the Honorable Mentions. Yes- the award is a consolation prize, but it is supposed to be an award that the costume itself stuck out against the rest of the group, but simply was not of competing ability to the person who won runner up or best of. So to be told that this was the ‘not good enough’ award simply blew me away. Naturally, people who did not win awards were slightly bitter about each award winner (it is a competition and it is to be expected), but all of the Honorable Mentions went to novices, and no explanation was given to any award but one as to why the award was given.

Though like most cons, there was a post-Masquerade judges room to allow them to elaborate on their decisions. It was not on the official schedule and people who remained in the Masquerade post the event were told it was at 11 P.M. when it was actually at 10 P.M. This resulted in one of the Judges being unable to attend, as well as several cosplayers with questions. But one of the overwhelming feelings I had from other contenders of what they told me about the post-Masqurade meet-up was that they felt the Judges had a higher expectation of what an award winning cosplay is: aim big or go home. This meant that they were more likely to take costumes that had much more detail or much more complex designs seriously than costumes that were simpler and much more well put together: quantity over quality.

Even with all of the complaints about the Masquerade, the stress of the awards and the complete up-in-the-air feeling of the event, there were staff members glad to hear the complaints and take them into reasoning. When we had arrived at the post-Masquerade event (late), the coordinator for the cosplay staff- who also seemed just as stressed- was more than happy to not just hear our rants and our raves, but also give whatever reasoning he could for why it happened. He then elaborated on what he was going to do the year after to fix it. There is a feeling that his position has been passed from hand to hand throughout the years, which resulted in this chaotic atmosphere in the cosplay staff, but he was going to stay in his stressful spot and ensure that it would be more organized the next year.

Overall, Ohayocon was highly enjoyable from not only an attendees perspective, but also from a cosplayers perspective. I chose my time to spend more with friends and associates, as well as wander around for photo shoots, but for the few events that I did participate in I was very pleased with the outcome. There was a nice atmosphere around the convention, and generally it seemed far more organized and enjoyable than the year before. Now that my opinion about the convention has changed, I plan on attending next year.

For more information about Ohayocon, you can visit their website at www.ohayocon.org.

See you at Katuscon 2012!