I’ve gone to Anime Central for the past five years in a row, so it
was a BFD when I missed it this year due to poor planning on my part and
its earlier-than-usual April weekend. This left me seething with regret
deep into the summer, not because ACEN is the perfect con or anything, but
because I’d missed out on my con fix and would have to wait a whole year to
get it again. The con experience – simply being surrounded by countless
other geeks in a safe environment filled with good vibes – is something I
always enjoy and sort of need on a semi-regular basis. So when I first read
about AnimeWorld Chicago, I became sort of obsessed with it. Here was an
upcoming con, close to home, that would help close out my summer. My
anticipation for this con couldn’t have been greater, but in hindsight I
can see that that my expectations were simply too great for what was to be
my first small convention.

Held in the O’Hare Hyatt, the same location that Anime Central calls
home, the setting was familiar and comfortable but the atmosphere was
decidedly different than what I was used to. While the hotel lobby was
jam-packed and abuzz with activity for Anime Central, I arrived to a
mostly-empty lobby for AnimeWorld Chicago. A cosplayer or two heading down the escalator was the only sign that there was an anime convention in town, so I followed them downstairs to the registration table, which was
well-organized and got me on my way within minutes. From there I was free
to do as I pleased, so I scoured the schedule for promising panels or other
goings-on.

Truth be told, I’d been looking over the schedule online during the
week before the convention, and there was very little listed that catered
toward any of my interests. Both Friday and Saturday looked like a wash,
with all the panels that I really wanted to go to – an introduction to
DJ’ing, “Japanese Folklore: An Anime Primer,” “Cowboys and Giant Robots:
The AMERICA Panel,” conducting celebrity interviews, a panel called “You
Only Hurt/Comfort the Ones You Love” – being held on Sunday, the only day
of the convention that I didn’t have off from work. Still, I was set on
being there on Friday anyway, vowed to make the best of the day and to try
to give panels that I wasn’t familiar with a fair chance.

My first stop was a panel was titled “Anime Sentai JamRanger, ” which
turned out to be a half-hour skit in which actors dressed in costumes
resembling Power Rangers battled with a masked villain that stole their
voices using a plastic sword. I don’t know what else to say about this.
Afterwards I should have attended the voice acting panel (hosted by real
voice actors) but instead, for whatever reason, I wandered around aimlessly
for an hour or two, playing both arcade and console games in the two
well-stocked video game rooms, walking through artist’s alley and the
dealer’s room and watching some anime in the video room. I was already
bored out of my mind, which I found really strange considering I was in my
element. I then walked down the block to the Akoo Theatre to buy tickets
for the Distant Worlds Final Fantasy concert in December (without the
ridiculous Ticketmaster service fees), which caused me to miss the
beginning of the designer plush toy panel. By the time I got to the room,
all the open spots at the tables were taken. I wasn’t sure if I’d be given
any materials to work with or if I’d have a chance of catching up to the
rest of the group if I sat by myself in the back, so I left and went in
search of other things to do.

Out of sheer curiosity I attended the Chii Sakurabi mini-concert,
which, like most of the rest of the day’s offerings, wasn’t necessarily bad
but simply wasn’t for me. Ms. Sakurabi put on an enthusiastic,
energy-filled set for a somewhat sparse crowd; apparently the “real”
concert would be held on Saturday and this was a warm-up of sorts. After
the abbreviated show ended I wandered into a martial arts sword demo hosted by a married couple who exchanged took turns playfully sniping at each other, slicing through foam (?) blocks and interacting with the crowd. I
wish I would have seen more of this, as it was the most entertaining event
of the convention that I was fortunate enough to catch.

I’d signed up to participate in a video game tournament and was
looking forward to seeing what mystery retro game would I’d be playing for
it, but unfortunately arrived in the video game room too late and missed my
call to battle other players at Super Mario Kart. I then visited the “Name
That Anime Tune!” panel, which was set up like a game show for a handful of
contestants at the front of the room to compete for prizes. I only stayed
at this for about ten minutes; the panel hosts’ banter derailed the flow of
the game and sort of ruined what was one of the only “general anime” panels
of the day that stood a chance of entertaining me. I know that makes me
sound entitled, demanding or condescending, which isn’t my intent at all.
This day of programming just wasn’t tailored for my interests. Neither was
Saturday’s schedule, which is why I changed my plans and didn’t attend for
a second day at all. I did enjoy the AMV contest, which was presented in a
large room with two big screens, a better setup than the small AMV room
that ACEN had two years ago. And Anime Hell was enjoyable as ever, so I
left with a smile on my face, at least.

I debated whether or not I should publish this round-up at all, since
a lot of it doesn’t exactly reflect positively on AnimeWorld Chicago at
all. But this was 90% due to myself and the needs that I brought to the
con, which were probably too unrealistic for such a small con to satisfy. I
think that a big part of the draw for me at ACEN (and Sakura-Con) is the
sheer size and scope of the con, the teeming masses and the impossibility
of seeing everything, no matter how hard you might try. I’ve read lots of
accounts from con-goers who prefer the smaller cons like this, and I wish I
could see things their way. To end on a more positive note, AnimeWorld
Chicago was run exceptionally well for what it was. The staff was
professional and courteous, and everything that I attended started on time
and went off without a hitch. I’d be open to visiting this convention
again, but only if the schedule delivers panels and events that I really
care about on days that I’m available to attend. In short, I want this
convention to cater itself to my tastes, and I know that is unfair and can
never happen.

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