It’s a bit late at this point, but I thought doing an ACen 2011 con report may be fun! I didn’t make any industry panels, but I did attend a fair amount of fan panels, which are also important in my opinion. So, these are my thoughts and feelings on ACen 2011. Enjoy!
The best place to start is with the important things that occurred before the con even started. I have to say, I was not impressed with ACen’s organization regarding pre-con information this year. This was the first year that I got my badge mailed, and the experience was nerve-wracking. I was one of the first people in my group to order my badge, and I was one of the last people to receive it. Now, I know that the way ACen does badge mailing is in randomized batches, but when I was one of the first people to order my badge out of my group, and my friends were getting theirs as early as the end of February, but mine didn’t arrive until mid-April? Yeah I was freaked out and not happy at all. It did arrive on time, but I was really worried that it wouldn’t. ACen? That wasn’t okay. Mid-April is pushing it way too close.
Another issue that occurred directly involved my friends, and I was also caught up in it because I had to mediate the issues between two separate parties. One of my friends won the Got Soap? tee shirt slogan contest. Winning that contest means you get two free badges. Normally, the winner is able to apply that to their own badge and get a refund if they already paid, but for some reason the staff in charge told my friend that she wasn’t allowed to do that this year. All of her group had already paid, so she asked all of her friends if they knew anyone that wanted a badge for ACen and hadn’t paid yet. Two of my friends were possibly going, but hard up for money and a free badge would push them from maybes to definite. I let my friend who won the contest know and she agreed to give her prize badges to them.
Unfortunately, while in the end it worked out, that was one of the most disorganized experiences I’ve ever been involved with. My friend needed my other friends’ info for their badges to submit to registration, according to the person in charge of this. So I was the middleman who got that contact info. Okay, that should be everything needed since that’s all they asked for, right? Nope. So some time goes by and we hear nothing. My friend is getting concerned, so she asks the person in charge of this what’s up. Apparently they lost my other friends’ contact info. What? That is absolutely ridiculous. So I have to get it again because my friend didn’t think to keep it. This happened three or four times total throughout the course of this ordeal. After a while of that nonsense, we got word that my friends needed to put their info into the badge ordering system but leave it unpaid. Wow, how about just telling us that from the start? At one point my friend was asked why she didn’t just use the free badges for herself and someone else in her group, too. Um…how about because you guys told her that she couldn’t when this all started?
In the end, one of my friends got her badge in the mail, but my other friend didn’t get his, so he had to go with the friend that won the contest down to a special room for badge issues. Everything worked out fine in the end, but all that hassle was incredibly unprofessional and it didn’t make me happy.
Despite that and the aforementioned nerve-wracking experience with badge mailing, I went into ACen 2011 with a positive attitude. The organization on Thursday was surprisingly well-handled. I was able to pick up my program guide without any issue, as well as pick one up for a friend who had opted to stay in the hotel room, and the proceedings for getting my friend’s free badge picked up went smoothly, including a staffer helping us find the room that we were supposed to go to.
However, I had a few qualms with the program book itself. The primary issue I had with it was that it didn’t list times and locations for photoshoots. It has in the past, but didn’t this year for some reason. That’s quite a pain for anyone who wants to go to them, since quite a few congoers don’t exactly have internet access while at con to check on these things. If the information wasn’t finalized before the book was printed, fine, but how about a loose sheet, or even a sign in the hotel or something? Also, the program guide’s organization in listing panels in the panel summary section made no sense. I think it was alphabetical by day? So first it was all of Friday’s panels, but in alphabetical order rather than chronological, then Saturday’s, same thing, then Sunday’s. It was very confusing and annoying.
On the topic of panels, something else regarding panels themselves bothered me significantly. Now, ACen always claims its main hotel is the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, and it always has been. The majority of events happen in the Hyatt, with a few things in the convention center. For the past couple years, we’ve had some panels get put into some of the overflow hotels, namely the Embassy, Doubletree, and Hilton. That’s fine with me, though, since the majority was still always in the Hyatt. Until this year. When the panel schedule work in progress was released to the general public, a lot of us noticed something odd; little to nothing was occurring in the Hyatt. Most of the industry and guest panels were in the Hyatt, along with the usual main programming stuff, but that was it. All of the fan panels were in the overflow hotels.
This bothered me for a few reasons. We were never given any prior notice to this change. The con continued to act as though the Hyatt was the main hotel, when in truth there was very little happening in the Hyatt, especially when you consider how sparse and disappointing the guest list was. A staffer said that it was impossible to give prior notice on this since it depends on what’s available any given year and they can’t know in advance, but that doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not fair to attendees who are out of shape or have disabilities. I myself am rather out of shape. Usually I miss at least one event every year that I wanted to attend because I’m just too worn out from all the walking to leave my hotel room. I was seriously concerned that I would miss the majority of the programming that I wanted to attend because I’d have to walk to a different hotel from the one I was staying in to get to any panel. In the end I was able to manage it with a lot more ease than I’d expected, but I’m sure there are attendees who are in much worse shape than I am that had more trouble with this than I did.
Also, the guest list was incredibly disappointing this year. I don’t mean to insult any of the guests, as they were all wonderful, but it was a very lacking list when you consider ACen’s size. Anime Central is one of the top 10 largest anime conventions in North America. As of the past couple years, the only cons that have more attendees are Anime Expo, Otakon, and New York Anime Fest. So, when the main guests of interest are the musical guest, three Japanese production company guests, a couple fashion guests, and one offbeat Japanese guest are more or less all of the major draw, there is a problem. I was very excited for Hideko Tamura Snider and rather disappointed that I missed her panels. I was happy to see Bob Shirohata, Mika Nomura, and Saki, although I really wish one of the Hetalia seiyuu had been present and I am incredibly jealous that Otakon got Akira Sasunuma. The musical guest and fashion guests did nothing for me personally but I recognize their importance and that they are a big deal. But the problem is that it just simply wasn’t enough major guests. There are smaller cons that regularly bring in directors, seiyuu, et cetera, and I find it a bit sad that ACen can’t muster more and has historically been so weak in the guest department. On top of that, we didn’t have any guests announced before late March. Note, the con itself is in late May. We didn’t even have American voice actors announced sooner. People were afraid that there wouldn’t be guests. The announcements being made that late is just unacceptable.
Now, I do cut ACen a little bit of slack for this year because of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in mid-March. That was undeniably a horrible tragedy, and it surely didn’t help the guest situation since many of the potential guests out there could have felt obligated to stay at home and help instead, or had injured or dead family, et cetera. I can’t say for sure on that since I don’t even know who all ACen was attempting to get, being just a basic attendee, but it’s a fair reason for this year’s guest list to be a bit sparse. However, I will still criticize ACen for this because ACen has had a sparse guest list in every year that I’ve attended, which has been 2007-2011. The guest list probably wouldn’t have been much different without the earthquake if you look at ACen’s guest list in the past few years.
However, I did actually leave Anime Central 2011 with a positive impression. This was primarily due to one factor; fan panels. The panels that I attended this year were all highly enjoyable, and I commend the panelists. They are an important part of any convention. The first panel that I attended was the Type Moon panel. It was quite enjoyable since, unlike a lot of series or franchise-specific fan panels, the panelists sought to make it an educational and intellectual discussion rather than a room full of collective squee. The main panelist was an English major and did quite a bit of discussing literary themes, especially themes that commonly show up in most of Type Moon’s works. The panel was heavy on audience participation and I joined in a fair amount when I felt as though I had something to add.
On Saturday I attended the World Folklore in Anime panel. I went to this panel last ACen as well and, while it was mostly unchanged, it was still highly entertaining. The panelists go over various legends and mythical beings and briefly discuss how they have been portrayed in anime. They start it off with the original shinigami story, which was German in origin and came to Japan via a stage play. It’s overall a very fascinating panel, and, while it goes into pretty obscure topics, it’s still only barely scratching the surface since this topic is so broad. I do hope the panelists will expand it in the future.
The Americans in Anime panel was excellent. The panel mostly consisted of clips from various anime of American characters doing their thing. It’s really interesting to see a whole bunch of those characters at once. It really drives home just how over the top they are. The panel also went over the various archetypes of American characters. It was highly entertaining, and even somewhat informative.
The last panel that I attended on Saturday was the Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt fan panel. It was highly enjoyable, and served the purpose that a Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt panel should; lots of entertainment and sexual/bathroom humor. The head panelist was very charismatic and presented the panel in an entertaining way. It was even informative in a way…well, if pointing out innuendo that a Western audience may have missed counts as informative. It was far from an intellectual panel, but it was highly entertaining and did what it sought to do.
The last panel that I attended at Anime Central 2011 was the Axis Powers Hetalia fan panel. Two of the panelists are friends of mine, but either way this is an excellent panel. It’s in a similar vein to the Panty and Stocking panel in that it is in no way trying to provide serious analysis of anything, but simply be entertaining and enjoyable to fans of the series. It starts with a matching game in which a few people are picked from the audience and are read a sentence related to the series. They fill in the blank on a dry erase board and hope to match the panelists’ answers. It’s quite the fun game. After that the panel mostly just turns into an open discussion, which suits the nature of the series and fandom quite well and is very enjoyable.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to any other panels. There were others that I wanted to attend but didn’t make for whatever reason. I’m still sad that a panel on Takurazuka ended up being a no show from the panelists.
That about sums up what there is to say about Anime Central 2011. The dealer’s room was the same as ever; plenty to find, a fair amount of variety but still some of the dealer booths that looked the same in what they were selling, occasional bootlegs, etc. The elevators were as crowded as ever and attendees were stupidly cramming them past capacity like always. ACen is a good con and I love it dearly, but it has a lot of room for improvement.