Anime Senpai (First semester) is a brand new convention which made its maiden voyage in Collinsville, Illinois at the Gateway center. Anime Senpai has spawned from its original incarnation which was held under the name Anime Getaway. This convention has been going on since 2014 and this year it evolved for the first time into a 3 day convention from its original one day roots. This was my second year attending this con, if you include Anime Getaway. The convention had its hiccups from the transition and made some very interesting choices with how the con itself was handled for its first year. So what was anime senpai like to attend.
Above: Anime Senpai vendor room featuring Seifer's Stitches. Below: Seifer's Stitches kigurumi collection on display at Anime Senpai 2018.
Prices for this convention were very reasonable with a full weekend badge being $35. Those who pre-registered for their 3 day badge were given the discounted price of $25 along with some Anime Senpai swag. This consisted of the a patch and pin based on the conventions logo. Single day passes varied from $10 to $25 depending on which day you planned to attend. Once again pre-registering for the badge proved to be beneficial in avoiding the long lines that had built up for single day or on site purchasers.
When it came to con staff and volunteer presence at this convention it was, for lack of a better word, sparse. Outside of the registration area in the hall I did not see much, if anyone, who worked or volunteered for the convention. It was my understanding that Anime Senpai was very short-staffed and did not have much in the way of volunteers. This obstacle was definitely noticed as many people were never once checked for their badges and finding someone to answer questions about panel locations and more was more difficult than expected. The convention also had a odd policy of having its attendees wear wrist bands to verify over 18 status which were required for 18+ programming and in my opinion were just pains... I mean they were not attractive in cosplay photos and how much longer is it really to see an I.D. I will also mention that it was brought to my attention from a few other convention staff alumni that one of the reasons Anime Senpai may have been so hard up for staff and volunteers is that they flat out refused to give anyone who had not worked for them in the past a chance and would only accept previous staff members.
The convention is held at the Gateway Center in Collinsville. This location was very easy to get to and also was an appropriately sized venue for this type of convention. The Gateway Center was also home to Anime St. Louis for multiple years until they outgrew it and seems to be a good choice for conventions in the Midwest area trying to expand their horizons. When it comes to the convention center itself there was not many places for stylized cosplay photos other than your standard hall shot and outside the convention center pic. However in the surrounding areas , including the convention center grounds and nearby hotels, there was a bit more to offer for those seeking to capture the awesomeness of their cosplay in photos. The Gateway center is also located nearby many options for con goers when it comes to dining. The convention center itself was definitely pricey when it came to food and drinks as most are and it was nice to be located in an area were you had plenty of options that wouldn't break the bank and were also within walking distance.
The Gateway Center is very easy to travel to, being almost right off of highway I-270. The convention center did have a good sized parking lot but that did seem to fill up fast as convention goers arrived on Friday afternoon. However, it did remain decently easy to find parking for most of the weekend. In addition, this convention is seriously close to several hotel locations including the DoubleTree and the La Quinta which made for easy walking in cosplay to and from the convention.
Cosplay/Voice Acting/Musical Guests
Anime Senpai did have a surprisingly good lineup of guests for a first year convention. The voice acting guests included of Cherami Leigh (Borderlands 2/FairyTail), Todd Haberkorn (Claymore/Soul Eater), and Austin Tindle (Assassination Classroom/Attack on Titan). Other guests included Kowai Kawaii Cosplay and Ace Shrewberry a.k.a. Cosplay Senpai. I was very happy to see some them as it is always nice to have cosplayers represented at conventions. One thing that bothered many convention goers was the autograph policy that Anime Senpai implemented. Although it was not published or made known anywhere official it was announced to those trying to obtain autographs that only 1 free autograph could be gotten from the guests all weekend and not 1 per day as is the norm. That rule along with the lines from the autographs being cut after people had waited for a long time in line, made this part of the con not very enjoyable. Getting the opportunity for free voice acting autographs was a plus for this convention as not all conventions offer this.
Above: CKC's Luna, RenChan, and LaKinta in the Anime Senpai 2018 CMV thumbnail, CMV by Justin Pineda. Below: RenChan as Naraku during the InuYasha shoot with Mouzycat Cosplay Photographer.
There were not many panels going on for Anime Senpai's line up but there were some that were good. The 18+ panels were interesting to attend but in general it was a lot of the same panels that you see at most conventions... Cosplay 101 anyone? Another problem during Anime Senpai was that some panelists didn't bother to show for panels. I could speculate that this may have something to do with the lack of response vendors, panelists, and regular attendees were receiving from Anime Senpai leading up to the convention itself but I can't say for sure. After all, the convention did not publish the schedule until 3 days before the con which made it hard to get excited for panels and other events. I can only speculate that it might have also proved to be a factor in causing some panelists not to attend. Anime Senpai also had dances both Friday night and Saturday night. Friday's theme was for its attendees to dress in their best school uniforms from their favorite anime. Saturday night was a more typical rave like dance, and a friend who attended has since reported that the convention gave out glow batons and played a disappointingly small variety of music, and in addition there were not many people there.
Above: Fast Food selfie with CKC RenChan as Starbucks, Seifer's Stitches (Jack in the Box), Wicked Warlock Cosplay ( Ronald McDonald), YomuChan (Cinnabon), FujiCakes Cosplay (Smug Wendy), Heather Trinh (Red Lobster), and RN Ninja (PAnda Express). Below: RenChan as Miu and LaKinta as Mafuyu from Blend-S before the photo shoot with Mckeltie Photography.
One of the greatest disappointments for myself and the rest of my friends was the distinctly small and underwhelming vendor room/artist alley. There were very few vendors present and with only 2 small aisles to wander through, it made it painfully obvious that this vendor room could use some major help. This wasn't all bad though, as there were a few gems to be found including Seifer's Stitches. Seifer's Stitches is an amazing creator of the most adorable kigurumis (Onesies) of all kinds varying from animals, ponies, and of course their signature Pokémon kigus and custom ordering options. We highly recommend checking them out for these as well as other cosplay commissioning options. Another plus for Anime Senpai's vendor room was the pricing. The vendors at Anime Senpai had very reasonable prices for their items so finding something you wanted did not end up costing you an arm and a leg.
Yet again with photo shoots and group shenanigans I was unable to attend the cosplay contest in person but many of whom did attend said that there was a good variety of cosplayers and that the show was handled in a smooth professional fashion. Although not masquerade related I feel I should mention this here since it does involve cosplay at the convention. The weapons checks for this convention were not handled the best as the zip ties used to "peace tie" weapons were put on so tight it was highly unlikely to come off without damaging that painstakingly made prop. I think this could have benefited from a bit more care with the props on the conventions part., perhaps through some better training of the convention volunteers.
Con Program Book
One of the unfortunate things from this convention is the lack of a convention programming book. This was sorely missed as the Anime Senpai website, while it did have descriptions of the panels on it, was not user friendly. Accessing the panels required the user knowing they needed to click on the panel names to receive the descriptions... So many missed the panel descriptions making the programming in general appear uninteresting as it was anyone's guess what type of panel you might be walking into. Usually programming books also give the convention opportunities to advertise and make money to help with costs and this was something Anime Senpai could definitely have benefited from. Programming books also help the con goers know where and when panels and events are located and the lack of one made it difficult with the sometimes dodgy internet signal at the convention location, for anyone to look up the information on their website which was the only place this information could be found.
Our Con Highlights
One of my favorite things about the convention was the swag that we got from pre-registering for Anime Senpai. I love collecting mementos from my conventions and it was nice to have something that was specifically made for that purpose. It was also nice thank you from the con for paying in advance. Of course spending time with my fellow Curvy Kitty Cosplay girls and amazing friends was also something that I adored and brings me to my next highlight....Cosplay photography. There was a good amount of cosplay photography and videography talent roaming the halls of Anime Senpai including the amazing Mouzycat Cosplay Photography, Justin Pineda Videographer, McKeltie Photography, and Fandom Father Photography! All the of the above mentioned and more were happy to photograph and film all cosplayers from all shapes, sizes, and colors. It was nice to have an environment that supported the Cosplay Equality vibe and message that we at CKC like to spread. Overall the convention had some missteps as expected for a first year convention and to be honest it felt like they tried to spread the 1 day convention they had as Anime Getaway into 3 days which made the experience a bit thin and lackluster. However, despite this I did manage to have a good time and I think with some additional support and more attention to detail that Anime Senpai can become a successful convention in the future if they try hard and listen to feedback from this year's con goers. I would encourage others to give them a shot next year when Anime Senpai returns for its sophomore year.
REVIEW BY RENCHAN