Anime Milwaukee celebrated it’s 4th year recently and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. For such a young convention, I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of the staff and how smooth the whole thing operated. The Hyatt Regency in Milwaukee was a fantastic venue with helpful, friendly staff and the Delta Center had plenty of space to accommodate the show while still being easily navigable. Unfortunately, Milwaukee itself wasn’t quite as good to attendees.
From a programming perspective, I was absolutely floored by Anime Milwaukee. All of the classic elements of an anime convention were there – a cosplay masquerade, the Saturday night rave, and guest panels/signings. However, AMKE’s panels had a surprising amount of depth and diversity. Speed dating (which has become more and more popular at conventions) made an appearance on Friday and Saturday while fans got their fix at panels for series such as Mega Man, Digimon and Final Fantasy VII. Interspersed throughout the schedule were more interactive events such as Karaoke, Cosplay Combat Chess and Whose Line is it Anime.
Of course, I was particularly interested to see what kind of tabletop gaming would be present at the convention. AMKE did not disappoint. They had a huge tabletop gaming area with a vast library of games that folks could rent out and play. For the competitive types, there was a plethora of tournaments ranging from Magic: the Gathering to Ticket to Ride. Even with these events in full swing, I never saw the game room lacking for space if a group wanted to come in and play something casual. It was beautiful to behold.
The vendor’s hall was smaller than I expected it to be, but had a great array of booths and shops overloaded with all sorts of interesting merchandise. The folks from the Bristol Renaissance Faire were there as well as representatives from other Midwest anime conventions like Anime Central and Ohayocon. I think my favorite thing about AMKE’s vendor hall had to be the fact that, upon entering, the first booths attendees would see were those of the Artist Alley – all smaller artists selling their own artwork and crafts. That was a classy move and it warmed the cockles of my heart.
I mentioned before that the Hyatt Regency was a great hotel for this show, but I feel it really needs to be stressed. Finding a hotel that not only wants to host a con, but is willing to have their staff don convention t-shirts and be ready with local restaurant menus and directions can really boost attendee satisfaction. I was very impressed by the front desk staff’s calm, collected demeanor when dealing with check-ins/outs and the hotel bartenders’ ability to crack wise and have a good time when surrounded by folks in elaborate costumes. They even opened up their penthouse restaurant, Polaris as a maid cafe. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit, but I heard nothing but good things from the attendees, staffers and maids.
With all the good I can say about the con, it is unfortunate that the city of Milwaukee had to put a black mark on my weekend. Many of the local businesses were nonplussed when it came to dealing with otaku and several restaurants and bars in the area seemed to actively shun business from AMKE attendees. Now, a lot of this comes from the convention rumor mill and I couldn’t be everywhere, but the overall vibe and the few places I did go to didn’t fill me with enthusiasm. I will give props to Rock Bottom though. The staff there was incredibly friendly and went out of their way to make sure a few folks got fed even after their kitchen had closed.
Overall, Anime Milwaukee was a huge hit with me. I had long thought that I was burnt out on the anime convention scene, but AMKE had enough going on for an old-timer like me to have a great time and be reminded why I love anime, Japanese culture and cosplay. When year five rolls around in 2014, I’ll be there!