AnimeNEXT 2014: General Impressions

narutaki_icon_4040 Hello, AnimeNEXT, I missed you! My last AnimeNEXT was 2011 so it was great to return to a convention that I have attended since it was still in its toddler phase.

Not only has there been attendance growth during my absence but also some expansive of the panel space. Despite both these things, AnimeNEXT remains an intimate and more relaxed con experience which I have always considered one of its best features.

Though we were so busy that we didn’t end up having time to record a podcast during the event!

hisui_icon_4040 I think listening to the most recent Ani-Gamers podcast about FanimeCon 2014 made me realize how atypical my con experience can be. The standard stereotype is that it is the younger con goers spend all their days hanging out, engaging in debauchery, go the occasional event like the masquerade, and maybe randomly popping into a panel more out of a desire to break up their lazy schedule than any interest in content. While that is hardly a totally unfounded concept it is also clearly a stereotype. First of all as the podcast shows it is not only the teen attendees that make that the whole of their convention experience. Secondly if the content is strong and can sell itself then the people will come.

I feel like that has always been AnimeNEXT’s strengths. They stay fairly on focus when it comes to having programming that is anime, manga, or at least Japanese culture related. They go out of their way to attract presenters who deliver good material. Most of all the go out of their way to attract creative Japanese guests in a way that even some of the bigger conventions don’t bother to do. In a way I think that creates a positive feedback loop. The increased high level Japanese guests draws a higher level of panelists which in turns brings attendees that are more interested in both. These attendees then go on to run their own quality panels and ask for Japanese guests. In fact AnimeNEXT continued that trend by having even more featured panelists and bringing over Japanese guests who actually packed the biggest panel rooms.

That does not make every attendee have the same experience as I do but it does make the convention somewhere I love to attend every year. This year is no exception. The only thing that made it better was having Kate with me again. I can have a good time without her as a traveling companion but I always have more fun when she is there.

narutaki_icon_4040 AnimeNEXT still makes its home at the Garden State Exhibit Center with the connected Double Tree hotel which houses panel and smaller rooms, and the Holiday Inn giving its space for video and game rooms. This year the 3rd hotel in the area Hotel Somerset-Bridgewater also had panels, a new experiment.

In true con fashion, on Friday no one knew what was going on with the new space and many people had no idea where it was leading to one-third full panels. By Saturday word seemed to have gotten around and people had their bearings a bit more thankfully. The new space itself was great to have and the rooms were a good size for the panels.

It is funny, the spaces for the actual events seem to be about the right size. The biggest problem really arises with the lines for said events.
Also having the main events, dealer’s room, and artist alley all sharing air space leads to unbelievable noise levels. While I loved the ROOKiEZ IS PUNK’D concert immensely, it was unnecessarily loud so I can imagine it was felt throughout the convention center.

hisui_icon_4040 If anyone who is not AnimeNEXT staff remembers my main complaint last year was the fact that the convention is far too big for its current venue. It even got to the point that the main events area of the DoubleTree had to be shut down twice. This year it was clear that the staff was determined to make sure that did not happen again.

First of all they were a bit more dictatorial about anyone who tried to loiter in hallway in front of panel rooms on the lobby floor. You could quickly cut through or stop for water but lingering any longer than that usually got you chased away right quick. I heard a few people grumble about it but I think it was needed. I know people like to rest there in the air conditioning before and after going to see all the cosplay on the lawn in that area but I would rather people be slightly inconvenienced then that section be closed down. That said you could still enter the area. I passed through several times without a problem. I only saw them really make people move on is when they try to make the hallway a hangout.

That said it did mean there were no problems with that hallway. Since they did not let anyone stand in the area that meant that everyone who was lined up for the big panel rooms had to wait out in the sun. As it is June the weather is very nice for walking around casually. The problem that same warm weather and bright sun takes a toll when your waiting in line. My roommate did get a very mild case of heat stroke waiting for the Studio Trigger panel. It was not enough to make him pass out but it did wipe him out enough that he did not stay for Sunday. I’m not saying they need to let everyone wait inside but they might want to either set up something to provide shade or maybe give out some water to people waiting in the heat.

The other way they tried to alleviate crowding were the new panel rooms at the Somerset-Bridgewater. That did help thin out the crowds a bit. With a second building filled with people waiting for panels or going to the LARP and RPG rooms. The convention was still very busy but the new rooms helped keep the crowds from being utterly unmanageable. The real problem was that like with any new building added to a convention not everyone could find easily. I did overhear several people needing directions or just giving up when they could not find the second hotel. By the end of Friday there was a little trail of signage to the new rooms but it was only a real path at the end of the day. While it was amusing to slowly see the number of signs grow as time went but they really needed that from the start.

Most of that was unavoidable. While it provided a necessary release valve it always takes a year for most people to learn where in new addition is. That said poor signage had no excuse. As anyone who has working in public service will tell you people ignore signs all the time. The thing is not everyone does that. The better the signage the less people getting lost you have.

narutaki_icon_4040 There were definitely more people at AnimeNEXT than the last time I attended, but at the same time things still haven’t made it to can’t-breath levels inside the venues. This might be due to nearly every line being put outside, which is a whole other can of worms.

It actually worked pretty well since the weather was nice for the weekend. Though standing out in 80+ degrees for more than 30 minutes is just asking for disaster. But there is literally nowhere else to put queue lines, there is no space for it. Proving without a doubt just how much the convention has grown and is actually on the verge of out-growing the place if it hasn’t already.

Line control was also a mixed bag. Outside they seemed to be pretty aware, keeping everyone in order and twisting the line this way and that when necessary. But once your part of the line got inside it was chaos, especially in the main event’s area. Because the line for main events runs right through the center of the convention center, there are people milling around everywhere. I don’t have a good solution for the main event’s line, but it is just terrible as is.

15-minute breaks between panels was very helpful for a number of reasons. First, this was the first year there was mandatory room clearing after every event. The breaks also help alleviate some of the crush of people trying to get in and out of all the rooms. And of course it gave panelists some breathing room for the inevitable tech problem, late panelist, etc. I know we were able to put the time to good use by answering questions after our panels.

hisui_icon_4040 My general con advice about not unnecessarily waiting in lines except for very specific events was incorrect this time around. It was not as bad as I thought it would be. I did miss two panels because I did not get in line on time. But this was not the worst thing in the world. First of all both panels I missed was because I started chatting with people and decided not to get in line and by the time I did I was too late to get into the panel. If I had used my press privilege or broken off hanging out I could have gotten into the panels but I think spent my time well. Also how crazy is it that there were many panels that had to turn people away. On Saturday night almost every panel room in the  Double Tree was packed. As someone who has always wished more people would take an interest in panels this is actually a good thing.

It is not all a love of panels and learning that is causing this. Part of it does have to do with the convention center being slowly less appropriate for a growing convention like AnimeNEXT. At first I was worried AnimeNEXT was going to be like NYCC. If you wanted to get into anything remotely popular you had to line up a half an hour in advance at minimum. Last year is was beginning to get difficult to get into panels. This year there were even more attendees. The extra space at the Somerset-Bridgewater helped stave off the Absolute Destiny Apocalypse but the question is for how long. The convention is growing and that does not seem like it will be stopping anytime soon. Next year I’m sure more people will have discovered the second panel area on top of the fact that there will even be more people.

This year was a good quick fix but it cannot last forever. It is more a temporary patch than a solution. It also worked decently because the weather was nice. If it were pouring rain like last year I don’t think I would have been as happy with this answer. The con needs to move to a bigger venue and the sooner the better. Either that or they are going to have to start capping the tickets. I really don’t want to see the convention restrict itself. More attendees theoretically means the more great things so I really hope they can find a new location in the area that will help the convention grow and expand.

narutaki_icon_4040 The events were really a great mix this year from Studio Trigger panels to the two concerts to the featured panelists. It really made the con feel robust and reminded me how much growing AnimeNEXT has done. I feel like it doesn’t get a lot of notice by those not in the immediate area, but it has a lot to offer.

I had little problems getting into all the great events too, rarely needing to bust out press privileges. And each one left me with a good feelings, though sometimes I felt exhausted by the end.

Even without Studio Trigger staff as guests, I’d imagine Kill la Kill would have still been the prevailing winner for most cosplay at AnimeNEXT. Other popular ones were not too surprising: Attack on Titan and Sailor Moon. I personally rejoiced at the many Fire Emblem costumes I saw, I hope that trend continues on to Otakon. I also noted a lessening of popular cartoon cosplay like Adventure Time and My Little Pony.

I enjoy that at AnimeNEXT I have a bit more type to wandering around looking at all the costumes. I don’t attend the masquerade but I still enjoy seeing all the efforts put in around the convention.

hisui_icon_4040 The dealer’s room was mostly the normal things you see every year with one major exception. Normally the section has good selection of anime, manga, and assorted merchandise. While AnimeNEXT’s dealer’s room is only a fraction of something like Otakon’s it does have one or two unique dealers that don’t have items you can just get off the Internet. There is always the one table with some older and more obscure items as well as a table with boxes of animation cells. But the real stand out dealer was Galaxxxy. They are a decently well-known Japanese fashion company and they were selling some upscale anime t-shirts. While they were very stylish they were also rather expensive. I know some of the shirts easily cost 90 dollars. I could never buy something like that even is it has Saber on it. I just know how my fortune works. I would be covered in “don’t spill this on an expensive Dirty Pair shirt” ink by the end of the day. I know that several people not cursed by a King’s Jewel did happily pick put some clothing from that booth including some Studio Trigger themed shirts. While they were a bit too rich for my blood they did add a very unique character to the dealer’s room that set it part from your local convention.

narutaki_icon_4040 I was very happy to return to AnimeNEXT this year and hope to not miss anymore in the future! I only attended Friday and Saturday, but it wore me out just like Otakon does.

I do hope to see the convention move to a bigger space in the near future. I think convention and the staff have made great strides and really deserve to grow and get noticed!

hisui_icon_4040 Xan from the Spiraken Manga Review podcast recently asked me what I thought of AnimeNEXT 2014 compared to other years and so that question has been running around in my head since then. My answer would be that this was not my favorite year but it was a rather spectacular experience. While this year’s Japanese guests were not Kenji Kamiyama or Sayo Yamamoto they were still rather amazing. If anything my only observation would be we saw SO MUCH exclusive-never -seen -before Kill la Kill and Studio Trigger material that we did not get to learn as much about Hiromi Wakabayashi or Shigeto Koyama as individual artists. That cannot even be called a complaint. I enjoyed the musical acts has a great time at both concerts. The panel line up was strong and I always had something to do. I only really ate before I left for the con and after I finished my activities for the day. That sort of consistent engagement is worth its weight in gold.

It was definitely an experience that had flaws, miscommunications, and errors but the few flaws were greatly outweighed by the King’s ransom of positives. I look forward to 2015’s show. I can’t say if it will be better or worse than this year but I do know it will have some informative guests, solid programming, and a relaxed but professional attitude that will keep me coming back year after year.

Other AnimeNEXT 2014 Coverage:

AnimeNEXT 2014: Tweets
AnimeNEXT 2014: Studio Trigger
AnimeNEXT 2014: Artist Alley
AnimeNEXT 2014: Concerts
AnimeNEXT 2014: Panels
The Speakeasy #054: Garden State Julep, AnimeNEXT 2014

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