I went into AnimeNEXT this year with some pretty high expectations. Last year was the convention’s first year at a new venue so it had the prerequisite amount of growing pains. You never really understand the limits, quirks, trouble areas, and true potential of a space until you have spent at least a year at the site. Theory is all well and good but strategy always changes when the rubber hits the road. That said you expect the second year to run much smoother. Overall the first year ran rather smoothly with some notable hiccups which I mentioned in my previous report. This year sadly was not a major improvement. It was not as if nothing had improved. It is mostly that the things that went wrong were different. For every needed improvement that was implemented another egregious problem popped up. Much like the Little Dutch Boy, they have plugged many of the holes in the dike but in turn, a slew of new problems have appeared.
My second trip to Atlantic City has reaffirmed my impression that Atlantic City just has a vibe of depressing resignation. It always feels like a city that has been told in only has a month left to live. The city tries to put on a brave face but it is obvious that it is just waiting for death. There is just a haze of gloom and ennui that makes the whole town feel like a fallen empire. Overall it is not the worst city for the convention to be in. The area gets the job done but is otherwise less than ideal. The Convention Center is still rather nice but unlike the previous two venues, I will hardly have any feelings of loss when AnimeNEXT changes locations.
I do wonder if mailing out badges is in the cards for AnimeNEXT. Overall from what I saw of the registration line, it seemed that people were processed fairly quickly. The staff members processing the badges had flags to wave to let people on the line know that they are free. That said it took a while for anyone in the line to get processed mostly just due to the sheer number of people who had to be processed. I know that mailing out badges it an extra layer of complexity and cost but all it takes it one major computer problem and you can get the New Jersey equivalent of the Otakon 2014 registration disaster. The more the convention grows the more it will make sense for them to start mailing out badges. If I were in charge of AnimeNEXT I would do it sooner rather than later. I won’t claim to know costs involved that might make it less than viable but it seems like a way to cut off a problem before it occurs.
My biggest problem with AnimeNEXT this year was the panels. I’m not talking about the content. Most of the panelist were extremely well prepared, informative, and entertaining. There were some stinkers but I will get to those in the panels post. Most of what I saw was very good. The problem was that the organization around the panels was horrible. I myself did not really have any major problems. New Anime for Older Fans sort of got thrown in a Friday night death slot after a Voice Actress After Dark panel but that is not really a mistake. I would have liked a better time but someone has to get placed in the awkward slots. The actual horror stories came with other panelists I talked to.
First of all, panels could only have 40 characters worth of description due to a bug with the form. Some people later submitted revised descriptions but only some of them found their way into the programming book and Guidebook app. So there were many panels that only had a tiny description if they had one at all. On top of that, most of the panels were accepted uncomfortably close to the day the convention started not giving panelists a huge amount of time to work on their panels. Also, the person in charge of panels was not really communicative. I know that the people behind the Falling Down the Byston Well panel asked for the panel to be canceled and it was still on the schedule. Also, the When Gundam Came to Hollywood panel had its time changed but it was only changed in the Guidebook at the last second. When a panel is wrong in the physical booklet there is nothing that can be done. They have to be printed weeks before the convention. The Guidebook is amazingly simple to update. There is no real excuse for these corrections only happening at the last second.
I know fan panels are hardly the first and foremost priority for the convention but this was unacceptable. AnimeNEXT usually runs that block rather tightly so I was extremely saddened to see them so poorly run this year. I heard there were some unavoidable circumstances behind the scenes with the panels so I assume this year was mostly just a fluke. I hope next year will run a little more like the AnimeNEXT I have come to know and love.
But beyond that, there also seemed to be a larger problem that different departments did not seem to be communicating as much as they should. I just remember waiting around for interviews and staff asking me more questions about what they should be doing considering I was just a random member of the press. I know that only see a small slice of the convention but I felt that the ship felt a little looser than it had in the past. It was nothing that caused major problems but it did make everything feel a bit less professional than usual.
Another random thought speaking of the press was the lack of people interviewing the Japanese guests. I was very surprised by the very small number of people who showed up to interview the Japanese guests. When I can tell you the birthdays of everyone who spoke to a Japanese guest you can tell it was a small number of people who showed up for them. The interviews were open to anyone with a press pass so it was not as if they were only letting a chosen few people talk to the Japanese guests. It is worth noting that the panels with the Japanese guests were well attended. Since they made sure that their panels mentioned what shows they worked on their fans turned out to fill the rooms. This made the lack of interest by the press doubly curious.
The WiFi situation at Atlantic City Convention Center was interesting. So last year the only place I could get free WiFi was by the train station connected to the convention center. It let me update the schedule in Guidebook whenever I arrived which was super helpful because the hotel I was staying out did not have free WiFi. This year there was a free WiFi option in the convention center proper. The only problem is the coverage was hardly universal. You could connect to it in most of the hallways but not most of the rooms. This meant that messages over LINE would usually pop up as I left a panel. If wanted to use the paid Internet that coverage was universal although I assume it was rather pricey. That said the free WiFi was super convenient. It only took a modicum of effort to be connected wish is all I really ask. I don’t need a perfect connection I just need it not to be a Herculean task. If the convention center keeps it with the level of WiFi going forward I am more than pleased.
While this really only affects me I will mention I really do miss having Kate at the convention. I knew she could not attend last year but it I hoped this year would be different. Sadly various circumstances conspired to prevent her coming again. Her insights into Artists Alley, different events and panels, and the minutiae of the event are competently unlike mine and really add these con reports. Plus I always have more fun whenever she is around. Hopefully, she will be able to attend next year to improve everyone’s experience.
I am a little worried that this post makes it seem like a had a terrible time at AnimeNEXT. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had a blast this year. The guests were still those Japanese production staff that I love but other conventions may ignore. The panels were top-notch and many were still as good as anything you see at Otakon. I think that when you read the next two posts that will become abundantly clear. At this point, I feel my love for AnimeNEXT has been established by years of convention reports. This year I wanted to highlight the rougher patches up front so their third year In Atlantic City will be the first year they really make the space their own. I know they can do it and I look forward to seeing if I am correct in 2018.
Other AnimeNEXT 2017 Coverage: