AnimeNEXT has moved several times since it started. I remember the incredible convenience of the Meadowlands Exposition Center and the apprehension of the move to the Garden State Exhibit Center. In the end the move was let the convention grow into one of the major players in the community of East coast anime conventions. In fact that growth eventually meant that even the Garden State Exhibit Center was far too small for what AnimeNEXT would become. The last few years have felt like ten pounds of convention in an eight pound bag. While it was clear that a move was needed again the same anxieties popped up again. Would the new venue be too far away? Would the area be conducive to the convention? Would the fans make the move with the event? Will we somehow be able to see Kenjiro Hata as a guest at an American convention?
I know these were just questions I was wondering. I also ran into people at both Castle Point Anime Convention, Anime Fan Fest, and the Internet who were all asking the same questions. I heard equal amounts of trepidation, enthusiasm, and apathy. But all of the talk was just idle speculation mixed with more than a little emphasis on self-interested perspectives. The real test would come with the first weekend in Atlantic City. Now that I am back from AnimeNext 2016 I can help decide if the move was good idea or a bit of a misstep.
OK, most people were not asking about Kenjiro Hata but you get my point.
My quick analysis of AnimeNEXT 2016 is that while it had some rough patches, growing pains, and little hiccups but my main take away was that everything about the Convention Center was an improvement over the Garden State Exhibit Center and had some major room for growth on top of that. It was pretty much the ideal situation for a move like this. I can only hope that Otakon’s move to DC is at least half a positive as this move.
As much as I have an overall praise for the move I will say that Atlantic City itself is not an upgrade over Somerset. I would not say that Atlantic City is a bad neighborhood but it feels like a sad neighborhood. As someone who lives in NYC I never felt like I was in danger but it was obviously a much poorer city than Somerset. It is somewhere between the vibe I got the first more time I went to Otakon in Baltimore and the far clearer vibe that Baltimore has now when Otakon is in town. It is the sort of area where you don’t have to travel in a group a night but you feel much more comfortable when you do.
Also everything seems sort of pricey despite that. There a quite a few clothing stores and various other outlet stores around the casinos and convention center. There were some nice places to eat but if you wanted anything like a convenience or drug store you had to walk quite a bit. It was hardly a deal breaker but it made it inconvenient if you forgot anything at home or just wanted a small snack. There might have been some places hidden away just outside my purview but I will save that sort of exploration for next year. We did learn about the White House Sub Shop but only on Sunday. They are HUGE subs if you just need a log of meat, bread, and cheese the size of your leg.
I was also a little annoyed but the utter lack of signs on panel rooms. While the rooms were very easy to find since all you had to do was search for a number there was nothing outside of them that told you what was going on inside. Normally there is some sign or sandwich board that has the schedule of events in the room but there was nothing of the sort here. Considering there were a good deal of schedule changes it would have been very helpful to be able to go up to a room and see if anything has changed. I know that at this point most people just use the Guidebook for such updates but it is a simple bit of redundancy for anyone who did not have the app or just forgot to check. I know that over a dozen people showed up for the Every Con Until You Like It: A Nasuverse Fan Panel only to find out that it had been switched with the AnimeNEXT: 15 Years OF Convention panel. A little schedule outside the door would have not stopped all of those people but it might have helped a few of them for a minuscule amount of effort.
Also the line control left a bit to be desired. When lines were sort most things worked out well. It was just that the longer the line the more problems they were likely to have. There were several points where multiple lines for the same room formed, two lines would smash into each other, and lines were twist themselves into odd shapes as they tried to mold themselves into the area. Part of it was clearly the convention getting used to the new space so by Sunday the problems where no where as bad. I’m mostly curious how much of the learning done this year will transfer over to 2017 and how much will have to be relearned very year.
After all my complaining I can get into what was great about AnimeNEXT. I was very impressed at the improvements they made to registration. It started about a half an hour late on Thursday but the second the engine started up it moved like clockwork. I was impressed how quickly they were able to process the line. I could not pick up my badge until Friday but I waited on the line while I waited to check into my hotel room. Once the line started moving in earnest I was soon by the front on the line. It was exactly the sort of turn over you need with a convention of AnimeNEXT’s size.
The best part about Atlantic City Convention Center was how simple and convenient it made everything. The odyssey that was traversing multiple buildings several of which were a decent distance from each other for the last few conventions was hardly fun. Going back and forth over that windswept bridge between Hotel Bridgewater-Somerset and DoubleTree for panels was no one’s idea of a good time especially when the heat or the rain was pouring down on you. It was so nice to have everything in one building where it was simple to move between panels, the dealer’s room, the gaming rooms, and main events without having to go outside or need a guide to tell you where everything is. The convention center is even attached to the New Jersey Transit station.
Also it was very clear that AnimeNEXT could stay here for several years with steady growth and not have to worry about moving. While there was always a steady stream of people around you always had room to move. The panels never filled up but were always well attended, the dealer’s room had choke points but never felt like a cattle pen, and you could get from one room on the top right of the convention center and get to the bottom left without having to double your travel time due to crowd congestion. That feeling was quite nice after the last two years.
Overall the nuts and bolts of the convention were equally good. I feel the panel selection was still strong. The fact that the panel are well curated and bolstered by featured panelists made it that I always had something to do. The mixture of a manga-ka, anime production staff, musical acts, and American guests always make AnimeNEXT 2016 feel like they are on the same level as a convention like Otakon or Anime Expo even if they are slightly smaller. I will talk more about the guests and panels in their own posts but they both were the legs that were the rock solid support to my enjoyment of the event.
Here is a simple story that sums it all up:
When my roommate and I first arrived at the Atlantic City Convention Center I was a little worried. It seemed like AnimeNEXT 2016 might have been the worst case scenario. We arrived around four and preregistration pick up did not start until six but no one was in front of the convention center. If have ever been to an anime convention (or most nerd conventions for that matter) you will know that people line up for things hour in advance regardless of how necessary it is. So when we did not see a line we wondered if the turn out for AnimeNEXT after the move to Atlantic City was going to be greatly diminished. Then we stepped inside the building and saw the huge line of otaku waiting for their badges.
Right. The line for registration was going to happen inside the convention this year. The turn out was strong, registration seemed improved from last year, and it seems like AnimeNext 2016 was going to be as good if not better than last year.
At that point we realized everything was going to be A-OK.
Other AnimeNEXT 2016 Coverage:
AnimeNEXT 2016: Guests
AnimeNEXT 2016: Panels
The Speakeasy #078: A Trip to AnimeNEXT, Hamacon, and Japan