Katsucon 2018 was held February 16th -- 18th, at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland
Katsucon has found a home at the Gaylord National Hotel and Conveniton Center for the last seven years, starting in 2010. Like with Otakon's long stay in Baltimore, there's fairly little now to cover about much of the convention that you can't find in some of my previous Katsucon reports. That being said the National Harbor area is still developing, growing, and changing. The MGM Casino nearby is the biggest and most prominent change to the local landscape and ties into Katsucon in interesting ways. And of course the event changes year to year as well, making each year a bit unique. But overall Katsucon has found a stable venue and a solid niche and this year Katsucon was pretty much what you'd expect. I think that's a great thing.
To get it right out there, Katsucon is very focused on cosplay. The Gaylord's atrium area has two very large areas with fantastic lighting and backgrounds that are wildly different from the typical construction browns and greys one finds in most convention centers. Weather permitting, as was the case on most of Friday and part of Saturday this year, the Gaylord also has a large outdoor waterfront area that cosplayers gladly use for photos and regular attendees use for socializing. This year, Friday was overcast with little to no rain, some of the best lighting conditions for cosplay photography. Saturday was cold and rainy, and yet despite this more than a few cosplayers were always to be found outside on the beach or hilly grass areas.
Katsucon has tried a few different crowd control methods for the upper level of the atrium, the ballroom level. This year, the portions of the upper atrium overlooking the bar and below were segmented off into about three areas, the gazebo taking up the largest and middle of the three. In principle this was a good idea and worked out well at first. The area was less busy on Friday as many attendees were outdoors. But even though the areas were large enough for at least a few groups to pose and take photos, generally one or maybe two groups would utilize most of the space. Only a relatively small amount of space was left over and dedicated to foot traffic, which was always very crowed. In effect, where there had been space for one or two hundred people before now typically 40 or 50 people used. It got worse on Saturday when most people chose to remain indoors. Hopefully next year, if a similar strategy is used, more space is dedicated to foot traffic and the dedicated photography space is moved in slightly.
The relatively open areas created by the barriers were a boon to videographers, who need extra space for moving into angles and allowing the cosplayers to spin, walk, dance, or twirl around. The results are pretty impressive and the motion aspect really helps costumes come to life on the screen. One video released shortly after the event shows a lot of the energy and excitement of the cosplayers. These results are impressive but take quite a bit of time to film and edit and a fair amount of space to film.
Though the style has been common at anime conventions for a while this year it seemed to be large focus. This could be related to Katsucon being a prime cosplay event or a general upswing in videography. Meanwhile seeing a photographer with a studio lighting rig attached via backpack is no longer uncommon, either. It's a different world from yesteryear, where DSLRs were uncommon and pulling aside cosplayers for an extended period was the exception, not the norm. I have to wonder how well this push towards a studio-like environment will scale.
There is, of course, more to the convention than cosplay. Many of the convention events such as the masquerade, anime music videos, and rave are still there. In contrast with the earlier years of the convention, the local 19th floor club, Pose, welcomed the convention attendees. It was fairly busy Friday night when I visited and the entrance line (beacuse the club is 21+, unlike the rave) was even longer on Saturday night. An unofficial Katsucon "afterparty" group which hosts a semi-private event on Saturdays could no longer use Pose and moved to the MGM casino instead.
The rave was well recieved by my friends who attended, remarking that the DJ was exceptionally good and played a good mix of tunes. General consensus -- at least among those I've spoken with -- seems to be that for the last few years convention raves have mistakenly veered away from anime and asian music sources and instead tried to emulate mainstream rave events with the same music one hears everywhere. The audience at an anime convention probably has particular interests not servered elsewhere.
As a final note on the general programming, the masquerade was placed in the early afternoon on Saturday instead of the mid-to-late afternoon time slot it generally occupies, likely to make room for a later event. This may please many of the entrants who have time afterward to change, eat, and still get back to the convention. But for the first time in many conventions I decided to skip the masquerade. It took up the bulk of the afternoon, the prime photography hours in the atrium and outside, and would have fit poorly into my schedule. Though part of me misses the event, I was glad to see tons of great costumes out and about on Saturday, probably many more than were to be seen in the event.
Other than the MGM casino, a few notable changes to the area are worth mentioning. A new Subway sandwich shop opened at the far end of the shopping area, next to Elevation Burger. A bit of a walk, especially if it's cold, but one of the few cheap options in the area. CVS, which opened a few years ago, expected the convention and put up a display in the entrance area. "COSTUME SUPPLIES" was large and bold above a rack full of thread, needles, glue, and other assorted common goods. The Gaylord is far from the only hotel in the area; the Mariott across the street is close, convenient, and surprisingly quiet even when mostly occupied by convention attendees. The convention center parking garage can be very difficult to leave on Sunday, and between the better rates, bigger rooms (by far), I'm going to stay outside the Gaylord next year, most likely.
In closing it's worth noting that MAGfest is in the same location and draws overlapping crowds with Katsucon. The events are typically a month or less apart, leaving many out-of-towners with the choice of one between the two. As impressed as I was with MAGfest this year, Katsucon remains a far more focused convention and delivers on expectations. Obviously MAGfest has far more gaming options, but in terms of cosplay, weather, and socialization opportunities Katsucon is my preference.
Katsucon will return on February 15th -- 17th, 2019, at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center, in National Harbor, Maryland