I usually have a very unified impression of a convention. A single thread or theme tends to pop out to tie these general impressions posts around. But oddly enough this year I will say that each day felt very different. I can’t think of a convention that I attended where I could so easily separate my feelings of the experience into such distinct and finite categories. Usually each day blends together and creates a unified if slightly blurry memory. But each day at AnimeNEXT 2013 for one reason or another had its own feel.
This was not really the fault or goal of AnimeNEXT. It was more the coincidence of my choices plus purely chaotic elements that led to that impression as opposed to any particular planning on my part or that of the convention staff. It was just an odd kismet that led to this occurring. (Unless the AnimeNEXT has a strange combination of weather machines, mind control rays, and a TARDIS. And in that case they should REALLY be using those devices for something much grander than segmenting my personal con experience.)
Friday was the chilly day full of rain where I mostly went to other people’s panels and explored Artists Alley and the Dealers room. Saturday had moderate weather and I focused more on my own panels but also got sidetracked by other things. Sunday was just centered around events with Sayo Yamamoto and Hiroshi Shimizu. There was a little overlap with these themes as some days had elements of the other days but overall they did little to deter from the fact that all three days had very signature vibes. I can’t say that was really a good thing or a bad thing. It just was how it was.
Let us get my complaints out-of-the-way so we can focus the positive. (Plus I’m sure some people come to these post just to see what I gripe about.) The first and foremost problem is simple. AnimeNEXT moved to the Garden State Exhibit Center because they had outgrown the Meadowlands Exposition Center. The problem is it was only a stopgap measure. You sort of felt it last year but it is clear that they have already outgrown the Garden State Exhibit Center this year.
When it was raining on Friday the convention felt so crowded as everyone spent all days indoors whenever they could due to the downpour. And Saturday felt even more crowded despite the fact that a good number of people were finally able to go outside. Sunday was manageable but even then I spent most of time following the Japanese guests of honor which are some of the less attended events. Had I gone to more popular events that might not have been the case.
This meant that even moderately popular panels were constantly having to turn people away. I missed out on several panels which is something that occasionally happens at AnimeNEXT but never to this degree. The problem is that there are pretty much only small panel rooms and big panel rooms. Things like Mike Toole’s panels did not fully pack the large panel rooms but would have had to turn away decent sized crowds if they were placed in the small rooms. Conversely there were some panels that might not have filled a large room but were clearly too popular for the small rooms they got. Some medium-sized rooms would have elevated this problem but they don’t really exist.
I had to step out on the main panel lobby to get something I forgot at a panel room and missed Dubs that Time Forgot and Hiro Usuda: How to Draw Manga panel because that whole section had to be closed down. According to Evan there was plenty of free chairs in Dubs that Time Forgot but you could not get to the room since the hallway was closed. I think that happened at least one other time Saturday afternoon. I never had a major problem with congestion but it is clearly headed down that path.
So it is a clear sign that AnimeNEXT has outgrown the Garden State Exhibit Center. With a 5 figure attendance rate it is just a little too big for where it currently is. The problem is the convention is almost certainly going to be bigger next year. But AnimeNEXT 2014 is going to be at the same location next year. So any problems this year are probably going to be a little worse.
I’m not exactly sure what the solution is. While theoretically the simplest answer is for them to move to a bigger venue I don’t know New Jersey enough to know to even were to start looking for that place is. And whenever you change venues you risk a chunk of your attendees not following you to your new location. AI’m sure some tweaks could be made to optimize the layout and event distribution but that would merely alleviate some of the problems. The design and distribution of events is optimized to the point there are very few changes you could make to significantly make things more efficient (if you could at all).
Really at this point there are only two options for 2014. The first to merely to deal with it and accept that there are going to be compromises with putting a ten pound event in a nine pound bag. Or they will have to institute attendance caps which is never a popular decision and limits the growth of the convention.
But I’m sure this point is something that the senior staff at AnimeNEXT is debating all the time. I just wanted to mention this was the first year I really noticed it. I was vaguely aware of it last year but this year I seriously felt it.
The other major negative was completely out of AnimeNEXT’s control and that was the whole 2ImageSolutions incident. As far as I can tell the AnimeNEXT staff went out of their way to handle the complaints fairly for both sides. I’m sad that such an incident had to sully the reputation of such wonderful event.
I oddly enough did not even notice those hug pillows. The only time I noticed the booth was when Ink was teasing me about a Saber hug pillow. Also if you want to see people who have thrown away what little humanity they have left just read the comments of the horrible monsters who posted on the article I linked to above.
Now that I have those things off my chest I had nothing but praise for the event. This years guests were top notch. Sayo Yamamoto alone would have made the convention worthwhile. While she does not have a huge directorial resume what she has done clearly makes her a name to watch out for. The fact that Hiroshi Shimizu who has a resume a long as a long as the Nile does not hurt. I sadly did not get to see Hiro Usuda but she was a wonderful guest because she was a good draw to video games fans that still had a strong connection to manga that did not make her feel like a kludge. Also I know a lot of people were super excited to see a BNF like Mike Toole. It gave the lineup an energetic feel that industry only guests sometimes lack. Any complaints I had about who they were able to get last year were addressed in full. A splendid return to form.
Despite one bad egg aside the dealer’s room and artist alley were strong this year. I actually bought something despite my limited budget. I’m usually able to resist the lure of swag but all the new Shonan Junai Gumi volumes for 20 dollars was not even a decision I had to think about. There were a few other items that caught my eye but I had already burnt through my discretionary cash. The fact that Animemiz gave me a Tsukihime Plus Period artbook she found dirt cheap in Bookoff during her trip to Japan meant my Type-Moon itch was sufficiently scratched. (The fact that they have yet to make any Mysterious Heroine X figures probably helps with my iron will quite a bit.)
The artist alley was also in full swing. Since Narutaki was unable to attend this year I was her personal shopper. Unlike last year were I had VERY particular items I was requested to buy this time I sort of went with my heart on what I picked for her. I got three Attack on Titan buttons, three Kuroko’s Basketball buttons, and a Sherlock bookmark. There was a table with doujinshi that caught my eye. It had a fairly wide selection of titles and books with a good range of content from simple and clean to pornographic. I was tempted to buy Narutaki their Professor Layton X Emmy Altava book but I decided instead to spend her money on several items instead of one. They also had a Umineko book at that same table that caught my eye but I had already made my spending choices for the weekend.
The panel selection was also really strong. I sent more time not doing anything because the panels I went to were full more than not really wanting to go to anything. Those are some Otakon styled problems I like to have. I did notice that there were several panels I have seen someone do in the past that were now being done by someone else. It is hardly an unheard of phenomenon but it happened more often than I expected as young pups did their own take on panels they have enjoyed in the past. How much the new panels exceeded or fell short of their progenitors varied but it was good to know that I should not assume these panels were the same material I had seen before unless I knew otherwise.
I did notice that there was no real super dominant series being cosplayed this year. The number of The Legend of Korra, Adventure Time, and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic cosplayers were radically less than last year. I guess Season three of MLP really killed a lot of the enthusiasm for that show. Homestuck was still present but it was not the same level of craze it was last year. As far as I could tell no non-anime show really took its place as king of the hill. Also while there were several people in Three Dimensional Maneuver Gear it seems the Attack on Titan is just new enough and the outfits complex enough that the show was not out in full force despite how popular it was. It was not like there was less cosplay this year. It was just a more diverse since nothing has popped out as the new hotness that kicks everything else to the curb.
Reverse Thieves is hardly Fast Karate but I figured I should mention that we tried Stuff Yer Face on Sunday on the recommendation of the former Rutgers students. It is distinctly a place for college students to get their party on but their stromboli sandwiches are as thick as a brick. I had a small one and I did not need dinner which was quite helpful on my trip home. They also potachos which were thick kettle chips with nacho toppings. A brilliant idea all in all. It was a little drive to get there but it made a great place to go after the con to unwind. I will mention their graphic design on their menu would probably have made Narutaki cry tears of blood.
I know that Narutaki went back and forth about attending AnimeNEXT several times this year. There were times I was sure she was coming but then it seemed equally likely that she was not. In the end time and finances made her bow out but I think she really missed out. If the guests next year are as solid and fun like they were this time I am sure both Reverse Thieves will attend. It might be a little crowded but that is because a consistently quality event will draw people to it.
Other AnimeNEXT 2013 Coverage: