Anime Central has become a tradition for many of the locals, being the biggest convention that one can feasibly attend without having to hop on a plane. This was my sixth year attending, and it’s become part of a routine that I have rehearsed well over the years. The convention was on a path of improvement a few years ago, but that improvement seems to have flattened out and perhaps even declined slightly over the last year or two. How did 2016 measure up?
For hotels, at least, it was another decline. The first instance of prepaying for a hotel room I ever ran into was Anime Weekend Atlanta last year, but at least the Sheraton there offered refunds if one cancelled. At Anime Central’s Westin (a 15-minute walk away from the convention center and where I stayed at this year), one must prepay for one night immediately upon booking with no refunds offered, and this was the first time that the Westin here implemented this sort of policy. On the other hand, parking at the Westin was included in the price of the room, and while the room itself was nice, mine had faulty electrics rendering everything on the room’s desk inoperative. The walk to the convention center wasn’t too bad, as the weather was cooperative this year with plenty of sun, but the temperatures shot up into the low 80s on Sunday. However, even more ludicrous than the Westin’s payment policy would be the Crowne Plaza’s room block, where the convention decided to only order rooms that had a single king bed. Whether this was a snafu or intentional, I see no sense of logic with this decision, considering Anime Central’s massive attendance figures and the Crowne Plaza’s location, being right across the street from the convention center.
But how was the convention itself? Well, middling. Anime Central still has a poor reputation for cancelled panels due to their panelist pricing policy, and this was the case with the K-pop panel I wanted to attend early Friday afternoon. Speaking with several other attendees in line, I also learned that this cancellation was not the first one of the day (it was only 1:00 PM). Another problem that carried over from the prior year is that there is a photoshoot location within the enormous hall which houses registration, artist’s alley, a restaurant, the dealers room and industry booths. The photoshoot location last year consisted of a platform which was large enough for groups of about 20 cosplayers, and thus was easy to find. This year, there was no platform, the location was poorly marked on the provided maps, and I ran into several cosplayers who were struggling to find out where this photoshoot location was. Speaking of the dealer’s room, the main takeaway here is that Anime Central made 2 steps forward, 1 step back. The selection this year was spectacular as usual, both in variety of merchandise typewise and showwise, and the 10:00 AM open time on Friday is still very welcome. However, the dealers room was noticeably more crowded this year versus previous years, as one of the formerly open side aisles now houses a row of dealer booths. While this does allow for more merchandise to be put on sale, it has also created a bottleneck in the aisle due to the reduced space for congoers to maneuver and more motivation to stop and shop. But the crowdedness could also be due to the inherent organic growth that Anime Central faces. Though growth has started slowing, the crowdedness factor really began to show this year moreso than prior years, and the convention is approaching its comfortable capacity limit before things begin to transition from “crowded” to “cramped.” Another sign of Anime Central’s growth is this year’s increased reliance on contracted security personnel, whose increased presence comes as the presence of IRT (the convention’s security staff) declines. Now, these security personnel have no knowledge of the convention itself, don’t try to empathize with attendees at all, and inconsistently apply rules such as badging and traffic flows. I didn’t mind much considering that I adhered to the rules, but it further solidified the hypothesis that the convention’s era of incremental improvement has passed and it’s now on a downhill slope.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh on Anime Central and feeling a bit jaded over 6 years of attendance. It’s still a very good convention, as there are a large variety of things to do, from concerts, dances and raves, photoshoots, a large dealers room and artist alley, and a huge variety of cosplay. The attendees seem less rambunctious this year compared with prior years, but I saw more emergency vehicles compared to prior years, so the convention still retains its identity as a heavy party and rave convention. Thankfully, however, no fire alarms pulled this year. One issue that Anime Central did attempt to solve is the long distance one must usually travel for inexpensive and/or filling food. Sure, there’s the Expoteria Restaurant, concessions at the Hyatt Regency, and hotel restaurants, but other choices require at least a 15-minute walk. What the Hyatt Regency did to try and resolve this issue is to bring in food trucks and parking them off to a quieter side of the hotel. There were about 5 food trucks, and I did intend on purchasing some lunch from them on Saturday afternoon before I saw the lines being 5-10 people deep at each truck. My friend who decided to wait in line for around an hour not only had his first choice be sold out, but also his second, third, and fourth before he ultimately decided to go somewhere else. Perhaps getting in line a bit earlier or going somewhere else would help, but the drawback here is that one would then lose his or her space in line and have to forego some events. A good effort and idea was implemented here, but in scaling this idea up for Anime Central’s size, the execution fell a bit short.
So what is the overall takeaway here? Well, Anime Central is still a good convention. It’s worth going to, relatively well-run, and gives attendees a good experience not just for a big convention but for conventions in general. There will more likely than not be some sort of activity that one will find entertaining and have fun at, and some attendee that one will have a good conversation with. There are shortfalls, yes, but there is a reason why more and more of the locals make the trek out to Illinois. But for me, this convention is starting to feel routine, and I want to change my repertoire for next year, so I am going to be taking a break. I will return since I still hold it in high regard, there is a large local group who attend, and I have several out-of-state friends who attend and I want to catch up with. However, my belief is that attendance at a convention should focus on one goal: having a good time. Once attendance at a convention becomes a chore or obligation, the experience overall is significantly devalued or changed. I had a good time overall, but I just need a year’s break to expand my horizons and get a larger variety of experiences, and Anime Central runs up against a few other conventions occurring around the same time that I want to attend. See you in 2018, Anime Central.
Pictures I took from the convention are up on my Flickr here . Photoshoots attended include Aldnoah Zero, RWBY, Kill la Kill, and K Project (which should be up in the next couple of days)