Con Report: Anime Central 2014

Anime Central took place May 16-18th in Rosemont, Illinois, about half an hour outside of Chicago proper, at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

It was my first time flying out for a convention in a city where I didn’t know anyone, and my first time to Illinois ever, but I was pretty excited about ACen because it’s the third biggest anime con in North America, right after Otakon. Since, for the time being and for various reasons, I have low interest in attending AX, AN, or Fanime, and since Anime Boston is never not going to conflict with another more convenient show ever again, ACen is the only con left on that top ten list I haven’t already done!

The Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

The Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

This report is 8,731 words long.


Thursday, Friday (angela concert), Saturday, Sunday, Overall.

THURSDAY

Tori‘s parting gift before leaving after Sakura-Con was to watch the first two episodes of Yowamushi Pedal — bicycling anime! — with me. In it, the character Sakamichi Onoda regularly bikes 40 km to Akihabara instead of taking the damn train so he can use fare he saves to buy gashapon… I can relate a lot to Onoda because I will drag 140+ pounds of luggage down uneven sidewalks to the lightrail and through the airport instead of taking a damn taxi because do you know how much coffee I can buy with taxi fare? (Nine venti lattes, thanks.)

And so that’s what I was doing at 5:30am Thursday morning. I resigned to having two checked bags for this trip because I had a 8′ table to fill, and since I’d never been to ACen before, I wanted to be sure I had enough stuff. The first bag weighed in at 49.0 lbs and the second at 54.3 lbs. I tried to repack the second bag to meet the limit, but everything in that suitcase was hard and rigid and it was basically impossible. Fortunately, the attendant felt sorry for me and just let it go at 51.8 lbs without charging me overweight fees. D;

Onoda Sakamichi! The only Yowapeda cosplayer I saw all con!

Sakamichi Onoda! The only Yowapeda cosplayer I saw all con!

My flight delayed boarding an hour for the wonderful reason of “too many planes flying into Chicago O’Hare,” so I got breakfast at the elusive Seatac Chili’s while I waited.

Recently my phone’s battery started having problems with holding a charge and would randomly shut off for no reason, despite having sufficient battery. I’d ordered a new battery, but it didn’t arrive in time for ACen, so I was going to spend the weekend wrestling with the problematic one, which was worsening to the point where I couldn’t use it actively for more than 30 seconds at a time without it shutting off, though it seemed able to stay on stand-by for longer. The phone was only fully usable when plugged in, but for some reason the phone doesn’t like the micro USB connector to my portable external battery, and would only draw power from it if it was held at a particular angle. Maddening.

We were delayed another half hour or so after we finally boarded, but I hadn’t slept the night before, so even though it was one of the most cramped and uncomfortable planes I’d been on in recent memory, I was basically passed out from the moment I sat down in the plane till we landed in Chicago finally.

Exhibit Hall setup.

Exhibit Hall setup.

O’Hare was a crowded mess, but I didn’t have all that much trouble going where I needed to go. My two checked bags and one gate-checked carry-on (because I don’t even wanna try lifting 50+ lb carry-ons into the overhead bins anymore, hahahaha) all got there fine. The shuttle pickup was an annoyingly long distance away from baggage claim and the shuttle to the Hyatt was just pulling away when I got there, but it was only a ten minute wait to the next one. It was a really nice, free, convenient way to get to the hotel.

When we got there, I started in towards the hotel lobby, but I saw a bunch of artists rolling handtrucks full of boxes out of the lobby, so I just turned around and followed them instead. We crossed the street, went through the loading dock of the convention center and straight into the Exhibits Hall. The dock opened right into the space between Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room, so it was easy to figure out where everything was from there. I dumped my luggage off at my table and then headed out the front entrance of the Hall to where Registration was.

The line for Exhibits check-in wasn’t long, but while there were four or five people staffing the booth, it seemed very disorganized. No one seemed very aware of what their colleagues were doing, and they weren’t really helping people in order because one staffer would start to look for person A’s badge while another staffer started to look for person B’s badge, but then they’d converse with and distract each other and then both of them would be looking for person B’s badge and person A would be forgotten for a while. It was really frustrating. Badges must not have been sorted in any logical manner because it took a really long time to find anything…

Artist Alley setup.

Artist Alley setup.

Since there weren’t that many people in line, I still got my badge fairly quickly, but I was put off by staff’s disorganization, especially since all of my dealings with ACen’s Exhibits head ahead of the show had gone very smoothly, with questions answered quickly and professionally. It was great that ACen seemed to have plenty of on-site manpower, but not it isn’t actually useful if no one knows how to do their job… <_<

Meanwhile, my hotelmates Amanda (Cinnamoron) and Cari (blix-it)’s flight was being delayed forever (also for the awesome reason of “too many planes trying to fly into O’Hare!!”). I’d gotten to the convention center around 4pm CDT, but they hadn’t even taken off yet. Thursday Exhibits setup supposedly ended at 6pm, so there was no way they were going to make it. :( Tori was driving up from Texas for the con, so she had traffic to contend with once she got into the city, but she wouldn’t be staying with us for Thursday night anyway and probably wouldn’t be setting up until Friday morning.

3" clamp! Nearly 3" thick table! Ugh!

3″ clamp! Nearly 3″ thick table! Ugh!

It was kind of weird setting up alone — I guess it’s been a while since I have? I was sharing with Tori at Sakura; Xib and I had gone to Chibi Chibi Con together, even though we weren’t tabling anywhere near each other; Jorge had been my helper at IKKiCON; I was splitting a table with Xib at both Jet City and Geek Girl Con, etc.

The tables provided by the convention center were 8′ long, as promised, but they were only about 2′ wide. This felt thinner than usual, but I think the 2’6″ wide tables are the abnormal ones after all? The table themselves were also really unpleasant and gross-looking under the provided blue table covers (which were annoying, because they wrapped all tables in a row together, making it hard to tell where one person’s table ended and another’s began), but the biggest issue I found was the fact that the tables were almost 3″ thick on the edges. The clamps I use to secure the base pieces for my PVC are three inch clamps; this is different from most others that use PVC, and for several minutes I was really terrified that the table was too thick for me to fit the clamps around them. 8|

Thankfully, fury and brute force solved this issue for me and the clamps just baaaarely fit. U_U

Fake Lemonade Stand skeleton.

Fake Lemonade Stand skeleton.

Since I had nothing to do afterwards, I took my time setting up. Shockingly, having an eight foot table to myself with two nearly full-height PVC wings meant that I…actually had extra vertical space? Since neither Tori, who was on one side of me, nor the other person next to me were there yet, I didn’t bother putting up prints on the out-facing sides of the wings because I didn’t know whether their setups would block it, but even without using that space, I managed to put up basically everything I wanted to! Whoa!

The tabletop and horizontal space was more of an issue since the tables were skinnier than I expected. I adjusted and rearranged stuff a lot. No one kicked us out when setup supposedly closed at 6pm, so ultimately I spent about three hours meticulously setting up, hahaha. AND LOOK! LOOK AT HOW BIG MY WINDOW IS! It hasn’t been this big in years!

Fake Lemonade Stand @ Anime Central 2014.

Fake Lemonade Stand @ Anime Central 2014.

It was past seven by the time I finished, but it felt much later for some reason. I wasn’t sure of the status of Amanda and Cari’s flight because my phone kept dying, and while Amanda had added my name to the hotel reservation, I didn’t really feel like trekking out to the hotel yet.

So I wandered through the Alley, which was a lot more cramped than it looked on the map — the aisles were pretty narrow and there wasn’t much space between tables. There were only two or three openings per island and most were very, very small. I liked the space in general though — the Dealer’s Room was nearby and was much roomier, and they had Industry booths up front by the entrance.

There weren’t many artists around and very few tables were set up, but I did get to talk shop a bit with Kevin (Yanimator) before we unexpectedly got onto the topic of Yowapeda! That was exciting. I’d marathoned through the series between Sakura-Con and ACen, and as it’s still airing, it was definitely my fandom for the weekend (and probably will be for subsequent weekends until summer season swimming starts again…).

Weird convention center vestibule.

Weird convention center vestibule.

After that, I sat out in the weird, spacious convention center vestibule for twenty minutes or so, charging my phone at a wall outlet and checking up on Twitter. Seemed like everyone flying into O’Hare had been delayed. Boo.

There was a Starbucks in the corner of the empty space, so after my phone was charged most of the way (not that it really mattered), I went over to get their hours for the weekend (very important data, this) and to grab a panini and hot chocolate before heading out to the hotel.

We were staying at the InterContinental two blocks over from the convention center. Check-in went without an issue, thankfully, and I went up to roll around on the hotel beds and press all the buttons in the room. It was a pretty fancy hotel?? They had metal birds sitting on the clothes hanging thingy…and a really, really cute framed picture in the room. Unfortunately, I had zero reception in the hotel, so despite finally having a dedicated wall outlet by which to use my phone, I couldn’t do anything on it. Frustrating!

Fancy metal birds??

Fancy metal birds??

When it hit 9pm, I was starting to worry that I would be alone in the hotel for the night and that Amanda and Cari wouldn’t be able to get there until the next day. At half past though, they and a poor bellhop with all of their convention luggage showed up. Finally!

It was a huge relief that they made it, even though they would have to do all their setting up the next day in the two hour setup window we had — 8am to 10am; Exhibits opened to the public at ten. After some brief settling, we went out and walked about ten blocks to Denny’s, which seemed to be one of the nearest options for affordable dining, though we were actually looking for an Italian place when we headed that way. The InterContinental had several restaurants on the ground floor, but all of them were fancy schmancy and overpriced. There was a McDonald’s on the other side of the Hyatt and convention center, but it would have probably been more crowded than the Denny’s anyway.

A 10pm pre-con meal.

A 10pm pre-con meal.

FRIDAY

I couldn’t really sleep Thursday night because of some combination of nerves and a completely messed up sleep schedule (we went to bed around midnight, which is 10pm PDT, which is about 8 hours before my normal bedtime…), but we were up at 6:30am and it was a very hectic morning.

Cari and Amanda each had two huge checked bags and one fat carry-on full of con stuff, and they’d also had two large boxes of art show pieces shipped to the hotel. With the three of us, we managed to get all the suitcases down to the lobby in one trip, and the boxes were brought down to us by hotel staff, but it would have definitely been an ordeal trying to transport the boxes to the convention center, even if it was just two blocks away. So we got a taxi van…and even then, everything barely fit!

There was a long attendee registration line snaking around the side of the convention center when we got there, along with a small cluster of artists near the door. It was about 7:30am, and the staff guarding the door weren’t letting exhibitors in until 8am…except they were very inconsistent about this. We saw random people get let in and random others get refused; it depended on who exactly they asked? Eventually, it was clarified that people who already had their badges could go in, but exhibitors who hadn’t been able to pick up their badges Thursday couldn’t go in yet, and Exhibitor badge pick-up wasn’t actually open.

Artist Alley.

Artist Alley.

When 8am rolled around, they still weren’t letting badgeless exhibitors in, and I was getting antsy and irritated because the main staff person guarding the door seemed to be really confused. Since I did have my badge though, I started to haul in Cari and Amanda’s stuff by myself while they were forced to hang back and wait for staff to figure out whether they were allowed in yet. By the time I returned for the third set of suitcases, badgeless exhibitors had finally been let in to queue up for their badges, so after I finished dropping off all of the suitcases at Cari’s table, I went for a coffee run. The Starbucks wouldn’t stay not-crowded for long!

Since I was pretty much good to go at my own table, I spent most of the morning running around helping Cari and Amanda with theirs. Cari’s table was at the end of same aisle mine was in, but unfortunately, Amanda’s was on the opposite end of the Alley. I went back and forth a bit helping with one thing or another, then got sent on a quest to pickup the paperwork for Art Show so they could check in their pieces…

Art Show was in a corner of the Exhibits Hall. It wasn’t a very attractive corner, and all the panels not facing out towards the rest of the hall were very hidden and made uninviting by the narrow space between the panels. There was one staff person there and they didn’t seem to know what to do when I asked them for paperwork. So we walked out to Exhibits check-in, where there were maybe ten staff people rummaging through badges and getting into each other’s way. There seemed to be one person among this lot who knew what to do about Art Show, but he was busy and couldn’t get to us right away, so me and the Art Show staff guy stood around for a good five minutes not knowing what we were waiting for because Knowledgable Guy seemed to keep forgetting we were there. It was really frustrating.

Eventually, Knowledgable Guy passed us off to another person, who led us back to Art Show and handed me control sheets and art tags that had already been sitting on the table in plain sight. .___. Why was that so hard.

Coffee never lasts long enough.

Coffee never lasts long enough.

As it got closer to 10am, there was less I could do for Cari and Amanda, but I was too caffeinated and full of adrenaline to sit down yet, so I kept wandering through the hall. Tori had been at her table since we got there, but didn’t need much help. I went to say hi to a few dealer friends, including Sanshee and Pawstar, then spotted Enduro actually at her Artist Alley table and went over to awkwardly introduce myself. I am, as ever, bad at approaching artists I like, though it helped that we’d spoken on Twitter before. Endy was really nice and I’m glad our convention paths finally crossed! ;___;

Sylveon~.

Sylveon~.

Staff didn’t announce when doors finally opened, so I was caught a bit off-guard by attendees suddenly being in the room, even though I was already back at my table by then.

Traffic was substantial all morning, but most people were beelining for the Dealer’s Room and snaking through Artist Alley without giving anyone more than a cursory glance. In order to save on weight, I had split my one main binder, which contained all my letter-sized prints, postcards, ACEOs, and original drawings, into two smaller, lighter-weight ones. One had all the prints, and the other had all the ACEOs and originals. Normally, even at smaller cons, I’d get at least a dozen or so people to flip through the entire fat binder just looking at stuff. Friday at ACen, only one person made it through the entirety of the prints binder. No one made it through the entire originals binder. Saaad.

My phone constantly dying kept me in a pretty antsy and irritated mood, in addition to distracting me a lot as I tried to hook it up to my portable battery. I haven’t even had this phone for two years! Smart phones are frustratingly expensive and fragile. Why is a $400+ item not even meant to last longer than two years? Not being able to complain to Twitter frustrated me. Not being able to take pictures of cosplayers frustrated me. Not being able to keep the phone on long enough to run Square really frustrated me.

Eugune and Rapunzel.

Eugene and Rapunzel.

Thankfully, I was able to swap to using Tori’s phone for Square. Since she uses Paypal to run her credit cards, we could both be logged into our respective accounts on our respective apps on the same phone, and we’d just swap card readers between uses. I’m so, so grateful that Tori was tabling next to me and willing to let me use for phone for that. ;___; She also let me borrow the phone for photos now and again, but for the most part, I just used it for Square since I didn’t want to inconvenience her further. Most of the photos I managed to take over the weekend I took with my phone plugged into my portable battery and my fingers crossed.

Since it was my first time in Illinois, basically all the cosplayers were new to me. After hitting so many shows in Washington over the last two years, I feel like I’ve seen most of the cosplayers cosplaying characters I like and care about. I probably have photos of all of the Loki cosplayers in the Pacific Northwest, lol. But Illinois! I hadn’t seen these Lokis before! And it was really aggravating that I couldn’t get pictures of most of them! #CONGOERPROBLEMS

Here is one I did get though!

Here is one I did get though!

I had a few fun commissions in the morning, including a batch of six of the commissioner’s OCs (because neither of us could decide which one of the six to do — they were all neat looking!), but the afternoon was a long stretch of me fighting with my phone and not having much else to do. I drew bike anime commission examples to keep myself from going crazy, but yeah… traffic slowed as the afternoon wore on, and there were very long stretches between sales.

It was just as well though, since I was planning to take off early that afternoon anyway. One of ACen’s musical guests was angela, which is actually one of my favourite bands, and their only performance was Friday night. The concert was at 7pm, but doors to the Rosemont Ballroom, where the concert was taking place, opened at 6:30pm — which was also when the Exhibits Hall was set to close. For better or worse, I don’t think angela is a very well-known or popular band amongst Western fandom, but I wasn’t sure about how the lines and crowds would be, so I decided to play it safe-ish and started packing up at the table around 5:45pm so I could be out of the Exhibits Hall by 6pm.

Line for angela outside the Rosemont Ballroom.

Line for angela outside the Rosemont Ballroom.

angela Concert

Since I hadn’t acquainted myself with the rest of the convention space at all, and since the ballroom was in the Hyatt and not the convention center, it took me a good ten minutes to figure out where it was. The line for the concert snaked awkwardly down the middle of a main hallway, but it wasn’t long before they wrapped it back and forth in front of the actual ballroom. It wasn’t a long line at all though — I was probably 50-60 people from the front? It was a fraction of the number of people in front of me when I went to see Stereopony at Sakura-Con in 2012.

Oddly, as with Stereopony and Sakura-Con, there was a group of Japanese fans in front of me. They didn’t seem very fluent in English, so I wondered if they’d really come all the way from Japan to see angela in the US. o_o My phone was dead again, so I didn’t know when exactly they let us into the ballroom, but I was really surprised to see that there was…seating. As a ballroom, the stage they’d set up for the concert was temporary and not very spacious or high up. There were six sections of seats with aisles in between and a couple of feet between the first row and the foot of the stage. I was seated in the middle-left section, about six rows back, and I spent a stupid amount of time trying to get my phone to revive long enough to take a single picture of the stage:

angela concert stage.

angela concert stage.

The MC was a personable and completely out of character Gendo Ikari cosplayer, which I found funnier than it probably was. He mostly just emphasized that photography and video was not allowed, and the band appeared very shortly afterwards, launching right into “To be with U,” one of the ending themes to K.

If you didn’t already know, I am typically awful with setlists. I hallucinate songs being played all the time and the order of songs is always a hot mess in my head. It doesn’t help that I’m more familiar with angela’s first two albums than their more recent stuff (isn’t that always the case with me?), and it doesn’t help that I don’t actually like/haven’t seen most of the anime they’ve done music for — I just happen to like their music!

I’m still positive they opened with “To be with U” though. I think this lead into “Spiral,” the Asura Cryin’ OP, but don’t quote me on that. Atsuko, the vocalist of angela, greeted the audience after the second song and formally introduced the third song, which was “Boku Janai” from Kakumeiki Valvrave (the music for which was easily the best part of the show). This was a fun song since Katsu and the support band chanted the backup parts. :o

Here's a Nana Osaki cosplayer to break up text, since I couldn't take photos of the actual concert.

Here’s a Nana Osaki cosplayer to break up text, since I couldn’t take photos of the actual concert.

There were maybe a dozen Japanese fans in the audience, and all of them were standing and waving LED-powered glowsticks throughout all of this. There were an additional dozen or so people standing, including myself, but a majority of the audience remained seated. This seemed amazingly rude to me, and I felt really, really bad for angela… the ballroom was barely a third filled, and most of the people there wouldn’t even stand up while they played? Hella rude!

I yelled and fist-pumped a lot to try and make up for most of the audience’s lack of enthusiasm. I’m really glad that there had been the group of Japanese fans in front of me in line, as they were now next to me, and I felt slightly less awkward standing and yelling with them standing and yelling next to me, especially as the person on my other side remained seated the entire show.

After “Boku Janai,” Atsuko-san did a lengthier introduction of the band, which includes guitarrist Katsu, and their two support members, the drummer and bassist, whose names I’ve sadly forgotten. ACen was angela’s first time back in the United States since they performed at Sakura-Con in 2005? Atsuko-san’s English was decent, though she also mimed out a lot of things, including her desire to try Chicago’s deep dish pizza… XD Though he obviously knew some other basics, Katsu boasted that he only knew three words of English: “What a babe!”

I don’t remember what the fourth song was, but it was a fast-paced one. The fifth was the Coppelion ED, “Tookumade.” The next few songs were more of a blur, but it was one fast and one slow. Aside from the ones I’ll mention after this, I think other songs in the set included “Alternative” (Asura Cryin’ 2 OP), “Kanata no Delight” (Asura Cryin’ 2 ED), “My Story” (Corpse Princess: Aka ED), “Beginning” (Corpse Princess: Kuro ED) and “Kings” (K OP).

Here is an Anya for further breaking up of text walls.

Here is an Anya for further breaking up of text walls.

A little more than halfway through the set, Atsuko-san announced that they’ll be playing their debut song, “Asu e no Brilliant Road,” the OP for Stellvia of the Universe, a series basically no one has seen, but I got REALLY, REALLY excited because I hadn’t thought to hope they might play some of their older songs. It made sense though — even though they have plenty of newer songs, they were at an anime convention, and if they only played songs that were used in anime, that narrows the selection a fair bit!

Before they launched into “Brilliant Road” though, Atsuko and Katsu spent a few minutes teaching the audience arm motions to accompany the chorus. It was basic and kind of silly, but it was clear they really wanted to get more audience interaction going. Gradually throughout the set, more and more people had gotten to their feet, mostly on my side of the audience (maybe because most of the very enthusiastic Japanese fans were on our side?). The right side of the ballroom remained stubbornly seated for the most part. >:(

“Brilliant Road” did get a fair bit of people waving their arms, but a lot of people did it while still seated. I really enjoyed the song though, as it’s one of the ones that really demonstrates Atsuko’s fucking amazing vocal work. ;___;

There was another song after that, and then…and then the intro to the piano version of “Separation” started playing and I almost cried. ಥ_ಥ I still haven’t actually gotten around to finishing Soukyuu no Fafner, but “Separation” and “Shangri-La” (the ED and OP) are still my absolute favourite angela songs. The piano version of “Separation” is especially amazing, though I am admittedly just the biggest sucker for piano versions of songs. I really wish they could have had room for an actual piano on stage, but sadly, it was a pre-recorded part. Still, the vocals were moving and amazing, and the band joined in after the intro and stayed through until the outro, which was again just piano.

There were a few songs after “Separation,” then they played “Soukyuu” from the Fafner movie, which I haven’t seen yet (since I haven’t finished the series), but which is a song I also love. “Soukyuu” was also a really fun song because in addition to being another shining example of Atsuko’s amazing vocals, the audience seemed to finally get into things and we got a lasting clapping accompaniment going — and even with all the parts where the musical accompaniment cuts out suddenly, there were no awkward bits where the audience ran over. Hurray! I had been yelling out “Shangri-La” randomly in the spaces between songs, and as it turned out, they ended their set with “Shangri-La.” It was perfect. ;____;

The band was off the stage for less than two minutes before a rousing chant of “en-co-re” brought them back to play a beautiful cover of “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” and finally, finally the rudeass right side of the room all got to their feet to yell and jump and scream. I was happy. (They covered “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” at their Otakon 2004 show too, though not as the encore.)

MUSIC IS GREAT. I LOVE MUSIC.

MUSIC IS GREAT. I LOVE MUSIC.

It was amazing that I still had enough voice to speak with after the show because I really did yell a lot. x_x Cari and Amanda had taken off after Exhibits closed to have dinner with friends, but Tori had apparently been hanging out right outside the ballroom listening to a majority of the concert, and I ran into her almost as soon as I got out of the room — lucky, since there weren’t any wall outlets in the area that were free for me to plug my phone into.

I really wish more people had come to the concert! It was really frustrating to see the mostly-empty room and a mostly-seated audience for the show. At the end of the show, angela promised that they would return to the United States again, but I wonder if the low turnout at ACen was discouraging at all. :( I also wish that ACen had scheduled a signing/panel/whatever sooner than the next day — if there were people in the audience who weren’t already fans, they’d be most pumped up to buy things right after the concert, right?

Ah, well. I’m really glad I got to see them perform. I just wish everyone else had been as excited as I had been. :’c

The batch of six OC commissions I did Friday.

The batch of six OC commissions I did Friday. Characters belong to Danielle!

Afterwards, Tori and I walked back to the hotel to rest a bit, run numbers and drop off our stuff before walking over to Denny’s for dinner. We had very good timing because we walked in at the same time as another party and there were only two booths left in the restaurant. We filled Denny’s to capacity! And I drained four glasses of lemonade to soothe my aching throat. x_x

Numberswise, Friday was a bit disappointing. It wasn’t as slow as Friday at Sakura-Con this year, but it wasn’t as good as Friday at Sakura-Con last year, or as good as Fridays I’ve had at every other anime con in its size bracket (Otakon, A-Kon). And since I’d never been to Illinois before, the oversaturation problem from Sakura this year shouldn’t have been an issue at all… I’m not really sure what it was.

Traffic was fine. The aisles were narrow, but I don’t think they ever got overbearingly crowded. Even though lots of attendees breezed through the Alley to get to Dealers at the beginning of the day, they all had to come back eventually (the hall’s entrance was also its only exit), and having concessions and lots of other things in the Exhibits Hall really helped keep people in the room just milling around. Sure, lots of people browse Friday and buy Saturday, but there were plenty of Friday-only badges in the crowd too.

It was puzzling and a little discouraging, but getting to go to the concert really put me in good spirits and I didn’t have any trouble sleeping Friday.

This is the cute picture that was in our hotel room, haha.

This is the cute picture that was in our hotel room, haha.

SATURDAY

We went to bed at midnight and didn’t have to get up until past 8am, as setup was again from 8-10am, but eight hours is just way too long for me to sleep during a convention. I slept fine, but I was still full of adrenaline and nervous convention energy, so I rolled out of bed right before eight. Tori had actually gotten up even earlier than that! For some reason, I was feeling really impatient that morning, so I skipped on getting coffee at both the hotel Starbucks, where there were three people in line, and at the convention center Starbucks, which had about twenty. It was probably for the better though; I didn’t need the caffeine at all.

As usual, I spent the time we had before opening wandering through the Exhibits Hall, seeing who was around and noting everyone who had Yowapeda art, even though I really don’t know what to do with prints anymore. I wanna support fellow artists, but I don’t need or don’t have space for anything that Artist Alley has to offer for the most part… I suppose this is a problem that a lot of regular con-goers have. As more and more conventions crop up, they are more social events than anything else, and those who attend cons often just can’t keep justifying buying from artists all the time. It’s different with Dealer’s Room. It’s different when you’re a collector of official goods — even if there end up being a lot of official goods of a thing, you know there’s a natural limit to it. It’s harder to collect from artists because there would absolutely never be any end to it.

Dealer's Room, before opening. I keep seeing silly idol versions of Code Geass characters and being pointlessly tempted, lol.

Dealer’s Room, before opening. I keep seeing silly idol versions of Code Geass characters and being pointlessly tempted, lol.

There really weren’t many people around Saturday morning, but at the far end of the Alley, I got to talk some with Pepper (Pepperonccini) about sales and bike anime. She had these really adorable winners’ rosettes that I regret not buying, haha. I also really wanted to commission her too, but I didn’t have any printed references handy and I didn’t want to make her sift through my mess of online ones. Ah well. That’s what picking up business cards is for!

We opened Saturday morning to heavier traffic, but while sales picked up, I was never as busy as I wanted to be.

Commissions trickled in slowly, and most were quick pencil or ink sketches. I had very few colored commissions, which was sad because, man, my markers take up way too much valuable luggage space to sit there unused! I was even working on commissions more slowly than usual because it was such an ordeal every time I had to look up reference. In addition to my phone just not working without the portable battery hooked up and the micro USB being connected at just the right angle, 4G was spotty and Internet was slow. Tori had a personal wifi hotspot though, so I ended up looking up refs on her phone, then taking a photo from my phone, then hoping the battery doesn’t randomly die while I was using the reference.

Rin, Gou, and a perfect Haru.

Rin, Gou, and a perfect Haru.

It was aggravating, but I was trying really hard not to let my endless phone issues get to me… ~_~ I was still grateful that Tori was letting me use her phone to run Square, but I did also notice that the number of people wanting to pay with card was lower than usual. When all other factors say that sales should be going well, I suppose the down economy is always there to blame?

A fair number of the commissioners I had were really fun, at least! One couple commissioned me for a pet portrait of their dog and another artist gave me free reign in a sketchbook with the theme “teddy bears VS monsters.” (Naturally, I drew a poor teddy bear getting torn up by a cerberus…) I also had two people bring me coffee in exchange for commissions, which was lovely because 1) coffee makes me feel better, even if I don’t need the caffeine, and 2) now I have more stuff to do!

I had a surprising number of people recognize my Chihayafuru print and spaz to me about the show. I’m a year late on finishing that piece and have only ever had like two people to flail at about the show, so it was really nice to finally get to talk to other fans about the series. Even though karuta is a weird and esoteric “sport,” I’m pretty sure that it’s Chihaya’s fault that I sucked into the black abyss that is sports anime. Karuta was followed by swimming and now bikes, and I know when I get a chance I will probably get really into volleyball (Haikyuu!!) and basketball (Kuroko’s Basketball) too — not to mention I’ve had baseball (Big Windup) sitting on my shelf a while, lent by a friend, still waiting for me to get around to it too. SIGH.

HEY! LISTEN!

HEY! LISTEN!

The Exhibits Hall closed suddenly and unceremoniously at 6:30pm. It annoyed me that staff didn’t give us a head’s up, say, half an hour or fifteen minutes or even five minutes ahead of close. There also weren’t really staff actively ushering attendees out. Sure, lots of people left when they dimmed the lights, but it was fifteen minutes after close and we’d still have a random attendee here and there wandering around. Not great for security, y’know?

Tori and I dawdled at our tables for a while after close, taking our time packing up while Cari went to verify details for our dinner plan. We all ended up going to dinner with Savannah and Andrew of Amya — they had their car with them, so Cari, Amanda, Tori, and I, all piled into the back seat of their hatchback and we drove a fair distance away from the convention center to the friends’ house Savannah and Andrew were staying at. From there, we all walked to a nice, mostly Chinese, dumpling house. I say “mostly Chinese” only because I ended up getting bibimbap, which is decidedly not a Chinese dish, but I picked off dumplings from everyone else’s dishes and it was all really good! I’m glad we got to go to a restaurant outside of hotel-land. :3

Afterwards, we walked back to the house and Cari, Amanda, Savannah, and I played two hilarious games of Love Letter while Andrew played dealer and Tori worked on commissions. What a nice way to wind down after a long day. :O

The pet portrait commission I had. The commissioners provided the little square piece of paper!

The pet portrait commission I had. The commissioners provided the little square piece of paper!

Numbers for Saturday were better and closer to what I would expect for a convention of ACen’s size, but they didn’t make up for Friday’s deficits, and I wasn’t feeling confident that Sunday bridge the gap either. Commissions have been consistently down for the last few cons, and I think this is still the thing that bothers me the most. Not having as many sales wouldn’t be as noticeable to me if I had something to work on behind the table, at least. I’m not really sure there’s much to be done about this though — I had my commission sign on the table this con, and while I do think that more people noticed it, it didn’t seem to change the actual number of commissions I got.

At the end of Saturday, I wasn’t really sure if ACen would be a convention worth returning to because of travel costs. I wasn’t losing money on the trip, but I wasn’t making much either. Though ACen has about 7,000 people over Sakura-Con, they weren’t making a significant difference in returns, and as Sakura is local for me, the cost differences in attending Sakura and ACen are substantial.

A trainer and her Flareon.

A trainer and her Flareon.

SUNDAY

We’d stayed up a bit late Saturday night swapping con stories, so I didn’t roll out of bed until a bit past 8am. This time, I did pick up coffee at the hotel Starbucks before walking over to the convention center.

Keri (Alicechan) and her table partner Centi stopped by Tori’s and my table and we talked about sales a bit. Centi was the only one of us to have done ACen before, so it was insightful getting her take on things. Seemed like everyone was doing not as well as expected, but no one was sure why! I also got to chat with Enduro a fair bit Sunday morning, which was super nice, and I traded her one of my Slytherin zipper bags for her gorgeous, gorgeous Mushishi print. She’d mentioned the Slytherin bag specifically on Friday, so I brought it over Sunday. I was honestly not expecting her to know what I even had at the table. o_o Aaaaa, senpai noticed me….I hope I get to see her again at another con. ;3;

Fifteen minutes to opening, I ran over to the angela table mixed in with the Industry exhibitors at the front of the hall. I’d meant to stop by all weekend, but for some reason I hadn’t been able to find it before then. I was somewhat surprised to see that a fair bit of their merchandise had sold out, but I guess that meant they were doing okay after all. I hope lots of people showed up to their Saturday panels and autograph sessions…!

I picked up a CD (it was a weird con exclusive that only had anime songs on it, haha; the CD is literally called “anime songs”/anime no uta!) and was given a ticket to attend an autograph session, and it was only then that I realized that the autographs took place at their booth there, which meant I didn’t have to go far to get there. Hm! The Sunday session was from 11am-noon, so it was pretty soon, and I told myself that I’d go ahead and get the CD signed if the line wasn’t long…

Ink commission for Cari of her and Amanda's characters!

Ink commission for Cari of her and Amanda’s characters!

10am Sunday opened with a very hectic first twenty minutes or so of sales. :O It was almost overwhelming!

This gradually wound back down to a less crazy level, but while there were weird lulls here and there where the aisles were completely empty of attendees, things finally picked up to a very noticeable degree in terms of sales. Commissions remained down though — one of the few commissions I had was from Cari (above), which I took my damn sweet time on because I could.

Around 11:30am, I did run over to the angela booth to check how busy things were. The autograph line only had about five people and was moving at a fair pace, so I stuck around to get my CD book signed and to stutter out some horribly uncomfortable 楽しかったs and ありがとうs to Atsuko and Katsu. :’D Atsuko seemed to understand a most of my English fine and told me she had had fun at the concert as well, though when Katsu asked whether I’d be attending their panel, he had to refer to his translator to understand my response — “sorry, I’ll be working. I’m an artist. ;3;”

And then I ran back to the table cackling madly. (This only the second time I’ve ever gotten anything signed by a band okay.)

Signed angela CD. ;3;

Signed angela CD. ;3;

Sunday afternoon maintained a weird pattern of really busy periods interspersed with completely dead periods, but overall, it seemed clear that there were lots of people out spending the remainder of their budgets Sunday. It was a relief to finally be busy with something, even if commissions were still down.

I actually did get one two character color commission near the end of the day. That was a bit hectic since I needed reference for both characters, but the references I was finding were really inconsistent. My phone had also decided at that point to just not charge from the portable battery no matter what angle I held it at, so I was forced to continually swipe Tori’s phone to check stuff. >:(

Judy Funni and Patti Mayonnaise!

Judy Funni and Patti Mayonnaise!

As with the other days, staff did not give a heads up about closing and Sunday ended very abruptly at 4pm.

My flight wasn’t until 8:40pm, so I had plenty of time to break down and pack up and run around saying bye to people. I managed to get my main checked bag down to 51 lbs (I’d finally gotten a luggage scale) and just hoped that the attendant would be lenient. Tori and her mom helped me drag stuff across the street back to the Hyatt, where there was a shuttle just about to leave. Perfect timing, this time around!

On the shuttle, I overheard some of the other passengers talking about cities to live in, and it turned out that one of them was from Houston — and from the same area I grew up in. :o We were both flying out on the same airline (albeit to different destinations) and both our flights were pretty late, so we ended up hanging out through check-in (didn’t charge me overweight, HA!) and security and dinner (another airport Chili’s, score!) and it was really nice and random way to wrap up the weekend? :O My flight wasn’t delayed on the way home either, so bonus hurray!

Genderbent Avengers group!

Genderbent Avengers group!

OVERALL

Anime Central was okay?

Numbers-wise, it was a little disappointing, yeah. I didn’t make my goal amount, which was around what I made at A-Kon last year. Friday was very slow and Saturday wasn’t amazing, but Sunday really picked up — I ended up making almost as much Sunday as I did Saturday, which helped bring totals up. Commissions made up only 16% of total revenue, which is even with Sakura-Con this year’s 17%… I’m not sure if I should be happy merchandise is making up a bigger percentage or if I should be worried fewer people seem interested in commissions these days?

So even though I didn’t make my goal, I think the trip was probably still worth it. If I can cut back down to one checked bag and manage a cheaper hotel split next time, that would help a lot. :>

And sales aside, I did like many other aspects of the convention, including where it was located. Yeah, flying into Chicago O’Hare kind of sucked, but the Hyatt and convention center are easy to get to from the airport; that free shuttle from the Hyatt is really, really great, and several of the other hotels have airport shuttles as well, including the InterContinental. I really didn’t get to explore much, but the space seems substantial and well-suited for the convention. The venue didn’t seem especially crowded, so it feels like there’s still room to grow. The area could stand to have more food options, but what’s there isn’t bad.

Timing-wise, ACen is smack in the middle of a very busy convention time, but it doesn’t typically conflict with another major con and there isn’t anything local for me in May either.

I’m pretty sure angela was announced as a guest after I had already decided to go, but I know ACen had Kalafina last year (and rented out the Rosemont Theatre for her concert), and having excellent musical guests sure doesn’t hurt! I was especially happy that angela’s performance didn’t end up crossing into Artist Alley hours much at all (though honestly I would have probably ditched AA to go to the concert regardless of when it was).

My teeny but amazing ACen haul!

My teeny but amazing ACen haul!

ACen’s Artist Alley is on a first come, first serve system that’s heavily integrated into their in-house attendee registration, which meant AA registration was a stressful nightmare of server time-outs because ACen is forced to handle everything on their own host.

After registering though, the rest of my dealings with ACen ahead of the show were pretty pleasant. The Exhibits head, Philip Ward-Schmidt, seemed very aware of artist concerns and issues and did well to address questions and problems as they came up. He was prompt in responding to emails and when one artist asks about something relevant to everyone (like Illinois sales tax), he sent out a mass email informing everyone of the answer, which was very nice. Directly after the show, he sent out a survey soliciting feedback, something I always appreciate.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see Philip himself at any point at the convention itself, and his various on-site staff were not nearly as helpful, organized, or professional. I definitely textwalled about everything in that feedback survey though, so here’s to hoping things improve for next year!

Here is another shot of my loot because I love it.

Here is another shot of my loot because I love it.

 Cons

  • On-site staff organization. There were lots of on-site staff at Exhibits check-in, but very few seemed to know what they were doing and they didn’t have time in the thick of things to teach their underlings the proper way to deal with whatever. Everyone was nice enough, but sadly, nice doesn’t get stuff done. <_< More pre-con training is definitely required, but this should be a relatively easy thing to fix, right?
  • On-site staff attentiveness. No one ever came around to check on artists, etc. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I would have probably cared more if I hadn’t been tabling right next to Tori. I also really, really wished that staff had given exhibitors (and attendees!) a ten minutes’ heads up or something before opening and closing the hall every day. It always seemed that things started and ended abruptly, and staff wasn’t especially effective at getting stragglers out of the hall after close either.
  • Flying into Chicago O’Hare International Airport sucks. Even in May. Basically everyone I knew flying in experienced some kind of delay, and while there had been storms the day before, the weather was fine Thursday? “Too many planes!!” is not a good reason for delays, okay.

Pros

  • Pre-con staff communication and attentiveness. Philip is pretty on top of things and that is great.
  • Artist Alley location in the Exhibits Hall. The aisles between islands could stand to be a bit wider, but overall I think the placement worked out well, with Artist Alley sitting in between Dealers and Industry exhibitors and guests. Attendees had to go past us to get to Dealers and then pass us again on the way out. There were also concessions in the Exhibits Hall and a lounge area where people could sit and eat — great for keeping attendees around in between shopping trips!
  • Overall convention space. I really like the convention center, and though I was only in the Hyatt for the concert, I really appreciate their free airport shuttle!

Hm. Honestly, I don’t feel too strongly about most aspects of this convention. As always it was nice to hang out with friends I don’t see often, meet new people, and fantard about stuff all weekend, but ACen-specific things didn’t stand out all that much (concert aside, perhaps). Things were just okay. The listed cons were annoyances that didn’t affect all that much ultimately, and the pros are things that are kind of subjective and hard to measure, at least as far as space and location goes — Philip’s proactiveness is a rare and shining quality amongst Exhibits/Artist Alley heads and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Anyway! Unless a more convenient convention ends up on the same dates, and assuming I’m lucky enough to score a table again next year, I’ll probably return to Anime Central. :O

3 Comments

  1. I felt the same way about a lot of aspects about the convention! I think from our chat, we had pretty similar impressions about our first time at ACEN, haha! But if nothing else, it was really good to meet you too! And of course I know what’s at your table! I follow you on twitter and I watched all your in-progress shots of your Chihayafuru print and crazy inks!!!! <3 I hope we can do another convention together sometime too!

    • aaaaa for some reason I never really expect people to have seen my Twitter/Tumblr posts because both sites have feeds that move quickly and on Twitter I blab a lot about inane dumb things so it’s easy to ignore and on Tumblr I never reblog anything so it’s easy to overlook?? EITHER WAY I was surprised! ;3; And yes, it was fantastic meeting you and I hope we meet again soon! <33!!

  2. I agree I felt everything at ACEN was very disorganized. I mean they didn’t even know where the Lost and Found items were supposed to go to it was ridiculous!

    I haven’t quite decided if I’ll go back or not, but I know I intend to attend Anime Expo next year.

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