Narutaki and Hisui’s schedule:
Anime Through the Generations Panel
Anime’s Pirate Legacy Panel
Anime Princesses Rule Panel
Japanese Crime Fiction in Anime Panel
My Stereotypes are More Offensive than Yours Panel
These are a Few of My Favorite Scenes Panel
I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen This! Panel
Psychology of Anime
ParaPara Dance Workshop
Bad Anime, Bad! Panel
As the Otaku Grows Panel
History of Manga Panel
Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions Panel
Anime Blogging Basics Panel
Aren’t cons exciting? No matter how many I go to, I always look forward to another one. This has become especially true in recent years as I meet more and more people from blogosphere and other outlets. AnimeNEXT usually kick starts my con season every year and this time around is no exception. It was one of those inbetween conventions that holds a special place because of the dates it usually lands on. There was a major location change this year so it the con had a bit of a unknown factor going in.
I have to agree with Narutaki. As I am more and more a part of the menagerie that is the anime community, I look forward to going to conventions more than ever. It is a great opportunity to see old friends, meet up with people you have only talked to on the Internet, and discover awesome people you have not yet met. I know people are always disappointed that I am not actually an emotionally dead red-headed magical maid when they meet me. Then again I am actually emotionally dead so that is something, right? AnimeNEXT also has very good panels thanks to some very knowledgeable old time fans attending every year. There is also a strong and growing blogging presence. Since the thing I like the most about anime conventions, besides Japanese guests, are the panels it is always nice to seem some quality lectures about fascinating topics.
So around 1PM I hopped on a train bound for the unknown (or New Brunswick, New Jersey) with two of three people I would spend a good portion of the convention with, Carl from Oguie Maniax and Ko from datacomp (the third, and missing, companion being Hisui). A short amount of train trouble later and we had arrived, kind of. As we were waiting for a shuttle from our hotel to pick us up, we were hit up for change a number of times. To be honest, I was rather unhappy with having to grab a hotel at the last minute but the location is just not conducive for commuting to three days in a row. They also seemed rather unhappy to have con goers in the hotel. I had to implicitly insist that we get a coffee maker in the room. In any case we checked in with relative ease and the room was decent enough. There was a small walking path to the convention that got a lot of use over the weekend. Getting panelist and press badges was virtually painless though they did spell our blog name wrong (REVERSE THIVES). Once all of these details were taken care it was time to dive in!
Friday started off a quite the rainy day. I was stuck at work with various misfortunes until late so I myself did not arrive at the convention until after 9PM. The hotel would not send me a courtesy driver to pick me up from the train station so I had to take a cab. Upon further thinking I wonder if the fact that I mentioned I was going to AmineNEXT had anything to do with it. The woman I was talking with very suddenly changed her tone after that and overall the hotel seemed less amiable to AmineNEXT guests. A guest is a guest in my opinion and should be treated as such. After I got to the convention and got my press badge I was off to the panels. On a side note, I got the Keroro Gunso badge because the Code Geass badge did not have Euphemia. No pink princess equals no badge.
We peeked at the karaoke room and I was told their song selection and set-up was only so-so and we quickly exited. Not that I was planning on doing any anyway. We then headed to our first panel for the weekend: Anime Through the Generations. I was unsure what to expect here but it seemed like a place that interesting discussions might arise. I was surprised to see the panelists were fairly young. It ended up being basically a group discussion with large amounts of audience participation. Topics were thrown out and the fans answered along with the panelists. The room was a mix bag of older and younger fans. They also ran a panel on Sunday called Otaku Misconceptions and Perceptions. Not sure if it was their first times with these panels but it seemed that way. In group discussion panels its important to keep things on target and not to let the panel runaway with itself. I think if they just exert themselves a bit more this will be corrected. Would enjoy seeing these discussions again.
I stated off on a good foot by going to a trio of panels by Brian T. Price, Walter Amos and Rob Fenelon. They are knowledgeable guys and it is always a pleasure. They are well versed in a variety of subjects including anime, manga, history, literature, and philosophy. If you attend one of their panels you will always walk having learned something while still making it entertaining. First, Anime Princesses which looked at various strong female anime princesses who act like real princesses. I was really disappointed that I missed them talking about Princess Euphemia. Next, My Stereotypes are More Offensive than Yours which sounds much worse then it really was. It was mostly a discussion of tropes and ideas that were unique to anime. They realized that anime could be just as cliched as any other form of entertainment but sometimes a formula can uplift the medium. Last, These are a Few of My Favorite Scenes where they took a couple of scenes and tried to sell you on the series. I especially liked the series of super weapon scenes. My only real complaint was they often had a decent number of non-anime shows as they did anime ones in all of their panels. I would have liked to have seen just straight anime in their panels but they always picked shows worth watching. I had wanted to chat with the panelists but it was 2AM when all the panels were over so I went straight to bed. I hardly even saw my fellow roommates. Apparently they need more and 4 hours of sleep a night and went to bed way before I did.
We ordered pizza to our hotel room and regained our strength before heading back for more convention going action. I missed a bit of the beginning of the Anime’s Pirate Legacy panel. Without having a panel description to consult I thought it was going to be about piracy’s history in anime fandom. It turned out to be a panel about pirate anime or atleast kind of. It started off fine talking about all kinds of shows from space pirates to traditional but at the half way mark it deteriorated. They ran out of titles so started talking about tangentially related shows like Gurren Lagann. They then showed the 12-minute OVA of it. There was also a lengthy discussion of Dragonball thrown in the middle. The same people ran a panel later called Japanese Crime Fiction in Anime which mostly consisted of Golgo 13 and a brief mention of City Hunter. This was rather a let down, they seemed very enthusiastic but certainly needed to do more research. The subject matter certainly interests me so I would love to see it revamped and done again. I then caught the tail end of Anime Princess before dropping off to sleep for the night.
Saturday stared with a delicious breakfast of instant Sukiyaki Udon otherwise know as the breakfast of champions. Then we wandered over panel room to give our I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen This! panel and I had some coffee and trail mix. That was certainly important because I did not really wake up for the panel until about half way through. I think the panel went well and got a decent crowd considering how early in the morning we were scheduled. Carl was a new addition to the panel but he was an excellent speaker and brought some shows we we not have normally had in our lineup.
Despite our panel’s terrible time slot and also the omission of the panel description in the guide book, we had a decent turn out. The location of our panel room was a good spot right near the artist alley. We had almost 40 people listening to us babble on! It seemed like all of us including the audience were still half asleep till about half way through the panel then we hit our stride. Since this was only our second time running this panel it still had an uneasy quality to it. Also since we switched out a deal of shows for new ones, it wasn’t and probably won’t ever be as natural as Anime Recruitment comes off. Still I think the panel is getting there and will probably end up in our rotation of panels. We are updating it and presenting at Otakon, too. The Vertical panel was a little later. Their panel had no major new things to say, yet. Ed hinted all over the place and has so on his Twitter that there should be some upcoming manga licenses that will be buzzing. They mostly talked about their current catalog and also gave some things away. One thing that was awesome was these Sayonara, Mr. Fatty! notepads. I was also able to snatch up a copy of the book which doesn’t street until July!
After the panel I checked out the game room and watched some Tatsunoko vs Capcom. It looks like a fun game that I will have to get for the Wii when it comes out despite the fact that I am rather horrible at fighting games. I then went to the Psychology of Anime panel. Although it was listed as a workshop it was more of a talk. But it was certainly a fascinating. The lecturer showed how various psychological theories were used by anime to enhance their stories while other psychological theories could be applied to analyze different series. The guy running the panel was very good at getting the audience involved while making sure that it moved forward at a decent pace. It went over rather well and he promised he would run the panel next year with new material. At one point Narutaki and I went back to the hotel room to chill and eat and we got to see a sneak preview of the blogging panel. It was fun to see the powerhouse team working their magic. After shooting the breeze with everyone I tried to go to the Japanese Sweets and Snacks panel but it was all filled. I therefore went to Directing! Panel. It had Toshifuma Yoshida and Tom Wayland talking about directing anime DVDs in America. They answered questions about directing and the American side of the anime industry. I did not learn anything new but both panelists were friendly and well informed.
After the rain let up I went back to the con in time to catch the ParaPara Dancing Workshop. It was run by the same girls from last year who are from ParaPara NY. It was the same general set-up hosted in the “arena” area of the exhibition center. There are bleachers in the back for chilling out and watching what is going on. It is rather populated area since its one of the more open sections indoors. They upped the amount of dances from 3 to 5 over last year but I was quite done at 3. I am not good in the least but its a lot of fun and I highly recommend it at any convention. I tried to go to the Funi panel and as per usual it was packed to the gills for no reason under the sun. I promptly deserted and went to stick my head into the Restricted Rock Paper Scissors panel. I came in too late to actually play but Carl was able to join in. It’s a game from Kaiji where you use cards that are either rock, paper, or scissors. You try to beat other players and gain points. Obviously in Kaiji its a bit more cutthroat and you have more to lose! The panelists seemed surprised how many people showed up and it threw them off for the beginning. Once the game got underway things seemed to go fine. Though they seemed anxious to rush everyone out because the Masquerade was soon after.
Since the Funimation panel was in the same room as the Directing! panel, I fortunately had a seat for when everyone streamed in. I always find it funny that so many people show up to Funimation panels hoping to get free stuff but they never give anything away. I must have heard three separate conversations about free stuff before the panel. There were no big announcements but I did notice one thing. When the topic of picking up Central Park Media’s old licenses came up I did notice that the Funimation rep said they were interested in all of the titles including ones with pink-haired girls. I am glad to hear they are looking into getting Utena because I would certainly buy it again they they cleaned up the video from the mediocre job CPM did on the first 13 episodes.
After all this, somehow most every blogger we knew (and a few we hadn’t met yet!) came together to get some much needed grub. This ended up being perfect timing because a good portion of the con attendees were at the masquerade. After a game of musical cars we were all seated at the Ruby Tuesday’s a couple of minutes away. The table was large and you could essentially talk to everyone. I was sitting nearest to Carl, Brad from Japanator, Ko, Moy from 11-15% suki, and Super Rats from Happy Soda. Dinner was good, the place serves endless fries! Conversations were varied and laughter was plentiful. These dinners are really becoming one of the things I look forward to most at conventions.
The dinner round table was definitely one of the highlights on the convention. It is a nice chance to speak with people outside of the hectic environment of the con. It worked better than the dinner at NYAF because I got a much better chance to speak to everyone as opposed to speaking to a small group of people like the last time. I loved talking with the people at my table at NYAF but I was essentially cut off from the other 2/3 of the bloggers. Though I was seated closer to Omo from Omonomono, Trish from AnimeNEXT, Scott from Anime Alamanac, and Brad. Dinner with good conversation is always very nice. This time around, dinner topics ranged from anime to politics and everything in-between. I had a delicious buffalo burger and, of course, endless fries.
I’m pretty sure I experienced my first Bad Anime, Bad! panel at an AnimeNEXT a couple of years ago. It has certainly become popular, though I also wonder if that is because it was a little earlier than normal. Anyway, this time was solely devoted to the monstrosity known as Dracula Sovereign of the Damned which was brought over and dubbed by Harmony Gold so you can imagine where this is going. I had only seen pieces of this previously and admittedly he still cut parts during this showing as well. I can now see why it needed to be seen. Not only is the story bad, the dialogue is incredibly inept, and the voice acting even worse. It is one hilarious moment after the other and just when you think it can’t get worse it has . . . an explosive ending let’s say. It’s a show you don’t care about spoilers for but it just wouldn’t be as funny unless you see it for yourself!
After dinner I made the very poor choice of going to the As the Otaku Grows panel. I have gone to panels that I felt could use some polish but I had never been to a panel that was worthless. Until this panel. It was essentially what if Paul “Otaking” Johnson ran a panel about 90’s anime instead of 80’s anime. He basically ran a panel about why 90’s anime is the best ever and everything else is garbage. I had to leave the panel halfway through. It’s not the fact that he loved 90’s anime so much. Everyone is entitled to have a favorite time period in anime history. But I won’t stand for people saying that everything else is worthless. There are great, mediocre, and horrible anime from every time period and saying otherwise is both ignorant and closed-minded. The scary part was the audience mainly seemed to be agreeing with him! I wanted to stay and argue but I decided against it and just had fun elsewhere.
On the morning of our last day we finished off the last bit of food I had brought along. Yes, that is right, my con survival talking about how to save your pennies on food for the weekend in practice right here ladies and gents! In any case, my load was still pretty heavy thanks to a couple of purchases as well as some free books I had acquired. Checking out was also painless thank goodness. We headed over the con about a hour or so before the first panel began. This is a rather magical time that is kind of frighteningly quiet. We also took this time to get refunds for our badges since we were press. I also took this time to take one last look around the Artist Alley. It had a decent turn out this year with talent ranging from fan-art to crafts. I picked up a button of Kanda from D.Gray Man and contemplated a nice print of Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle but decided against it.
Sunday started with an apple and cupcakes which is another power breakfast. I then attended the History of Manga panel. After some technical difficulty the panelist launched into his lecture. It was a good overview of the history of manga in America. He hit all the high and low points and it was very good for the amount of time that he had. I did notice he had a bit of more of an emphasis on OEL manga than I assumed he would have but it is not as if he neglected anything so I was fine. It was just an unusual choice. As Ko said you could tell he was an old school fan due to his obvious interest in furry titles like Fred Perry’s Gold Digger. Still it was an informative panel and a great introduction to how far manga has come in the U.S. The next panel was Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions. The panel started late as the members rushed to get to the room. The idea was interesting. It was panel about what how anime and manga fandom feels about itself and how does it think that other people perceive it. They seemed to have a list of topics they wanted to talk about but since it was a discussion panel with the audience their speaking points quickly got cast by the way side as the audience took over at many points. Still it was an interesting panel as I always like to see fandom’s views about itself.
Even with some crazy scheduling changes the Anime Blogging Basics panel ended up being our last event of the convention. Unfortunately with a sudden time change and room change the panel mostly consisted of other bloggers. Besides Carl, the panel was Omo from Omonomono, Moy from 11-15% suki, and Super Rats from Happy Soda. These guys put together a good outline and all seemed to work quite differently with different philosophies about blogging. It was a pretty relaxed atmosphere for the most part. I think handouts would help for anyone who was actually wanting to get tips on starting to blog. Hisui also swooped in to ask some hard hitting questions!
The dealers room was nice but I am bit on a budget so decided that I was only going to look for two things. The only way I would buy anything else is if it so shocked me I had to buy it. I was looking for a model kit of the RX-78-2 Gundam or Nu Gundam and the Jun Planning version of the Maria figure from Hayate the Combat Butler. I never saw the Maria figure but I did stumble upon a prefect grade original Gundam. I was informed that it has light up eyes and I am merely a mortal so it was not easy to resist that siren’s call. But I eventually decided to wait for Otakon. There I will most probably get some form of Amuro’s Gundam. There was a bunch of nice stuff but nothing worth splurging on. I almost bought a Mylene pencil board for Mylene’s fan #1 but at $12 I decided against it. But I partially blame my mad net skills on that fact.
The dealer’s room seemed larger than last year which is certainly a plus. There was also much more room to maneuver around making Saturday even pretty decent to go into the fray. Since I have a strategy when going in, it makes things less chaotic and makes me seem less like a maniac with no worries about money. I needed up with just a couple of purchases most happily is the one pictured above. When they guy was willing to go down to $10 I was in! But most dealer’s were not making deals, very sad times. I wanted to walk away with Athrun’s Aegis 1/100 scale but no dice. I also saw a decent amount of people selling doujinshi which keeps increasing every year it seems. Also I barely resisted getting some Record of Lodoss War pencil boards since I had never seen them they snuck up on me! As usual the dealer’s room is not my priority at cons but this one was manageable enough to be worth exploring.
AnimeNEXT is like spaghetti with plain sauce when there is no solid Japanese guest. It is satisfying but you feel like something major is missing. So just as a meatball would make the meal complete, likewise a Japanese guest would have rounded out this con. I like AnimeNEXT but I’m not sure I would go next year because it has shifted from being a New York City/New Jersey convention to being a New Jersey convention. The old convention site was super convenient to get to from New York City and there was no reason to have to stay overnight. Being so convenient, there was no reason not to go AnimeNEXT. Now that it is harder to get to, I am no longer 100% locked into going again. I will only go if two things change: if they move the convention back to the old site or if they have a have a decent Japanese guest. Otherwise I might as well spend a little extra and go to Anime Boston instead. AnimeNEXT is an excellent New Jersey convention but if I am going to an out of state convention I want more bang for my buck.
Once again AnimeNEXT proves that some of the best parts of conventions are the fan run panels and the people that you meet. Unfortunately, that is just not enough this time around. I have to agree with Hisui, this location is not New York City friendly mainly because the convention itself is not close to the train station. The train ride is a mere hour but then you have to get to the con. While the shuttle was super plush it just wasn’t running often enough for me to do it three days in a row. Also the location has very little food close by. Really this is a con for people with a car. And thanks to that fact I have to assume their attendance was down this year. I like NEXT, I always have a good time, and I want to go back but not if I have to stay in a hotel.
Top 5 panels I would like to attend (These might exists but I don’t see them enough)
5. The Hidden World of Light Novels
4. Secret Shopper: A Guide to the Best Otaku Stores in Japan
3. I Don’t Know These Characters: The Best Original Concept Doujinshi
2. More Than Just Option #3: JAM IT IN! – A Beginner’s Guide Visual Novels
1. You Have to Get This: A Guide to the Most Awesome and Wackiest Anime Merchandise