It’s Sunday afternoon when I finally end up settling down for a much belated lunch at the Expoteria. Conveniently across the street from the Hyatt Regency ‘O Hare, it’s the cafeteria for the convention center where this year’s Anime Central is now wrapping up. Outside the window, it’s the expected last-minute rush to check out of the hotel and meet up with rides. As I start to dig in, the other part of the reason I’m in the Expoteria walks through the door.
Into the room steps one Darius Washington, one of my fellow Otaku USA Contributors with badges still around his neck and a half-full bottle of water. I wave him over and we sit down to reminisce about this year’s ACen. Partially because of friendly conversation but mostly because we both wanted to do an event write-up and figured a team up was in order!
I tell Darius of my woes of ACen past; she was my first (con) and we’ve had a rocky relationship from the get-go. In 2006, I missed Saturday night due to my suite being robbed like something fierce. In 2008, it turned out to be a waste of time and money on my part for multiple factors, resulting in my finally swearing off the con. However, the allure of being able to run my trademark Tokusatsu Hell panel once more (along with a decently priced room and ride) won me over. He laughs at my hypocrisy. I never did figure out if this was his first year or not but he couldn’t have had a better time. In the words of a friend of mine, this was the closest thing I’ve ever had to an error-free year. No stupid fans, better organization in terms of lines and registration, it was definitely a tighter ship. There were tons of things to show for it too.
For starters, the Dealer’s Room was something of a miracle this year, we both agreed. For once, you could actually find things that were made before 1993! From the looks of it though, the hot items this year for some fans were any and all Central Park Media DVDs. I missed out on getting the Patlabor TV Series set but I managed to land all the Project A-Ko movies. The only real qualms that were to be had were that of the legendary Screaming Yaoi Guy and placement of certain booths, namely Media Blasters, who ended up along the back wall this year. They still did well in sales, no doubt (I still regard them as one of the best companies in the Dealer’s Room) but it was something of a layer of hell to navigate.
Right around then, the inner Mecha Anime fanboys in us start to get giddy over one of the real gems this year. In the lower levels of the Hyatt, some generous soul brought with him six Battletech VR pods! For the unenlightened, Battletech was a popular RPG revolving around mech combat. It ended up becoming a virtual reality mech simulator that saw action in California and at various gaming cons. With the appearance at ACen, it seems that the crew running things is set on bringing it back. If the overall positive feedback is any indicator, you may soon see Battletech: Firestorm at a convention near you!
I’m finishing off the last of my fries as we talk about the Masquerade, one of the many events that I missed this year. Darius wastes no time in telling me of the pièce de résistance of the walk-on entries: a 10-foot Optimus Prime costume! Fully working with Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the guy in costume actually danced around on stage to the tune of Stan Bush’s “The Touch”! I knew that the likes of AC Paradise would have gotten footage but I would’ve loved to have seen it in action. Unfortunately, Optimus would only win the Runners-Up award, the winner going to an equally awesome Tron Bonne cosplayer. The real crime would have been if he didn’t win anything at all!
While on the mention of late-night events, Darius recalls the Soap Bubble, ACen’s signature rave, calling it one of the best convention raves he’d ever been to. He was especially impressed by the overall setup of the whole thing, giving “mad props” to the tech crews involved in pulling the whole thing off. Who can blame him, though? The Soap Bubble has a reputation for being one of the biggest and best events the con has to offer, complete with local DJs and kicking tunes. (That’s right, I used the term “kicking tunes”! I’m bringing it back!) Darius jokes that at some point, he needs to learn how to rave with glowsticks, maybe even one of those Force Lightsabers. I tell him that I would pay to see him rave with a Darth Maul lightsaber. If he does this at AWA and you see him, you’re welcome.
(I unfortunately was unable to see any of this as I ended up being trapped in an event known as Cosplay Karaoke. I’ve ranted about this in other places so I’ll hold back on that and say this instead: We miss you, Mike Toole! Run karaoke at ACen once more!)
We then exchanged our personal highlights: From Darius’ being drafted for panels at the last second to my being subjected to an anime poetry slam. The musical one-two punch that was The Slants and move which rocked our socks off. Panels like the phenomenon that was The Gundam Experience and my very own smash-hit, Tokusatsu Hell: The Revenge. All in all, the general consensus seemed to be that Anime Central 2009 wasn’t ridiculously epic, nor was it a cesspool of a convention. Regardless, there was still fun to be had and I may actually show up next year… granted things work out again.
Right around then, I get a text from my friend, Will. He’s on his way over to meet up with me and record an episode for our podcast. This is the part where the two of us must part ways. Darius says he’s aiming for the likes of Anime North and AMA as his next convention trips. Even still, I’m sure I’ll run into him again sometime soon. He heads out and into the last-minute rush outside, leaving me across from the table where two fans are drooling over their latest purchases.