Despite the odd rumor to the contrary I attended AnimeNEXT without Narutaki this year. (As a side note: Narutaki loves Gundam SEED and Roronoa Zoro. I’m not exactly sure where these odd rumors about her come from.) But I have enough friends and acquaintances at this point that I was not a solitary warrior like I was when I went to the Providence Anime Conference back in 2008. But sadly that means that without her there won’t be as much discussion about things like the dealer’s room and artist alley as she usually pays much more attention to that than I do. But there is still a good deal to talk about as every AnimeNEXT experience is different from the last.
Well I will start the with good. Panels were mostly top-notch this year. I went to some stinkers and some bizarre panels but overall the quality was pretty high this year. I have been to AnimeNEXT conventions were I often sat around just talking to the people I came with waiting for something to do. This year any break in my schedule was used for eating which is always a necessity but something that can be easy to forget. I also noted that most panels I went to were at least 75% full. I went to two that were more sparsely attended but they were always either early on Friday or early on Sunday which all in all are notorious death slots. In fact I saw a number of panels that had to turn people away. I am glad to see that panel attendance is up in general. It might be just partially a function of the increased attendance numbers but none the less it was highly encouraging. It is always nice to see anime fans who want to learn more about their hobby.
Speaking of panels my first and foremost complaint is not anything that can be fixed by the staff of AnimeNEXT but was enormously aggravating. I nicknamed AnimeNEXT 2012 as Hijack Con because I witnessed 6 separate attempts for attendees to try to interrupt the panelist enough that you would assume they were co-panelists who just happened to be sitting in the audience. These were not just the occasional wisenheimer additions and clarifications. Nor was it a case of a good Samaritan helping out a floundering panelist. These were all constant running attempts to interject whenever possible. But is was not just one guy behaving badly. There were at least three people doing this during the con.
I know there is often “that guy” at any convention you go to. The nerdier the convention the more of a chance you have to run into someone who is lacking delicate social graces. You are always going to have some panel were some audience member has to prove they are just as smart (if not smarter) than the person on stage. I have seen it happen at least once at any con I have been to. But this was far beyond that. It was like someone unleashed a bus full of people with social disorders on the con. I have never seen so many cases in one con before. Each panelist dealt with it with their own varying level of grace and ability. Thankfully no one did anything rash but I could tell some people were very tempted to do so. I’m not exactly sure what you can do about it though. I will talk more about it in the panels section but it was an epidemic.
Has anyone else noticed a rise in this sort of behavior at anime cons or was this a thankfully isolated anomaly?
I was also a bit disappointed with the guests this year. As a nice sized East coast convention AnimeNEXT does not usually have the guest list of Otakon or a West coast convention but they usually have at least one notable Japanese anime or manga production guest. It gives AnimeNEXT a feeling that while it might not be one of the top 5 anime conventions it has a strong leg up on even bigger conventions like Anime Boston. I must make it clear, it was not like there were no guests. There were a solid collection of American guests as well as some Japanese bands and fashion professionals. But nothing on the Japanese side was something that screamed anime. My hope is they tried to court some production staff as a guest and things just fell through. I can understand how that can happen. It is hardly the easiest task to accomplish. But a part of me is just worried that AnimeNEXT has looked over the numbers and decided that going after Japanese anime guest is not worth the time and effort when other types of guests have more of a draw. I don’t want to get rid of the other types of guests. They all have their place at AnimeNEXT and draw in a good crowd. I just hope they continue to look into guests which I would consider part of the core focus of the con.
My other two major problems were with the air conditioning and the line control. I know that it is more of a problem with the Garden State Exhibit Center but the air conditioning varied wildly from room to room and far too many areas did not have enough of it. As anyone knows proper air conditioning cannot stop all the problems of having a mass of sweaty (and too often not hygienic enough) otaku in one area but it mitigates much of the damage. It was less than fun to go from one room that was chilly to another that was sort of muggy.
Also the other major problem was there was no real set guideline about how lines worked at the convention. Individual staffers were usually pretty good at getting people lined up when they saw a line had started to form but each staffer set up their lines their own way. You would go to a panel room at noon and find the line in one place and come back at 3 and find what you thought was the line for the same room was nothing more than people hanging out along the wall. This has always been a bit of a problem with AnimeNEXT but the convention was smaller then. Now that convention has filled out the Garden State Exhibit Center it is much more of a problem. They really need to have a uniform strategy to where each line for each room is.
Other than that I do have a few points of oddity to mention. I did notice the cosplay trends of the year. The big three properties people were dressed as were Homestuck, the Legend of Korra, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I will merely state that the two non-anime titles were far more cosplayed than the one popular anime title. There was also a noticeable drop off in the amount of Hetalia cosplay. It hardly disappeared but it no longer the king of the hill like it used to be. I was severely disappointed by the lack of Fate/Zero cosplay. I’m not expecting to see Fate/Extra and Mahou Tsukai no Yoru all over the place but I figured Fate/Zero was high-profile enough that I would at least see one or two Sabers in a suit. Hopefully Otakon will be stronger on that front.
I do have to wonder how long AnimeNEXT can stay at the Garden State Exhibit Center. The con grew in size again this year and I can’t see that not happening next year. The problem is there is not much room for them where they are now. From what I could tell the fire marshals were super strict this year about the lines for the dealer’s room, artist alley, and registration. It is only going to get worse as the attendance grows. Will have to change venues and where can they go in the area when they make the move? I fear if they can’t go anywhere else the only other option would be an attendance cap. I am curious to see how this plays out over the next three years.
Overall I had a good time at AnimeNEXT. I definitely think the combination of good friends and an entertaining panel line up made everything come together. Unlike some AnimeNEXT schedules I usually has something to do all three days. Any time I had a break in the evening was usually when I got dinner. The meals always felt like a pleasant stop of rest rather than dull downtime. That pace really helps your impression of the experience. It was not my favorite AnimeNext experience but it was an enjoyable one. I plan to return next year if I can make it. Hopefully they will have a Japanese guest I can really get excited about. That would be a return to the AnimeNEXT I love the most.