Peter G writes from ACen 2018,
When I went to Anime Central, the Midwest's biggest anime and manga convention held in Rosemont, Illinois, for the first time in about twelve years in 2016, things went so smooth and easy, I was shocked. That impressed feeling continued when I went to ACen 2017. I actually started wondering, "Man, I really stuck them with a bum rap. Why did I dump on them for so long?"
Cut to ACen 2018, with me leaving the convention saying, "I REMEMBER NOW!"
I had quit going all those years ago because the convention just didn't seem to think through the fan experience. For a representative sample, that last year, I got in line to buy a hall pass. I had just gotten a brand new digital camera, and I first turned it on when I got in the line. It wanted the date and time for the pictures, so I knew exactly when I started waiting in line, and how long it took me to get a ticket.
Grand total wait time? 2 hours, 4 minutes. I'm John Cameron Swayze for Timex.
First, the set-up: I'm still on my quest to get as many signatures on my Sailor Moon Atari game as I can. And ACen announced three voice actresses would be there this year – Cherami Leigh (Sailor Venus, VIZ dub), Lauren Landa (Sailor Neptune, VIZ dub), and Erica Mendez (Sailor Uranus, VIZ dub). Mendez had already signed both games and boxes two years ago, but the other two, I was missing. So as the weekend rolled around, I checked the signing schedule. Landa had a signing on Friday, but the other two, the only scheduled signing they had was on Saturday at 430PM (the guide book said 330PM, but it was apparently pushed out after they went to press). All three would be there for an hour and a half.
I thought this would work out great. No need to take Friday off of work. I'll go in on Saturday in the afternoon, avoiding the traffic and fights for parking, get my admission, bum around until signing time, and get their sigs. Piece of cake.
That changed when I got on the convention floor. Getting admission was easy. But finding the signing area was not. Previous years, the signing area was in a section of the convention floor on the far side of the hall. The area was clearly visible, you could see the tables, you could see the schedules, easy to identify. This year? The signing area was actually tucked away between the show floor and the Artist Alley, with curtains making it less than obvious. I wandered 45 minutes and had to ask three people before i finally found it.
By now, it was 245PM. Usually, ACen lets you line up 30 minutes before the signing. Since I didn't know which scheduled time, the one in the book or the one online, was correct, I thought I'd ask. The guy said, "Oh, it got pushed out. They sign at 430PM."
Oh, great! So I have time!
"Yup. Just come back at 430 with your ticket and you can get right in line."
And here's where the old ACen made its return. ACen decided to go with a ticketing system for people who wanted sigs. If you had tickets, you got straight in line. If you didn't, you went to a standby line and they would let people in from that once they were certain all the ticket holders would get theirs.
I immediately made for Customer Service, in hopes of finding and getting a ticket. I was pointed to the ticket booth, but it was closed until 630PM that night. In other words, I had to take my chances with the standby line and pray that I got lucky.
I found a place to sit and activated my wifi hotspot. I started pouring over the ACen website, looking for some mention of the ticket thing. And I found it.
Halfway down the page for the autograph policies.
Basically, unless you had some reason to check the autograph policies, you never would have seen it. It would have been nice if the listing talking about the signings (the one for the Sailor Moon actresses mentioned VIZ had plenty of merch for sale people could buy to get signed, but no mention of needing a ticket) mentioned it, but no.
I went to the guidebook, wondering when exactly the booth was open. It was here that the really weird schedule greeted me. First of all, you couldn't buy a sig ticket unless you also had a hall pass. The ticket booth would also only be open for a few hours each time. The schedule went like this:
Friday sigs that started before 130PM, tickets went on sale Thursday night at 630PM.
Friday sigs after 130PM went on sale Friday at 1100AM.
Saturday signs before 130PM went on sale Friday night at 630PM.
Saturday sigs after 130PM went on sale Saturday morning at 1100AM.
Sunday sigs before 130PM went up Saturday at 630PM.
Sunday sigs after 130PM went up Sunday at 1100AM.
This means that, if there was a Friday morning signing I wanted, I would have had to drive in ON THURSDAY NIGHT. And pray that I could either buy my admission there and then or order it in advance online, or I wouldn't be able to get one. How many tickets could I get? Did they cost anything? I don't know. The booth was empty when I got there, and by the time the day was over, I just wanted to get out of there.
(Side note: potentially paying is a curiosity. The general rule of thumb for anime conventions is that everyone gets two free sigs. After that, anything goes – you want to sign twenty things for free? Go ahead. You want to charge? Go ahead. You want to stop on two? Go ahead. Each ticket gave you two sigs, but I don't know the circumstances.)
At 4PM, I made for the signing area so I could get in the standby line as close to the start as possible. The guy was checking for tickets. Anyone else? He shooed them away, telling them to come back at 430. Given how big the Sailor Moon fandom is and how a lot of people weren't expecting this, everyone just sort of milled around by the entrance to the signing area. He would go to the tables, come back about ten minutes later, and yell at everyone to split.
I would like to point out that he had told people that they wouldn't start letting the standby line in until 445PM. Given ACen's official policy is to let you line up a half hour before, we should have been allowed there earlier than 430.
Eventually, people like me simply went around the corner, just a few feet from the entrance but technically away from the entrance, and waited. At about 420, we started drifting back into the line (I was maybe eight people back).. He didn't show up again until about 428 (I was checking), and didn't say anything other than they would let us peasants in at about 435PM.
We get in and cue up. Talking with others in line, everyone expressed confusion and irritation. One woman mentioned that before the sig ticket booth opened, people weren't allowed to wait in the cue line, they had to wait OUTSIDE of it until the booth opened.
By now, I was crunching my numbers. We were told two sigs from each actress, and no pictures. People couldn't even take selfies to post in their IG from a certain angle if it showed the signing booth, even though you couldn't see the sitting actresses through the crowd of standing people. I had both games and boxes with me. I decided to get the two sigs on one cart and one box so that everything balanced out. Mendez had already signed, so I wasn't worried about her. Hey, one game and box is better than nothing.
I got to the final stretch of the line. By now, it was 645PM. And we were informed that, as of that moment, it was one sig per actress instead of two to try to finish the line before the show floor closed at 630PM.
The one bright side was substitutions were allowed – you got three sigs total, and you could split them up how you wanted. Since Venus is one of my favorites, I got Leigh to sign the cart and box, and Landa signed the cart (I'll keep an eye out for her next appearance so I can balance out the box). Mendez saw the games and said hi because she remembered me. But that was pretty much all the face time you could get.
The ticket thing is really annoying, because it eliminates casual interest – you can't get one without a hall pass and, depending on what time the signing is, might require you to be there a day in advance. And the casual reveal threw everyone for a loop. Unless ACen offers me, say, the chance to dance a polka with Naoko Takeuchi, I have serious doubts if I'm going to bother next year.