Sigh, where do I even begin with this convention report? I recently attended the Anime Midwest convention held in Rosemont, Illinois (outskirts of Chicago) from July 5-7, 2019. This is the first time that I’ve been to this convention as it is outside of my usual travel radius for cons. However, when I saw in the news that Japanese singer and songwriter Lia was invited as a guest of honor I quickly made travel plans to be there. Lia is best known for her vocals on various Key/VisualArts anime shows like Clannad, Air, and Angel Beats. I absolutely love her voice and had always hoped to see her invited as a guest to a convention in the US so I knew I had to jump at this chance.
Being able to meet Lia and to attend her concert was a dream come true. So why did I title this article “SMFH Edition” and let out a sigh to kick things off? While there were fun times to be had at this convention for sure, they also screwed up in so many ways. So, many, screw-ups. However, before I segue into my rants, let’s at least start off on a positive note with some things that were good at this convention.
First, there was Lia of course. Her concert, albeit a short one at only about 40-45 minutes, was everything that I could have hoped for. It was amazing and totally justified the costs that I incurred just to be there. In addition to Lia, Anime Midwest had invited a ton of well-known English voice actors which was cool. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that they had invited a total of seven English voice actors who played roles in the Naruto anime show. As pictured in the photo at the top, they were Steve Blum, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Tara Platt, Quinton Flynn, Yuri Lowenthal, Maile Flanagan, and Crispin Freeman. Although, while they did schedule one Naruto panel with three of the seven voice actors in attendance, they never did have a complete gathering of VA’s except during Opening Ceremonies which seemed like a wasted opportunity.
And it would be remiss of me to write a convention report about Anime Midwest and not mention the absolute best thing about it: ConSweet. ConSweet is a unique service that conventions organized by the AnimeCon.org/Ani.me group provides. At the ConSweet you can pick up free ramen cup noodles, rice, sodas, and occasionally other food items like salads all weekend long. Yes, unlimited ramen can be gorged all weekend long for free (please don’t do that!) and I’ll admit that I had a total of seven cup noodles by the time the weekend was over (yes, I did eat other real food!).
Overall the convention provided a lot of the staples that you would find at any anime convention such as panels, cosplay, dealers room and artist alleys, autograph signings, video and tabletop gaming, video rooms, manga library, raves, masquerade contest, nerdy burlesque shows, etc. It would have been very much a typical convention experience if it weren’t for its many failings.
The first thing most people will talk about this year’s convention was the long registration lines. Long, chaotic, registration lines I may add. Not only were the lines and waiting time really long, but there was absolutely no signs or con staff to point you in the right direction. Even if you were able to wave down a con staff nobody had the right information for which line was for pre-registration and which lines were for at-door registration. It was just one jumbled mess and there were plenty of stories on social media of people being told to stand in one line for hours before finding out that they were in the wrong line. The fact that at-door registration only accepted cash payments was also rather dubious.
Registration lines definitely improved on Saturday, but probably only due to the fact that a majority of the attendees picked up their badges the day before. Some people will try to defend Anime Midwest to say that you should have selected the option to have your badge mailed to you in order to avoid this mess. It is technically true that the convention offered a free badge mailing service beforehand. However, that option was only quickly announced maybe a month or two before the start of the convention and for a lot of people (including myself) the options for upgrading to the free badge mailing could not be accessed when logging into our online accounts that were used to pre-register. The fact is that their website and online account system was not only broken in that regard, it was very amateurishly bad as a whole.
But that’s not even the worst part of this convention. The worst part was the sudden cancellation of multiple Japanese musical guests because of issues with their visas. This included Deadlift Lolita, Zwei, FEMM, and Fuki. While many people may be quick to blame the current US Administration on the crackdown on visas and immigration procedures, there were other conventions that took place over the same weekend (including the Goliath known as Anime Expo) that didn’t seem to run into the same issues. It makes you wonder how much of this can be blamed on US Customs and how much Anime Midwest is to blame in their processing of the guest visas.
Here’s another head-scratcher: while Lia was one of the only Japanese guests to actually make it through customs to attend the convention, the con actually somehow managed to leave her scheduled Q&A panel (that was supposed to take place at 4 PM on Friday) off of the official schedule and guide book. How do you even forget to include a guest panel in the schedule?! Poor Lia showed up to an empty room as noted in her tweet (screen-capped below):
Maybe not entirely a “fault” of the con, but to add insult to injury Lia’s concert was also scheduled for a Sunday afternoon time slot. Which for anyone who’s ever been to a con before knows it is a terrible time slot considering the low attendance for that day as either people are trying to get home or don’t even bother showing up. There was still a sizable crowd that showed up for the Sunday concert, but it could have been much larger if she was given either a Friday or Saturday time slot instead.
And then we get to the cosplay photoshoots/meetups. Or rather, the lack of any kind of organization for it. Anime Midwest does the same thing that I’ve previously vented about with Anime USA in Washington, D.C. which is that they arbitrarily schedule fandom meetups for certain times. The con has a designated Meetup area and they seemingly fill in fandoms at random for scheduled time slots, although instead of just scheduling one fandom per hour they had three fandoms scheduled simultaneously per hour. What’s really bad about this method is that there is no one to lead the meetups or photoshoots. Without someone to organize and call the shots no one really knows what to do and how to proceed. Plus, when you have meetups actually scheduled by a willing coordinator, they often times will create a Facebook Event page for the shoot to help with communication and organization of the meetup beforehand.
And to make things even more confusing, most people actually didn’t even know where the designated meetup location was at. For instance, looking at the convention map I first thought it indicated an isolated spot by the outer wall of the dealer’s room. It turns out that the actually meetup spot was outside of the convention center on the other side of the dealer’s room wall. This is particularly bad as it’s not a great idea to have meetups outdoors in the hot summer weather unless the location is shaded or is at some really notable or beautiful location (which this was neither, it was just a wall and some loading docks).
In the end, it just comes down to the fact that this convention was simply lacking in communication and organization overall. There was very little in the ways of signage to point people in the right direction. Most of the main events started later than scheduled. The website and mobile app was lacking in certain helpful information about the convention (the Google-only mobile app was also just a lightweight app that essentially redirected you back to the Anime Midwest website, and actually had less info than what was on the website so it was just better to view the schedule on the website instead of on the app). Overall, Anime Midwest may actually give Anime Expo a run for its money for the crown of being the worst organized and managed convention that I have ever attended.
Finally, there is the very enormously large elephant in the room that Anime Midwest did it’s best to pretend it didn’t exist. That is the fact that AnimeCon.org’s CEO and Anime Midwest’s President, Ryan Kopf, is currently under investigation after accusations of rape and sexual assault have been circulating against him. I don’t think it was any coincidence that during many of the English voice actor panels that I went to during the weekend started off with the voice actors issuing serious PSA’s about con safety, cosplay is not consent, and that you should always speak to someone and find help if you feel harassed or threatened (do not be silent about it). Obviously this is a major hurdle that Anime Midwest will have to overcome in order to restore its reputation.
With all that said, plenty of attendees still had a fun weekend. A convention is as good or as bad as you make it out to be as it greatly depends on your willingness to socialize and have a positive attitude about things. However it is the convention’s job to help facilitate the fun factor by making sure that things operate smoothly for its attendees. I don’t really harbor any ill will towards the staff and volunteers of this convention (well, maybe except the one person mentioned above). I thought they were great folk overall and that they tried their best. They just simply missed the bar on many aspects.
I do have to give one final geeky shout out though. As a huge fan of the Fate series/franchise, it was a pleasant surprise to see that they had a Fate/Unlimited Codes arcade cabinet to play in the video gaming room. Props to whatever group was responsible for furnishing the arcade cabinets.
Click here to go to my YouTube channel where I uploaded my video recordings which include:
Steve Blum and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s Friday Q&A panel
The Everything Naruto panel featuring Maile Flanagan, Tara Platt, and Yuri Lowenthal
Steve Blum’s Saturday Q&A panel
Crispin Freeman’s Saturday Q&A panel
The Fairy Tail Academia Piece (MHA, Fairy Tail, One Piece VA Panel) featuring Marcus Stimac and Luci Christian
The More Voice Actors of Anime Midwest Panel featuring Marcus Stimac, Margaret McDonald, and Brad Jackson
The cosplay Masquerade contest
I didn’t take any cosplay photos at this convention.