AnimeNEXT 2015: General Impressions

hisui_icon_4040 Moving is rarely an easy choice. Sometimes life gives you no options and it can be a very beneficial in the long run but that does not make it something you do lightly. First of all you have to find a new place to live which can be herculean task in of itself as you have to find something that fits in your budget while possibly accommodating the circumstances that made you move in the first place. Moving also throws off your whole routine as all you have to relearn where to do all your daily tasks in a new location. Also the number of people who visit you change radically because  of your new neighborhood. Some people might visit you more because your closer but others might be more hesitant to come by now that it is an inconvenience. On top of that the move it self just takes time, money, and energy which is usually in precious short supply because you are moving in the first place.

All of what I mentioned above for an individual moving is doubly true for a convention. So when AnimeNEXT announced it was moving this year it clearly was not simple choice but the fact of the mater was it was one that needed to be made. It is not a case where their current rate of growth indicated that they would need to move in a few years. AnimeNEXT is currently bursting at the seems. Little patches like the using the Hotel Somerset-Bridgewater to help alleviate some of the crowding created a whole different array of problems in turn. While using three different buildings helped a bit it also made everything far more complicated. The fact of the matter is that AnimeNEXT needed to move last year. You can debate if the location the convention is moving to is the best choice fairly convincingly. The fact you can’t debate was if the move was needed in the first place.

But the move is not until 2016. There was a very exciting and vibrant convention at the Garden State Exhibit Center this year to talk about.

narutaki_icon_4040 AnimeNEXT is a big con on the East Coast with an attendance of more than 14,500 over the weekend. It lauds big creators, voice actors, and musical guests. It has an outstanding panel selection. And yet, it still feels like a relatively unknown con in nearby New Jersey. All that is about to change in 2016, but for 2015 it still remained the best kept secret.

hisui_icon_4040 There is my free cosplay idea for AnimeNEXT 2016 and beyond: Dress as the Angry Sun from Super Mario 3. When people question what your costume is just tell them your dressed as “The Sun fromAnimeNEXT 2015.” It will be a fairly good representation of the weather this year. I will say thatAnimeNEXT did their best with the outside lines in the heat. We were in Con Ops when they wheeled in something like 6 pallets of water to give out for people standing in line. But really that is all you can do when the situation is that nasty.

Then again it could have been raining. That would have been distinctly worse. But that is generally beyond the control of the convention (unless you be believe that rumor that Vince Averello finally wrested the final three pieces of his Weather Dominator way from GI Joe.)

My biggest personal complaint has to be the lines in the Bridgewater. Last year the problem was that far too many people did not know where the Bridgewater was. This year more people knew what was up thanks to better signage, clearer room markings, and just the general collective experience of the convention staff and attendees.

In turn this created its own problems. Because there were more people in the Bridgewater they stopped people from lining up for panels until 10 minutes before they started. It was mostly to keep the traffic flowing and prevent fire code violations. The problem was this just caused people to hover around the lobby and repeatedly try to form a line for any popular panel. It is sort of the same situation you saw with autographs at Otakon.

It made getting into panels in general rather awkward, slightly a matter of a mix of chance and perseverance, and generally annoying. I’m not really blaming AnimeNEXT for this. It is not as if there was a much better solution to the problem. It is more proof that AnimeNEXT had outgrown its current location.

A common complaint I heard was the low-level staff seemed woefully ignorant this year. I myself never really needed to ask questions thanks to the Guidebook app but in general conversations complaints about the regular staff came often more often that usual. Most conventions have volunteers in their grunt positions. This includes professional conventions like NYCC and SDCC have volunteers doing most of grunt work. That mostly means that you can get an extremely variable quality of staff. The problem this year was the training on the low-level staff seemed to be miserably meager. If you got a person in a yellow shirt you almost always got solid answers, constant policies, and smart choices. On the other hand the people under them often seemed wildly ignorant about anything outside of their department, only slightly better with matters inside their own job, and were often inconsistent with choices made overall. I personally saw horribly managed lines, a near inability to answer simple questions, and rules being enforced radially differently throughout the day.

I always hear some amount of grumbling about the staff. That is just the nature of something as big and complex as AnimeNEXT. It was really noteworthy because I have never seen it be so commonplace.

I also would like to note I never saw any staff member be extremely rude, belligerent, or dismissive. They often were working very hard to do their jobs and do them well. I think it reflects on a greater need for more (or better) training of new staff more than the people doing the jobs not being able to do them well.

narutaki_icon_4040 We got a very early start on Friday morning but there was already a line snaking completely around the Garden State Exhibitor Center long before the opening bell rang. It also remained that long quite late into the day. And this line seemed to create the biggest complaints all weekend. There was a spike in people showing up early on Friday which the staff was not prepared for. The heat of Friday, the worst day over the weekend with humidity and 90+ degree temperatures, only compounded the problem. Kudos for AnimeNEXT for handing out water to any long lines outside which had become the standard as the con grew.

Despite the crowd growing so very much, big events like the FLOW concert and the Studio Trigger panel were accessible. The same can’t be said for many panels as the rooms varied wildly in size. At least good to see more people in panel rooms overall I think. Size was a major issue for the Artist Alley and, to a lesser extent, the Dealer’s Room. But all size complaints are moot at this point.

Organization wise this year felt like a step back. There was little in the way of signage, centralized maps, or specified places for lines, and the list goes on. I heard more than one hardworking staffer whose voice was strained from yelling out instructions or information for the hundredth time. I always feel like using white board or making large posters is fairly easy and straight-forward so I don’t know why these things aren’t implemented.

The attendees themselves seemed to be having a great time even with the unbearable heat at points. Was it my good luck or did it seem like more people had gotten the memo about not stopping to take pictures in the middle of the walkways?

This was one of those years where there wasn’t one show that dominated the cosplay. Attack on Titan seemed to have leveled-out to normal territory, but that will change when more anime comes out I’m sure. I was surprised to see so many people dressed as Sakura, with a handful of the other characters making appearances as well, from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. I saw my first PreCure cosplayers! And there was a good amount of people walking around as Kuroko’s Basketball, Haikyu!!, and Yowamushi Pedal characters.

hisui_icon_4040 The only consistent thing about people’s reaction to the move was that no one had the exact same reaction. First of all you closer you are to Atlantic City the happier you usually were. If the were a local to the Somerset area then you had a much better chance to have some major reservations about the changes in venues. The most common complaint I heard were that parts of Atlantic City are majorly sketchy and overall the city has a run down vibe. Beyond that it is considered a bit more remote.

First of all I would like to mention that this weekend made me acutely aware that I have no real conception of the geography of New Jersey. I generally imagine the state as a strange amalgam of my impressions from The SopranosNothing but Trouble, and the Jersey Shore. Oh and somewhere in there has to be the Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. I was approached by two very nice people about attending other conventions in New Jersey. The problem is they would mention the town where there convention was casually and I would mostly stare at them like a deer trapped in the headlights. I assume the average person at the convention would instantly know where they were talking about. To me they might have well been talking about rural towns in Swaziland. That means you should probably take anything with a grain of salt. I am hardly an expert on New Jersey.

To me the choice of Atlantic City seems like a smart move. They really need a bigger venue. The three hotels with a convention center between them is not really working that effectively and it is only going to get worse as the convention gets bigger. The new space will let the convention grow at a far more comfortable rate. Atlantic City seems a bit more of a destination city for guests and attendees.

Also it seems, like good colleges, the larger anime conventions seem to be in neighborhoods that are OK but the area surrounding them are not anywhere you want to wander around in at night. Otakon is moving from the fairly infamous Baltimore to the former murder capital of the United States is a prime example. Ever since Anime Expo moved out of Anaheim, California I only hear people complaining about the area around the Los Angeles Convention Center. They are both great conventions despite their somewhat sketchy locations  so I can’t see AnimeNEXT being any different. It is just another convention where you probably don’t want to casually wander around outside of the general area looking for adventure.

narutaki_icon_4040 I’m not familiar with AC but it sounds like the right move for the con and a way to get more people to travel for it. The trip from NYC makes it more of a commitment however, so I don’t think I’ll be attending their first AC show, but I hope to go back soon.

The con is great, the heat is not. We’ve certainly gotten used to the weather, after all this is June on the East Coast. But I don’t imagine anyone will miss having to walk outside so much.

hisui_icon_4040 If there is only one rule in life it is that change is inevitable. Changes maybe be cyclical or repetitive but they are changes none the less. I remember when AnimeNEXT was at the Meadowlands Exposition Center. It was a short bus ride from Manhattan to the convention. Kate and I really enjoyed the fact that we could make AnimeNEXT a commuter con if we wanted to. When it moved we were sad but the benefits from the move proved that it was for the best in the long run. It let AnimeNEXT expands the number of guests it could get, panels it could run (and the number of people they could hold), and events it could run concurrently. The transition was not perfect but when everything fell out it was clear the move’s benefits outweighed the negatives.

I don’t see this being any different.

Now all we have to do is experience the same moving pains with Otakon in 2017. But as I said, change is inevitable.

narutaki_icon_4040 AnimeNEXT was my first major con with a smartphone. It is the dawn of a new era. Or something. I never doubted I would find it convenient, but I didn’t find myself using it overly much which is the way I like it. It was certainly better for tweeting and made looking up guest information a breeze.

As always, AnimeNEXT impresses me with their generous nature towards fans. I have gotten to know a number of the staff over the years and experience the growth of the con. I look forward to the next phase of AnimeNEXT as it makes its big move.

Other AnimeNEXT 2015 Coverage:

AnimeNEXT 2015: Tweets
AnimeNEXT 2015: Trigger
Crime Scene Investigations #008: AnimeNEXT 2015
AnimeNEXT 2015: Artist Alley
AnimeNEXT 2015: FLOW Concert
AnimeNEXT 2015: Panels

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