Anime Central (ACen) is the third largest anime convention in the United States. It is hosted in Rosemont, IL, one L-stop away from O’hare Airport. Rosemont is a shopping hub with a fashion outlet mall and various other unexplored-by-me areas within a few miles of each other. The Donald E. Stephenson Convention Center and Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel host ACen with a myriad of other hotels offering convention rates for con-goers.
This was my first time at ACen. I arrived Friday before noon to catch a couple panels about Gundam. I attended as a means to satisfy my own nostalgia for Gundam and for something to do in the afternoon. Overall, the panels in the afternoon were not as interesting as the panels in the evening and at night. ACen’s main attraction during the day is the exhibition hall where vendors and artists sell their wares to geeky consumers. The exhibition hall closes shortly after dinnertime, so con-goers are entertained by the more engaging panels afterwards. There is also a rave that starts at 10:00PM and goes until 4:00AM.
The exhibition hall was overwhelming but entertaining. Booths included anime superstores, a few booths sold used manga and anime series, I saw an online tee shirt vendor towards the back, and at least three steampunk-themed sellers. Some of the artists on display I recognized from Geek.kon, the only other anime convention I attended. While wandering the exhibition hall, I got a text from my brother requesting a 4-Star Dragonball if I could find one. And found one I did at a small resale booth I would not have stopped at otherwise had I not seen a plastic orange ball in the distance. I also purchased a sweatshirt sporting the Wings of Freedom crest from the hit anime Attack on Titan, a stationary set featuring roly-poly panda bears, and the blu-ray of Wolf Children Ame and Yuki. I asked my little brother if he wanted anything, and he did not.
There were a slew of restaurants in walking distance of the con, although most of them were fairly pricey for the meals. We wanted to eat at Basil’s Kitchen located across the street from the con since of our number takes her internet usernames from Basil, but our budget would not allow for $20 entrees plus drinks. More affordable eateries are only less than a mile away–walking distance for anyone without car such as us! Friday night, we dined at Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, and on Saturday we ate at the fashion outlet mall food court.
The after dinner hours are where con activity moves away from the exhibition hall and towards panels and dancing. The rave starts Friday and Saturday at 10PM and goes until 4AM. I was more interested in the panels which featured anything from Japanese history to academic studies to dramatic readings of bad fanfiction. I will include a more in-depth list of the panels I attended and my impressions of each on a later post, but some highlights include a Gundam Jeopardy game, a Toonami nostalgia panel, an academic study of the shojo subgenre, and list of recommended dating simulator games, and a stand-up comedy show.
Panels I wanted to attend but could not for various reasons include a panel on working in the anime industry (missed because I was watching Yowamushi Pedal), a panel about bad anime (missed because the crowd was too big for us to get in), and a panel about licensing manga (missed because I was hungry and wanted lunch).
Both Friday and Saturday, I stayed up until past 2AM, roughly three hours past my bedtime. I felt like a child at an overnight family reunion–I was tired enough to go to bed but unwilling because all the entertainment was still happening. However, I happen to begrudgingly identify as an adult and, as such, allowed myself to be led around to various panels without minding where we went so long as I could share the experience with my friends.
In hindsight, I am both surprised and not surprised by the similarities between ACen and my home convention Geek.kon. In my experience, ACen was a larger version of Geek.kon complete with bigger-named guests, better cosplay, and a more robust night-life. I will definitely attend ACen in the future, and maybe make it to the industry panels while I am at it.