Just because Halloween is over doesn’t mean it is time to put your costume away because YOUMACON, Detroit’s largest anime convention, is always right on its heels, welcoming cosplayers and nerds of all ages to come and revel for the weekend. As always, Youmacon takes place the first weekend in November and is the last major anime convention of the year in the midwest. For first time attendees, the most important thing to know is that the convention takes place in the GM Renaissance Center (Ren Cen) and Cobo Hall. These two venues are roughly a half mile apart, and while there is access to them via the people mover, I’d recommend walking if the weather is nice because it is much faster.
My photographer Anna (delphoto) and I hit the road early Friday morning and arrived at Cobo Hall just as doors were opening for registration. After getting directions we picked up our press badges and decided to head into the dealers hall to see what they had to offer this year. The dealer hall is split in two, with vendors on the left and an artist alley to the right. Youmacon always boasts a wide variety of vendors selling everything anime related as well as clothing, video games, and cultural items. The hall is quite sprawling and hosts a sizable number of vendors, but as Youmacon is on the cusp of becoming one of the top ten largest anime conventions in the country, it may be time to expand it in the next year or two.
My first big find this year was an art book from the 1997 Berserk series, I’ve been a fan since the early 2000s, but I didn’t start collecting until much later, so I’m always happy to add something to my meager collection. For those looking for official vendors, Funimation is typically on hand, but they are often not as well supplied as some of the other video vendors, so if you are looking for something specific be sure to shop around because it’s likely someone will have it. My second big find was a copy of Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, this out of print film has been evading my grasp for several years now and I was thrilled to finally complete my Eva video collection.
The artist alley was interesting this year, particularly because there were several new booths that I had not seen in previous years. If you are searching for prints, glassware, independent comics, or the kind of anime related stuff you’d typically find on etsy, this is the place for you. I’d definitely recommend doing a walkthrough of the whole area before purchasing anything, because pricing and quality can differ significantly from artist to artist and it pays to know your options before committing. That being said, if you see something you can’t live without be sure to pick it up, because you may not run into that artist again another year or another place and you may miss out on something wonderful. Myself, I purchased a lovely Studio Ghibli lanyard that I’m sure will become my standard convention badge lanyard from now on.
After romping around the dealers hall we decided to go grab lunch. While the Ren Cen has a food court on the bottom level, Cobo hall has only a cafeteria area and it is rather pricey for what you get. Thankfully, this convention takes place in heart of downtown Detroit and there are plenty of dining options if you’re willing to walk a little. Anna and I decided on The District Bar and Grill which is about a block and half away from Cobo. The food was hit or miss, with my barbecue boneless wings being as delicious and well portioned as my pizza was disappointing, but I have a feeling if you stick to typical bar food at this place you’ll probably leave full, if not satisfied.
Following lunch, Anna went off to do a photoshoot while I meandered around Cobo hall, people watching and revisiting the dealers room for an hour until it was time to meet back up. We went to check in to our room, we stayed at an Airbnb about a fifth of a mile from the Ren Cen, and then got ourselves ready for the evening festivities before heading over to the Ren Cen.
If you are a fan of music and are looking for something unique to do at this convention, The Youmacon Hip Hop Show might be right up your alley. The show was hosted by legendary local MC Yoda and this year featured nerdcore artists Mega Ran and K-Murdock, as well as local Detroit artists Noveliss and Yakuza Moon. If you are unfamiliar with the nerdcore genre, think hip hop music inspired by nerd culture and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you are going to get into. Mega Ran was great, delivering a killer performance which included his signature freestyle move, where he has audience members hold up items and he freestyles about them. K Murdock, who is mainly a musician and producer rather than a singer, joined DJ-RX78 on the decks for the latter part of the show, and it was fun to finally to him live. To be honest, this show was one of the highlights of the convention for me. Nerdcore shows are always a blast and an anime con is as close to an ideal audience as you can get. The crowd was great, the performers were all heart and passion, and Yoda kept things flowing and moving even when hiccups occurred. If you missed this, you missed out, and if you go next year, this is the event you want to catch.
Following the show, I went to meet up with Anna, who had left shortly after Mega Ran started to go get food. I found her in Volt, the bar at the Marriott inside the Ren Cen, sitting with a work acquaintance of mine (small world!) and we went off to grab some booze and check out the video game room. If gaming is your thing, you will certainly find plenty to entertain you at Youmacon. Besides an impressive array of arcade games from Japan and America, they’ve got row upon row of computers and consoles and a booth to check out just about any game imaginable, so you can keep up on League or WOW, play a vintage game you’ve been missing, or check out something new you just want to get a feel for. Additionally, they’ve got tournaments running most of the weekend where you can put your skills to the test and see if you truly are as epic a gamer as you think you are. Personally, I love playing Jubeat, but had a bit of a rough time with it this time around as I was more than a little inebriated.
After the game room we decided to head to a room party to meet up with some friends of mine. The event was nice, and we enjoyed some fine spirits while catching up on the events of the day and discussing what everyone was interested in checking out on Saturday. Before long Anna and I started to fade, so we decided to wander back to our Airbnb and crash out.
We had a lazy start to our Saturday and finally got moving a little after 10 AM. We headed up the street to Clique, a great dinner a little way up the road from the Ren Cen. If you ever attend Youmacon and feel like having a great breakfast, this is a wonderful place to check out. Yes, you will most likely have to wait for a table because it’s not very big, but it boasts quality food, large portions, and is a great place to nurse a hangover and get yourself set up for another fun filled day of con shenanigans.
Following breakfast, I headed over to the Ren Cen to check out a panel while Anna headed off to Cobo to explore and take pictures. I went to Video Games and Hip Hop with Mega Ran and K Murdock and it was an interesting presentation of the history of the meeting of these two genres. Explaining any more would ruin the panel for anyone who might be interested in attending in subsequent years, but if you are more familiar with one side or the other and want a quick history lesson on how these two areas have grown together and influenced each other, you may want to check this out sometime if you ever have the chance.
I headed over to Cobo after the panel to meet up with Anna. We grabbed a snack and then headed over to the Cosplay Photography 101: Photographers. Unfortunately, we discovered when we arrived that it was the Cosplayers version as they switched the panels around and we weren’t aware because we were using the physical program rather than the app. We decided to stick around anyway to see if there was any useful information, but we quickly discovered we were in for stark disappointment. The panel was handled as if you had no idea what photography was and had no idea how to pose, and while this could be a useful panel for a young, first time con goer who is new to everything, the information was so basic that anyone with even the most rudimentary of photography or modeling knowledge would find it to be a waste of time.
After this we decided to head back to our Airbnb, unfortunately it had started raining and even though we only had a short walk from the people mover, we still ended up completely soaked. We decided to stay in and watch some anime while our clothes dried and then we went over to Fishbone’s to meet up with some friends for dinner. Fishbone’s is an interesting restaurant that focuses on Cajun cuisine but also has a variety of other seafood and typical dinner house fare. It can range from affordable to expensive depending on what you buy, but the food is quite good and you will certainly not leave hungry.
Following dinner, I headed back to Cobo to check out DC Douglas’ 18+ The Notorious Zombie Related Fanfiction Show. For those unfamiliar, DC Douglas is a voice actor who has a prominent role in a popular survival horror game franchise, which I will not mention for legal reasons because it could get his panel shut down, but you can figure it out with a quick Google search. The panel consists of DC reading fan fiction with volunteers from the audience playing the other roles. It is raucous, debaucherous fun and often goes off the rails due to crowd reaction and participation. I’ve been to this panel three times in my life and it’s always a blast, so if you want to laugh or are just in the mood for some dirty fun, this panel is right up your alley.
After the panel let out we wandered around Cobo for a bit while waiting for Nat-Chan and Mat-Chan’s Night Out, which is one of the most depraved and hilarious events you will find at a convention, assuming you have the constitution for this sort of thing. I stumbled upon this panel at my first Youmacon seven years ago and this is the first time I was able to make it back since then, but I was happy to discover that nothing had changed. The premise is simple, the hosts of this panel have delved into the dark depths of the internet to find the most fucked up anime and video game related videos out there. If you are squeamish, you should not attend this panel and you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph, but they will find animated videos that are funny or fucked up and nothing is off limits, so you may be subject to skat, bestiality, or necrophilia tinged content in addition to the run of the mill 18+ stuff, but almost all of it is funny and if not, the reaction from the audience usually is.
Anna and I stayed at the panel for about an hour before we became too tired to go on and grabbed an Uber back to our Airbnb. We slept in late the next morning and decided to hit the road rather than venture back out to convention, bringing yet another Youmacon to a close for us.
Overall, Youmacon is a fun convention that needs to continue to grow. One of its biggest problems is the fact that they have many of the same guests year after year, and if they truly want to become a world renowned convention they need to pursue higher profile guests who haven’t come to their con before. Beyond that, they are doing most everything else relatively well given their location. Their game room is solid, they have diverse and unique musical options, downtown Detroit offers plenty of great shooting locations for cosplayers (as long as you don’t mind being cold), they have a stacked lineup of panels and video programming, and they have a sizeable dealer’s hall that offers just about anything you could want that is anime related. I hope Youmacon continues to grow and change to become the convention it has the potential to be, and I think the next few years will be crucial in deciding if they will join the ranks of the top conventions or become a premier local convention that does well but doesn’t quite live up to what one would expect from a top ten convention. Regardless, I’ve never failed to have a great time and I’m sure I will keep coming back as long as it is an easy drive from where I am living.