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Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this report was delayed in publication and focuses more on the future of conventions. For more information on Katsucon, please see previous years' reports.The Conventions Continue!
Katsucon 2022 is historic in some ways. Katsucon 2020, two years prior, was for many regular convention attendees the last convention before Covid shut down not just anime conventions but in many ways the whole world. While other conventions have happened since, mostly in 2021, Katsucon in 2022 was the first convention to be held with Covid considered managable. And for many of those who regularly attend, it was the first convention for them in two years. As Katsucon approached and political interests pushed in different directions regarding covid policy, many would-be attendees were concerned with projected rising cases. Many people cancelled -- enough that Katsucon had a reminder about a month before the convention for the last date to get a refund. The hotels in the area had enough cancellations that many of those who did come got gratis upgrades to atrium view rooms. Fortunately, by the time the convention actually happened the case rate was in decline. Even so, a mask mandate set by the county was still in effect at the time and all attendees had to be masked. The convention itself took care to minimize crowding (with various levels of success) and reduce the chance of contamination. This was a rather serious concern as Anime NYC had been a spreader event for a new varient of Covid. To the best of my knowledge, though, there was no wide-spread outbreak of Covid related to Katsucon. Two weeks later the mask mandates were lifted.
This all had some interesting effects on Katsucon. The crowds were noticably smaller, especially in the atrium fountain area and upper level gazebo area. Other parts of the convention were similarly less dense, though the commonly crowded areas like the dealers' hall were still generally crowded as much as during normal times. The badge pick-up lines were fairly typical, too, though most people seemed to keep a few extra feet distance between their own party and the ones to their front and rear. Lines appeared just a bit longer than they were, or conversely moved a bit faster than expected. Escalators and elevators were still packed as ever, though waits for the elevators was, again, a bit less thanks to the reduced overall number of attendees. There was hardly any impact to food availability, either. Most places in the National Harbor were open. The only noticable change may have been to the two in-hotel restaurants. Not specifically due to covid, but perhaps because of overall reduced need, they were both getting serious renovations. Though generally considered a bit over-priced even though the food is good, National Pastime is always busy when open thanks to the convenience of having a place to eat (and drink) directly in the atrium. As an alternative, the hotel did convert a few spaces to food service options that were a bit more geared to the typical convention attendee. Cheaper options like chicken tenders, fries, burgers, and pizza that are fast to make, easy to eat, and have very broad appeal. Two bars opened in front of National Pasttime to serve alcohol to replace the closed bar inside.
The most interesting shift was in the typical attendees' attitudes. Though other conventions had run since the outbreak of covid, they were under heavier restrictions and took place at times of much greater uncertainty. By the time Katsucon was rolling around again, immunization was wide-spread, cases were dropping, and far more people were interested in resuming life as close to normal as they could. So there was a clear self-selection going on; those who had covid concerns stayed away, while those focused on returning to normal showed up. Masking was virtually universal with only a few cosplayers removing them for private shoots, and while outdoors. Most people gave each other reasonable amounts of interpersonal space, but accepted that being at a convention meant being close to many other people. Even at the rave people seemed to leave just a bit more space between each other than normal. I would conjecture that this was less intentional and more a subconscious effect of unending public service announcements to maintain social distancing. Regardless of how Covid goes, I think most people at conventions will welcome a change towards a bit more interpersonal space and less shoulder-to-shoulder crowding.
Other than those noticable differences, the convention went the way most Katsucons in recent years have. Katsucon is a medium sized convention that draws a mix of locals and out-of-towners. A big draw is the cosplay options with the large outdoor area (which was warm in the sun, chilly in the shade), the large atrium, and the very well daylight-lit upper gazebo area. And just as in years prior, many of the most popular costumes were from more recent shows, though many cosplayers had had two years almost uninterrupted to make new costumes. The masquerade was the biggest draw (as always) and the artist's alley and dealer's room were fairly well patronized. The wares available were as they've been in the past; many novelty items that are less common to find online and a number of other niche produces like clothing and trinkets that are personal enough that online buying is less enticing. While not a big draw, the gaming and modeling rooms were also well utilized. Katsucon is also known for a late-night party atmosphere, and that came back in force in 2022.
Two things stood out as unique this year. One, probably due to lower utilization, the hotel had booked a junior high conference at the same time as Katsucon. This lead to the inevitable mixing of early teens with minimal adult supervision and more than just a few cosplayers in less-than-family-friendly attire. One poor chaperone kept begging the students, "just don't look." They did. Unfortunately in the past, multiple conventions in the same place with Katsucon have had quite a few complaints, though fortunately this year they were either minimal or never made their way into the rumor mill. The other interesting effect of the year off and lower attendance was the fountain area at night being much more utilized. My impression is that the hotel has tried to discourage drinking and partying in the atrium fountain area in recent years, and this year either didn't care or didn't try. The two hotel-owned temporary bars directly at the entrance to the fountain area probably contributed a bit, too. Many attendees visited the fountain area to drink and socialize. One group even had an Eren Yager cosplayer giving out Jaeger Bombs to anybody in the area. There were undoubtedly a lot of private room parties going on, too. Next year Katsucon will have quite a bit to live up to in that regard.
At the time of this writing, a few weeks after Katsucon, it seems most conventions are getting back on track. Katsucon was a bit of a test that many had their eyes on. It's gone well enough that most other conventions (AnimeNext seemingly an exception) are moving forward as local regulations allow. As new ways of managing crowds and shifting interests of attendees fall into place post-Covid conventions will probably have to make some major changes. In some ways, this was needed for quite some time and covid, as tough as it has been, will partically have brought about some long-needed improvements to the convention scene. A cycle of increasing price and dropping attendance will probably drive many conventions into a more experience-oriented event rather than a party event. Or perhaps the opposite: party environments will go from tolerated to encouraged so that the programming itself can shrink as it's secondary to attendee's goals for the weekend. With so many conventions now (more than ten on a given weekend again) there will probably be many changes and new approaches. It will be interseting to see.
Katsucon will be returning to the National Harbor February 17th -- 19th, 2023