Convention Review: Acen 2016

Convention Review: Acen 2016

Every year, I always look forward to going to Anime Central. I mean, -every year.-

Anime Central, is one of the largest Anime conventions of the Midwest, hosting an average of over 30 thousand warm bodies every year. I have been going to Anime Central, or ACen, for the past 16 years, and this year marks 17. Every year, I look forward to the many industry guests and to feel the enveloping sense of community that Anime conventions bring. I always enjoy anime conventions over comic conventions for that reason. I always boast about the warmth of the community to any newcomers who are undecided about going to one. For me,Anime Central is community, industry and gaming.

Starting with the good, the gaming room was fantastic. There were many games that you wouldn’t normally see in your local arcade. There was a Pachinko gaming room, and the tournaments were the smoothest I have ever seen ran, in a large convention setting. Some tournaments ran late, which I would expect in a setting with 100+ contenders.

This year, Anime Central fell short for me. The industry guest were few and far between. The industry panels did not satisfy as many of the “industry” panels were fan run. The panels that were actually led by industry leaders were also much too short and were poorly advertised. There were even industry premieres that either ran late of just didn’t happen.

The list of voice actors/actresses were sparse and uninspiring. Many of the guests were typical of the midwest convention scene. Anime Central failed to bring the “wow” factors in their guests. Not only did they fail to bring a guest list worthy of the badge price, they also were slow in offering any hype, as their guests of Honor weren’t announced until after the badge tier prices were increased. Everything seemed very bland in terms of special guests that a convention could bring.

Conventions are supposed to bring guests that we would never dream of meeting otherwise. I could understand the costs of fulfilling everyone’s dream guest list, but even a few bigger names would have been better than a few impressive guests. I can also see where the convention is getting so big, it’s become harder to please all the fandoms. They have to pick their battles and see where the money is going.

Speaking of which. Fan run content was very safe this year, which was great, but the screening process should include some sort of variety. I asked a few members of staff how they picked their panels, and they said it relied mostly on a lottery system. I couldn’t help but notice a lot of the panels were the same that you would find at other midwest conventions (same with the vendors/artist alley.) Next year, I would like to see more variety. Given, if they have the same panels/vendors as say, a cheaper convention, I would probably skip the more expensive convention.

I understand with a larger convention, it takes much more effort to run things smoothly. I also understand it’s also harder to make a larger convention feel a sense of community. With a sense of community, there is a sense of pride. This year, there was no community, there was no pride. A few locals know what I’m talking about. There was an instance, not directly related to the convention events, so I won’t describe it, but the amount of parties not responsible for the mess ranged from con goers to casuals.

I will say, this years volunteers really brought it together. The staff, outside of the main department heads, were very helpful and understanding. They stepped in when fan run shoots were derailed or relocated. There were volunteers who helped keep order with night events when con goers got a little out of hand. The registration was quick, painless and simple for a convention of the size of Anime Central. The staff this year was rank SSS.

Overall, the convention really seemed calm and uneventful, otherwise. This year, ACEN 2016 left a funny feeling in my mouth. Like orange juice. I knew what to expect going in, but it was just that. What I expected from an anime convention, but with a strange feeling that made it not feel like the Anime Central I always look forward to. I suppose I don’t feel like Anime Central remembers why it started. I won’t even touch on how panels have derailed from the Anime/Japanese roots. There’s nothing wrong with expanding and experimenting, but I just want them to remember what they could cater to. Their community.

Perhaps with a bit more planning, they could please the majority, but this sampler style of panels and guests really needs more direction. This year, Anime Central left me feeling cold and uncomfortable. I won’t stop going, however, I feel this experience has me wanting to find out more about making conventions feel like a community again. So hopefully, 2017 will bring many changes, once the feedback has been counted, and the voices heard. I will never stop loving the convention community, even if we have our differences.

-Jen Hernandez

Illinois D20 Girl