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1637 N. Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
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Street-Level Youth Media is a non-profit, media arts literacy organization serving Chicago's youth.  We teach audio engineering, mixing, video production, digital photography, online journalism, and more.  If you are between the ages of 12 through 24, all of our programs and services are free.

If you live in Chicago and are between 12 - 24 years old, come take part in one or all of our media arts programs, book a private studio session, use our computer lab or join one of our clubs.  We also host an open-mic on the first Friday of each month.  

The Nerds Are Coming!

Mild Sauce

A Youth-Run Webzine From Chicago.

The Nerds Are Coming!

Staff

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The University of Chicago hosts its 12th annual anime conventionMaia Ritchie

You missed a great party on Saturday. There was karaoke, video games, food, people selling things and lots of nice, pretty girls!

Some of those girls might’ve been dressed as pretty boys, though.

Such is the reality of UChi-Con, the anime convention hosted by the University of Chicago’s Japanese Animation Society.

I’m a huge anime nerd, so first of all, I was going regardless of whatever mother nature threw down on the Midwest. Loyal convention-goers trekked to the Ida Noyes Hall this past Saturday in spite of the three-plus inches of snow on the ground and more of it falling by the second. Organizers were adamant that the snow wouldn’t ruin the day’s fun -- on their Facebook page, a status update loudly proclaimed, “HEADS UP: THE CON IS RUNNING TODAY. WE ARE NOT STOPPING BECAUSE OF SOME MEASLY SNOW.”

I was also excited to go to a convention being held in Chicago, as opposed to my usual haunt in Rosemont, where some of the biggest Chicago-area conventions are held.

There were many vendors on hand in the Artist Alley, where people sold various geeky wares such as posters, buttons, fan art and handmade dolls.

A big seller was the perler bead figures made from beads arranged into a certain shape or pattern on a pegboard, and melted together with an iron, giving them an 8-bit video game look.

“I’ve been coming to Uchi-Con for three years, but I wanted to better expose myself as an artist,” said Jess Kugler, who blogs at Dexterous Southpaw. Her stall sold perler bead designs, and she offers commissions as well. This was her first convention as a seller.

Maia Ritchie (second from left) at the UChi-Con with fellow anime lovers. (Photo by Street-Level Anime Club)
Maia Ritchie (second from left) at the UChi-Con with fellow anime lovers. (Photo by Street-Level Anime Club)

Cosplaying was a big part of the convention aesthetic. A practice of modifying your appearance to look as much as a fictional character as possible, cosplaying is a regular sight at anime conventions.

“I thought this was a nice first experience, because it’s only one day, so it’s not as hectic as other conventions. I have more control over what goes on at my table,” she said.

Kugler was cosplaying as Crowley, a major recurring character in the CW show "Supernatural." When asked why, she said that he’d shown “great improvement” as a character, and that he’d “grown attached to her.”

A big draw for visitors was its convenient location and free ticket registration, especially compared to Anime Central and Anime Midwest, two of the most popular conventions in the Chicago area, that have gotten so big that their prices have recently skyrocketed.

“Other conventions run for a full weekend, from Friday to Sunday, and they charge for tickets,” explained “Holly K.,” one of the organizers.

“[Uchi-Con] is only for one day, and it’s free!” She also noted that it was run by one of the University of Chicago’s own clubs, as opposed to outside parties, as ACen and Anime Midwest are.

Convention-goers playing fantasy card games. (Photo by Street-Level Anime Club)
Convention-goers playing fantasy card games. (Photo by Street-Level Anime Club)

Holly cosplayed as Nagito Komaeda, a character from the video game Super Dangan Ronpa 2: Goodbye, Despair Academy. She calls him her favorite character, and wanted to recreate his jacketfor everyday wear, which I fully support. The popularity of this convention seems to grow more and more each year. According to Holly, there were 400 attendees in 2012, which doubled to 800 in 2013, and attendance is said to hover above that figure this year.

Finally, I spoke to Jessica Rodriguez of Rainbow Lion Designs. Her stall specialized in colorful, fuzzy tails and ears, as well as cyberlox. These items are popularly worn to raves, which are large parties where DJs commonly spin electronic dance tracks.

Rodriguez has been attending Uchi-Con for four years, and last year she sold in the Artist Alley for the first time.

“It’s a good experience, it offers a great chance for networking,” she remarked, praising the location of the convention and its nonexistent registration fee.

Rodriguez hopes that the UChi-Con will continue for many more years. It’s so rare to have such an accessible one for new people to the scene, especially if, like me, you’re trying to make a small business from your love of anime.”

“We need to make sure that people have a space to share their hobbies with others, and that developing our community is the focus,” she said.