AnimeNEXT is spending only its second year at the Garden State Exhibit Center but they have made a great transition into the new space, of course there are still kinks but there were vast improvements from last year. And when asked about moving back to Secaucus it was a firm and unanimous “no.” This space has room to grow they said (though I didn’t notice too much empty space, but Secaucus has even less so) and that’s exactly what they want to do.
When AnimeNEXT is firing on all cylinders it is a great anime convention with a little bit of everything despite not being one of the big boys like Otakon, Anime Expo, or New York Anime Festival. This year NEXT had a good mix of American and Japanese industry guests, solid and diverse panels, entertaining musicians, and good-sized dealer’s room and artist alley. With Kenji Kamiyama as a guest AnimeNEXT felt more like a top ten anime convention than Anime Boston despite having less attendees. Even if the location has become more inconvenient for me I still watch to see who they get each year.
As press things were better organized this time around and they were even able to setup an impromptu round-robin press conference with Kenji Kamiyama which was, to say the least, the brightest moment of the convention. While we’d all, including the staff, like to know things further in advance, I realize with guests sometimes this just isn’t possible. There was some confusion about whether press could get into panels early or not, and I’m not even sure of the answer myself. So next year I would like to see press privileges a little more outlined, concrete, and communicated to the staff. And then I can print-out the rules to keep in my back pocket!
I know everyone assumed they would be allowed into the “IT CAME FROM FRANCE!!” panel because they were press but were a bit thrown off by not being able to get in. I myself was lucky enough that never came up as a problem. We made sure to arrive a little early for the “Bad Anime Bad!” panel after hearing that. But I have have been to several cons where there is no set press privileges which can definitely be a bit confusing. Clear rules would help everyone involved on both the press side and the staff side. But I was always treated very politely by the all the con staffers of AnimeNEXT and they were as accommodating as they could be.
The crowds were bustling which wasn’t too much of a surprise when at the feedback session they were estimating a possible 15% increase in attendance over last year (though their numbers took a hit in 2009 with the move). However, it seemed well-managed and rarely got to an overwhelming mass that made me feel claustrophobic. But to be fair, I stayed away from places like the dealer’s room and artist alley on Saturday, I recommend this highly if you are at a con for all three days! The con traffic control would benefit from more signage. Things like “Do Not Stop on this Walkway” would be a tremendous help and I’ve seen it used at Otakon to great effect. The same could be said about adding “This Way to ______” road signs as well as blown-up maps placed in strategic locations throughout the con.
The dealers room was nice this year but I was sadly very poor so while I was tempted many a time I came home with great memories but no memorabilia. I was impressed by the really good gunpla selections this year. I did eye the Robot Damashii Turn A Gundam for a bit but it was clearly out of my price range. Everyone had the Hayate EX figures that were tempting but not tempting enough. I also looked at casual clothing Saber and a Shiro Figma but the mark up on them was too high. For some reason the Shiro Figma was the most expensive Figma I saw which boggled my mind. Did they think he was Rider by accident? I also saw the Brigadoon boxset for $25 which gave me pause for a bit. I wisely avoided the doujinshi as it can easily be a horrible temptation and it’s harder to judge if you are getting a deal or not. All in all a combination of a tight budget and no real super deals made me leave the dealers room empty-handed but it was not due to a lack of good things to buy.
Everything was bigger this year from the amount of programing and panel rooms to the artists in the alley. Though someone at the feedback session mentioned there being a lot of holes in the schedule, keeping the events more spread out and giving the illusion of less to do. I like the idea of some down time between events, and maybe mealtimes could see a dip in programing, but I think it would be better served by putting short (10-15 minute) intervals between things so that panels and the such don’t abut each other. This would help on a number of points like giving presenters more time to set-up, allowing for the room to be cleared without having the events start late, and giving people time to get to the next thing. I realize you can’t do everything at a con but giving people the greatest possibility of it would be a plus.
I was pleased to see there was a shuttle bus for food and hotels running everyday and fairly regularly according to the schedule. Since Evan had a car we drove to all the places we went out to dinner which was extremely convenient. We has some nice meals at Ruby Tuesday and the Somerset Diner. I am curious how convenient the shuttle bus was to anyone who did not have a car at the convention. We also ran across a printed out map of many fast food establishments in the area, not sure if that was made by the con or not. Getting everywhere in the convention was distinctly helped by the fact that the weather was bright and sunny all weekend. The pathways were far less crowded when cosplayers could hang out outside on the grass whenever they wanted and take pictures without having to worry about being rained on. I must add that I always appreciate any con that has water coolers. Especially on hot days they are a life saver and make the con 100% more enjoyable.
I can say for certain I did a lot more at this year’s AnimeNEXT as opposed to last year when I felt a bit like twiddling my thumbs. A lot of the joy I felt this year came with their Japanese guests of honor, the last couple of years they had trouble securing them, but Kenji Kamiyama and Stereopony fulfilled both ends of the spectrum for 2010. I was immensely impressed this year with everything, am glad I was able to go, and without a doubt will be heading back again next year. AnimeNEXT is back!
I feel like AnimeNEXT is a wonderful way to start con season with enough energy to get me excited for upcoming events as well. It had a good pace that made sure I was never bored but also a relaxed feeling that made it so I never felt rushed. AnimeNEXT is not the biggest con in the northeast but it is undoubtedly a con you cannot ignore especially when it can pull some amazing Japanese guests. The rest of the week we will look at individual parts of the convention in much more detail including what the guests had to say and our opinion on the panels we attended.
More AnimeNEXT 2010 posts: