ACEN 2007 is now over, and, like a filthy abandoned hovel teetering menacingly over an orphanage, dripping loose planks bearing tetanus-encrusted nails, its parched flammable timber threatens the dreams and lives of innocent whelps by merely existing. Were ACEN only that terrible, a punished but breathing sliver of hope–of walking again, or regaining vision from sundered and scorched eyes–would ripple through the legions of anime fans which attended. But, alas…

It all began on Friday the 11th, which will haunt the nightmares of thousands, a thing of unsettling beauty that would reduce H.P. Lovecraft to a shuddering wreck of drooling envy. That was the day of The Registration Line. Like a serpent gorged from a constant diet of fresh babies and struggling toddlers, it snaked around barriers, spilled down stairs, and suffocated the tiny space where it had been ruthlessly constrained with its writhing victims. Here, wheat and chaff were both wrangled without regard; registration was a mere word here, paying early only proved their eagerness to succumb to endless undulating horrors. Finally, each lucky soul would eject, regurgitated in a puddle of foul effluvia, to whimper at the wracking ministrations they’d suffered.

Sadly, few learned from this harsh treatment, and shouldered ahead, fools or men and women driven insane by the mentally impossible. I’d laugh at their wasted optimism, were I not among them. I’d managed to avoid The Line, having obtained entry through magical and unlikely means of the humble post office. But even witnessing the coiled thing made my stomach churn. I shambled through the throngs to obtain a guidebook, maybe a map, to navigate the labyrinthine ruins, but no such thing existed. It was then I stumbled upon the single shining jewel viciously guarded within ACEN’s black bowels: Artist Alley. None toiled for any but themselves, and most evidenced exceptional material without equal. It was here I met one artist who would bring one of my visions to light, though I can only hope she escaped alive.

From there, rose the clamor of the Dealer Room, a thriving bazar of shady malcontents jealously hunched behind their wares, eyeing each customer as a potential thief, labeling every glittery bauble with an obscene number and accepting no haggling. It was almost a sandy wasteland, a dearth of unique items where every worthwhile find lay buried beneath immeasurable offal. And the weapons! Their number was incalculable, ranging from tiny dirks to ridiculously oversized cleavers fit only for costumes. These vendors were also shrewd; many patsies were fleeced for badly formed steel unfit for a hammer and anvil, and smiled in bliss! But a flowing sea of steel and a hired crier combined into a haunting siren’s call, leading many to utter monetary catastrophe. I finally left in disgust, hoping to find something better.

Along the way, I again pressed through The Line and saw new Programming Guides and Schedules and Maps had suddenly appeared. I acquired one before the supply proved itself insufficient. Few things interested me, but those few found me braving their offerings. Dark Horse sent two beleaguered slobs who mumbled into a crowded room as if cringing under the cruel whip of a devilish master. Their microphones sat unused, video screen bemoaning the stark oblivion it presented to us, the mindless attendees. A few battered periodicals circulated around the room, a weak trickle incapable of sustaining a gnat. No banners or signs festooned this presentation, only the timid yelps of one pitiful man ineptly shilling a comic giant.

Sometime during this pathetic facade, my friend and I ventured toward a line that drew us in like a black hole: Anime Hell. This event has never previously filled the room to bursting, and in fact, previous foreys proved almost uneventful. Only this time, the guards mewled of rooms nearly bursting at capacity, and whimpered our mercy. Even addled with drink, I knew their pleads rang false, but I waited all the same. Eventually a handful of people erupted from the musty confines of Main Programming, and Midnight Madness began. Upon entering, I quickly noted that the people who left were far outnumbered by the chairs which remained; we had been tricked! But the presentation that night was stupendous, and the crowd roared with mirth as videos and music supplicated against our seething rage. The words will stay with me forever, “Oh Rick!”

Somewhere along the way, we wrestled a pizza from a passing merchant and gorged ourselves on succulent meats and cheeses, to recharge for the next, and longest day.

Anime Central 2007: It’s a Fire Hazard – Part 1

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