Field Trip: YOUMACON 2015
This 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 covers my personal experiences at the con.
As the leaves start to fall and the air starts to chill, many people begin to look forward to Halloween, however, for many of us in the midwest and across the country, we look forward to the costumed shenanigans that happen every year at YOUMACON in Detroit. With attendance estimated to be around 19,000 people this year it is easily Michigan’s largest anime convention and it has earned that distinction for a reason: it is always one amazingly fun time.
I met up with my buddy Dion just after noon on Thursday, and after loading the bags and a brief stop at the liquor store, we shot up 75 North to Detroit and the Renaissance Center (henceforth called the Ren Cen) which, along with the Cobo Center, is the home of the convention. I always love going to conventions at the Ren Cen because of its fantastic layered layout. While you have to do quite a bit of walking, the multi level facility offers plenty of room for panels, areas for cosplay photoshoots, a variety of dining options, and larger halls that are ideal for hosting the rave and the expansive gaming center. I wasn’t a big fan of Cobo when it was first added to the con, but now that it’s been utilized for a few years the organization and logistics have improved and it has become the perfect location for larger guest events like main programing, registration, and the vendor hall. Additionally, the various floors and alcoves have been embraced by cosplayers and more and more photoshoots are moving there. The only downside remains the distance between the two locations, but the people mover seemed to be running more quickly this year (they may have had more trains running), and the programing was better scheduled so I never had to worry about booking it from the Ren Cen to Cobo in 10 minutes to catch something, which was nice.
Thanks to our relatively early arrival I was able to get checked in quickly and was quite pleased with how efficient and pleasant the hotel staff was. After making a couple of trips to unload the car we met up with Maria and hit up her and Dion’s room for some inaugural drinks. Once we finished our libations, Dion and I head over to Cobo to pick up our badges, registration wasn’t opening for about 2 hours, but Dion wanted to get in line early and I joined him as I wanted to pick up my press badge. We boarded the people mover and got to Cobo about 90 minutes before reg was to open, Dion jumped in line while I wandered a bit to get a feeling for the layout and arrangement they were doing this year. Eventually I joined him and we chatted with new line friends and enjoyed some people watching as we waited.
I was highly impressed with how efficiently registration was run this year. Once reg was opened and the line started moving it went quite rapidly, with Dion getting through it in under a half hour. Press registration was unlabeled when I arrived, but I had a fairly good idea where to head because of previous years and after picking up my badge I informed the staff member on the door where it was to help things run more smoothly. Diverging a bit to cover more of registration, when I was back in Cobo the next day the line for at con registration was astronomical; by far one of the longest lines I have ever seen at a con. However, I ran into my friend Chris, who is nicknamed “no pants” for his love of sporting underwear whenever he can, who was far, far back in the line and when I caught up with him later he said his wait was only two hours, which is crazy fast and efficient for at con registration, particularly for the number of people attending this year.
After getting our badges and picking up people mover passes for myself and Anna, who was just arriving, we headed back to the Ren Cen to meet up with people. Dion split off to meet up with Maria, and I went to help Anna with her luggage. After spending some time to catch up as we hadn’t seen each other in months, I hit up Dion and we all met up at Volt Bar in the hotel lobby for dinner. Volt Bar never changes much, their food is pretty good and not too expensive, but their drinks are pricey so it is usually a good idea to sip your drink rather than throw it back unless you’re down for dropping some serious green. As dinner wrapped up we still hadn’t run into any of our other con friends so we decided to head back to Dion and Maria’s room for a drink. After a couple drinks Anna decided to call it a night, and I took her back to her room. As I was heading back I got a text from Lindsay, who writes for examiner.com and is also Sheikahchica Cosplay. She said she was staying at the Crowne Plaza by Cobo and wanted to meet up to drink and socialize, so I made the brisk 10 minute walk to her hotel so I could escort her and her friends, Jessie and Anne, through downtown Detroit.
After quick hugs all around the four of us headed back to the Ren Cen and made a beeline for Dion’s room. After introductions I mixed up some rum and cokes for those who wanted them and we settled into socializing and relaxing after a long day of traveling and preparing. The drinks and stories flowed freely and we were eventually joined by Craig, a friend of Lindsay’s who is training to be a wrestler. After a few more drinks Lindsay wanted to meet up with a friend of hers who was in the video game room, so we said our goodbyes to Dion and Maria and then we all headed out.
The video game room at Youmacon was very impressive this year. As usual, they had plenty of stations set up where you could play your favorite PC, X-Box, Playstation, and Nintendo games, but they had wider selection of arcade games this year, and many of them were japanese ones that have never been released in the United States. I also liked the better lighting this year; I understand that a game room should not exactly be well lit, but it is usually so dark that it is hard to maneuver, thankfully it was brighter this year but still dark enough to provide a solid gaming atmosphere. After checking out our various options we opted to play the Table Flip game, where you get everyone’s attention by hitting a table then flip it and send everything flying. The game is hilarious, if a little one dimensional, and we all had a good laugh with it. After several rounds I made my goodbyes and headed back to my room to crash out for the night.
The next day started around 11 in the morning when I finally got myself together and out of the hotel room. While I am not much of a cosplayer, it is fun to dress up at a con. Anna and I decided to do complimentary costumes for Friday, so I dressed up like a professor wielding a long ruler and she dressed up as a schoolgirl. After meeting up we decided to head over to Cobo to find Dion and pick up her press badge. Cobo was a madhouse with the line for registration doubling back on itself several times, thankfully we were able to go right in since Anna was press. After procuring her badge we headed over to the dealers hall only to discover it wouldn’t open for a few more hours, so rather than wait we went wandering.
Part of the fun of any Anime convention is people watching. With so many people dressed up as their favorite characters or in other wild outfits because they’re in a safe environment where it is encouraged, there is always something fun to see or be a part of. It is very uplifting to see so many people dedicated to what they love, be it their favorite fandom, rave culture, or something so original there is no easy way to categorize it, the creativity that is on display everywhere always puts a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. Sure, there will always be snide remarks from someone being judgy, but that’s just as much a part of the communal experience as the praise and pictures and no one should take it too personally, because at the end of the day we are all out to have fun and revel in respective hobbies.
After a few hours of wandering Anna and I headed back to Cobo to check out the dealers room and artist alley. While the dealers room remained in the same location as previous years, it certainly felt fuller as the retailers stretched to the back of the hall with hardly an empty booth in sight with the exception of a few of the other con promo booths at the rear of the hall. Despite the apparent increase in vendors, there was still plenty of room to maneuver and I appreciated not getting stuck in any bottlenecks. As usual there was a wide variety of nerdy merchandise to comb through including figures, posters, leather goods, video games, curios from asia, clothing, costume props, and, of course, anime. The only industry vendor in attendance was Funimation, and I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating based on how large this con has become, they really need to up their game at this convention. The presentation and wider variety of wares Funimation roles out at some other conventions are lacking here and it makes them look dismissive and disappointing. While scouring the vendor’s hall I snagged a Hatsune Miku figure, three new Cowboy Bebop wall scrolls, and a Team Four Star shirt.
The far side of the vendor hall was reserved for artist alley and I was impressed with some of the new exhibitors this year. I am always blown away by the craft and skill on display in artist alley, and while you often have to pay a bit more for the wares, it feels good to support independent artists. As usual, there was a glut of people selling art prints and offering on the spot sketches, but as most of them hit every convention in the midwest it had me craving something less familiar. Thankfully, there were a handful of glass purveyors there this year, and I was able to snag some single and double shot glasses that were etched with emblems from Zelda, Mario, and Mad Max. I also picked up a couple of Zelda prints from one of the artists and Anna found a few nice pieces to add to her art wall.
After wrapping up at the dealers’ room we headed over to one of the main programing rooms for the all ages Team Four Star panel. I am a huge fan of TFS and their works, avidly following DBZ Abridged, Hellsing Abridged, and many of the TFS Plays series as well. We got in early because we were press, but opted to sit off to the side so the best seats would be available for the Platinum pass attendees, unfortunately, the other press attendees didn’t share this consideration and I felt bad for that the first two to three rows were over run with press rather than dedicated fans. Since Youmacon was the first con to ever invite Team Four Star out, they usually pull out all the stops for this con and deliver something special, and this year was no exception. After introductions we were treated to the premier of Super Android 13 Abridged, which practically had us rolling in the aisle from laughing so hard. Following the video the panel turned into a question and answer session, and I highly enjoyed that the quality of questions from attendees were much improved from previous years. Lanipator and Takahata101 were their usual boisterous selves and easily held the audience’s rapt attention. A big surprise this year was MasakoX who had some fantastic comebacks and one liners which was a departure from how he’s been at other panels. The panel was an absolute blast, and I highly recommend attending if you ever get the chance.
After leaving the panel Anna and I both agreed we were starving and I texted Dion to see if he wanted to grab dinner, which he did, so we met up with him at the people mover and headed over to greek town, which is a couple blocks from the Ren Cen, to see if we could find a pizza place or something. Exiting the people mover station we didn’t spot any interesting pizza places but we did happen upon a mexican restaurant called Loco’s Tex-Mex Grille. I ordered chicken taquitos as an appetizer and they were amazing, which made up for the middle of the road fajitas I had as my entree. Based on how empty the restaurant was I was a little disappointed with how inattentive the waiter was, it wasn’t so bad that I wouldn’t go back, but I was certainly annoyed. After some relaxing conversation and getting thoroughly stuffed we headed back over to the Ren Cen hoping to jump start some much needed con partying.
We stopping by our rooms to get changed and grab some drinks, then we headed up to the higher levels of the Marriott hotel to see Cameron, a writer for UGRgaming.com who you may remember from my last Youmacon review. After hugs and introductions to his roommates and a friend who turns out I had met before in an audition line to be a movie extra, we settled down to drinking and catching up. One of the fun things about conventions is that you get to see friends that you may only get to see once or twice a year, so there is so much to catch up on and reminisce about that even an uneventful time feels fun and rewarding. After throwing back a few drinks we got the word that Lindsay was in Volt Bar having drinks with Matt, a staffer who was part of the DC Douglas snuggle puddle party two years back, and some other friends. So after heading down to Dion’s room to grab him, Craig, and some other revelers they had met up with, we all went down to Volt Bar to join in the shenanigans.
Arriving at Volt Bar we quickly found Lindsay, Matt and everyone else gathered around a table on the far right. I took an empty seat and proceeded to catch up with Matt about how he’s been and how the con had been going. After getting lost in conversation and having some passionate debates about proper con etiquette, I decided to break from the table and see what else was going on around the bar. I found Anna and Lindsay at a table full of young men and a young lady, sorry but their names escape me so they will simply be called the entourage, a nickname they were called by but whose origins I am ignorant of. The conversation was boisterous and I enjoyed merely hanging back and listening most of the time as their intoxicated revelry and debate escalated in decibels. I was pleasantly surprised when Kevin, whose photo work is on facebook under Tk8919 Photography, showed up in a Gaston cosplay and added his goofy and overbearing presence to the affair. After we’d been at the bar for probably close to 2 hours DC Douglas stopped by and it turned into a rousing time of memories, hugs, and recalling those wonderful parties from a couple years back.
Eventually Volt Bar had last call and we needed to decide what to do next, which just so happened to turn into Kevin challenging people to an arm wrestling competition which resulted in much cheering, picture taking, and a hard fought win over DC. At this point Anna, myself, and the entourage headed off to the rave for a bit. As I’m a fan of electronic music and have been known to go to raves from time to time, I always temper my expectations for the ones at conventions. That’s not to say they aren’t fun, they certainly have competent DJs and they usually have fun lights and visual effects, but they tend to stick to mostly trance and house music whereas I tend to prefer a wider variety. I’m always a bit surprised they don’t spin more happy hardcore as it seems perfectly tailored to the Anime crowd. The Youmacon rave was exactly what I expected, meaning they had excellent lights and visuals but the music could have been more varied, and while I did have some fun dancing, my foot started to bother me (I had stitches recently after stepping on broken glass) so Anna and I bailed for Dion’s room where the party was evidently in full swing.
A party of this nature is almost impossible to chronicle as there is far too much going on for any one person to take in, particularly since there are so many conversations going on simultaneously. The party was crowded when we got there, Lindsay, Kevin, Cameron, Maria, Dion, Craig and a few other people whose names escape me were all there, and it only got more crowded as about eight more people showed up in the next half hour. I made some rum and cokes for those who wanted them, then I sat down and relaxed on the edge of the party, enjoying the chaos of it all and dipping into conversations with various friends. DC Douglas eventually showed up, and it was nice to see him engage in his usual party habit of talking to a young couple and giving them advice (the couple in question were from the entourage). There were several selfies being taken with DC and various other people as well as some rousing conversation surrounding pro wrestling with Craig. Like almost any party Dion is involved in, the booze flowed freely and most of us continued drinking late into the night. A little after three A.M. Cameron and Kevin took off to make their annual drunkumentary after some pics and hugs. Due to the relatively large number of people there was never an obvious center of the party, and thanks to the booze and the noise I eventually started to zone out and just let the party wash over me. As it neared four in the morning everyone kind of agreed we needed to get some sleep for the next day, so we all said our goodbyes and gave hugs all around before we headed off to our rooms to sleep.
With getting to sleep so late and the excessive amount of drinking that went on the night before it wasn’t until very late in the morning that I tried to get moving. With a stiff head and a sore body it isn’t surprising that I stuck to juice, water, carbs, and light protein to try and regain some of my energy for the day to come. I got into my Resident Evil Scientist outfit and eventually met up with Anna and we headed over to Cobo where we tracked down Dion and hit up the Artist Alley again now that we had more time to investigate all the booths. Anna found a couple more prints and I found a poster that I bought for Dion as a “welcome back to cons” gift as he hadn’t been to one in over two years. Eventually our exhaustion got the better of us and we head back the Ren Cen to relax and watch some anime.
After relaxing up with some anime, Anna and I changed into fancy clothes and headed to Coach Insignia, a wonderful restaurant on the top of the Renaissance Center that you get to via a glass elevator on the third floor. After waiting 10 minutes for the place to open, we rode up and got an excellent view of the river and Canada, which is also one of the highlights of staying at the Ren Cen if you are lucky enough to have a room with a view. As I’ve come to expect, the meal was fantastic. I had the New York Strip steak, which melted in my mouth and Anna had the shrimp and scallops, which she praised. I ordered some of their wonderful truffle oil steak fries for the table and we both recovered from our exhaustion over the course of our delicious and regenerative meal.
Following dinner we changed into more appropriate clothing for wandering around a convention and headed over to Cobo for the DC Douglas Erotic fanfiction panel, arriving about 20 minutes early. We hopped in line and quickly ran into Matt, who was diligently pulling a sign down and doing other staff things, but he spared time for a hug, and Lindsay, who was sporting a Resident Evil Jill wetsuit cosplay, who joined us in the press line. If you ever get a chance to go to a DC Douglas Fanfiction Panel I sincerely urge you to attend. DC calls up volunteers from the audience to read erotic fan fiction with him and it is always a new and surprising time because no two people ever read a role the same way. Anna worked up the courage to volunteer this time around and it was fun to see her try not to laugh at some points. Other notable readers were the “I watch Bible Black for the Story” t-shirt guy who was back again this year, he lent his voice to Sonic the Hedgehog and gave me some of the biggest laughs of the night. There was also a girl in a Jill cosplay who got a little into her role and got a bit kissy with DC! DC knows how to run a room, particularly one full of fans, and it was a blast to watch him let loose and allow the panel to get as wild as the participants were willing to let it.
Following the panel Anna went off with the entourage while Dion and I headed back to the Ren Cen to have some drinks. We grabbed some booze and went up to Cameron’s room where he, Kevin, and some of his roommates were sitting around drinking. We knocked a few back and goofed around a bit before meeting up with Anna and heading back over to Cobo for the 18+ Team Four Star Panel. Despite getting to the event 15 minutes early, Anna and I were immediately sent in with the Platinum badge group and were directed to sit in the front row at the far side. Usually this wouldn’t have bothered me, but the way the speakers were set up you could barely hear what was going on, the difficulty of the audio situation combined with the technical difficulties they were having prompted us to leave early. I was disappointed as I always enjoy their panels, but the circumstances were just too aggravating to endure. If you find yourself at one of their panels, do yourself a favor and sit at least 5 rows back if you are on the sides, otherwise you will miss out on what is usually some terrific fun.
Following the panel we went back to Volt Bar to meet up with everyone. Matt and DC were off at a small table while Lindsay and the entourage we’re dominating a booth. I exchanged pleasantries with Matt and gave DC a shoulder rub as a thank you for all the great times he has given us at the cons. I wish I could recall more of this time, but I was rather intoxicated and things do start to blur. Eventually the party moved to the entourages’ suite upstairs, and Dion and I brought up the remainder of his booze and candy to help the party continue on. I mostly held back and observed the proceedings, but I did get into a brief conversation about poverty and racial inequality but quickly bowed out when I realized all my efforts to explain social injustices were lost on the two people I was talking to as they wanted to blame everything on the victims. The party was mostly uneventful as we had to stay quiet because there were staff staying in the two adjoining rooms and it is very bad form to be loud and wake them up when they’ve worked all day to provide us with a great con experience. At one point Matt stopped by and they tried to turn him away, Lindsay and I caught him at the elevator and convinced him to join us, but the incident was clearly a buzzkill and he didn’t stay too long. It wasn’t long after this that I reached my limit and so I said my farewells and head back to the room. I decided to take my hanging luggage and remaining booze to the car so I could just make one trip tomorrow, then I crashed hoping to sleep off the thick head I had.
Dion and I are fairly dedicated to leaving conventions by midday Sunday, we are typically exhausted by this point and anything that we wanted to do we have usually long since done. I got up after about 5 hours sleep and proceed to pack up the room. Anna informed me that she had a hangover and I headed over to lend a hand, specifically in holding back her hair. Eventually we needed to clear out our luggage and check out, so I threw everything on my shoulders and we hit the stairs. We got a bit lost and ended up in the basement but it luckily popped us out right by the parking garage. I went to meet up with Dion and Anna went to find her car, after dropping my luggage I saw her walking down the street, turns out she couldn’t find her car and she had left her phone in her room. I took her key and left her with Dion to find the car. I hit the elevator, grabbed her stuff, then headed back down the stairs to find them waiting on the first floor near Starbucks. We helped load up her car then hugged our goodbyes before we all hit the road.
With another year over and done Youmacon remains one of my favorite anime conventions. It has great guests, friendly and attentive staff, wonderful programing, and locations that are ideal for all the various aspects of anime cons. As long as I am able I will keep coming back to this con, because even when things get weird, I still end up having one hell of a good time and I never leave disappointed. If any of you are thinking of attending, I highly recommend it, get a badge, get a room, then get ready for four days of awesomeness, because that is what it always ends up being.