New York Anime Festival 2009

Everyone’s question was would NYAF live up to, exceed, or fail compared to the two previous conventions? There was quite a bit of talking with the announcement that NYAF would join with NYCC for 2010 so there was also the question of what would NYAF do as its last year as an independent convention? Although those are all pressing questions my main question was if I was going to have fun? Was I going to be able to do as much as I wanted to? We were also running two panels one of which had a lot of people looking forward to it. The Bloggers Roundtable had some big names on the marquee but it was a the first time we ever ran the panel. I had the most expectations for the panel because I felt it could succeed or fail so much more than any of our previous panels. On top of all that I had two guests staying at my humble abode during the convention so I had to play host as well as press.

It was no secret that we were looking forward to New York Anime Festival, probably more than any other con previously thanks to a killer guest, director Yoshiyuki Tomino. This sent NYAF which I always enjoy but never as much as say Otakon right to the front of the line this year. That being said, the rest of the con experience remained the same though I was happy to see quite a few license announcements this year. Since NYAF’s space has basically stayed the same from its first year, there weren’t too many surprises but that also means it still has some of the same problems. Javits, is Javits, its a bit of a walk from the train, the hotels, and most food. Though it also means that for the most part events went off without a hitch and things seemed to be well in hand with the staff.

The convention for me started on Thursday night since most of my main convention group went to see the Eureka Seven movie. Although not officially a part of the convention experience it felt like a great way to spend an evening before the big show. The movie itself was bizarre. I will never forget the line, “I am an enemy alien spy robot” as long as I live. It was a visually appealing movie but otherwise a utter train wreck. I appreciated their attempt to do something new with the original story but their execution left something to be desired. Though I was happy to watch a film with my friends and be able to talk about it afterward because I often feel like I hardly watch any anime at anime conventions. On Friday morning my two guests the spectacular OGT, the amazing PatzPrime, plus the remarkable SDShamshel all met up and went to the Javits center early to get Tomino autograph tickets. We were all a little worried when we heard that people were already starting to line up at 7am. We finally arrived at 10 and got progressively worried when we saw how the VIP line was growing but we were able to get our autograph tickets. Since we got there before the con officially started getting our press badges was a snap. We all went for some delicious Go Go Curry before starting the convention. Starting the con with curry is a tradition I could get behind.

Once again, the staff of NYAF as far as tickets goes were on top of it. Not a moment more than one was I in line for my press badge, which incidentally looks very different this year. This goes for the weekend con badges and VIP ones as well and only half for individual day passes. I’m not sure what to make of them, on the one hand I really like the hard plastic but on the other hand the badges aren’t very fun. Maybe that sounds like a stupid complaint, but too bad, many of us have a grand time trying to guess what show or characters will appear on the badges before going to a con. The speculations can even spawn forum threads, so it has become a popular and expected part of anime conventions. And I was surprised to not at the very least see the badges sporting the logo from this year’s contest winner. Since I never made it to the convention center before opening time, I have no idea what the lines looked like but from the massive crowds on Saturday I can imagine there was a pretty good wait in the morning. However, panels seemed to be well organized in this regard though having a press badge prevented any problems for me. The Javits space allotted for NYAF was insufficient for Saturday but was tolerable on Friday and Sunday. Happily this mean the Tomino panel was rightfully full.

I had heard so many stories about Yoshiyuki Tomino but it is still hard to say what I was expecting. To be very brief, Tomino was quite chill from the moment he cut the Opening Ceremonies ribbon to the insistence that he finish answering all the fans who lined up to ask him a question at his Saturday panel. To expand more thoughtfully, Tomino in the past has made some pretty harsh remarks about all his works and most notably about Gundam but at this convention (and quite possibly because this year also marks the 30th anniversary) he seems to have accepted its value, its popularity, and become more content because of it. During his keynote, he remarked that he wanted Gundam to be remembered even more fondly than Star Wars. Tomino also gave the impression of being proud that he created something that is still watchable and relevant thirty years later then going on to discuss his use and philosophy of cinema which made Gundam the show it was. Though the audience may have been missing out on more wisdom from Tomino due to a poor translation at the Keynote, but thankfully at his Q&A this was corrected. The Q&A started off very lively as they showed a reel of Tomino’s work, many members of the audience sang along to the theme songs and of course there was mass cheering for many pieces on the screen (surprisingly Gundam ZZ had a rousing reception). Tomino then finally took center stage and got down to the nitty gritty of tackling fan questions. It was pleasing to see, after a couple of questions submitted online were answered, Tomino signaled that he would much prefer to answer those standing before him. He clearly understands how many people came from varying distances just to see him in the flesh, and frankly they should get the priority. The people helping to the run the Q&A went down the line hearing everyone’s question first, and making sure it was actually Tomino related. One could have probably heard the collected booing a mile away from the Keynote when a con-goer stood up and began to ask a question about Gundam 00. Tomino’s visit ended (not counting a final autograph session) with a showing of Ring of Gundam, his short 30th anniversary film. Tomino left the room with a standing ovation and there was little doubt that he made many a fan happy this past weekend.

I was expecting Tomino to be a man of very little words but for those few words to be extremely cranky and point blank. However, he  seemed genuinely happy and upbeat at the convention but you could tell that the cranky old man Tomino we all knew and loved was there. While his answers were always pleasant, he never seemed to be holding back. As expected there were a few lame question, a few rephrased and then repeated questions, and a few super egotistical questions from the attendees but overall selection was very good. Tomino mentioned that he always had regrets on all his series because he always felt they could be majorly improved in retrospect. But he also felt that feeling makes him always strive to do better in every project he works on. He said that one of the major themes of Gundam was that adults who were rigid in their mindsets were the enemy so therefore since he was super old that made him the super enemy now which got a good laugh out of the audience. Tomino seemed to have a fuzzy memory on any sort of details of the projects he had worked on. He thankfully remembered a little something about Sayla so I did get a partial answer to my question about what her role would be if she was in Zeta Gundam, he seemed to think he would have left things as is. I was also thrilled we got a good answer to the one Turn A Gundam question about why no newtypes appeared in the series. Tomino clarified the confusion by saying the people in Turn A would later become newtypes but the story couldn’t have been told as it was had they already evolved so. The way he dodged questions about Gunpla and his time at Mushi Productions told volumes but his actual feelings. When someone asked him about the possibility of Double Zeta Gundam compilation movies he stated that he was ignoring the fact that he was asked that question. Thankfully no one brought up Victory Gundam or Brain Powered. On a side note, during a reel of Tomino’s work they played almost every one except for Garzey’s Wing. I wonder if that was an accidental or deliberate oversight. Everyone who went to the Tomino panels and autographs sessions got a unforgettable experience out of it. Just look at that man’s face on the picture above. He seems down right giddy and it’s not just because he is holding a book with a page turned to Sochie although that is a good reason to be giddy.

So NYAF marked the first Bloggers Roundtable, it was an interesting experience, a learning experience if you will. You always have to have the first of these things and often times it has many flaws. Biggest being, there were just too many people but it’s such a difficulty because you want to get as many great people as you can! Also this panel was our first technical difficult in a while, and it was never actually corrected. We just did the best we could, and since the panel mainly involved talking it wasn’t a major issue. It started to get more lively as the panel continued, people got comfortable, and the discussions became more interactive. When first deciding what this panel was about, we thought asking only blogging questions might seem too blah (perhaps people wanted to know these bloggers on a more personal level), but they really engaged the audience so that would be the majority another time around I would think. In any case, it was fun and we did end up with plenty to talk about (even spilling over a bit since we were the last panel of the night).

Overall I think the Bloggers Roundtable went well despite the fact that it had major flaws. Several things will have to be changed if we ever run the panel again such as a maximum of five participants. I was a little worried that people would not have enough to say on certain questions but everyone had a good deal to share. In fact they often held back because of the size of the panel. We should also try to go to audience questions quicker, I was impressed by the number and quality of the questions from them. After this first round, we got a better understanding of what questions worked and what questions fell flat. Despite all the flaws I know I personally had a good time on the panel. I had fun hearing everyone’s answers and the playful banter of the panelists when things got rolling. I hope the audience had a good time, too. We even got a question from Zac “Answerman” Bertschy over the internet. I would definitely run this panel again if I could get people to do it. We will take what we learned from this attempt and make the panel even better.

We once again presented our Anime Recruitment panel with a good 30 or so people in the audience. This was a pleasant surprise considering the time slot of 4PM on Sunday, essentially the last panel slot for the convention, but hey someone has to go last. As always the Q&A portion where we answer any and all recommendation questions to the best of our abilities is the most fun and interesting part of the panel. This time around we were hit with some difficult requests like something gothic in style but with robots or a gore comedy. We were also called experts which was a little unnerving but kind of cool at the same time. Each time we do this panel we hone it just a little better and our ability to come up with a show for anyone increases. This is a panel that will be around for a long time with us because it goes over well and it is a lot of fun!

It is always fun to see a premiere at a convention. The ability to go a screening of something you will before everyone else is exciting. Much like Voices of a Distant Star it turns out that Cencoroll is the almost entirely a one man project done by Atsuya Uki. Cencoroll is the story on a bored teenager named Tetsu who has a shape shifting monster that is forced to do battle with another boy with a similar creature. Tetsu’s female classmate Yuki gets drawn into this conflict  when she discovers Tetsu’s secret. It was an amazing little piece especially since it was done by one person and used no CG. I had a very good look and feel. I am curious to see more work like Atsuya Uki. I would like to see him as the next Makoto Shinkai.

I didn’t really know much about Cencoroll till it was announced as a premiere title for NYAF. Then I began to hear things about it, most prominently that it was another one man show and put together without the use of CG. A fascinating part of this short was the discussion of what is acceptable in a short film verses a series. Cencoroll tells you virtually nothing about the why of its world or its premise but that was fine for a half hour jaunt. Beyond that, the relationship between boy, girl, and Cenco was well formed with some humor and moments of surprise. This 30-minute short ended up being a highlight of the convention.

There was a good amount of manga news and manga licenses at NYAF. While the manga market might not being growing anywhere as quickly as it used to it is not sickly from what I can see. I missed out on the Vertical panel because it was against Tomino but they announced four new manga titles, including Chi’s Sweet Home. More obscure titles were Peepo Choo from Felipe Smith that did the comic MBQ for Tokyopop before he started doing manga from Morning 2 in Japan; and Twin Spica and Needle which are two very different sci-fi manga. Tokyopop still seemed to be alive despite what everyone fears, for how long is another question. They admitted to switching to a cheaper paper company but had to switch back after a huge number of customer and retailer complaints. They had some new title announcements, including the next installment in the .hack line .hack//Link, so they still are in the game enough to get new manga. VIZ seemed to be doing extremely well as they announced not only some new manga but also anime and sci-fi novels. The most interesting announcement was that they will be streaming Inuyasha: The Final Act. I had a feeling that this was going to happen but it was never definite. I am curious how well this new fiction line is going for VIZ. All the other manga companies have been delaying or seemingly canceling their novel lines. Del Rey did not have a lot to say but they did pick up Rave Master. If there was any sure sign that Kodansha has cut off its ties to Tokopop it was the fact that they gave Samurai Deeper Kyo and now Rave Master to Del Rey despite the fact that both series had almost finished under Tokyopop.

The majority of the panels that I attended were industry related which in recent years have become fairly entertaining rather than tedious. Funimation always puts on a good show but I was shocked to find them making an announcement at NYAF. An announcement that personally made my draw drop, Initial D Fourth Stage. Actually, they have acquired all of Initial D and will be repackaging it. I nearly wept with joy. They also made mention of their upcoming ShoDojo site which is going to be a sort of social networking tool. The piece of the site that sounds fun is the ability to chat while watching streaming video. The launch of the site has been delayed but it could be another thing Funi does right for fans. Bandai didn’t have too much new stuff to say though they did have dates for things like the Eureka Seven movie on DVD (January 2010) and mentioning of things making the move to Blu-Ray such as the Escaflowne movie. These companies and others sat down on Sunday for, what has become a standard, State of the Industry panel moderated by Chris MacDonald of Anime News Network. There was not much new ground covered at this one, topics like watching digital media and reading digital media differing greatly as well as the difficulties in simulcasting (seemingly ignoring all the successful ones currently going on) were well discussed. One thing that leapt out thanks to so many anime companies finally doing streaming video is the inability to monetize such ventures, yet. It was pointed out that most likely their day will come but DVD/Blu-Ray is and will remain king for quite sometime.

I went to the How to Become Famous on the Internet panel which was an informative presentation on how to promote your work on the Net be it a blog, podcast, webcomic, or anything else that shows your skills as a artist or writer. It was pretty solid advice from panelists who knew their stuff. As always the most important thing is to go out there and honestly connect to other people. The How I Broke into the Anime and Manga Industries panel was nothing I did not know but I think it was a good wake up call for anyone who did not realize how hard it is. Kevin McKeever made it clear that it was extremely difficult to make your way into any entertainment industry because everyone else wants in as well. Sacrifice and the ability to deal with repeated failure is essential. The CPM Retrospective was a nostalgic look back on working at Central Park Media. I had heard quite a few stories from various people on how crazy Central Park Media and John O’Donnell could be for better and for worse. Although everyone spoke glowingly about their times at CPM is was obvious they took their fare share of lumps as often as had great times. It was a fitting tribute for a former major player in the anime industry.

The artist alley was located in a much better spot this year, and it was really hopping! And most importantly, it was open until the convention closed up at 10PM. I saw some familiar faces among the artists but plenty of new people to go around. In fact, while I had set a strict no buying policy for myself at this con, I broke it in artist alley for a piece of Cloud fan-art by a very talented fellow, ningyee7. I was much better at resisting in the dealer’s room. There were visibly more booths but the merchandise itself didn’t seem to be too special or rare for the most part. I was also sad to not see Ultimate Doujinshi. While I avoided this section for most of Saturday, I did move through it a little and found it cramped but not wholly deadly. Still is there ever enough room in the dealers room anywhere?

One of the biggest draws of any convention has nothing to do directly with the convention itself and that is meeting with your friends who you do not normally get to see and to hang out with your regular friends in a dynamic setting. I think that meeting One Great Turtle in real life was almost as awesome as meeting Tomino and that is saying a lot. I also got to meet the infamous Wild Arms Heero. He was unsurprisingly normal and quite amusing in real life. It was extremely fun going out to karaoke, stores, arcades, and meals with people you have only met online. Hey, I even got to play Melty Blood: Actress Again on an arcade machine. Speaking of karaoke, I am always fascinated by other people’s song choices. I wish I had enough Japanese knowledge to sing the Japanese songs like many others but people had to settle for my lame renditions of Queen and the Police instead.

New York Anime Fest brought many familiar faces to NYC this time around, some of which I already knew and some I would meet for the very first time during this event. So instead of having a big dinner at this convention, the theme was karaoke with many bloggers in tow (and friends) on Friday night. My Japanese is about pre-school level but others among me belted out all kinds of fierce Japanese tunes including Holy Lonely Night from Macross 7! If I practice really hard maybe I can pull some opening off in the near future. But there was also plenty of English songs being sung,  most memorable being On A Boat from SNL. This was the latest night of con and really wrecked me for the rest of convention. There were also various dining and chatting experience a plenty during the con and after hours. NYAF overall became a rather large hang out and meeting convention.

I am always most interested in the Japanese guests and the panels at any anime convention. They tend to be my meter stick of how much fun. Tomino pretty much assured that NYAF won completely and utterly in the guest department. My now signed Turn A Artbook was worth the time and money I spent on the convention alone. I would have liked to have seen one other big named Japanese guest but that was hardly a requirement. I did enjoy several of the panels but for some reason I felt this years panels were lacking. The ones I went to were excellent but there was a good deal of dead space for me on each day. It did give me time to hang out with people and have leisurely meals but I would have rather had to decide to either have a leisurely meal or a quick bite to eat like at Otakon. I am also a little bummed out that next year there will not be a single solitary NYAF but instead it will be combined with NYCC. I liked having a anime convention and a comic convention in Manhattan. I could do my anime events at NYAF and my comics events at NYCC. Hopefully NYAF will not just be a name tacked on the NYCC but only time will tell. Still I will remember New York Anime Festival with fond memories.

While I don’t want to be running without a moment to spare at a convention, I found myself too often with time on my hands. If there was one of two more rooms for panels or workshops this problem would be solved. Also the lack of fan run panels is certainly getting better but still wish to see more of a fan presence in the presentations. It will be interesting to see how it combines with New York Comic Con in the coming year. So really the highlight and reason for NYAF 2009 for me was Tomino and everything else was just something I went to in between. It can’t be said enough that having a chance to see and hear speak a director of such importance is a rare chance which makes NYAF one of the most memorable anime events I may ever attend. As Dave said during the Bloggers Roundtable, “Tomino Con 2009 was great!”

Top 5 Tomino shows I want to watch that are not Gundam
5. Aura Battler Dunbine
4. Invincible Super Man Zambot 3
3. Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3
2. Space Runaway Ideon
1. Combat Mecha Xabungle

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3 thoughts on “New York Anime Festival 2009

  1. Greg says:

    NYAF definitely needs more fan panels. The bloggers’ round table was fun, but didn’t go so well. Seems like there were way too many panelists and not enough participation from the audience…not that there was much of an audience to begin with…

  2. Ed Sizemore says:

    As a panelist I did enjoy myself. I’m glad you’re not discouraged and will be doing a blogger’s panel next year too. I hope that next year, with a smaller panel, you’ll be able to discuss some of the technical aspects of blogging: setting up a website, selecting a focus, determining content, ways to reach to build an audience, etc. I think Kate did a great job handling both the technical glitches and the large number of panelist. Thanks for having me and I look forward to seeing you next year.

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