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Anime Central vs. Anime Midwest: The Battle for the Midwest Anime Convention Crown

Living in a big, Midwestern city leaves an immense plethora of convention options for a diverse group of fandoms. Everything from comic book cons, Star Trek, Star Wars, retro gaming, tabletop, even a Domo, and, now, several anime conventions dot our calendars almost every other week in Chicago. But, like most people, being able to attend several, let alone all, of them is almost entirely unfeasible. So, how do you decide?

After attending ACen — Anime Central — for almost a decade, it can become easy to simply accept ACen as the one, true anime convention. But when Anime Midwest‘s positive word-of-mouth began to spread, curiosity began to build. Upon spending time at both conventions this year, there were certainly positives on both sides. Each anime convention boasts an array of aspects, from paneling to live-shows, and we broke down each aspect of both conventions to help you better decide which to attend in 2014.

EDIT: Due to a recent influx of readers and commentators, I’ve left several notes in response to feedback throughout. Please understand that, as a writer who holds integrity at the forefront of their work, this article was written to be as unbiased as possible. The article was written with fellow con-goers in mind, and simply compared the two cons to show each events’ pros and cons.

I appreciate the feedback and hope to see you in 2015.

Registering/Pre-Reg:

Winner — Anime Midwest

After having to stand in that monster of a line at ACen 3-times this year, enough was more than enough. I’ve been to plethora of various conventions over the years, and I’ve come to believe ACen’s line management is the poorest of the poor. Each year, I send in feedback on how to better the lines, as I’m sure many, many other people have, and there has never been even the slightest bit of improvement.

In saying that, however, Anime Midwest was near empty on Saturday morning. Initially, I figured maybe it was from weak attendance numbers until I walked up and out with my badge in less than 30-seconds. Albeit Anime Midwest boasts a little less than half what ACen does, but for a convention in its third year to handle all  badges with only 7 people in charge, I was impressed. I was able to quickly leave the room and begin my exploration.

EDIT: I’ve heard a lot of people remind me about badges, and, I agree, I should have included that (crucial) bit before hand.

As advice for future con-goers — particularly to ACen — buy your badges as far in advance as possible; particularly since they’re about half the price they are at the con and it won’t take 5 hours to get into the event.

If you hadn’t anticipated going back in August the year before, and skipped on the pre-purchasing, you’re going to have a bad time (at ACen). Anime Midwest, though, feel free to just waltz up and grab your badge in under 3 minutes. Unfortunately for me in 2013, there was absolutely no communication from the ACen planning committee on what to do about badges if you’re hosting a panel. Therefore, I waited.

But let’s be frank, a massive amount of ACen attendees will wait till the last-minute, and no-one should think less of them for doing so. There’s more reasons aside from just “poor planning” that probably led up to that moment. I mean, don’t you think they’ve suffered enough with that line?

Pricing:

Winner — Anime Midwest

This one is pretty much just a comparison in pricing, which is $15 less at Anime Midwest. For that price you get almost everything you would at ACen — minus the line and plus free food.

Dealer’s Room:

Winner — ACen

Not to defend Anime Midwest in this clearly won battle by ACen, but ACen has been around almost 20-years now, whereas Anime Midwest is in its third. Clearly, with the amount of attendees ACen caters to, more space is needed and more dealers’ are interested in signing up.

Generally ACen con-goers are used to walking across the street to meander about the bevy of dealer tables and artist alley. Everything from clothing to collectibles, manga, anime, video games, weapons, K-Pop/J-Pop, and a plethora of Yaoi tables are strewn about the convention floor, equally emptying out bits of my bank account. On the flip side, Anime Midwest’s dealers’ were set away in a tiny room, in the lower level of the Hyatt; cramped, sweaty, and dark. It felt claustrophobic and almost kind of sad.

Tabletop/Arcade:

Photo: Jennifer Leach

Photo: Jennifer Leach

Winner — Anime Midwest

This was a hard choice, honestly. ACen has a large array of game choices, but location and selection really won out. With more than 5 rooms dedicated to tabletop, console, and arcade gaming, all conveniently set to one side of the Hyatt’s lower level, it was a welcome change from the mile haul from one gaming area — aka hotel — to the other.

Stumbling into the first room, I found a free arcade exhibiting everything from House of the Dead to DDR. Although the selection wasn’t immense, it was certainly larger than ACen’s. Tournaments and free-plays on consoles hosted by I Play Games offered everything from N64 and Dreamcast to 360 and PS3. Comfortable looking bean bag chairs sat adjacent to a Rock Band set where a squealed rendition of Coldplay‘s “Shiver” was being belted out.

The further down the hall I went I found rooms dedicated to Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and, yes, even Pokémon. Situated at the back-end of the hall lay the room I usually spend most of my time at any convention in: Tabletop. Inside Gnome Games hosted 24-hours of free-play games, a giant chess set, as well as selling their own wares. Each room was about the size or a little less than that of ACen’s with half the people; meaning there were far more opportunities to actually play.

Cosplay/Photoshoots:

Winner — ACen

If you go primarily to be seen and heard in your cosplay, or to check other’s out, ACen is absolutely the place to do it. Not in any way a slight against any cosplayers at Anime Midwest, there’s simply just more of it at ACen. To be honest, one wouldn’t even need to attend either to know which one would boast more: Anime Midwest = about 10,000 attendees, ACen = about 25,000 attendees in 2012. Clearly, with more people, there will be more cosplayers and more photo shoot events throughout.

EDIT: Here’s another one that (team) ACen attendees have pointed out my wrongdoing. Where do I get my facts? The official site(s). When did I get my facts for Anime Midwest? After the con in 2013. Why don’t I see that information anymore? Probably because it’s been reformatted for the new year. But they only had around 3,000 attendees! Well, then they lied on their official website.

ConSweet:

Winner — Anime Midwest

Free Mountain Dew, Ramen cups, and rice were offered to every attendee at Anime Midwest. Everywhere I went people had chicken Ramen cups in hand. Does ACen even offer a consweet? No. At least I’ve never seen one, nor can I find any information on them having one. Free food and drink? Yes, please. Thank you.

AM’s Fantasy Ball vs. ACen’s Crystal Ball:

Winner — Anime Midwest

Again, a very hard decision. For obvious reasons, ACen is much bigger; in fact sometimes too big. A problem ACen has always had — and I’ve previously stated — is their line management, which is beyond poor. Although you certainly have more space and possible date options at ACen, it’s still extremely packed — not to mention another $15 to get in. On top of that, I can’t say why exactly, but people were more congenial and polite at Anime Midwest than at ACen, overall. Obviously these same people attend the rave and fancy-pants balls, making one a better experience than the other.

Rave:

Winner — Tie

Quite frankly, ACen should have this one in the bag, however, again, line management. I sat out on Saturday night’s ACen festivities this year due to not even being able to get in at a reasonable time since, the older I get, the less patience I have for a 6-hour line. I found that it wasn’t a bad decision when I heard friends state that they waited from 10pm-3am just to get in.

However, once inside, DJ sets are more diverse and notable at ACen. Soap Bubble and Hardcore Synergy regularly boast some big names and have an even larger reputation for big and fun. The size of the crowd doesn’t just negatively affect ACen’s line on this one, though. Once in you’ll find a large amount of sweaty, smelly body-on-body action with some not-very-happy people. By the end of the night, you’re also pretty sweaty and cranky from all the shoving in cramped spaces that you are more than happy to waddle back into your hotel room.

To sum up, there are both winners in this situation. If you actually want to get in, have fun, dance, and meet some not-as-cranky people, Anime Midwest is your bag. If you want to be surrounded by lots of people in a high-energy environment while spending every last stitch of your convention energy to mildly known, Japanese DJ’s, ACen is more up your alley.

Panels:

Winner — Tie

Yes, I know, another tie. I’d like to say ACen should have more pull after hosting my own panel, as well as more than any year previous, but, no. The amount and diversity was almost identical, leaving each attendee something of interest. Plus, the people “in charge” of paneling off in a little room at ACen were some of the most rude and disrespectful people I’ve met at any convention.

Special Guests:

Winner — ACen

After Anime Midwest’s headliner — Ellen McLain, Glados — bailed, it left a pretty empty and noticeable void in exciting selection. Again, with ACen being around as long as they have, they have a lot more pull in getting big, notable names to attend, and this year’s was no different.

However, this is absolutely a year-by-year case basis. There have been years I’ve been excited for a few guests, and others I wasn’t excited for a single one. I believe that’ll be the case for both conventions time and time again, throughout.

Headliner Live-Show — AM’s The Pillowcases vs. ACen’s Kalafina:

Winner — ACen

My first response when hearing who was playing at ACen this year was simply, “who?”. I’ve since listened to Kalafina, and I can honestly say they’re pretty spectacular.

While the winner certainly reflects a lot on my taste, I have to say Anime Midwest still had some pull over ACen simply based on The Pillowcases‘ — A band covering J-Rock group The Pillows most popular songs — show being free vs. $25-$35. However, certainly one’s music taste is extremely personal, and, again, ACen’s influence won out due to hosting a bigger J-pop/rock group.

Atmosphere:

Winner — Anime Midwest

Here’s an example we can all relate to: What happens when you back into someone accidentally at ACen and you apologize? What kind of look do you usually receive? I can’t say it’s everyone, every time, but, overall, anytime I accidentally backed into someone at Anime Midwest, there were more pleasantries exchanged; including a lack of sneers, dirty looks, or the awkward absolute silence. It was like I stepped into a strange, new world full of happy-go-lucky con-goers, and it was very unexpected — and welcomed — for this con-veteran.

Not only were attendees more polite, patient, and courteous, the staff were, as well. I can’t say enough about my poor experiences with ACen’s regular staff and their volunteers, and each year seems to stack on more and more. However, even as pre-curmudgeon as I was walking into Anime Midwest, I couldn’t even for the life of me give one poor interaction had on a busy Saturday. Obviously, these experiences are unique to every attendee, but, for me, I could not find a single cranky or overly tired person at the entire event. And that, for me at least, creates more of a positive experience than anything else on this list.

Overall Score for 2013:

ACen —

4 Stars -- Quite enjoyable.

4 Stars — Quite enjoyable.

Anime Midwest —

4 Stars -- Quite enjoyable.

4 Stars — Quite enjoyable.

Both conventions were worth attending for their own, unique reasons. ACen is the con for big names, big events, and big crowds; while Anime Midwest is the con to attend with your friends without feeling overwhelmed and, strangely enough, a con you can pace yourself at.

_________________________________________________________

Anime Midwest Gallery:

ACen Gallery:

Cover photo: Jennifer Leach

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Categories: Lists and Editorials, Otaku

Author:Jen

Founder, Editor-in-Chief at Another Castle | Twitter: @ComradeJen

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9 Comments on “Anime Central vs. Anime Midwest: The Battle for the Midwest Anime Convention Crown”

  1. 07/15/2013 at 3:33 PM #

    Reblogged this on gracerepresentative.

  2. 07/15/2013 at 7:46 PM #

    This is a great post, but I think the most important thing to takeaway is – Anime conventions are CHEAP! (If you plan ahead, stuff your room with friends, and walk to McDonalds.) There’s no reason anyone shouldn’t be trying their hardest to go to both. ^_^

  3. Jen
    07/15/2013 at 7:53 PM #

    Ha! Great point.

    Unfortunately, I have some poor adult friends that can’t afford to hit even one anymore. And if you spend money like I do at these things, it becomes even more unlikely.

  4. Stephen Dranger
    07/15/2013 at 10:54 PM #

    Hey, this is Stephen, singer from The Pillowcases. Thank you so much for mentioning us! We’re really proud to be even mentioned in the same breath as Kalafina as headliners, but I gotta say: this was Steam Powered Giraffe Con. They were easily the biggest draw, so I think with our powers combined we overcame ACen ;)

    But we’re really glad you liked our show, even if you liked Kalafina better. We had a great show and us and the audience had a ton of fun. We hope you can make it out to one of our upcoming shows! Thanks again!

  5. Jen
    07/16/2013 at 2:22 PM #

    Thanks for stopping by, Stephen!

    Don’t take that in anyway as a slight on your group. I’ve listened to The Pillows for ages now [yeah, we’re getting that old.]; however, when you are even a mildly famous group from Japan at a convention for Otaku, you’re going to have a bit more pull.

    Either way, thanks for reading and I saw you followed us on Twitter. We’ll certainly try to set a Music Monday aside for you guys when your next show comes around.

  6. 03/22/2014 at 12:23 AM #

    Tiny question here. Are you aware of the mail in badge for Acen? If you order it & have it mailed, you can avoid the lines & pick up your program any time. I haven’t made it to Anime Midwest yet & hope to in 2015. So thanks for the insight on it.

  7. jason
    05/26/2014 at 11:33 PM #

    acen actually use to have a con suite that gave food like anime midwest years ago … but after several years of people destroying the room (I personally when I was a con goer watches someone pour out a bag of cheetos and stomped it into the carpet) …

  8. Runa Glacies
    05/05/2015 at 9:31 AM #

    how cool i’ve attended acen in the past and had a ton of fun, so reading this review i’m stoked to be able to hit up midwest this year an see for myself

  9. 05/05/2015 at 10:31 AM #

    It’s definitely a neat con. Everyone was much more chill than at ACEN, probably due to it not being as chaotic. Hope you dig it!

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