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Anime Central is a land of contradictions. It's the greatest convention in the Midwest... yet it is always derided as one of the worst. In spite of the best efforts of the upper management, thousands upon thousands of fans manage to always have a great time. For the middle managers and thankless flunkies that do all the work, it's a world of toiling, yelling and griping about their labor of love. Due to their work, there is always an assortment of interesting and fresh things to see every year, even with the utter lack of internal creativity that has failed to produce anything new and exciting on their own. This is due to both a lack of common sense and a lack of craziness. Truly, it's a convention that will inevitably leave one thinking "I haven't had this much fun in a long time" and "I'm not sure if I want to go back next year" at the same time. But we always come back, like obedient puppies loyally returning to a weekend of freedom.

All that matters is that we get to the toy store, no matter how many orphans die in the process.

Toy Store!
Fun Despite The Odds

With the exception of 2005, every year I make ACen arrangements with my friends in Whitewater. I tend to give Nick a hard time in these recaps, but when all's said and done, when it comes to getting everything together for a convention...

Actually- no. Turns out this year everybody in Whitewater made their own plans. Scott and a few of the newer guys got their own hotel room a couple miles away. In a new technique I'm starting to get down, I basically listened in on various groups and their arrangements and joined whomever had the most attractive options. This is going into full effect this year at Anime Iowa, where the group I'm hoping to travel with is most certainly *not* the group I'm hoping to room with.

The most attractive option in this case turned out to be Chromus, who was flying in from England for one reason only: to remove himself from the Suck list. Star and Artful would be there as well, and Art managed to hook Chromus up with a room at the Hyatt. No roommates to share with, no sleeping bags on the floor, no putting up with that one guy that falls asleep first with snores louder than the planes flying overhead. So naturally I jumped at that over whatever Nick was offering.

Turns out Nick wasn't offering anything. His plan was to sleep in the car. Since it was just him and me driving down Friday and we were taking my car (as it was equipped with the toll booth-neutralizing I-Pass), it was either invite him into the room or have him sleeping in my car. So now we had three.

I did not consider this taking advantage of Chromus's well-laid plans. Not because I wasn't, but because I had predicted this exact scenario in a Random Thoughts post last February.

Before we hit the convention, there was a major plot point to note. This year, the convention was screwing up the registration process much, much earlier than normal. In order to lighten the lines up a little bit, they came up with the idea of mailing badges out ahead of time. This was good. Naturally, they waited until two weeks before the convention to mail them. This was bad. I received mine one week before the convention. This was good. It was, however, in a bulk mail envelope, which the post office treats with all the tender, loving care as an e-mail client does with a message headed "cheap / I A G R @." This was, of course, bad. Ergo, Artful, along with several of my Whitewater friends, did not receive their badges in the mail. This was good. Wait... no- Bad! Bad! Dammit, that back-and-forth gets me every time.

Anyway, the convention quickly developed a policy that badges lost in the mail were replaceable, but only at the original price that was paid for them. Then came the uproar. So they switched it to half price. Uproar continues. Then they switched it to a refundable five dollar deposit. Uproar dies down considerably. Then they just gave up and started passing badges out to anyone who looked like enough of a geek to be interested in attending an anime convention. Well... and were willing to wait in line for two hours. That's important for anyone going to ACen.

Back to our heroes, Thursday I drove down to Whitewater and crashed at Nick's. He caught me up on all the latest series- Lucky Star, Nanoha, Sola, the new Gainax series, etc. Lucky Star gave me ADD (and diabetes), Nanoha is probably going on my to-watch list, Sola is a dating sim waiting to happen and the new Gainax series trumps Snow Fairy Sugar as the manliest series ever.

On to Friday, we were only a half-hour late leaving, but neither of us were in much of a hurry since I had my badge and Nick gets his free for running his fansubbing panel. We took the interstate down, blew by the toll roads and promptly caught the tail end of rush-hour traffic heading into the city. Since I had actually planned ahead of time and knew that getting from I-90 to River Road involved back-tracking, more toll booths, and following signs leading you to either Milwaukee or Indiana, Nick and I decided to avoid that and got off one stop early- nine miles away in Arlington Heights. This interchange happened to be right in front of Mitsuwa, an Asian marketplace with groceries, a bakery, a bookstore and a food court.

This was good.

The visit was only moderately productive. They didn't have the flavors of Pocky I was looking for and the melon-pan was still in the oven. We grabbed a couple things and left fairly quickly. We headed to the convention, skipped the registration lines and went straight to panel ops, where Nick got his badge and I secretly assembled my own interpretation of a goodie bag, taking some program guides, maps, and whatever miscellaneous goodies they had lying about.

Massive renovations at the Hyatt created a lot of open space... and a lot of furries for some reason.

In all it looked fairly nicer, although they completely renamed all the panel rooms and added a few in the process.

These new rooms (hosting such all-important events as Speed Dating), came in place of the pool. That's right- no pool at the hotel, and it was the first time I was actually staying at the Hyatt since 2003. Ouch.

Anyway, Nick and I hung around in the lobby for awhile, waiting for Whitewater people to show up so we could don Pizza Hut uniforms in a nod to the product placement in Code Geass (Pizza Hut supports the Rebellion!). Nobody showed. Except KORfan, which is notable because Nick is another honest Kimagure Orange Road fan (he owns the 12-DVD box set) and because there is now discussion about bringing Name That Anime Opening to Anime Iowa. Stay tuned.

With nothing else to do, Nick and I went to Opening Ceremonies. There are no duct tape men or gardening ninja at ACen's opening ceremonies, just a chance to needlessly hype the convention and parade the 20 or so guests (most of whom I have never heard of before).

Decidedly less cozy than No Brand, especially since they're still using the Battle Royale Survival Program logo in the background.

So they do their thing, introduce some guests, show some videos and evacuate the building.


Yep, just as Spike Spencer was about to promote his new book, we get word that we need to evacuate the building. Not a drill- everybody find the nearest exit.

We didn't even get an "Alart, Alart, Alart," which should be common courtesy by now.

So we all hit the streets, the fire trucks and ambulances came and to this day, nobody was quite sure if it was a bomb threat, somebody pulling a fire alarm, or that Roy Mustang cosplayer hooked up with that Rei Hino cosplayer and one thing led to another.

Nick and I decided that if we can't be in the hotel, we might as well be in the dealer's room. Then we notice that all of the guests (who, naturally, had all been in one place for Opening Ceremonies), were all gathered around together, chatting with each other and happy to get some fresh air during a weekend of panel rooms and autograph lines. I spy Greg Ayres and since my impeccable logic states that I'm not bothering guests if I know them already, we mosey on over and say hi.

Hi, Greg. You didn't really need to pose. I'd prefer the exasperated "when the hell can we go back in?" look.

Didn't matter since I was quickly moving on to continue the rounds as the evacuation dragged on.

In the span of about ten minutes, I had chatted with the four guests that were also at No Brand this year. Just minor "No Brand, yeah!" chatter with Kyle Hebert, Lisa Furukawa and Spike Spencer (although the latter, again, was all about his book). Tiffany Grant saw me and waved. I waved back. Brief chat- not much to write home about. Notice how we're getting the obligatory Tiffany Grant run-in over with sooner and sooner every year?

Anyway, the real bizarre run-in wasn't with any of the aforementioned. It was with a newcomer to the recaps- a young and talented voice actress by the name of Kari Wahlgren. You might remember her from such roles as Haruko Haruhara, Robin Sena, the new Sakura Kinomoto, that one monkey on that derivative ToonDisney sentai series, and soon to be Tsuruya- a bit player on Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Guess which one Nick was going on about.

I've always found her work rather hit-or-miss. Some good, some so-so: the latter more often due to iffy directing than a lack of skill. Therefore, since I didn't want to be all "OMG! Haruko!" around her, I pretty much kept it simple. "Hi, nice to meet you. Yes, I do vaguely recall seeing that series that was on Adult Swim and watched by millions." Then she saw my bag and went all "OMG! Your bag!"

A word about convention bags: they are among the most unappreciated tools of the convention. Sure, many congoers do without, particularly when cosplaying, but often find themselves loaded down with dealers room goodies, the convention schedule, and whatever accessories/big-ass swords they happen to be wielding. Lord help them if they need to take a picture. Convention bags must be light and portable, and at the same time capable of storing mounds of crap. Multiple compartments are essential.

I, for one, am proud of my bag. It boasts four compartments, which allows me to store each of the following: the convention schedule/map/program, my camera, a folder for storing important documents like a registration confirmation, snacks and chibi-cans of soda, a small notebook and pen (which always comes in handy every year), and the EALA/karaoke binder because you never know when it's time to break into song. Even with all that, there's still room for temporarily storage of dealer's room purchases awaiting a home in the car.

So why would Kari Wahlgren go fangirl over my bag? Was it because it bore some pin, patch or insignia of a series she loved and/or played a prominent role in? Nope. Was it due to the little Mini Moni sticker Vinnk gave me at No Brand '06? Try again. Could it be that she recognized my bag from its role as a stolen good from last year's Whose Line Is It Anime?? No, and if she did I would have promptly backed away. No, Ms. Wahlgren liked the bag because it bore the logo of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. She is a college sports devotee.

Thankfully, there is a story behind the bag, which I promptly relayed to her. It was acquired as a gift for being on-staff for the Division III national championship for indoor track & field in 2004. Yes, this event was the reason I missed No Brand Con in '04, but between the free bag (which has been to every convention ever since) and the chance to impress an accredited voice actress, it has served me well. Incidentally, one of the best things you do at a convention is talk with a guest of honor about any topic except anime. You get to chat a moderately-important person and they get a reprieve from the usual business talk and "OMG! {Insert character/anime}!"

With the guests out of the way (not entirely true, I did have a couple more run-ins with Greg Ayres and Kyle Hebert over the weekend and stay tuned for a awkward moment with Chris Patton), it was time to move along. Nick went to the dealer's room, and I drifted towards the hotel lobby with the all-important task of getting into my room. Oh, and perhaps meeting up with all my online friends that were coming to ACen from such foreign countries as Canada, England and Michigan.

That's right, Star and Artful are back at ACen! I caught a glimpse of them just as Star barreled towards me for a full-frontal glomp. One of those perfect running-start glomps that leaves the victim dazed and possibly injured. We don't mess around with things like this.

We get the initial greetings out of the way, do a take for Star's video recap, and sit and wait and hope that Chromus's plane hadn't been delayed (as if that ever happens at O'Hare) or that an overzealous customs agent hadn't selected him for the full "welcome to America" treatment.

Despite a little delay, he arrived, ready to take on America- where maybe, just maybe, he could find somebody that has actually seen Kaleido Star.

From there, it's the typical routine- check into room, take a minute to breathe, and change into some kick-ass cosplay.

There we are- a documented Eyeshield 21 cosplayer. More importantly- a British guy holding a football. In my country, you can use your hands.

Despite a strange sequence where Chromus somehow locked himself into the hotel room, it was off to the registration line to welcome Chromus in true ACen fashion- a two hour line. Art and Star were also stuck waiting, so I took the chance to cruise the dealer room and spend money. Right off the bat, I blew a ton of cash compiling the entire sets of Lain, Slayers (season one) and nabbing volume 3 of Pani Poni Dash.

They were still in line.

So I make a trip to the car to unload my bag (after giving the bag time to pose for pictures and sign autographs) and transfer my overnight bag to the room. That was a pleasant little death march, and took just long enough to get everyone else through LineCon.

M'yes, there we go.

Naturally, the only thing the other three want to do is hit the Dealer's Room. I respectfully decline, citing other engagements. We'll be back with them later on. Right now, it's time to find a different group- the Otaku No Yen group. Thankfully, Shannon and Drazz have artist tables and panels and stuff. Artful was also interested in the webcomics panel, so we sojourn back to the Hyatt and attend. As with the last time I hit a webcomic panel, it was all useful, engaging information, which may or may not be adaptable to MST. I stuck around with various ONY creators and forum members leading up to our meet-up at 9:00.

Two forums collide here as Megan from ONY and Mike from No Brand wonder why the hell I'm taking a picture of them together.

Incidentally, just as Chromus got off the Suck list, one forum member who shall remain nameless joined it for being around during the meet-up but not present.

The next item on the agenda was Spike Spencer's "What Happens at the Con, Stays at the Con" panel, which this year had my undivided attention since I decided to give Anime Hell a miss and there was ample time for karaoke afterwards. But first I decided to see what Nick was up to since I hadn't seen him for nine hours and I was providing him crash space. He was running the fansubbing panel and I stayed for the tail end of it. Same old, same old, but at the very end we could hear a commotion gathering outside. Turns out it was just another line outside the doorway. Not a big deal at ACen, as lines sprout randomly and no one pays them much mind.

The room cleared out and I, being the nice guy I am, walk up to tell Nick what room we're in. Good information to have. In walks Chris Patton. Only we didn't know it was Chris Patton. We assumed that it was the next panelist, as he turned to some invisible con op and asked if the panel would be moderated. As there wasn't anybody else in the room, the answer was probably no. Curious, and making small-talk to buy some time for Nick to pack up, I ask what panel was next. Chris Patton said, "the Chris Patton panel."

At this moment, I asked what was perhaps the stupidest question I have ever asked. And I used to work in radio news. Despite knowing that a line was outside, assuming that this man was the next panelist, and knowing that Chris Patton is just the kind of voice actor that generates spontaneous lines, my question was: "Is that you?"

He nodded. Suddenly the small-talk became much more difficult as Nick and I struggled to recall what the hell this guy was in. Which was particularly embarrassing since it's a well-known fact that he's in pretty much everything ADV has ever released.

He rattled off a couple series and we stopped him once we hit FMP. I gave him his props. Nick feigned interested before Sousuke's VO before confessing that he was more of a sub guy. "That's okay; I'm not a hater!" replied Patton. By then the mob was allowed into the room so Nick and I fought our way out in order to head to Spike Spencer's panel.

Despite being a sub guy, my rave review of Spike's renditions at No Brand impressed Nick enough to tag along, although he did whip out his laptop to catch some Nanoha midway through. Chromus joined us, introduced himself to Nick, and promptly started watching Nanoha as well (as I tend to get most of my anime recommendations from these two, that's probably a sign). Spike was wildly entertaining again with a story of youthful abandon (called "Oh My, Hentai" and actually worse than you would imagine), a "fragrant" prank in the VO booth and a teaser for "Dances With Porn Stars." This time, he actually had his CDs with him and Chris and I jumped in line to grab copies. Despite a couple lapses in editing, a very entertaining buy. I happen to be partial to "Warriors Come Out and Play," the true story of a group of cosplayers who band together to rescue a damsel in distress from a room of unruly skater dudes.

But now it was time for the main event- karaoke! Both Chris and I brought our CD arsenal with us, and we had both planned out what songs we could do for either solos or duets. Our duets were limited to the 3rd opening to Eyeshield 21 and the opening to Tiny Snow Fairy Sugar, which I swear we would have made simultaneously hilarious and awesome. We signed up for the former and waited for our turn amongst the other "performers."

Some of them did not suck, and a few were even entertaining. Above we see a fun rendition of BNL's "It's All Been Done," getting the audience to fill in on the "Whoo-hoo-hoo" parts. But finally we got up, busted out the Eyeshield, and did a hurriedly-arranged rendition of "Dang Dang."

For the uninitiated- here's the opening on YouTube. With that, we brought the house down. YA HA!!

After a surprising and disturbing wave of Backstreet Boys songs, Chromus went off the anime charts and went to the Weird Al parody "eBay." The initial groans upon hearing the initial chords of "I Want It That Way" turned to rowdy cheers as it became clear what Chris was singing. Every one who knew it sang along.

As it was late at night, and there was always tomorrow to bust out some of my Japanese favorites (particularly the opening to Digimon Savers), I decided to finally bite the bullet and bust out the EALA songs. On tap for today was Groovy from CCS- sung in a low (and in theory, sexy) baritone and, of course, in English. The response was slightly more subdued (as it required people to actually listen instead of just nod their heads to the rhythm), but certainly appreciative. Felt really good to finally get up there and do that one.

Objective 4: Karaoke from the English Anime Lyrics Archive.

Any newcomers to the recaps since No Brand '06 will probably be very confused as that was the one and only appearance of the Objectives theme.

With time to spare, we popped in on Midnight Madness and caught the latter half of fan-favorite Evangelion: Redeath. After that, they closed it out with the fan-scaring/scarring Fisting the North Star. As I was desensitized to that hideous abortion of a fan-parody (having sat through it in '05 and '06), I asked Chromus if he wanted to be subjected to the horror. He said yes. He soon regretted it.

The next twenty minutes were a blur of gay jokes and bizarre Pokémon cards. Somewhere in the midst of it all, Nick joined up with us and we all retired to our room.

Then Nick ran all the way back to the car to get his bag. Then we slept. End Act One.

Onward to Act Two!