Earlier this month, my husband and I attended Anime Midwest, in Chicago. As the name implies, the majority of guests, panels, and activities had a connection to Japanese anime shows and movies, Japanese culture, and Japanese fashion. Special guests included voice actors Caitlin Glass, Sonny Strait, Greg Ayres, Alexis Tipton, and Johnny Yong Bosch, the famous Japanese fashion brand Baby the Stars Shine Bright, and a number of independent fashion designers. There were also steampunk and comedy based musical guests, gaming experts on hand, webcomic artists and authors, and Japanese weaponry experts. If I listed all the panelists and other guests, you’d still be reading this column three hours from now
The convention organizers did a fantastic job of putting together a massive quantity of panels and activities, celebrity meet-and-greets, a huge dealer room, fandom meet-ups, comedy shows, a maid cafe, concerts, formal dances, Masquerade costume contest, fashion shows, short RPG events and more. This convention has only been around for about four years, so the fact that it’s grown so big so fast is incredibly impressive. There was always more to see and do, and the theme of the weekend proved to be “But wait, there’s more!”.
One of my favorite things about the convention was the diversity. The crowd skewed much younger than your standard science fiction/fantasy convention – I saw cosplaying pre-teens dragging their parents around, panelists and attendees of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and fandoms. This was one of the friendliest and most welcoming conventions I’ve ever been to. Lots of conventions boast that they have something for everyone, and Anime Midwest really delivered on that promise.
Anime Midwest has a huge, and I mean huge cosplay element. This is *the place* to see and be seen. Everywhere I looked, people were dressed up as their favorite characters, or two or three of their favorite characters all at once. The hotel lobby was one massive photo opportunity, and there were officially scheduled fandom meet ups in multiple locations with photographers on site. The most popular fandoms I saw cosplayed over the weekend were Attack on Titan, Homestuck, Kill La Kill, Madoka Magica, Hatsune Miku, and Sailor Moon, and I saw plenty of Adventure Time, Disney Princesses and American Superheroes too. Head over to Geek Girl Chicago to view her extensive photo gallery of cosplay images from Anime Midwest. What impressed me most was how many young people were cosplaying, and how many of those teens had made their own outfits and props.
Baby The Stars Shine Bright is a famous Lolita Fashion brand, and the convention boasted a Maid Cafe, so there were plenty of Lolitas and maids walking by as well. Just in case it’s conceivable that Lolita Fashion doesn’t mean what you think it means, I’ve included links to the Baby website and the Lolita Fashion wikipedia page in that last sentence.
Between Friday and Saturday, I attended six or eight panels, including a Ghibli fan panel, how to wear a Kimono, Japanese avant-garde fashions, Cosplay construction and confidence, Caitlin Glass’s Q&A session, Sonny Strait’s Q&A session, a panel on Women in Geek Culture, and a late night Cards Against Humanity event. The Ghibli panel, and the special guest’s panels were well attended and nearly standing room only, but I was surprised at how few attendees the other panels had. Sonny Strait had way too much fun hamming it up at his panel, and greeting people who were waiting in line for him (and completely embarrassing the fellow in line in front of me, all in good fun!).
Because this convention skews to the young side, all of the daytime panels were family friendly. Panelists paid good attention to the ages in the audiences of their panels. Around 10pm, many panels switched to 18+, and I was impressed at how strict the convention staff was as carding people. While digging out my drivers liscence to get into the Cards Against Humanity game, I watched two teens get turned away for not having proper ID. Basically, we locked the teens up in a Rave concert where they had loud music, glow sticks, and all the Mountain Dew they could drink, while the rest of us played inappropriate card games and ‘shipped our favorite characters in fanfiction.
The program book advertised all the special guests, the concerts, the events, the dealer room and over a dozen pages of panel descriptions. What it didn’t advertise, and what you had to be there in person to experience, was that this convention was about the joy of anime fandom, and sharing that joy with the people you care about. The conversation that I heard most often during the weekend was “I love your outfit, I’m so happy to see someone cosplaying so-and-so, they are my favorite character!”
My only complaint about Anime Midwest was the ConSuite. ConSuite is a tough gig – you need a lot of soda and snacks to feed 5000+ people. the costs for all that food adds up fast, so it makes sense that the convention is going to limit what is there. I get that, really I do. To keep with the “Japanese culture” theme, the only food available in the ConSuite was Ramen noodles (the cup kind that you pour hot water into), rice, and soda. No veggies or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, no coffee.
If you or your children are at all into Anime movies or tv shows, Anime Midwest in Chicago is a convention you should seriously think about attending. The ticket prices were reasonable, hotel rooms reserved through the convention were incredibly reasonable, The Hyatt Regency is a beautiful hotel that’s easy to get to, and there are events for every age group, fandom, and interest level. Just remember to bring a cooler full of snacks.