ACEN (Anime Central) is the midwest’s largest anime convention, and was my first convention. It’s held in Rosemont at and near the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. The first year I attended was after my first year in college. The anime club I had been attending at my school raised money and worked with the school to pay for hotel rooms so that club members could stay and enjoy the convention and only had to buy badges. I stayed with people I didn’t know and they’ve turned out to be very close friends. We stayed at the hotel across from the convention center, and my new found friends cosplayed and I wandered around with them. Outside of the hotel was a place to get the cheapest food at the con, people had pulled up cars and were grilling burgers and hot dogs in the lawn for a couple bucks. (Con food can be expensive) There is a McDonalds within walking distance of the convention but depending on the time it can be packed because it’s rather small and it takes time that could be spent instead at the convention. It is fun though to see a McDonalds packed with cosplayers.
ACEN was huge to me, and I spent just one of the days trying to look through all the art in the artist alley and then through the dealers room. We also attended Whose Line is it Anime? and the Masquerade. The Masquerade is one of my favorite events at ACEN. The line is huge usually, and wraps around the building. Try to get there early if you can, though I’m sure you’ll meet some interesting and cool people in line.
One year in attendance someone pulled the fire alarm and by the time we got back in our seats it was a bit heartbreaking. Masquerade is when people showcase their cosplays that they’ve worked so hard on and perform skits that they’ve also spent up to a year practicing and working on. Because of the fire alarm being pulled they had to cut all of the skits and the hosts and backstage people cried. Another year we were early and got picked to be first in line. I ended up getting separated from my friends who were made front of the line which created a flood of people, I was rescued from the crush of people by Team Rocket and deposited by my friends safe and sound when we got outside again. One of my favorite things about Masquerade, other then the event and talking with people in line is that there is a mass high-fiving that goes on as the line moves, I think this happens at other events, so keep an eye on it because a friend got hurt this year because she wasn’t paying attention to the high-fiving and got hit in the throat by a guy trying to high-five everyone and who wasn’t paying close attention. It’s also the easiest way to get con-plague so either wear gloves or bring hand sanitizer. The line can last a long time, I’ve waited in it for two hours before and it was dark before we got in and one of my friends was freezing by the time we got even close to the front doors.
Inside the majority of people are super enthusiastic. The tech people are amazing, funny, and play music and pull things up on the screens. One year because of Hetalia’s popularity they put pasta on the screens every couple of minutes sending the crowd into a frenzy and causing the hosts to threaten to “turn this con around”. I tend to find the hosts funny and enjoy whatever they decide the theme is for that masquerade. This year because I was in class and got out late I managed to bypass the entire line and go straight in while people were sitting around getting ready for the line for Soap Bubble. Because I was late I sat in a back corner where no one was enthusiastic which was disappointing but I got to see my friends cross the stage in their cosplays that I know they worked so hard on. The cosplays are judged and win prizes at the end as do the skits if I remember correctly. I tend to not stay through the prizes.
After the Masquerade is the Soap Bubble, a huge dance rave event that I’ve never attended, I’m usually too exhausted and just go back to the hotel to sleep. However because it tends to draw a different crowd and more people, a huge line just like the Masquerade, it has to start almost on time. (My friends who have attended the Soap Bubble suggest trying to go later in the evening, possibly around midnight to avoid the lines. Note: There are other dances at ACEN you can attend as well, including the Crystal Ball which is a formal dance)
My favorite year at ACEN we stayed at the Hyatt Regency O’hare and had a towel ninja attend to us, who would knock, drop off towels and disappear when we got to the door. The Hyatt Regency O’hare is beautiful, it’s large and open.
They have the Red bar where for some reason during ACEN it’s usually packed and the service can be terrible, but they bring people in specifically for ACEN to serve “Japanese food” so sushi and other things can be ordered. I usually look for cheaper things on the menu, but as a person who doesn’t like alcohol they have my favorite sake, a coconut sake that I absolutely love, so I fight through the crowds for a table just to split it with a friend once a year.
Across from the bar is another restaurant that is a lot calmer than the Red Bar (which checks ID since it is a bar). We went for breakfast one day and enjoyed the atmosphere, the people who worked there, and the food. There is also a Rosemont bar/cafe across from the hotel, but one year it was closed so they were only serving hot dogs for breakfast and was pretty disappointed. There are also a couple other buffets set up about the convention.
I haven’t attended a lot of panels at ACEN, the one’s I have being packed and rather boring. This year the ones my friends went to weren’t that interesting either and mostly disappointing. Instead of going to panels I like shopping, (Note: If you’re interested in shopping bring cash, especially for artist alley, a lot of them are not set up for cards and won’t accept checks) visiting booths, and watching the artist do the chalk drawing.
There is so much to do and see and being with friends who cosplay it means we get stopped every couple of feet for photos. I usually just take all of my friends stuff and pop into a booth to look around while they’re posing and stuck for a good five to ten minutes. Since my friends cosplay I also usually attend photo shoots. Different groups, for different games, animes, movies and such have different group photo shoot times and spots. One year I got a perfect spot at a Disney photo shoot my friends were at but because it was a perfect spot it meant I was stuck there and ended up getting separated from them.
The convention also includes video games that you can play or compete at as well as anime showings. Neither of which I’ve attended but I know people have fun. ACEN is a ton of fun, and every year that I attended and I get off the train and walk towards the convention I know that I’m in the right place because of all the people in cosplay crossing the street, people are usually really friendly and I’m always blown away by all the hard work people put into their cosplays and art.