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. The twenty-fifth annual Katsucon offered panels and programing around-the-clock, and guests included Michael Sinterniklass, Max Mittelman, Charles Dunbar, Greg Houser, and concerts by Akira and Lantana. For the first time, Katsucon implemented a strict "badge or hotel room key required" policy to enter any part of the Gaylord, including the normally public hotel atrium, posting security to ensure only Katsucon attendees and hotel patrons were allowed in. This caused quite a bit of online debate leading up to the convention, but was long overdue to address crowding and attendees "ghosting" the convention. This policy had been adopted by several high-profile conventions recently, and like those other conventions, this restriction greatly alleviated the crush of people, especially in the Gaylord atrium. While it was still tightly packed on Saturday afternoon, for most of the weekend there was plenty of breathing room and it made for a much more enjoyable experience for paying attendees. Katsucon also greatly improved its organization, cutting its infamous pre-registration wait time down to fifteen minutes and taking control over keeping photography by the fountains and gazebo organized. Overall, we also experienced that con staff seemed friendlier, more knowledgeable, and in general more outgoing than we had found them in the past, proactively offering information and guidance rather than seeming put-out for being asked a question. While Katsucon could still use some improving, it was encouraging to see some steps being taken in the right direction this year to improve the overall experience.
Sketch and Shiva's Weekend Breakdown:
After sitting out Katsucon 2018 following the birth of our son, we were excited to return to this convention this year, including our annual road trip down with Ellystar, Majodere, and Scarlet. Despite being up late Wednesday night finishing things up, we were up, packed, caffeinated, and on the road on schedule Thursday morning. We made great time down to National Harbor, but when we pulled into the Gaylord, we were met with a traffic jam in the unloading area outside the front door. The Gaylord required that a bellhop with a cart assist in the unloading, however neither could be found and cars were piling up outside the hotel. While we waited outside, Ellystar went to check us in and at the very least got access to the room; Shiva tried to bring an armload of things up to the room only to be whacked in the face by some teenager throwing manga books off a balcony in the atrium. 30 minutes into our con experience we were all in a sleep-deprived, hangry rage and our car still hadn't moved. In total, we waited nearly an hour out front before we finally got a bellhop; Sketch tipped him extra to take us up the service elevator before we completely lost our minds.
Luckily, this was the worst moment of the weekend, and we were pleasantly surprised that when we went to pick up our badges at pre-registration the con staff had actually -gasp- ORGANIZED IT. What was usually a chaotic scene actually was well-managed, and a process which usually took hours took us a grand total of 15 minutes. This is on par with most other midsize conventions, so while a 15 minute wait for pre-reg wouldn't normally be noteworthy, we were so happy to see Katsucon had finally fixed its horrendous pre-registration pick up problems. Even without the wait it was late and we were exhausted, so we were grateful the wait to eat at the National Pastime Pub inside the Gaylord had a relatively short wait. We toasted to the weekend with cocktails and a long overdue dinner before heading back to the room to unpack, iron our costumes, and get some rest.
We were up early on Friday to get Shiva into her multi-layered Kaoru artbook kimono in time for her morning shoot with Amiephotos; Sketch had gotten better at helping Shiva dress in it each time they had fitted it at home but we wanted the extra time to make sure we didn't have to rush. Shiva was out the door and headed downstairs in time for her shoot out in the gardens behind the complex while Sketch got into his newly revamped Vash the Stampede for his morning shoot. We both had a blast shooting with Amie, and since we were in warm costumes and the weather was agreeable, we enjoyed walking around outside and mingling with other cosplayers we met. Both Vash and Karou received a lot of attention as relatively unusual old-school costumes, and we had fun taking a few photos of our own on our phones. As we wandered the con, we did notice a distinct lack of crowding that we normally would seen on Friday; the enforcement of the badge-or-hotel room key policy seemed to actually be having a positive impact on the amount of people crammed into the hotel side of Katsucon.
After lunch we changed into our more comfortable Rosette and Xenmas costumes; Shiva had a hard time walking in her Kaoru okobo, so we waited until we were in more functional clothes to check out the convention itself, including the dealer's room and Artist's Alley. We noticed that in both the convention and the hotel atrium there was a prevalence of professional security, outfitted in vests with weapons, keeping an eye on things, ensuring prop weapons had bright orange tags, and enforcing the badge policy. We had barely ever encountered con staff security at this event before, so this was a big change, which considering the state of the world and the intense security of conventions like Anime Boston, seemed appropriate. Despite their intimidating looks, they were all very friendly, helping open doors and ushering us quickly inside from the cold and wind after Shiva's late afternoon photoshoot with MegAnne Photography. That evening Shiva, Scarlet, and Majodere changed into their Miku, Rin, and Luka kimonos for a night shoot with Marlo Louden; Shiva had made all three costumes and the girls and the lit-up nighttime atrium made a flashy, fun backdrop for their Project DIVA costumes. After the shoot we all walked a few blocks to Thai Pavilion for a delicious sushi and sake-fueled dinner.
Saturday morning Sketch helped Shiva wrangle into her Lulu costume from Final Fantasy X; we had finished the costume last summer for a photoshoot with our then--infant son, but this was the first time Shiva was wearing it to a con. The atrium, despite the new regulations, was much more crowded today, and Shiva needed Sketch's help navigating the crowd in her large skirt to avoid getting tripped over or stepped on. She felt much more comfortable outside or in the dealer's room, or near the gazebo, where she had some breathing room to move. We were impressed to see that the typically jam-packed gazebo level had alleviated a lot of its crowding by posting a public shoot schedule and not allowing those not on the schedule near the structure. As a result, all the cosplayers who typically took up space in the surrounding area, hoping to jump in for a gazebo shot, had dispersed.
That afternoon we changed into Summoners Belgemine and Braska and met up with Scarlet as Summoner Ginnem for a late afternoon shoot by the water with Joe Fox. Afterwards, we enjoyed exploring the convention in our comfy summoner costumes, and did some shopping in Artist's Alley. After dinner, we changed into Rise and Kanji from Persona 4 and pregamed in the room with the crew before heading upstairs to the Pose Lounge for drinks and dancing at the club. They had opened the VIP section upstairs to Katsu attendees for the first time since we'd started attending, and we found some nice couches upstairs where we could enjoy both dancing and relaxing. Having both levels opened also helped to alleviate crowding on the downstairs dance floor. We, along with Majodere, Scarlet, AkaneSaotome, Ellystar, and the rest of the gang had a blast drinking and dancing until last call at 2am. After leaving, we used the last of our energy to pack up our things and load up the car before crashing face-first into bed at 3am.
As annoying as packing up the car in the wee hours of the morning is, its always worth it when we get to sleep in the next day and not fight the crowds for elevators to unload our things and check out. After a leisurely morning, we hit up Granite City Brewery for a boozy brunch which was amazing - they had everything for food from custom-made omelets and fruit to build your own donuts, which we paired with bloody marys and mimosa flights which came with a full bottle of champagne. Refreshed and well-fed, we did one last round of the convention before heading home, hitting up the game room and some panels before heading out for our road trip home. It was a fantastic weekend all-around, and we were pleasantly surprised to see the convention itself had made quite a few improvements as well! We can't wait to return next year.