Over the past 2-3 years, Anime Central has been steadily improving its operations when it comes to communication, procedures, and giving out information. It’s still a hectic con, but all in all, manages its heft and difficulties well. For me, this reputation has built up a bit of an expectation regarding how well the convention should function given the roadblocks and challenges which go hand in hand, and I was hoping for another enjoyable year, as this would be my fifth Anime Central.
The first thing noticeable this year was an increase in the number of hotels which offered room blocks, though unfortunately my favorite hotel for the convention (the Hilton Rosemont), would not offer a convention room block for the second year in a row. However, two very welcome additions include a Marriott Suites property (I stayed there while attending the Tiger and Bunny movie last year) very well-suited for convention duty due to its large rooms and being only a 15-20-minute walk away, and a Courtyard property about a 30-minute walk away. Oddly enough, some far-off hotels which required shuttles to get to the convention center also offered convention room rates, something which did not occur in prior years. Speaking of access, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the I-90 coming into Illinois from the northwest was relatively free-flowing this year, though my happiness was short-lived when construction on the I-90 east of the convention center and downtown meant several hours of agony for those coming via Megabus. Also appealing was my discovery of several restaurant clusters near the convention center, including one cluster about a 15-minute walk away from the convention center, a food court in a shopping mall, and a newly opened pizza place. Before that, the default answer to anyone wanting a cheap meal was “McDonalds,” a 15-20 minute walk away. I was also very apprehensive about the weather this year, since all forecasts pointed to 3 days of rain. The good news is that the rain held off until Sunday, around 3:00 PM, but the bad news is that the humidity for mid-May was appalling the entire weekend. Give me the cold over the heat any day of the week, please. Surprisingly enough, the humidity did not mean the interior skyway linking the hotels to the convention center were crammed full of people, but instead had everyone flooding the outside sidewalks.
So what about the convention itself? Well, as a whole, it was quite familiar compared with prior years, though for myself in particular, many small things just didn’t pan out well. The dealers room, like prior years, was always a treat with a wide variety of items and its early 10:00 AM opening time on Friday, but for myself in particular, while there were a few things I was interested in, there was nothing much that stood out and screamed “buy me now or you will regret it later!” One blatant form of price gouging I saw was a Maka Albarn figure I was interested in going for $175, when its price on Amazon was only $90, which most likely also included a markup. There also seemed to be significantly more space dedicated to industry booths in the dealers room this year compared with prior years. As usual, there were a wide variety of cosplays this year, but there were also several occasions where I encountered extreme frustration. See, there are a few cosplays I had from series where I rarely encounter other cosplayers, so having on a different costume just produced moments of agony, especially when I ran into the Meroko (Full Moon wo Sagashite) and Head (Star Driver) cosplayers.
The photoshoots this year were still fine due to the large variety of them, but were a downgrade from prior years due to a staff head change, a new location which didn’t work out very well, reduced coordination amongst attendees on the forums, and for myself in particular, a conflict on Saturday afternoon where I wanted to be at 3 different photoshoots at one time. A location retained from last year which did work somewhat well was the lower ballroom area, but this was improved as groups instead moved to a nearby fountain, though the hideous orange and yellow lighting remained. The aforementioned new photoshoot location was right by the entrance of the dealers room, next to the industry booths, but this area was not well-suited for its intended purpose. There was a platform on which cosplayers stood on in this location, but the platform was only suited for groups with fewer than 20 cosplayers, and then there was the excessive noise one had to contend with along with a lack of space for photographers. Finally, the photoshoot I had most looked forward to was only half an hour long, and while I had a great time, it was much too short for that fandom.
I had also chosen not to attend the main concert this year, which was a guest performance by SCANDAL, who I was most familiar with for the second ending theme for Star Driver. However, I was surprised later when I met up with two Star Driver cosplayers who informed me that the group did not perform that ending theme, “Pride.” There was also an orchestral Final Fantasy concert which returned from last year, but the timing of 1:00 PM-2:30 PM on Sunday was shockingly bad, as it interfered with my departure from Chicago. One the other hand, one very welcome guest for a few of my friends was Ryukishi07, the creator of the “When They Cry” series.
Another Anime Central tradition which occurred this year was the evacuation of the main hotel, the Hyatt Regency. This evacuation occurred on Friday evening, around 11:00 PM, after the fire alarm was pulled, but apparently, after everyone began going back into the hotel, the alarm was yanked again, prompting another evacuation. Unlike a few years ago, I do not have pictures, as I was attending a panel with a friend in the convention center. Throughout the weekend, there was a common sense that the security staff, IRT, was much more lackadaisical and lenient this year compared with prior years, which was an unwelcome change. Several years ago, they had transitioned from being rude and abrasive to being friendly and helpful, but this transition to less enforcement created a message that acting rambunctious, being less considerate, and not listening would not result in consequences. Thus, IRT staff members were much more tolerant and less confronting of attendees walking in the middle of the hotel driveways instead of the sidewalk and blocking traffic, not displaying badges upon entering the convention area, smoking in areas which didn’t allow smoking, and just being loud or argumentative.
Nonetheless, despite all the shortfalls of the convention itself, I still had a relatively good time, since my friends (both my group who I went with and those who I was meeting at the convention) had made my weekend much more enjoyable. There are still many plus points to Anime Central and it remains a convention I would highly recommend, from its wide variety of events and large-scale nature bringing together a huge number of fans to its relatively buttoned-down operations and responsive and passionate staff. This year was a downgrade compared with prior years, with its laxer security measures, less feasible photoshoot structure, and unfavorable weather making things less enjoyable all weekend. Nonetheless, I would be more than willing to give the convention another chance for next year and look forward to returning.
My photos can be accessed here . Photoshoots attended: Death Note, Furry, Soul Eater, RWBY, D. Gray Man, Durarara! (will be uploaded soon), K Project, Free!, in addition to my hallway photography