Katsucon is a large-scale anime convention held annually over President's Day weekend at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Advertised as a 24-hour convention, panels and programing were offered around-the-clock, and guests included Chris and Greg Ayres, Steve Bennett, Richard Epcar and Bill Rogers. The Japanese Cultural Institute track ran panels on kimono dressage, tea ceremony, brush painting, and seminars on traveling and studying in Japan. A unique event, The Symphonic Anime Orchestra, allowed attendees with musical abilities to rehearse as a group throughout the weekend and perform an orchestral music concert on Sunday, while the preliminary round of the World Cosplay Summit allowed accomplished cosplayers to compete for the privilege of representing the United States at the international competition in Japan. The 48 hours leading up to Katsucon's twentieth year were dominated by news of the blizzard scheduled to slam the entire I-95 corridor between Wednesday night and Friday morning, canceling thousands of flights and trains for people planning to attend. Despite a lot of scrambling, over 10,000 attendees safely arrived, but many attendees, guests, and staff did not make it at all. The con suffered from disorganization which was exacerbated by schedules needing to be changed last minute and staff shortages, leaving a staff who appeared to be untrained and oftentimes downright rude. Adding to the mess, the H1N1 flu virus ran rampant around the convention, with many attendees and staff falling ill during the con.
Sketch and Shiva's Weekend Breakdown:
We spent the two days before the convention wringing our hands about how to handle the drive down to Katsu in the impending blizzard. Several of our friends' flights were canceled as air travel across the country was grounded; Ellystar chose to join us and Scarlet for the drive down instead while Majodere and Chinako were left stranded at home. Some friends we knew chose to drive through the night Wednesday in attempt to beat the storm, while we finally settled on heading out at 8:30 AM Thursday morning, hoping to miss the worst of it and drive in the opposite direction of the bad weather. We started off OK, but a white-out near New York forced us to stop. We seriously considered turning back, but felt we'd be driving back into the worst of it if we did. After waiting it out for an hour at a coffee shop, we dug the car out of almost six inches of accumulated snow and continued on.
The weather cooperated through New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, however plenty of cars were spun out or stuck in lanes which turned into snowbanks without much warning. As we passed through Baltimore around 6:30PM we were upbeat and thinking about dinner until thirty miles from National Harbor the snow started back up with a vengeance. The road was barely passable and exit ramps were littered with cars trapped by snow. We crawled along at ten miles an hour, and finally made it two hours later. We were staying at the Marriott Residence Inn across the street from the convention center, and the crew had two suite rooms next to each other, each with their own kitchens. After checking in it was way too late to pick up badges, so instead we went over to the Gaylord for dinner at the National Pastime pub, and all had a nice, stiff drink to celebrate making it in one piece.
Friday morning Sketch wore his Harry Potter robes while Shiva wore her revamped Sango costume for the first time, and we walked across the street to the Gaylord. We were pleasantly surprised at how excited people were to see an InuYasha cosplay; people were shouting "Sango!" and asking for pics as soon as we walked through the front door of the convention center. After stopping for photos we headed over to registration to pick up our pre-reg badges, but the room was packed and there were no signs or staff members to direct attendees as to which line was which. Finally, not wanting to waste our time in the wrong line, we asked the staffers sitting at the VIP badge table which line was pre-reg pickup. They obnoxiously took great pleasure in pointing out the longest line, bragging about how horrible the wait was going to be for us and belittling us for not buying a VIP badge. "That's rude," Shiva responded, to which the staff members started laughing and shouting "Have fun!" as we walked to the back of the line. What the actual FUCK? It's shameful enough how horrible the reg line is, but being assholes about it is not helping Katsucon's reputation in any way.
Luckily our friend Christa was near the front of the line and offered to let us jump in with her. Badges finally obtained, we met up with Scarlet and visited Mookie, Alyssa, Garth, and Leigh in the Artist Alley, then wandered the dealerís room. Despite several other problems Katsucon was experiencing this weekend, the good news was they had moved their dealer's room and Artist Alley to accommodate more guests in both after running into overcrowding problems last year. The aisles were wider than any we had experienced at any convention, and Shiva had no problem walking around with her Sango boomerang without bumping into others or blocking traffic. After making the rounds we returned to the Gaylord to take photos of Shiva's Sango in the garden area of the lobby, and bumped into Starlightslk as Kagome! Shiva then had a golden hour shoot with Starrfall Photography; the cold, biting wind made it hard for Shiva to hold up her boomerang without being blown over, but otherwise it was a blast!
That evening we changed into our Candyland costumes and met up with Gale, Scarlet, and Crazyflower; other than missing Majodere as Princess Lolly since she was stranded in Florida, we had a full group! We had a fun shoot with Christa, then enjoyed being mobbed for photos in the lobby for several hours. We weren't sure if Candyland would play at Katsucon as well as it typically did at Dragon*Con, but we were not disappointed; so many people were excited to see us and genuinely appreciated the nostalgia nod. Finally we were getting tired and hungry, so we changed out of costume and walked a block to Thai Pavilion for a delectable sushi dinner. We enjoyed a leisurely meal and cocktails with all of our friends before heading back to the Marriott, and hanging out in PJs before bed.
Saturday morning Sketch wasn't feeling well, so after a quick run to CVS to get him some cold meds, Shiva got into her Peppermint Crunch outfit and met up with the girls for a Sundae Best Ponies shoot while Sketch rested up in the room. They were planning on having all of the ponies together finally, but with the storm, Chinako was stranded in Texas so they made do with five out of the six. Afterwards Shiva hit up Kamui Cosplay's prop making panel with Kiarrens and Joe; Kamui specializes in amazingly detailed armor cosplays and props and it was fascinating to hear about how she handles the crafting process and why she chooses specific techniques over others. Sketch, feeling a bit better, had gotten into his Jiraiya costume and joined us halfway through the panel, interested to learn about some new crafting strategies. After the panel Sketch realized he had misplaced his phone, so we went to find security to see if anyone had turned it in. Finding out where security was located was a nightmare, however, and not wanting to walk in circles, we went to the Information Desk to ask for directions. "Put your hand on the wall and walk," we were told, rather rudely. "Is it across the hall over there?" Shiva asked, pointing. "No, put your hand on the wall and walk." Not knowing what else to do, we followed the directions which took us 10 minutes down the hall, circling back to the room Shiva had pointed at. We were furious, but grateful that security did have Sketch's phone.
In the evening Sketch went back to bed while Shiva changed into Tomoyo and hit up the masquerade, which was surprisingly very disappointing. Other than a funny Godzilla skit which deservedly won Best In Show and a clever Street Fighter/Rocky IV crossover nothing stood out, which made Shiva wonder if the World Cosplay Summit event being held on Sunday had drained the regular masquerade skit pool of experienced competitors. There was also an absurdly lengthy musical act who performed while the judges deliberated; one song kept going for over 30 minutes which caused the entire audience to walk out. It was a shame because the performance itself was really good, but Shiva has no idea how long it kept going after she left and the poor people who won awards were going to see an empty auditorium. After the show Shiva went out for an enjoyable dinner and brought some food back to the hotel for Sketch before hitting up the bar for drinks with Ellystar and Christa for the night.
Sunday Sketch was too sick to even get out of bed, so he stayed there while Shiva got into Madoka and met up with Ellystar as Homura and Gale as Mami for a shoot with Christa. Their Kyouku had been stranded by the storm and that morning their Sayaka had fallen sick as well; as Shiva and the girls talked to other attendees they heard that lots of people around the convention were dropping like flies with what seemed to be a bad case of the flu. They still had a fun shoot with their partial cast, and Shiva was excited to finally wear her Madoka costume after working on it for several months. That afternoon, Shiva started feeling weirdly cold and tired, but shook it off for her solo shoot with Starrfall Photography, who got some gorgeous shots of her Madoka costume.
She then headed to the World Cosplay Summit preliminary with Ellystar and Christa which was a lot of fun to watch. There were some very interesting performances, Mario did a fantastic job hosting, and the entire event was worlds better than the masquerade the night before.
By the time Shiva got back to the hotel after the show, she knew she was undeniably sick. Once Shiva got into PJs and lay down, she couldn't get back up, and luckily for both of us we had the hotel until Monday, which gave Sketch enough time to feel well enough to drive all of us home. We made it, barely, but struggled with horrible plague for a week afterwards. It wasn't until later we learned we were two victims of a strain of H1N1 that tore its way through the entire convention. Many staff, attendees, and convention center workers were sick, and the Japanese Cultural track chair died a couple of weeks later from complications due to the infection. Scarlet, who as a pharmacist had gotten her flu shot, was fine the entire weekend even though she both roomed and drove with the two of us being horribly ill - GET YOUR FLU SHOTS KIDS! We never missed one again after this.