I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about heading to Anime Central this year. As one of the most highly attended conventions, it is a favorite of many anime and gaming fans, but the last time I attended was soured by a few rude staffers and organizational issues. This year still had its problems, but I’m thankful to say that this convention has now redeemed itself in my eyes.
Acen takes place near the Chicago airport at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, and I have several problems with this location. For one thing, all the food is either too far to walk to or too expensive for the average con attendee. Somehow they find ways to manage to feed themselves over the weekend but it certainly isn’t as convenient as many other convention venues.
Secondly, there’s a lot of walking. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but many of the official hotels were attached above the roads by covered walkways which become overheated during the day and disorienting at night. I think everyone loves the ‘perspective hallway’ with its painted people staring at you through fake windows, though.
My first con experience was the adventure of finding where registration was. Acen staff distinguish themselves as members of the I.R.T. with uniforms reminiscent of S.W.A.T. team or Resident Evil Police gear. They seem to take a lot of pride in their job at the convention, and I’m happy to say that this year every staffer I encountered was very nice. However, about 95% of them had no idea what I was asking about. I spoke with at least ten people throughout the day: first, ‘no one knew’ if registration was open, then ‘it has closed already’, then ‘it is still open for ten minutes’. Finally, I found Con Ops and even they had to make two calls before I found out for certain that Press Badges would be available the next morning. This problem reared its ugly head later on when I tried to figure out the situation with Press seating for the masquerade, though the Press staff themselves were very capable.
In previous Otaku USA reports I’ve liked the way the popular series are calculated by cosplayer density, so here are the most popular cosplays this year: Vocaloid, Jessica Rabbit, Final Fantasy XIII, Black Butler, Hetalia, BlazBlue, and Silent Hill. All of the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” love was perplexing at first, but then I remembered that it takes place in Chicago so I guess it’s a local thing. And there was plenty of Michael Jackson love as well.
For those of you that dislike the concept of “Free Hugs,” prepare to feel even more indignant. The new rage in the con lobby is Spin the Bottle with random strangers! Maybe you’ve seen this before and it doesn’t horrify you, but the idea of insecure youths gathering and kissing people they don’t even know bothers me. I found out about this from a sweet girl in the bathroom who explained she excused herself to pee because she was spinning to kiss the ugliest guys in the circle. Hey kids, for future reference: you never HAVE TO kiss anybody. I’m not a prude, but don’t play touchy feely games with people you don’t feel comfortable touching!
The dealer’s room, art show, and registration all take place in a gigantic warehouse-like convention center. This makes it feel more like a corporate event and less like a cozy community. It is spacious however, with plenty of bathrooms and the closest source of fast, albeit overpriced, food. The dealer’s room appeared to be as profitable and busy as most, however I was sad to see Sasuga bookstore is going out business. They have been one of my favorite stores throughout the years with an amazing selection of Japanese artbooks and manga. If you’re looking to buy something soon I hope you consider using their online store. During the days, I worked as a photographer for the CosPrints photo booth. I had a wonderful time posing people and seeing some truly wonderful costumes.
One of the nicest things about this convention was that there really was always something to do. Besides the random socialization in the lobby and bar areas, the lowest level had a series of rooms devoted to gaming. One of the most unique convention experiences I’ve ever seen was the Battletech: Firestorm mech simulation experience, a virtual reality game where congoers engaged in robot battle for a small fee. The staff was enthusiastic and the convention crowd seemed to be into it. For the truly broke or more traditional gamers there was also a room full of board game classics like LIFE and Apples to Apples. Games were continuing far into the early morning.
And when there wasn’t anything obvious to do, the dancing would begin. The Acen crowd apparently loves to dance. Every night there were rumors of sporadic raves, leading of course to their highly hyped Saturday night “Soap Bubble.” As an outsider I have no idea why it’s called that; I heard a rumor in the elevator that it was a foam dance at some point, and if that’s true it’s probably better for everyone’s hygiene that they don’t do that anymore. I got all dressed up as Faith from Mirror’s Edge and hit the floor with my newbie breakdancing moves, grateful the room was dark and full of drunk ravers so nobody could pay close attention to me. My roommates and I truly had a blast.
I was really looking forward to the Masquerade at Acen because I knew about the high standard of cosplay and performance at this convention. It lived up to my expectations with a very professional presentation; the tech, background and camera work was all well done. Cosplayers Voltz and StripperVash MC’d the event and their improv humor worked great. (I do wish there was somewhere to put them other than right behind the performers, however.) Suddenly, after the walk-ons were finished, we were interrupted by a special live webcam feed to Japanese music legend Yoshiki. And this is where things got unusual!
Not being that knowledgeable about Japanese music, I have to admit that I did not know the full story of X Japan or their significance. Luckily, Yoshiki premiered a lengthy movie describing many of his impressive accomplishments. I think it did a good job introducing his work; at least, it made an impression on me. Then the Acen staff pretended to have a bad connection and suddenly he was on the stage, causing a swarm of audience members to rush forward. We had a small Q & A session where fans and press were allowed to ask questions. Nothing revolutionary was revealed, but it was nice to hear him say that he enjoys the fandom and cosplay performances.
Of course, this sudden appearance caused a bit of chaos for Acen, because Yoshiki wanted to see the audience instead of doing a closed press conference. But I think he meant well and I hope X Japan is successful in their upcoming American concert.
The delay between the walk-ons and the skits must have been nerve-wracking for those performing after all the excitement of a Japanese celebrity. But as I expected, the average quality of performance at Acen is very high. I was particularly impressed with several skits involving only one person, a very tricky thing to pull off! Sadly, all of the unexpected delays caused the award announcements to be intensely rushed. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen at a masquerade but it was one of the strangest. I understand that the dance wouldn’t start at time if the room didn’t clear in fifteen minutes, and it made sense that we wouldn’t have time for all the winners to walk onto the stage and collect their award. But most of the award winners were announced only by number, not name, causing confusion for the audience so nobody even had time to cheer. I know it was nobody’s fault and they did the best they could, but maybe the lesson should be to always expect the worse and plan for that. Again, it’s not the worst thing that could have happened, and ACParadise has the award winners listed on their Acen video page.
In conclusion, this convention managed to be a fun event despite some organizational chaos and the financial difficulties of its venue. Anime Central was an awesome time and I look forward to attending it again in the future! I’ve attached some photos, and the rest are at my ACParadise Photographer Page.