This week’s news: Sony is still in hot water for the PlayStation Network/Store outage. Now for something completely different!
Once a year, otaku nerds of the Midwest travel in droves to the Windy City to gather for a holy ceremony. With enough virgins to satisfy the Pacific Ring of Fire, this gathering may actually have been what prevented the Rapture from happening on May 21st, 2011. You really should be thanking them for keeping the world safe from the wrath of an angry deity. How did they accomplish this? By having a three-day ceremony in Chicago, Illinois celebrating the best, the worst, and the weirdest writing and animation to come out of Japan. Anime Central is, as its name implies, primarily focused on the anime and manga industry, but Japanese culture and video games commingle in this otaku-filled environment to create something glorious. If you are into cat girls with huge eyes, giant city-smashing robots, or cat girls carrying swords even bigger than the giant robots, then this was the place to be May 20, 21, and 22. Divided between the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and three surrounding hotels, there was something to offer for everyone.
The convention center itself was primarily home to the infamous Dealer’s Room, where attendees flock to purchase a variety of items that would normally be difficult if not impossible to find on American shores. Without the shipping and handling costs of eBay or JList, the Dealer’s Room offered everything; from figures and keychains of beloved anime and game characters to imported DVDs, manga, and video games; costumes, wigs, swords, and other props for the avid cosplayer preparing for their next character; even the humble dakimakura. In addition to officially licensed goods, the convention center also held the Artist’s Alley, another staple of anime conventions. Artists of all sorts brought their wares to Anime Central, displayed the wide variety of talents held by the otaku community, from plush creations and pins to art prints and clothing.
But every anime convention has places to buy shiny anime things. What about the programming? This is why three additional hotels were required in addition to the convention center, there was literally that much content packed into one weekend. Dividing their anime viewing rooms by genre, Anime Central ensured fans of manly shounen anime would not be exposed to the girly favorites in the shoujo room, though the amount of gender crossover made it clear that girls can love giant robots just as much as men can love magical girls and border-yaoi. All the rooms offered a variety of both newer anime as well as series a few seasons behind, from Ga-Rei Zero to Toradora, Burst Angel to Murder Princess, providing ample opportunity for fans to find something new or rediscover something older that they missed. For those wanting a bit more adult material, the convention did provide a variety of hentai showings after the sun had set, though I cannot report on the actual conditions of the rooms themselves. Sorry Lusipurr.com, I will not get my shoes sticky for you.
However, I will listen to fellow otaku as they get into verbal masturbation matches for your benefit! Simply watching anime at a convention is too boring for some, instead choosing to create panels on their favorite anime topics to either expound upon elements of a series or to argue their points regarding it. For fans of the Shin Megami Tensei Persona series, a panel discussing the mythology of the series was a bit slow, but very informative. Even slower but still informative was the Gundam panel, a must for fans of the giant robot series, though unlike previous ACen Gundam panels, no models were given out. For more casual fans who have no specific anime they must discuss, other panels included how to interact and potentially date other otaku, how to prepare yourself to move to glorious Nippon, and how to run an anime/video gaming blog. The only concern raised by any of the programming or panels was the lack of space; nerds are not sardines, and many popular panels were forced to turn potential viewers away.
Of course, watching anime, debating anime, and researching how to do things is all stuff you can do on your own time and without being crushed by other people. What about things you could not do anywhere else? The biggest draw of any convention would have to be the guests, professionals in the field that will shake your hand for you to never wash again. The big concert of this year’s Anime Central was the return of FLOW, the band known for the openings of the popular Naruto series and Eureka Seven, but several other musical performers from the J-pop, J-rock, and electronic genres entertained con-goers as well. International guests included the standard producers and voice actresses, but the most surprising guest of the convention would have to be Hideko Tamura Snider, author of One Sunny Day, her story about living through the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. As a website full of English-speaking nerds, the U.S. guest list was slightly more recognizable: Stephanie Sheh (Bleach’s Orihime, Naruto’s Hinata, K-On!’s Yui), Cristina Vee (K-On!’s Mio), Michael Sinterniklaas (Final Fantasy XIII’s Orphen), J. Micheal Tatum (Full Metal Alchemist’s Scar), and a host of other popular voice actors, animators, and producers. The two highlight programming events not involving outsides guests, the Masquerade and the Anime Music Video contest, were unfortunately not timed well this year, overlapping and forcing viewers to choose. Choosing the AMV Contest turned out to be a poor decision on my part, as Anime Central’s staff was unable to get the video display to work properly, though other visitors said this had been corrected by later showings.
Finally, we come to what Lusipurr.com is all about: video gaming. As you would expect at a convention, this is not your standard single-player RPG fare. Multiplayer games and LAN games reign in the gaming room, with competitors punching each other out in fighting games or shooting each others’ faces off in first-person shooters. The best video gaming experience of all would have to be the setup of Virtual World Entertainment’s Battletech cockpits, in which six players faced off in gigantic robots. Every convention offers the opportunity to sit behind a controller, but what convention allows you to get into a pod constructed to look like a robot cockpit and shoot rockets at each other? While the sessions of the twenty-year-old game were short, there is nothing more satisfying than beating up on friends (and Lusipurr.com readers) in a gigantic robot.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlegeeks. Anime Central 2011 finished up well with a few flaws as every convention is expected to have, but was otherwise an impressive show of what the otaku community has to offer. As they near their fifteenth anniversary, ACen 2012, scheduled for late April, will hopefully continue to bring in great guests, improve on their little mistakes, get more giant robots, and maybe, if you are good and refrain from touching yourself at night, a wider variety of love pillows.