Geek Babble- Youmacon 2016

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I had designated Detroit’s Youmacon as one I would attend in odd-numbered years, as it was a great convention that was far away from home and held back by a lackluster administrative structure and schedule.  The strongest reason to attend were great attendees and being able to see my personal friends, but a combination of cheap available airfare and extra space in my friends’ hotel room tilted the odds in favor of attending Youmacon for 2016.  It was a convention that had improved from 2013 to 2015, and my hopes were that 2016 would continue that trend.  So how did it do?

 

First impressions weren’t good, as Youmacon’s hotel staff again didn’t bother to update their main website with hotel booking information, instead relying on announcements from Facebook.  The overall feeling to Youmacon’s main website, from the forums to the main page, was one of neglect, as evidenced by the message that the hotel block for the main Marriott hotel was always unavailable and the Crowne Plaza hotel not even listed as having a convention rate.  At least there were occasional Twitter messages to announce guests, and the clunky registration procedure from 2013 still has not made a comeback.  Speaking of registration, pushing Thursday’s pre-registration badge pickup to 6:00 PM instead of 6:30 PM was welcome but pushing it earlier, say to 3:00 PM or 4:00 PM, a la Anime Central, would have been even better.  At least the staff did a very efficient job of speedily getting through the line of attendees waiting, but not allowing unregistered attendees to purchase badges until noon on Friday is still a sore sticking point.  There were a large number of attendees who did not pre-register this year, so the queues for acquiring a badge this year made attendees informally christen Youmacon 2016 as “Line Con.”  Two more complaints lie in the fact that cards for the People Mover monorail system were again available for purchase, but not advertised on the website, and that badges this year were again of the cheap, flimsy kind, with no attendee names written on them.

 

Not opening up registration until 12:00 noon on Friday resulted in this.
Not opening up registration until 12:00 noon on Friday resulted in this.

 

Come Friday, however, things took a dramatic shift for the better.  Youmacon has been a convention of rapid growth, and this is evidenced by the much larger attendance figures this year versus last year, though thankfully the infrastructure hasn’t started creaking and groaning in protest.  The convention’s venue is still split between the Cobo Convention Center and the GM Renaissance Center, a 15-minute walk away, and due to the convention’s growth, the split venue is now necessary to spread everyone out to prevent feeling cramped.  The convention still retains a reputation for excellent cosplay and one where attendees test their creations, and the standard this year was very very high, especially when it came to prop quality.  The weather was very cooperative this year, being sunny and in the low 60s for the entirety of the convention, which allowed for some of the best photography conditions possible, especially when combined with the still stunning and beautiful scenery.  Riverfront views, a historic church, futuristic walkways, beautiful architecture, urban cityscapes, Youmacon’s venue has it all.  Unfortunately, the photoshoot schedule and locations did not make it into the convention guidebook this year again, with arrangements being made on Facebook and attendees having to rely on word of mouth to arrange photoshoots.

 

Fantastic sunny weather allowed for great photo opportunities outside.
Fantastic sunny weather allowed for great photo opportunities outside.

 

But great weather wasn’t the only high point of Youmacon 2016.  One of Youmacon’s unique selling points is its Maid Café, run on Friday afternoons and available for an extra $10 fee.  Last year, a scheduling snafu caused problems and delays, but this year, that issue thankfully was resolved and organization was solid.  Even better is the fact that the café had expanded its operating hours to Saturday morning and afternoon, and the standards had been raised.  This year, the servers had a choreographed greeting directly inspired and copied from Japanese maid cafes (yes, I actually have been to a maid café in Tokyo so I can attest to this), and due to the smoother schedule, the servers were also able to engage with the guests much more effectively.  The only complaint perhaps was the bizarre omission of coffee from the menu.  In regards to other food choices, the Renaissance Center’s food court is still top notch for choice and convenience, and is joined this year by a new food court in the Cobo Convention Center.  Though I did not take advantage of the new food court at Cobo, other convention attendees indicated that the food choices there were very expensive.

 

In addition to an improved maid café, perhaps the biggest improvement to Youmacon 2016 would have to be the artists alley, where the selection this year was absolutely amazing in terms of quality.  This goes not only for prints, but also to those vendors selling non-anime-related merchandise in the dealers room.  No, the artist alley is not as large as its competitors, but qualitywise and selectionwise, Youmacon is attracting the right attendees.  This year, the artist alley again was in the same room as the dealers room, which this year was above average, as the selection this year was extremely varied, with a wide variety of items encompassing multiple series both old and new.  One thing I did notice this year was the presence of many other conventions promoting themselves to attendees, evidence that Youmacon is being seen and respected as a place where established, long-time attendees flock to.  What needs to change, however, is the late 2:00 PM opening time on Friday for both the dealers room and artists alley, unchanged from prior years and much later than other large conventions.

 

The errily lit walkways at the Renaissance Center always make for great photo opportunities.
The errily lit walkways at the Renaissance Center always make for great photo opportunities.

 

The late start time also affects panel programming as well, as Youmacon still retains its reputation as a convention that doesn’t get going until mid-afternoon on Friday, which I am told is to accommodate those who work or have school.  The panels themselves were slightly more geared towards cosplay and anime as a whole rather than specific series, and scheduling was structured so that they were of varied length.  Panels themselves were well run as panelists engaged the audience and provided lots of useful information, and I didn’t run into any that required rescheduling or cancellations.  Attendees were also extremely well-behaved and level headed, and as a whole just wanted to have a good time, though were still social enough to engage those strangers.  The schedule again suffered from a late release this year, but thankfully it was thoroughly included in the guidebook this year, which was not made out of disposable, one-time use paper this time around.

 

Youmacon 2016, then, is easily the best Youmacon I have attended.  Relatively well-run, reasonably priced, and with great panels and attendees, it is an excellent convention to attend.  However, this is coming from someone who has attended several times and is familiar with how to make the most of the convention.  For a newcomer, Youmacon is not very friendly as information provided by the convention is disorganized and lackluster, and one will encounter many barriers and roadblocks when trying to find information or perform simple tasks without outside guidance.  The incremental changes that were made this year along with the excellent weather were responsible for the more enjoyable experience, but many of the complaints that I have about this convention from 2015 still have not been resolved.  Mainly a late start to the dealers room, artist alley, and panel programming, lack of information regarding photoshoots, and general neglect to the website regarding announcements.  A Facebook page is an unacceptable substitute for news, as it is crowded with both attendee posts and official announcements, and a Twitter feed is also an unacceptable substitute.  Again, most of these issues are relatively easy to solve, and yet for some reason, Youmacon just doesn’t bother to address them.  So would I attend again?  Absolutely, but again, not every year.  At least not until the convention permanently addresses these annoying issues or I move closer to the convention.

 

Do check out my hallway photos here and photos from the RWBY photoshoot here

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