MangaNEXT is the little brother to the now well-established mid-sized AnimeNEXT. Much of the same staff heads both so the feel is similar just not on such a grand scale. This is the smallest con I attend nowadays, but in many ways it helps give me a better perspective on fandom as it resembles the myriad of small conventions sprawled across the U.S. that doesn’t reside on the coasts. After taking a break the year previous, the future of MangaNEXT was unclear but with a new location and old Halloween dates, it fluttered back to life.
MangaNEXT is a rather unique little convention that focuses on the manga side of things unlike every other convention you will go to in the U.S. that focuses on anime. There is still a decent amount of anime related programming during the convention but the normal ratio between anime and manga is the switched. While I was glad to see the convention come back after not taking place last year I do have to say that it seems much less organized that it has been in the last two times I have been to the convention. We only went on Saturday but I feel it gave us some good insight into the heart of the convention.
The new location was far greater for coming in from New York City, I hope it was as accessible for New Jersey people, a mere one stop on the Coach line from Port Authority made getting in a breeze. This was one of the most encouraging things about the convention since AnimeNEXT has grown so much requiring a location not nearly as easy to get to from New York. The only real qualm is not having food in close proximity unless by car, but almost no New Jersey location has had that thus far. The hotel itself was also quite spacious with three floors to roam about on; the main events hall was more than adequate and the same can be said for the panel/workshop rooms. The layout for these was unfortunately not reflected well in the maps, everything seemed to have switched around by Saturday, though being so small it was fairly easy to remember where things had moved. Still I would have liked to see bigger signs and directions posted for how to get to rooms.
The first thing I noticed when we were looking around the convention was that we could not find the Chat Room. The Chat Room was supposed to be a section of the convention were you could pop in a converse with your fellow manga fans about selected topics in a lively and informal group debate. While the room was on the schedule it seems that it was not on the map or anywhere to be found. We asked several staffers where it was until one very help young lady escorted us around trying to find where the Chat Room had been placed. In the end as far as we could tell the room had never been set up but the staff was generally unaware of this fact. This was just a sign of the well-meaning but disorganized vibe the whole convention had.
I was glad to see an updated schedule available as soon as I arrived and picked up my press badge because as is certain at smaller cons schedule changes are inevitable even more so than at other events. Our own panel, Best Manga You Never Read, was moved twice but this was done in order to accommodate our equipments needs so. Despite the major changes and moves, I was able to attend all the panels I was interested in and for the most part didn’t run into conflicts once it was clear where the speaking was taking place. But that isn’t to say there wasn’t much going on, there were 2 panel and 2 workshop rooms that were going until quite late.
My other main problem was the schedule was in utter flux. Panels had to be rearranged and moved constantly. Apparently the form was unclear if you needed a projector so several panels (including our own) had to be moved so the panelists could display their presentations. Thankfully the convention was small enough that I did not miss anything because everything was close together but at a bigger convention it could have been disastrous.
The most pleasing piece of the convention was the nicely diverse artist alley. It had some great talent and talkative people running the booths. Being small as it was, artists were really highlighted which I’m sure added to their attention from attendees. The artist of the webcomic Paul Reveres was front and center with plenty of merchandise including an adorable plushie of the dog, Snickerdoodle. The dealer’s room was fairly diverse in its offerings as well. I was surprised to see a guy selling single issues of manga from the mid-90’s. For this size convention both of these areas seemed just right.
While the dealer’s room and the artist alley were small they were diverse and lively for the size of the convention. I know that Narutaki took several people’s business cards from Artist Alley and they had a write up of all the artists present in the convention booklet which was good for everyone involved. Speaking of the booklet it was printed right to left like a manga which was a cute touch. I also liked the new hotel the convention took place at. The Hilton East Brunswick was really easy to get to from New York and it seemed like a very accommodating facility.
I find it hard not to have a good time at a convention where you meet up with friends and spend equal amounts of time hanging out as you do going to events. MangaNEXT provided a fun space for the holiday weekend which I was grateful for. As it grows I may be encouraged to attend on multiple days because despite the runaround the schedule gave me, the events I did attend were appreciated. The way I saw it, MangaNEXT did not lack for heart but many times it didn’t feel like the staffs’ minds were in the game. It is no doubt hard to organize not one but two conventions a year, however I hope to see an increase in care if MangaNEXT is going continue in the future.
As much as I may have complain about MangaNEXT I had a good time. I saw all the panels I wanted to see, met up with friends, had a great dinner, and generally enjoyed myself. I just wished that they had pulled everything together a bit tighter. I know the staff in charge can do better as I have seen many well run years of AnimeNEXT. I am not sure what caused the problems this year but I hope that the next MangaNEXT takes what they learned from this years and improves on what happened this year. The concept of MangaNEXT is solid and has potential to be an equal to its sibling convention, AnimeNEXT as an impressive mid-sized convention with its own unique twist.
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