Katsucon 17 brings anime convention again to the National Harbor
Katsucon lives again at the National Harbor
So, Voltron, Vampire Hunter D and Princess Mononoke walk into The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
The punch line, you ask? Katsucon 17, a one-two combo of all things anime and manga, which on Friday returns to the National Harbor for the second year in a row. And, really, it's no joke. Katsucon's followers numbering almost 9,000 last year take such passions incredibly seriously, decked to the nines in intricately detailed, role-playing revelry.
But they're not above a laugh. You just have to know how to tickle their funny bone.
Such humor is hard to describe, says Chris Barylick, founder of D.C.'s Geek Comedy Tour, which makes its fourth consecutive appearance at Katsucon this year.
"I don't know if any of this is going to translate to the page," he cautions, before hesitantly delving into a bit about the video game series "Metal Gear: Solid," and borrowing a blue note from a colleague about James Cameron's "Avatar."
He's right about it not translating. Then again, it's not supposed to. After all, this is insider comedy at its most fantastical. Those in on the gag know precisely who they are.
Barylick calls it "geek culture," and proudly branded the comedy troupe he founded in 2005 with the crest.
"I grew up around anime and that sort of geek and nerd culture, and what people call otaku, which is anyone who likes [Japanese] video games, books and movies that whole nerd life," he says.
A neighbor turned him on to anime and sci-fi conventions, and the aspiring comedian noticed a unique window of opportunity.
"I started thinking this could be a cool blend," he says of the impact his crew of cutups have on convention crowds. "The comedy relates directly to them."
The Geek Comedy Tour which in addition to Barylick, features members Jake Young, Evan Valentine and Joe Deeley plays the college and university circuit, with reoccurring gigs at Rutgers and Princeton universities, but truly lets its freak flag fly at fests like Rochester's Tora-Con and the National Harbor free-for-all.
"Katsucon is an amazing audience. And there's a paycheck involved," he deadpans. "But what tends to keep us coming back is we just love doing it."
Last year's first Prince George's outing proved to be one of the proudest for the troupe.
"The organizers informed us we'd be going on after the opening ceremonies," Barylick says. "It turned out to be in this underground bunker with over 500 people in attendance and jumbo-screen televisions everywhere. We were like, Wow the big times.'"
The big times, indeed and at Katsucon, they just keep getting bigger.
According to the event's press liaison Chad Diederichs, Katsucon started out as a small event in Virginia Beach, Va., back in 1995. By its fourth year, the convention had outgrown the venues available there and relocated to Washington, D.C., before landing for the last two years in Prince George's County.
"This will be our second year at the National Harbor, and the second of many," says Diederichs. "We liked the convention center so much we've extended our contract well into the decade."
Traditionally held in February ("because we love delaying for blizzards," Diederichs jokes), the convention is one of the largest on the East Coast, eclipsed only by Baltimore's Otakon, which has become a sort of sister event to Katsucon over the years.
"We go back a long way," Diederichs says.
Despite their source inspiration's warring clans of elves, orcs, martial artists and Mecha, when it comes to the potential for competition, it appears there's room in this state for everyone, with plenty of devotees to go around.
In fact, Katsucon, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is run entirely by fans, Diederichs says.
"If you count the people who work year round on the various facets, as well as those who volunteer to staff the three-day event alone, we number well into the hundreds," he adds.
A good thing, too, as the three-day event is crammed full with activities. Returning for the 17th annual convention are fan-favorites like the performance art-based cosplay ("costume play"), a full slate of guest voice actors and the extremely popular Maid Café.
The latter, a unique style themed restaurant, made its Tokyo debut at the turn of the century and features tasty Asian fare offered up by highly-attentive servers outfitted in maid attire and assorted character-inspired finery.
"Also, due to our proximity to Valentine's Day, we generally have a formal ball," Diederichs says. "But this year, the calendar shifted ... so we're having a masquerade party instead. It will still be formal, but with a fun spin on things. Think Phantom of the Opera.' "
Live music, of course, is also on the bill, showcasing America's growing embrace of Japanese pop rock.
"This year, we have the band Lemon Drop Kick," says Diederichs. "We're looking forward to them ... We're moving towards more of a metal, J-Punk sort of sound."
The Los Angeles-based rockers are looking forward to the opportunity, as well. While hardly a stranger to anime conventions, this will be Lemon Drop Kick's first appearance at Katsucon, not to mention its first visit to the Washington, D.C. area.
According to guitarist Erik Barajas, the band's signature style is a result of diverse interests among its core trio. Lead singer Miyako, a native of Kyoto, Japan, is influenced by her country's own rock sensibilities, while drummer Justin Kaehler, from Southern California, hails from the punk scene.
"And I'm into a lot of metal," Barajas says. "Jane's Addiction. Motley Crew. Together, the three of us form this hybrid, Japanese-American sound."
A sound tailor-made, it would seem, for the anime crowd.
"Actually, we just played Oni-Con in Houston," says Barajas, noting that after Katsucon, the band has its first out of state convention scheduled for Mexico in May. That audience, he says, should be 30,000 strong.
"When we go and play conventions out of state, the fans are so receptive. It's an experience for them to see a real artist from Japan, so everyone, whether they know us or not, is really supportive. That's why we love it."
Music, make-believe, food and fantasy there's almost no wrong way to love anime.
"Talking about anime is almost like talking about movies from Hollywood," says Diederichs, noting that the craze spans all ages from toddlers to their parents. "We try to appeal to as many people as possible."
In short, it's one big, happy anthropomorphic tail-wearing, Mech-designing, Pokemon-pitting, video-game playing community.
"My favorite part of the convention is the returning attendees," Diederichs says. "After a decade or so, you become sort of this close-knit, dysfunctional family that you only get to see once a year. So I look forward to walking down the hall and seeing two to three hundred friendly faces I haven't seen all year. We can talk about the new releases and titles. It's just a great excuse to get together."
-When: Friday through Sunday
-Where: Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, 201 Waterfront St., National Harbor
-Tickets: At-Door Registration
$30-$60 for full weekend, $12-$25 for Friday;
$17-$35 for Saturday and
$10-$20 for Sunday (cash and credit card only)
-For information: www.katsucon.org