Field Trip: Detroit’s YOUMACON 2013
This is an account of a four day long convention. If you are merely curious about specific features of the convention, the relevant paragraphs are in red, everything else is in black and is a chronicle of my time at the con.
November is here once again and it can mean only one thing: its time for YOUMACON, Detroit’s largest anime convention. Every year thousands of people descend on the GM Renaissance Center and Cobo hall for a four day celebration of anime, video games, and just about everything pop culture. How can a creature such as myself resist such a happening? So on a rainy Thursday afternoon, I loaded up my car with clothes, costumes, and booze and set off for the great industrial hot bed known as Detroit.
After a dreary drive up I-75, I arrived at the Renaissance Center, one of my favorite hotels for anime conventions, and certainly one of the big highlights of Youmacon. The Renaissance Center is an ideal location because it has plenty of places to host cosplay photo shoots, numerous dining options, multiple floors for convention programming, and an open design that keeps things from feeling too cramped. Along with the Renaissance Center, we had Cobo hall for the second time, and while it has its issues, I feel the positives far outweigh the negatives. Cobo hall is a massive convention center which allows for far larger rooms for panels, dealers room, and other events. As Youmacon is still continuing to grow, it allows for more space and growth opportunities. It is a bit annoying having to take the people mover or walk 10 minutes down the road to get there, but I think it would be far worse to try and cram everything into the Renaissance Center and not be able to move for all the people crammed into a smaller area.
My friend Chris would not be arriving for a few hours, and the hotel room was in his name, so rather than idle around the lobby, I decided to take the people mover over to Cobo and pick up my press badge. Upon arrival, it was utterly apparent that things were not quite running smoothly. I was surprised to find that registration had been pushed back from 4 to 6 and I was shunted from one staff member to another trying to discover the location of press registration. However, all the staff members were exceedingly friendly and I ran into my friend Jay, a long-time con staffer with glorious dreads down to his ass. After making plans to meet up later, I was finally shown where press reg was; I grabbed my badge and I headed back to the Ren Center to meet up with Chris, who had called and informed me of his imminent arrival.
We checked in and I was amused by the commemorative key cards they gave us for the room. We proceeded to unload the cars, a somewhat lengthy ordeal based on the amount of luggage and alcohol we had brought. After a quick drink we headed over to Cobo so Chris could pick up his badge. The preregistration line was nearly out the door and took about an hour to get through, but as we hadn’t seen each other in 5 months we spent the time catching up and watching cosplayers dance to someone’s portable DJ set up.
Returning to the Ren Center, we hit up Volt Bar in the hotel lobby. While their drinks are pricy, the food is fairly affordable and well above average. After chowing down we we’re joined by Jay, who’d been socializing at another table, followed shortly by Brenda, a friend of mine from back home, and a few friends of Chris’ whose names escape me. Thursdays are always busy at conventions as everyone is trying to get everything set for the weekend, so before long the party broke up; fortunately we spotted Cameron, a writer from UGRGaming.com who Chris and I are friends with. We joined Cameron and his friends Stark and Alex and quickly discovered that Cameron needed a place to crash, and being the generous fellow that he is, Chris invited him to stay with us.
We headed up to the room to have some drinks, and after a couple of rounds Chris decided that he didn’t just want to stay in the room all night and suggested checking out the PANTY AND STOCKING WITH GARTERBELT screening. Being a fan, I quickly acquiesced and, upon discovering Cameron had never seen it, was eager to expose my friend to its hilarity. They were still showing SGT FROG when we arrived, which Cameron was also new to, and we settled in for some animated goodness. I am quite pleased to say that Cameron enjoyed the raunchy goodness that is PANTY AND STALKING and after taking in 5 episodes we headed back to the room for more drinks. Shortly after we returned to the room, we get an unexpected knock on the door. Low and behold it was Jay, who had decided to stop by for some late night drinking. We spent the rest of the night sharing stories and drinking some of Chris’s fantastic microbrews until Jay started to pass and we called it a night.
Friday started around 11 a.m. when Chris and I finally got moving. We headed down to the basement food court to grab some grub, wading through a sea of cosplayers along the way. There is something liberating about being surrounded by people so dedicated to their fandoms that they spend their time dressed up as their favorite characters. It creates a mood of fantastic cheerfulness that is borderline infections, with strange undercurrents of openness and whispered judgments, like a bee colony without any of the instinctual harmony, everyone shares a similar goal and mindset, with no idea what the end result should be.
After we alleviated our hunger we wandered the Renaissance Center for a couple hours, we ran into various friends here and there, but mostly we were just people watching and enjoying the energy of the convention, eventually we decided to head to Cobo to scope out the dealers room and get our bearings for panels we would attend later that evening. The dealers room was exceedingly spacious with plenty of room to maneuver down the aisles. As usual there was a nice variety of venders, selling everything from leather works, costume props, clothing, video games, toys, posters, and, of course, anime. I was a bit disappointed in the Funimation booth, as they didn’t have nearly as large or impressive booth as previous years and I was also saddened that Anime Central backed out of their booth, as I always like to buy my ticket for Acen at Youmacon.
After finishing at Cobo we headed back to the Renaissance Center and had the good fortune to run into Lindsey, a long time friend and writer for Examiner.com who posts there as Cleveland Gamer Girl, her boyfriend Kevin, whose photo work is on Facebook under the name TK8919 Photography, and Cameron as soon as we walked in the door. Joining up with them we decided to check out the game room, a somewhat lengthy trip as Lindsey was sporting a fantastic cosplay of Rogue from the X-Men Animated Series and kept getting stopped for pictures every 30 seconds.
Upon arriving at the video gaming room I was blown away by how epic it was this year. By combining the causal and tournament gaming centers, we were treated to 25,000 square feet of gaming bliss. Besides a slew of arcade games, they had massive sections of desktops set up for online tournament play, as well as gaming consoles from all generations. Had you wanted to spend your con marathoning THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME or had wanted to prove your prowess at LEAGUE OF LEGENDS by joining an extensive tournament, you’d have had no problem doing so. In fact, anyone who likes gaming at conventions would have had more than enough options to sate even the greediest of appetites. After basking in this visual and auditory cacophony, Lindsey and Cameron took turns trying out a dancing game on Xbox 360 that utilized kinetic while the rest of us cheered them on. As the dance session ended, Cameron and Kevin sat down to knock out a round of LEAGUE OF LEGENDS while Chris, Lindsey, and I headed back to the room for drinks.
After a round of adult beverages we met back up with Kevin and Cameron and came to the general consensus that we were all hungry. Lindsey and Kevin went off to switch their cosplays and the rest of us headed off to the food court. Along the way we bumped into Alex again, who was sporting an very tight RESIDENT EVIL get up, and she decided to join us on our expedition for sustenance. We settled on pizza and relaxed for a while, enjoying the company and conversation until Lindsey and Kevin arrived, the party broke up at about 8 when Chris, Cameron, Alex, and I decided to head to Cobo for the Team Four Star 18+ panel.
Arriving at the Cobo Ballroom, there was some miscommunication about press privileges and Cameron and I were forced to wait in the Platinum Badge line with Chris; sadly Alex did not have her ID and had to go find entertainment elsewhere. Before long the doors opened and we were ushered in. We snagged seats in the third row of the center section, and got comfortable for the two hour panel. Before long, a pair of young ladies, one of whom was clearly press, took the seats in front of us. As the panel hadn’t started yet I decided to strike up a conversation. We exchanged introductions and discussed what publications we wrote for until the introduction videos started up.
One of the best things about Youmacon for me is Team Four Star, the creative team behind DRAGON BALL Z ABRIDGED, HELLSING ULTIMATE ABRIDGED, and TWO SAIYANS PLAY. Youmacon was the first convention to invite them out and they always put on great panels. The 18+ plus panel opened with various humorous videos from the internet, before moving on to the premier of HELLSING ULTIMATE ABRIDGED Episode 4. Like the previous episodes, its full of so much humor and ridiculousness that its impossible to catch it all the first time through. One of the best highlights was their take on that episodes vampire villain, Rip Van Winkle, as they made her into a horrible send up and stereotype of nerd culture. Needless to say, my friends and I were thoroughly amused. After the video wrapped they opened the floor for a Q&A session, and we were treated to many strange questions involving the characters, voice actors, and a variety of odd scenarios, both sexual and otherwise. While Q&A sessions can be entertaining and often enlightening, it paled in comparison to last year’s reading of 50 SHADES OF GREY in character voices. Regardless, the Team Four Star panel was still highly enjoyable, I am always blown away by how funny and creative Lanipator, KaiserNeko, Takahata101, and the rest of the actors are, and I recommend checking one of their panels out if you happen to attend a convention where they’re guests.
Mid way through the panel, I got a text from Kevin saying D.C. Douglas (The voice of Wesker in the RESIDENT EVIL games), wanted to know where the party was. I informed my colleagues, but opted to stay for the rest of the panel and told Kevin we would hit him up when the panel was over. As the panel wrapped up I gave my number to Anna, the young press woman who had sat in front of us, and invited her to come join us for drinks and socializing later. I also passed the offer along to a couple members of Team Four Star, but they seemed less than enthused about having to travel to the other hotel, as guest of the convention were staying at the Crowne Plaza, not the Renaissance Center. Kevin got a hold of us as we are walking back to the hotel and informed us that D.C. Douglas was still looking to party, Chris graciously offered to host so we made a bee line for the room and proceed to stash all our luggage in the closet so we’d have room for the revelers.
Before long our friends start to trickle in, and I was pleasantly surprised to get a text from Anna and I agreed to meet here downstairs since she was unfamiliar with the hotel. As I got to the elevator I ran into D.C. Douglas, his handler Matt, and Matt’s wife Ashley, and directed them towards the room. I went down to the agreed meeting area, the CVS store near the people mover, and waited a few minutes for Anna to arrive, idly watching the cosplayers who were still out and about. Once she arrived we headed to elevators, only to discover there was a line around half the hall way to get to them. I suggested the stairs, and she graciously agreed, and we proceeded to hoof it up 11 flights of stairs to the 16th floor.
By the time we got back the party was in full swing. Lindsey, Kevin, Cameron, and Chris were all there, as well as a couple of Lindsey’s friends whose names escape me. Brenda, was there, as was King, a friend of Chris’s that I had previously met at other convention, and also D.C. Douglas, Matt, and Ashley. Before long Jay showed up and rounded out the party members for the night. Parties are always difficult things to chronicle as everyone does their own thing and there are multiple conversations going on at the same time, this is made even more confusing when dealing with a small enclosed space like a hotel room. As the event got going most of the die hard RESIDENT EVIL Fans had their attention locked on D.C., while other small conversations broke out here and there. Brenda got on with braiding Jay’s dreads, which seems to be her modus operandi whenever she’s around him, and Chris and I endeavored to make sure everyone who wanted a drink had one. Most of my time was spent catching up with friends and getting to know Anna a bit more. As the night progressed various party members got pictures with D.C., of which I was one, and the conversations moved away from professional topics and more towards personal ones, including sexuality, manscaping, Christian extremists, hacking, and many more. At one point D.C. and I got into an intense discussion of religion and spirituality, and it was quite enjoyable to have an intellectual debate where neither party was trying to push their views on the other, but rather were trying to understand one another. Most of us continued to drink heavily throughout the night, as there was a wide variety of alcoholic beverages available, and things started to get particularly interesting after the Jager shots started. As it got late D.C. decided to sit on the bed which quickly devolved into a cuddle puddle. While it only started with five people it eventually got as large as 9 or 10, it was hard to tell while being a part of it. At the groups request D.C. said some rather amusing things in his Wesker voice, and at one point demanded we all hum to see if we were something like a bee hive. The party broke up at around 4:30 in the morning, as Chris was ready to crash, and I walked Anna back to her hotel and agreed to meet up with her again the next day. I returned to the room to discover Chris a bit worse for wear from the booze, I turned the lights back on until he got himself together and we finally crashed out sometime close to 5:30.
I woke up around 10 from noisy neighbors and decided to start my day rather than go back to sleep. I made up the bed and got myself together; I decided not to wake Chris based on how rough he was at the end of the night. I grabbed a couple of granola bars and headed up stairs to meet Cameron, who had requested some headache medicine. Prior to the start of the convention Cameron had intentions of working out at 7 Saturday morning, and being the kind of friend I am, I was bound and determined to show him such a good time Friday night, whether through alcohol or otherwise, that he wouldn’t be able to meet his goal. While he didn’t get a work out in, I was surprised to learn that he had still risen at 7 a.m. and I thought him a bit overly cheerful for such little sleep. Cameron shared a room with Ryan and Ryan’s girlfriend who’s name I never caught, and after he took some Aleve we all headed down to the Wintergarden, a wide open area with tables and chairs surrounded by shops and restaurants and a wall of windows with a view of Canada. Cameron and the others went off to do a photo shoot with people in tactical Umbrella corporation gear and I headed off to Cobo for the all ages Team Four Star panel.
I arrived at the panel about a half hour early and was admitted with my press badge. There was a panel going on from the Japanese consulate that was fairly interesting and I took a seat on the edge of the right wing, about three rows back. Before long the panel wrapped up and there was a quick set up change for the next panel. About this time Anna arrived and grabbed the seat next to me. Team Four Star opened the panel with many of the same internet videos they showed the previous night before moving on to the premier of DRAGON BALL Z: DEADZONE ABRIDGED, which was made in honor of them reaching one million subscribers on you tube. While the movie was a bit out of time synch with where they are currently in the series, it was fun to see some of the less prevalent characters like Chi-Chi, Mr. Popo, and the Ox-King, as well as more screen time for Krillin, Piccolo, and Gohan. The biggest highlight was definitely the special ending, but I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to watch it. The panel continued with a brief Q&A session before they showed a special rough cut of their new project: ATTACK ON TITAN ABRIDGED. I was very excited by this news as this is the first time that Team Four Star is tackling a popular series that is still in the relatively early stages of its release. They didn’t announce an official release date, but I have a feeling it won’t be too long since the buzz will certainly be intense now that word is out about it. Anna bailed after the sneak peak to go get in line for Team Four Star autographs, which were scheduled for right after the panel. I stayed for about twenty more minutes of Q&A before I ducked out to join her.
By and large, I’m not much of one for getting autographs with the exception of writers and a few actors who’ve really had an impact on me, however, as Team Four Star have arguably given me more entertainment in the last three years than some of my favorite film makers, I decided to grab some signatures. All the members were extremely friendly, and of course I invited them all to come drink with us, but unlike the previous year, it would not come to pass. When I worked my way down to hbi2k I thanked him for his amazing work as Alexander Anderson on HELLSING ULTIMATE ABRIDGED and he related an amusing tale of having to record the audio for episode three within listening distance of his father, who is a devoutly religious man. If you’re familiar with the series, then you know how amusing that is, if you’re not, what are you waiting for? Go to you tube and give it a watch.
After the autograph session we wandered to the dealers room a bit before Anna and I went our separate ways, we agreed to meet up again at the D.C. Douglas panel. Before leaving Cobo I ran into my friend Kayla, who informed me she would be dancing at the rave that night and encouraged me to stop by. I headed back to the Renaissance Center and began a mad dash search for Chris. We had previously had dinner reservations for Coach Insignia, a fantastic restaurant on the top floors of the Renaissance Center, but it would have conflicted with the D.C. panel so I was hoping to find him to see if he wanted to try for an earlier time. As he was out cosplaying as the blue power ranger from the ninja series he didn’t have a place for his phone in his costume. I ran into Lindsey who helped me with the search, and after about an hour I encountered Chris and suggested moving up dinner. He was agreeable and we both went back to the room to change into appropriate attire for fine dining.
We rode up the glass elevator to Coach Insignia at 6 p.m., getting a wonderful view of Canada, even with the overcast sky. The cloud line was just above the top of the building, which created tendrils of mist that drifted down across the sky. The meal was fantastic, I had a New York strip steak and Chris had the filet, and we both ordered their amazing steak fries which are on the bar menu, but not the dining room ones. The service was very efficient but could have been a little friendlier, but as I was thoroughly befuddled by excellent food and atmosphere, I didn’t mind too much. Once we finished our excellent meal, Chris and I stopped back at the room so I could throw on my RESIDENT EVIL lab coat before heading over to Cobo for D.C. Douglas’ panel.
Chris and I arrived about 15 minutes early for the D.C. Douglas 18+ panel, I headed in straight away and found Anna already inside, a perk of being press. As the panel got underway I quickly realized what I was in for, which was D.C. Douglas and guests from the audience doing readings of RESIDENT EVIL erotic fan fiction. Among the participants were Lindsey, who seemed quite comfortable in her role, Kevin, who seemed slightly at a loss but did start to strip to liven things up, King, who was blushing with embarrassment, and Ashley, who was shooting daggers at Matt for forcing her up there. Also notable was an unknown young man sporting an “I watch BIBLE BLACK for the Story” shirt and an uncanny talent for making gagging noises, as well as a girl in a SILENT HILL nurse outfit who really got into her role. The panel was far beyond entertaining; D.C. Douglas has an amazing personality that makes him almost instantly likeable and in a room full of RESIDENT EVIL fans he was free to strut his stuff, which resulted in one of the most hilarious panels I have ever attended.
After the panel wrapped up, Anna, Chris and I headed up stairs to check out Mario Party After Dark. While I’d heard a lot of great things about it, and it certainly had the potential to be entertaining, it was difficult to watch unless you were in the front and the first half hour was rather boring, so we bailed and headed back to the Renaissance Center. After checking in with Cameron and Kevin, the general consensus was that everyone was going to check out the rave, so we headed back to the room to change and have a few drinks before the rave was set to start.
The rave was about what I have come to expect from anime conventions, which is to say decent lights and atmosphere, but not necessarily the best music. For the time I was there, the DJ was only spinning trance, which can be good but I found his choices a little boring for my taste. One cool new feature this year were the raised platforms out in the audience for dancers. I was not surprised to find my friend Kayla rocking her hoop on one of them. We stayed relatively briefly before we headed off to the bar to meet up with Jay. We found Jay talking with D.C., Matt, and Ashley who were getting ready to head to the rave. As they left the table was filled in short order with a half dozen members of con staff, followed quickly by Brenda who was instantly distract by some friends at an adjacent table. Chris got bored and decided to go wander about, I toyed with the idea of going back to the rave before getting a text from Kevin saying D.C. wanted to start the room party up again, so Brenda, Anna, and I headed there, with Jay planning to follow in a bit.
The room party was in full swing when I arrived, although it felt a bit mellower than the previous night. The role call for the evening was Lindsey, Kevin, Anna, King, D.C., Matt, Ashley, Brenda, Jay, Cameron, Chris and myself. Before long the group cuddling on the bed started back up, however, it was far less consistent than the night before with people often moving on or off. At one point infomercials somehow ended up on the TV and D.C. delighted us by doing some funny voiceovers while the TV was on mute. As the night got later, the party dwindled down to a handful of us and the conversation turned into a kind of open roundhouse about love, relationships, and life’s transition phases. It was one of the most unique experiences I have ever had at a convention, and I don’t think I can find words to do it justice, you just had to be there. I’m not one to get star struck easily because I have encountered enough celebrities to realize that people are people, regardless of what they do, that being said, D.C Douglas seemed to be a pretty great person. He had an extremely friendly disposition that made him almost instantly likeable, he was open about his life and was more than willing to help other people with theirs, and while some of his actions were playful and risqué, he also seemed to have a strong moral code and sense of honor. As another night wound down I once again walked Anna back to her hotel, and encountered an interesting young man on a mad search for mountain dew, which I couldn’t help him with.
When I got back to the room I discovered that Chris had loaded up the majority of the extra booze into my cooler, as he didn’t want to take most of it back with him. This has become a habit of his at conventions, and I would feel bad for taking his alcohol, if it wouldn’t just go to waste otherwise, so I go along with it. We packed up our bags and decided to take them out to our cars to avoid the jam packed elevators in the morning. We got back to the room shortly after 5:30 a.m. and promptly crashed out.
Sunday started at around 10 a.m. as I woke up and decided to get moving for the day and Chris was in a similar mindset. Shortly after getting cleaned up and packing up the last of my gear, Anna dropped by and decided to accompany us on our last trip to load up the cars. We stowed everything safely in our vehicles and then the three of us head down to the food court to grab some lunch. We sated our hunger with some burgers and set off to Cobo hall for one last trip around the dealers room. The trip was a bust for Chris and I, but Anna picked up some prints from an artist alley vendor. We said our goodbyes as Chris and I headed back to the Renaissance Center to get our cars and head home.
With my third year in the bag, I can say that Youmacon remains one of my favorite anime conventions. They have great guests, friendly staff, entertaining programming, and amazing locations. Sure, the logistics can be a little annoying, but its never prevented me from having one hell of a good time. If you have the means to attend, I highly recommend it, because its one con that has never disappointed me.