AnimeNEXT has become something of a tradition at this point. Discussing it at the con I realized I’d been going since even before the move to Secaucus, let alone the move to Somerset. I haven’t been every year since my first one but nowadays it seems like I wouldn’t know it was summer until AnimeNEXT comes along. This year they celebrated their 10th anniversary and they’ve had many changes over that time. This year had some great moments but also some bumps as always.
When I went to Castle Point Anime Convention this year I stated I should put my money where my mouth is and do more panels. So at AnimeNEXT 2011 Narutaki and I did more panels than a busy Bob Vila. In fact we did a combined total of five panels this year. Four were Reverse Thieves originals and I also did a guest spot on an Ani-Gamers panel as well. I will go into that more when we talk about panels later in the week but it was unusual that Friday was my busy day and Saturday was more of a casual day. I think that has a lot to do with the cosplay masquerade going on but it was mostly just a fluke of how the panels were divided up this year. Other than that the highlight of the convention was Satoru Nakamura who has some fairly impressive credentials as a key animator. This once again solidified AnimeNEXT 2011 as a strong midsized con that has many of the perks of the biggest cons in the US while having the more relaxed atmosphere of a local con. That always makes it a great con to attend and talk about.
When we arrived I was surprised to be told to wait in the registration line for a press badge, after a few texts and a few other conversations we made our way to the press room without needing to wait in the general line after all. That hump did not hamper our spirits though and we checked in to press and panels then quickly moved on to exploring the now familiar venue. Things were re-jigged a little though. The most notable change was the artist alley being placed across from the dealer’s room and next to the main events area which freed up a new and large panel room in the Double Tree. This worked well, though the new panel room was almost too big. Perhaps it could be split in half for better space; then it could be combined when necessary for late-night favorites such as Bad, Anime Bad! and Hentai Dubbing.
This year we knew right off the bat to ask what our privileges as press were. We were told what events we had priority seating in as press and the fact that fan panels were always first come first serve. This prevented any of the problems we had last year. There was some miscommunication about getting our press passes but that was quickly sorted out before we missed anything we wanted to see. I just wish that cons would give the volunteers a little run down on the rules about press. I know that the other things they teach staff about it a more important as press is the minority of the attendees but it would make things a bit smoother for the handful of us to cover the event.
It was as busy as ever this year, I could definitely tell there was more people in attendance; with a 1% increase from last year it was a healthy jump. Even Friday morning was hopping as was Sunday until the end of the convention. That being said, I never had that “I can’t breath I gotta get out of here” overwhelming feeling. But seeing the line for the Masquerade queue practically blew my mind as it filled up all the grassy areas outside the convention center. I always forget that at smaller cons this is the main thing to do on Saturday and literally it is a ghost town during that period. It did make going to dinner quite nice though! The dealer’s room, always the most busy part, was truly a bit of a mad house but I was able to take a quick look around in non-peak hours with plenty of space. Prices seemed high and only a couple of booths seemed very unique. Diversity of shopping was left to artist alley.
My major complaint was not as press but as a panelist. We were promised projectors in every room but workshop 2 had no projector so we had to go without slides for all of the Best Manga you Never Read panel. I think it went OK but being able to see the artwork really helps sell the manga we were pitching. Later on I got a projector for my Type-Moon panel in the same room but it was a major uphill battle. I had to stall as they set up the projector and then techs left half way through the setup. I really only got it working due to some timely and amazing assistance by the Digital Bug. I know they were overworked at the con but it was still upsetting that I needed audience assistance to get things going. The thing that made me angriest was that hardly anyone showed up to Satoru Nakamura & Production IG panel. I know everyone at the con can’t go to the panel and that people are more interested in the American voice actors but that type of turn out just breaks my heart.
Scheduling seemed better overall, but since there were many holes it would have been great to have 10 or 15 minutes between panels. Unfortunately with them abutting each other I can’t remember one that got to use their full hour. Panel attendance also seemed to be up happily. I also gotta applaud the con for smartly not scheduling any panels until 10AM or later. Line queuing for panels and events on the other hand had some major flub ups. For panels it was totally unclear there were lines for many of them, just put a sign or tape the floor for ease. The big queuing area for main events and autographs was a mess with tons of people in one line for multiple events. On Saturday morning there was no one manning that area until at least 11:45 leaving us to fend for ourselves.
As always I must talk about our wonderful meals at the con. The sit down meals at any convention are always a highlight. On Friday night we ate at 11PM as our day was just filled with things to do. Normally that is a bit to late to eat for anyone but college students but I think we were all staving and pretty much running on empty. The Somerset Diner was an excellent choice last year and this year did not disappoint. Their late night hours were a godsend for us. I had a Mexicali Burger which was very good. I wish the Guacamole had been a little spicier but it was a good blend of toppings overall. Saturday night saw us eating at the Ichiban Japanese Restaurant. Normally eating at a Japanese restaurant is the silliest move you can make at an anime con as they are jam-packed due to otaku. The secret is to go during the cosplay masquerade. You can eat wherever you like as at least 70 percent of the convention is in one location. Narutaki and I both had katsudon. It was not listed on the dinner menu but you could get it if you asked. It was definitely worth it. As always even better than the food was the conversation among friends. Nothing ties together a great con like a great meal.
As usual AnimeNEXT is a more intimate event. Chatting, sharing a laugh, making a friend, and even impromptu music sessions are all part of the con experience. People watching has become a bit of a sport for me while at the convention, I just like to wander sometimes. For the most part fans seemed to be having a good time, I know I certainly did, but not acting like they had totally lost their minds (generally at least) during the weekend. I didn’t even encounter much meme shouting, shocking I know, although one panel I was in inspired a chorus of “SPAAAAACE.” But I have never experienced any of the horror stories told from other conventions at AnimeNEXT. I can tell AnimeNEXT is still growing but I love the more relaxed atmosphere and the closeness of fans.
Once again AnimeNEXT proved itself to be the king of midsized conventions. For everything they do wrong they do 20 things right. My only worry is where can the move to next when they get bigger. If their growth remains stable over the next few years they might not be able to stay where they are now but I am not sure where they would move to without changing states. I would hate to see such a great convention move out of reach. It blend of the best of both worlds truly make it one of kind.
More AnimeNEXT 2011 posts: