Once a year, the Chicagoland area is overrun with a totally different breed of people. Grown men dressed as Sailor Moon are hanging around with girls dressed as Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. It is truly a sight to behold. What makes the sight even better are the looks on the faces of people who just don’t get it. So, what is this magical event? Why, it’s Anime Central, or ACEN for short. ACEN is a three day event that pops up between April and June every year at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, a town just outside of Chicago. What makes ACEN so special? Follow me on a short journey if you will.
ACEN is a convention that showcases not only anime and manga, but video games as well. The convention has several components. There’s the exhibition hall, which is the area where merchants hawk their wares. You’ll find tons of cool stuff to spend your hard-earned cash on. There is a wide variety of graphic t-shirts to buy. Forget Hot Topic. If you want something cool or witty or just plain geeky to wear, this is the place to get it. You will also find all sorts of replica weaponry to buy. The only issue with that is you need a place to store it once you buy it. ACEN is extremely strict on their weapon policy. The hall also has toys, books, movies, and even import video games. It’s a very dangerous place for your wallet to be as you could easily spend a grand and not realize it.
Another cool area to visit is the artist alley. Independent and starving artists inhabit this area of the convention. The talent here is pretty amazing. What’s even cooler is that for a small fee, you can commission an artist to draw something of your choosing. Ever want to see Link and Cloud locked in combat? All you need to do is just ask. Not only will you find some pretty sweet drawings, there are also handmade plush dolls, articles of clothing and more pins than you can count.
A lot of the pictures you can buy are prints. Most of the original art can be found in the auction area where you can place bids or purchase pieces outright. Just like the exhibition hall, the artist alley is another place where you can drop a great deal of money in a short period of time.
When you aren’t spending time and money, you can visit one of dozens of panels during the ACEN weekend. These panels are open to anyone and each has a specific topic. Sometimes they are run by professionals in the anime or gaming worlds. Other times, the panels can be run by just passionate fans. We went to a panel this time that was Professor Layton themed. The folks running it put together a puzzle competition. There were 4 rounds of 10 minutes each. The participants split into groups and each group received a packet of puzzles. Every puzzle was worth a certain number of picarts (the points in the Professor Layton games). The group with the most picarts competed in a final round. The winning group received a small Layton doll and the grand prize was a larger doll. These panels allow for great times with people and some even allow for quality discussion.
What makes ACEN such a great convention isn’t the art or the merch or the discussions. What makes ACEN an experience is the cosplay. It isn’t just Wookies and Storm Troopers here. That isn’t to say you won’t find one. The ACEN cosplay covers all areas of pop culture. We saw people dressed as the White Power Ranger, Cloud, Mario, and even Doctor Who. The article would go on and on with the different cosplayers we saw. They even have photo shoots for like-dressed individuals. The first year I went to ACEN, I dressed as Solid Snake and was part of a shoot with all kinds of Metal Gear-themed cosplayers.
People who don’t understand the anime or video game cultures may think ACEN is just a bunch of dorks dressing up like fools. I think they can learn a thing or two from the convention. What I love more than anything, what makes ACEN such a cool event, is the excitement and acceptance. You can be anyone — or anything — you want and people will treat you no different. Actually, the more unique you are, the more people will stop and ask to take your picture. ACEN is a shining example of how tolerant people can be if they choose to.
So, if you live in or around the Chicago, or even if you’re from Alaska, I urge you to check out ACEN if you can. It’s not just a typical convention. Bring your craziest costume and get into character. Bring your cash and your credit card. Bring your camera. And if someone stops you to take a picture don’t forget to say “Fuzzy Pickles.”
Just In Bailey –an homage to the secret code from Metroid, which allowed you to play as Samus Aran without her suit– is an editorial column at Vagary.TV brought to you by Joey Alesia. What started as an alternate perspective on different parts of video games has since become a more wide-ranged look at the gaming industry from a gamer’s perspective with over 25 years of gaming knowledge and a twisted sense of humor. Follow Joey on Twitter (@wrkngclsswrtr) or email him at Joey.Alesia@Vagary.tv.