As the air chills and Halloween comes to an end, anime fans flock to Detroit for YOUMACON for a weekend of cosplay, gaming, panels, and general shenanigans. The convention is held at Cobo Center and GM Renaissance center (Ren Cen) in downtown Detroit, but attendees can be found in just about any hotel in the downtown area. After doing a year in an Air BnB, I opted to stay at the Ren Cen Marriott this year, and while the lines for the elevators were not quite as bad as previous years, the construction on the escalators that forced all traffic between floors two and three to take the elevators really killed a lot of the appeal of the Ren Cen as a place to stay. All con programing that is held in the Ren Cen is on floors three, four, and five, but the People Mover, the monorail that will take you to Cobo, is on floor two and most of the dining options are on floor one and two as well. This inconvenience certainly put a damper on my stay and, if it wasn’t for the extraordinary service I received from housekeeping, I don’t think I would’ve been very pleased with my choice hotel.
After checking in and getting settle I headed over to Cobo via the people mover to pick up my badge. The People Mover is a life saver for those who don’t want to walk in the cold as the Ren Cen and Cobo are about a half a mile away from each other. Upon arriving in Cobo Dion, a friend who was also attending the convention, got in line to pick up his Platinum badge. The line was long but once registration opened it moved fairly quickly. I was a bit surprised they didn’t have an express line for Platinum badge attendees, but as the weekend progressed it became clear that it would have truly only been useful on Thursday night as the preregistration line was quite short on Friday when another friend of ours, VanAllen, went to pick up his prereg badge.
The rest of Thursday was rather chill. We grabbed dinner at Granite City, which is a decent restaurant inside the Ren Cen. The service was quick and the portions are big, so it is a solid option for any con goers who aren’t on a shoestring budget. Following dinner, we chilled out and waited for our friends to arrive and then, as they trickled in, helped them unload their vehicles and get settled in.
After sleeping in and a lazy breakfast, I headed over to Cobo with some friends to check out the new video gaming room. This is the first year that video gaming has been in Cobo and the downside is that it no longer runs 24/7 as Cobo shuts down for a chunk of hours every night. However, a great benefit of the new space are the exceptionally high ceilings which did a great job of countering the usual funk that accumulates in the air as cons progress. There were plenty of modern gaming options, with PCs and consoles set up to let you play any popular multiplayer game or current release. There was also an impressive selection of arcade games, both western and japanese, and even some virtual reality booths out front, which was a nice treat. The one downside over previous years was the retro gaming. They used to have a checkout stand where you could find nearly any game you wanted from any previous console, but this year they just had NES and SNES classics set up on a slew of TVs. While this may be a more affordable way of providing the most popular games to a wider audience, the loss of other retro systems and the limited selection of games was a blow to my sentimental heart. For myself, I always have fun playing Jubeat and indulged my nostalgia by playing several rounds of Street Fighter 2 with Dion.
Before I talk about the vendors hall, I want to take a brief moment to touch on the Youmacon staff. I heard some staff complaints this year, as always, but my experience was by and large positive. When I had questions the staff were generally helpful, although they often times had to check with two or three people to nail down specific policy issues, which is something that could be improved upon in the future but isn’t really a problem. While this convention was a logistical nightmare because of the escalators being down, the staff running the elevators in the Ren Cen were far better than in previous years and I appreciated their kindness and understanding as people were trying to cope with a frustrating situation. Also, I will say that the staff manning the press room were wonderful and I would be thrilled if they returned next year.
The vendors hall was moved to a bit of a larger area in Cobo this year, and I quite liked the new set up. Unlike previous years where artist alley was to the right and vendors were to the left, artist alley was in the front and the vendors were in the rear, and while artist alley felt a bit cramped while the dealers’ area felt spread out, I think, overall, it was an improvement on previous years. As usual there was a wide variety of vendors selling anime, clothing, video games, figures, glassware, leather works, and just about any nerdy acoutremon that is even remotely related to anime or Japanese culture. It was clear that Youmacon has attracted more vendors than previous years, and I liked that some of the larger vendors I have seen at Anime Central came out, as it is a good sign that this con is still growing. Artist alley certainly felt larger than previous years and, while it is full of artists and artisans of great talent, I felt like a lot of the print artists had very similar motifs to their work and that made it difficult for anything to really jump out at me. As for myself, I mainly purchased clothing this year as I bought four shirts from Teeturtle and a few Team Four Star shirts. I was also pleased to snag a couple of figures for my collection,
After the dealers’ room, I spent most of the day just wandering the convention and catching up with friends until it was time to grab dinner. The great benefit of Youmacon being in downtown Detroit is that there are so many great food options. Dion, VanAllen, Anna, my photographer (Delphoto) and myself hopped on the people mover and headed over to the Greektown Casino to check out Noodle Art, and we were pleasantly surprised. Noodle Art is a ramen restaurant and they did not disappoint. We all ordered drinks, and they were well mixed and delicious, which is exactly what I want in a cocktail. I ordered the tonkatsu ramen and added on some ginger chicken, and it was probably the best ramen I have ever had. Our service was quite quick, with the only exception being a slightly longer than anticipated wait for our drinks. If you don’t mind going out of your way a little bit it is a great place to eat.
Following dinner, we headed back over to Cobo for Team Four Star’s 18+ panel and, despite the fact that it was mostly a question and answer panel, I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. I have long loved Team Four Star, but have wanted them to branch out a bit and never understood why they didn’t, but that became clear during this panel. They are first and foremost voice actors and content creation is secondary. They make great derivative work, but they are not super interested in creating an original series themselves. Knowing that, it makes their model and their focus more understandable. While there were some tired questions that should never be asked at a panel, such as “How do I get into voice acting?” there were were plenty of original questions that gave the Team Four Star cast members a chance to adlib character responses and have some fun, which kept the panel fairly engaging for its two and half hour run time. We were also treated to a preview of the Hellsing Abridged season finale, it was everything fans have been waiting for, which was superbly satisfying. Following the panel, we opted to head back to the hotel and enjoy a drink or two before calling it a night.
Saturday was a busy day, as there were group photoshoots Anna wanted to participate in and there were a variety of things I wanted to hit up. I went over the dealers’ hall to snag Team Four Star autographs and then headed back to the Ren Cen to check out the Hip Hop Showcase. I love that Youmacon continues to offer this unique experience, but I wish they had sought out a bigger name to headline the show like they did last year with Mega Ran. However, MC Yoda continues to be an outstanding host that can hype up the audience while holding them in the palm of his hand, and while I mostly stayed in the back, I was continually impressed with his ability to whip up the crowd. By and large the musicians did a good job, though none of them grabbed me enough for me to want to look into their work. I think the Hip Hop Showcase is something that should continue, but be given a later spot, like six or seven at night, and be put in a more prominent location so it can entice in a bigger crowd, because it is one of the most unique things Youmacon has going for it and it should be given a higher level of publicity.
After leaving the showcase I headed back over to Cobo to catch the all ages Team Four Star panel, which did start to drag after a while as it was another Q and A panel. Personally, if a guest is going to have two panels that equal five hours of time, I think it best if they have some kind of programming or event to break things up. Some years ago, Team Four Star would read passages from Fifty Shades of Grey in different character voices and that was great fun it broke up the monotony of the Q and A format. Regardless, the premier of episode one of season three of Final Fantasy 7 Machinabridged was fun and it was nice to see the wide range of audience questions, even when some of them were tedious.
Following the panel, we decided to grab some dinner, so we hoofed it a few blocks to hit up Giordano’s, a Chicago deep dish pizza joint. If you’ve never had Chicago style deep dish, it is definitely worth checking out, as it is unlike other pizzas and typically boasts more cheese and toppings than almost any other pie you’ll find. However, it is still very much pizza, and it can be pricey depending on how big of a pizza you get, so be aware that a small will easily feed the hungriest person and a large is meant for 3-4 people. After dinner we headed back to the Ren Cen and grabbed a drink in the room before heading down to Volt bar.
If you find yourself unsure of what to do on a Friday or Saturday night at Youmacon, Volt in the Ren Cen Marriott is a pretty solid option. They offer great drinks and have a pretty solid dining menu to boot, but it is the atmosphere that makes it perfect for the con. Volt is very open and it is seat yourself, so it is no surprise it is a natural gathering place. Dion, VanAllen, Pat, and myself enjoyed a few rounds of drinks and in the process met some new people, ran into some friends, and got to enjoy the infectious energy of a packed location where everyone was enjoying themselves.
Eventually Dion and VanAllen decided to head off to Cobo while Pat went his own way and I went off to meet up with Anna for a room party. The party was in the Courtyard Marriott across the street, and there was a security guard checking for room keys, so we had to wait for someone from the party to come down and escort us up. The quality of a room party can vary wildly at a convention, but this one was done right, with two rooms being involved, one for a chill atmosphere and one for a more raucous atmosphere. We went with raucous and were not disappointed. Everyone at the party was welcoming, Anna knew many of them from photoshoots but this was my first time meeting them, and the conversations were lively and fun.
After a enjoyable time of drinking and socializing the party decided to head over to the rave, so Anna and I went back to the room to change into dance clothes and then went downstairs to get our groove on. Raves at anime conventions are typically a very fun time, and I have always liked the way Youmacon has run theirs. MC Yoda hosts and, as I’ve said before, he is beyond solid on the mic. Anna and I made our way to the front and as soon as Yoda spotted me he gave me a hug, which made my night and put a huge smile on my face. We spent the next hour or so dancing to fantastic music that was well mixed and ideal not just for a rave at a convention, but any rave in general. If you like dancing at all then this is certainly an event you should check out if you ever attend Youmacon. After exhausting ourselves we went back to the room and I took packed up a carload to take down while everyone else crashed out
Sundays at conventions are bitter sweet affairs as the event is winding down and exhaustion is setting in. We loaded up the cars and then grabbed brunch before going our separate ways and heading home. Youmacon continues to be a fun convention with plenty to do. I would like to see a more centralized location for the convention so that there isn’t constant traveling between the two con locations, but I am not sure how viable that is as the hotels closer to Cobo may not be set up for conferences and the convention may be under contracts they can’t get out of. Regardless, Youmacon is certainly worth a trip for any anime fan looking to have fun and steep themselves in the culture for a weekend.