pokeballs oneEvery year around mid-May, thousands of geek-culture lovers make the pilgrimage to Rosemont, Illinois to take part in Anime Central (ACen), the largest and longest-running anime convention in the Midwest.

Anime, or Japanese animation, is widely popular in Western pop culture, particularly among teens and young adults, though anyone of any age can enjoy it as there are a multitude of different genres and storylines. These conventions are a gathering place for fans of comics, anime, science fiction, and even table top gaming, and people from all walks of life and fandom can be found in attendance.

Anime Central is hosted at the Hyatt and Donald E. Stevens Convention Center. Last year they had a unique attendance of 31,000 people throughout the weekend. The opening ceremonies of the convention are held on a Thursday evening, and additional events such as panels, an artist alley, main events, dances, gaming competitions, a cosplay contest, and a vendor room open and run that Friday –Sunday. ACen is usually hosted in mid-May; this year’s convention took place from May 19-22.

What I personally love most about convention culture, and the geek-culture community as a whole, is that people are always interested in having fun. There is a positive energy that surrounds attendees during convention weekends as they share their passions with like-minded people. There is a wide array of talent that gathers in one area as people create and don elaborate cosplays (costumes modeled after anime, video game, or other fictional characters) with the hopes of gaining fifteen minutes of Internet fame, or winning prizes in a cosplay competition known as the Masquerade. Depending on the complexity of the character and the materials involved in creating the costume, cosplayers can spend anywhere from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars on a single outfit. There are certainly plenty of more thrifty options, but the ones who usually spend the money are looking to portray their character as strongly as possible.

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This was my eighth year attending ACen, and the second year I had the honor of bringing my traveling comedy show, Show Us Your Pokeballs, to Rosemont. Show Us Your Pokeballs is an R-rated stand up comedy show where the content is written for nerds, by nerds. This show has been held at other conventions such as Anime Milwaukee and Cedar Rapids Comic Con, and is slated for performances at QC Planet Con in July, and Gen Con in August. This was our final year hosting the show at Anime Central, and we made sure to go out with a bang, packing a two-hundred person room to capacity and having to (most unfortunately) turn dozens more away at the door due to spatial limitations.

The members of Show Us Your Pokeballs not only hosted a fully-packed comedy show, but they also hosted a beginner’s improvisational comedy workshop called “An Otaku’s Intro to Improv”. Unlike the stand up show, this workshop is appropriate for all ages, as in previous years we’ve had attendees as young as eight years old participate.

All in all, it was a fun time, and that’s really what it, and geek culture is all about. Feel free to join me on this adventure as I continue to write about geek culture and all it entails!

Nikki Gillette is a Quad Cities entertainer who specializes in comedy music. She has been involved in performances of multiple varieties since 2013. A seasoned lover of geek-culture, unicorns, and candy.