For me guests are key at conventions, maybe that sounds a little obvious to say but truly it isn’t as I attend more and more cons and have realized many attendees never set foot inside a room to hear people speak. For many the con going experience is more social than educational, I like to have a little of both. This year’s AnimeNEXT really made that possible with a variety of guests, though not too much industry presences, that really filled out the roster of the con and made it feel solid again.
A panel with guests is usually a sign of quality so I tend to go out of my way to attend any panels with a guest that remotely piques my interest. Of course an event with a Japanese guest trumps all others if for nothing else you may never get another chance to see them but more because they can give you incredible insight and perspective into the mediums of anime and manga. Sadly other than a few rare exceptions American fans tend to skip panels with Japanese industry guests. Therefore I feel it is also my duty to attend such panels to show my support and let conventions know that their investment in such guests is important. But I assume most of the people reading a blog like this feel the same.
Funimation was the only industry panel in attendance a sad fact considering how close AnimeNEXT is to New York City and such a turn out doesn’t inspire much confidence on the state of things. On that front, Funimation’s panel, run by newbie Josh, started with a little “the sky isn’t falling”-type bit followed by some trailers and the usual Q&A session. My mind is always a little boggled by how many fans turn out for the Funi panels but perhaps that is a testament to how much people are liking what they do. I gave a big shout and started a round of applause as their Initial D releases appeared on the PowerPoint. They mentioned Part II of Fourth Stage being available early in the dealer’s room, though mine came in the mail right before I left for the con. The trailer for My Bride is a Mermaid got me interested. There were no real surprises during the panel which wasn’t too shocking and Josh did mention some big stuff will be happening at upcoming Anime Expo though it wasn’t clear whether he meant license announcements or events pertaining to already licensed stuff. He did say specifically you can expect to see a push for Hetalia at the rest of the summer cons. As the Q&A got rolling we all learned very quickly just how new Josh is as the audience ended up answering quite a few of the questions asked. There was also a rampant amount of DBZ questions. But Josh had a good attitude and I’m sure he’ll grow into the role, we’ll see how he fares at Otakon!
I got a good deal of the American guests in one go when I started the convention with the “Big Bald Broadcast” recording. Host of the podcast Kyle Hebert had along Uncle Yo, Tony Oliver, Martin Billany, and Kroze. There was no real theme to the podcast as Kyle threw out questions to the panel for everyone to answer. It was more of a getting to know everyone session with questions like what was everyone’s favorite piece of memorabilia. It was amusing that science fiction and Power Rangers came up far more than anime or manga in everyone’s responses. The panel ran smoothly although I could have done without the people in the audience who felt they were funnier and more interesting than the guests. I regret not going to any of Martin Billany’s (aka littlekuriboh) other panels because he seemed like an amusing and friendly guy. I then went to “How to Spot Bootleg Merchandise” with Greg Ayres. The panel was informative but it has the flaw that every Greg Ayres panel has: it is half informative and half moralistic lecture. While there was many a good tip on spotting bootlegs, he could have toned down the rhetoric especially since he was already preaching to the choir. I feel it would have been better served just putting the information out there and using a little less hard sell but that is sort of what he is famous for. Kevin McKeever’s “WAR STORIES FROM THE CONVENTIONS” was much like the one he ran at PAC in format but almost all the stories were new. He had the audience give him a topic and he would then relate an amusing story related to said topic from his many con experiences over the years. There was everything from sexually aggressive con moms to really scary fans of all stripes. Overall, Kevin tried to keep the stories positive and give the impression that no matter how bad some of the stories were his overall experiences were positive.
Stereopony was a band I had only briefly sampled prior to the con but nevertheless I was looking forward to their performance and my first attendance to a concert at AnimeNEXT. I knew I could expect it to be lively and their music is harder than you’d surmise by just looking at them. As I walked into the show I realized that finally someone got it right. Thank you AnimeNEXT for removing the center row of chairs leaving standing room only in front of the stage, it felt like a real rock concert. The crowd started off a bit shy but by half way through things were getting loose and fun. Their set flowed high and low as it should. When “Tsukiakari no Michishirube” from Darker than Black came up the crowd was elated and really showed their appreciation. The song was great fun and you couldn’t help but jump around even if you’ve never seen Darker Than Black (like me). They ended with their title song of the new album “OVER THE BORDER” but the tempo of the song felt a little awkward and I just couldn’t enjoy it as much so I was more than grateful when they played “Hitorira no Hanabira” from Bleach for the encore to really close out the concert. As a shorter person standing in crowds is a lot of getting stepped on and dodging elbows but in this case it was well worth it. Stereopony’s show was so well put together that it made me forget it was at a convention.
I had no real expectations going into the Stereopony concert. I only know them as the band that does “Namida no Mukou” for Gundam 00. We got in a little late but they provided a good amount of room for the concert so we easily slipped in at the back of the crowd. They played a decent number of songs with one encore. I think they played an ideal set with just enough songs where I felt satisfied but never felt like they wore out their welcome. They had a distinctly lively and energetic bent to all their songs and the crowd really seemed to be into it. The music was loud enough that Evan had to borrow my headphones as a form of earplugs but I was not too bothered by it especially considering some other concerts I have been too. I had a good time and their concert was a special highlight of the con.
The Stereopony panel the next day was a lot less memorable but not due to any fault of their own. It is just inevitable that musical guests seem to get really blase questions, perhaps it is just the results of being too close to a celebrity and your mind kind of going. The panel started with a little background information on the band and their success. Not only are the ladies young but they only just released their second album. As a random side note it’s great to see more Japanese artists available on U.S. iTunes, they made mention that Stereopony has their first album and their three singles up currently. About halfway through the event they opened it up to questions from the audience. It was pretty typical fare where we learned all three members hadn’t started to play instruments til high school. Thrown in was the random assortment of more than a little inane questions my favorite being “Have you seen K-ON! ?” to which lead Aimi answered merely “Yes.” But the crowd enjoyed themselves and Stereopony seemed wholly amused by their American fans. There was a photo session on Sunday which you could go to by purchasing a CD but I did not have the chance to attend.
Nothing shows a clearer sign that everyone on the American side of the industry is struggling more than the fact that the only industry panel was run by Funimation. On a lighter note it is always nice to see when the English guests do interesting panels related to their area of expertise as well as topics directly related to what they do. I feel you get the most out of a guest’s potential that way. Since I go to conventions mainly to see panels the better the panels are the happier I am. The wide selection of guest panels this year was a delight. I always leave satisfied thanks to a good mixture of events like at AnimeNext. My only regret was not having the time to be able to see more guest panels this year.
You may notice a rather large gap in the guest coverage here, that is because we are saving Kenji Kamiyama for his very own post which he truly deserves. With that in mind, he really made a great impression and was certainly the highest moments of the con. Be that as it may, all the guests seemed to enjoy their time at this midsized convention and embraced the fans.
More AnimeNEXT 2010 posts: