NYC is like a famous wild west gunslinger when it comes to anime conventions. Everyone knows if they can beat the top dog they are guaranteed to be famous. So many organizations have challenged the Jesse James of cities and just as many have been defeated. Big Apple Anime Fest, New York Anime Festival, and Waku Waku NYC all sleep in anime convention Boot Hill but the dream still lives on for others. Many fans continue to hope that New York City could have regularly occurring anime centered convention. While New York Comic Con often has an anime and manga guest or two alongside some anime panels it is merely a bit of spice in a much larger hodgepodge. Despite some unique difficulties, NYC would make the perfect location for an anime convention. The trick is figuring out how to make it work.
Anime NYC is the latest event to try to make its claim in the Big Apple. It has a decent pedigree which makes it a strong contender. Much of the staff that worked on the convention were former staff from New York Comic Con so they have a good idea of how to run a nerdy event in the city. I mentioned they have a good bunch of postmortems to see what has and has not worked before now. Plus the area around the Jacob Javits is slowly getting more accessible.
In its first year, AnimeNYC welcomed over 20,000 fans. That was an incredible feat for a first-year con. The experienced showrunners correctly predicted that an anime-focused con was still wanted here in the New York City. And plans are already underway for 2018.
The first thing that stands out about the convention was their use of the Jacob Javits. As it was a first-year anime event there was no way they were going to be able to use the whole convention center. They mostly used the southern half of the convention center but even then it was not even all of that. Since they consolidated a lot of the normal parts of a convention I know we were worried that having the Expo Hall right next to the panel rooms sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. I have been to conventions where its hard to hear the panels with the constant din of the dealer’s room drowning everything out. Thankfully a mixture of distance between the Expo Hall and the panels combined with goof soundproof walls made it that both parts of the convention could easily coexist despite being side by side. In fact, I know a lot of people I talked to liked the fact that they could easily go back and forth between two major parts of the convention effortlessly. Since many of the people we are friends with are big fans of panels it is very convenient not to have the trek all around the event space to attend programming.
The artist alley and main events hall were on separate levels that required their own bag checks but they were fairly easy to pass through. The Artist Alley was helped by its wonderful space. The little walk to get there was a small price to pay for space and superior lighting. I only went to main events once a day so it was never a major hassle to go back and forth from there. It also let the concerts there has their own space free from everything else. This set up would not work for other conventions. Most other cons have more panels, therefore, this setup would be unfeasible but it really worked for an event of Anime NYC’s size.
If there were any other events going on that weekend I never saw hide nor hair of them. Apparently, there was a Pri-Med even on Friday but I only know that because I looked it up when I was writing this post.
Having been at the same convention center for NYCC just a month and a half earlier, it was a blessing to see it this time with so much space to move around. I never waited more than a moment at bag check, and I had no trouble attending the panels and events I wanted to see despite never lining up. AnimeNYC used perhaps a quarter of the con center with the exhibitors hall and panels on the street-level floor, a main event stage and queue area on the lower level, and the artist alley in the upper most hall. And for the most part, they used it well. I think the biggest oddities were having to go in and out of bag checks, multiple times a day since each section had its own security checkpoint.
I never got in the early morning line to enter the convention so perhaps that showed it to be crowded, but you wouldn’t have felt that just walking around. The space was well-suited to the heaps of fans who entered its doors. AnimeNYC had a lively feeling throughout the weekend.
I have to admit I enjoyed all the Fate/Grand Order material that was adorned around the convention. I remember when Type-Moon fandom was that odd little niche based on eroge that most people we barely aware of. At this point, Type-Moon is almost like Naruto. You are forced to have an opinion on it because it is so omnipresent in the greater anime and manga fandom. Thankfully for me, that means I saw a good deal of Fate cosplay every day. While there was the standard amount of Saber and Gilgamesh cosplay I loved to see more obscure cosplay like Medjed Nitocris and Ishtar.
The exhibitors hall had big booths from most of the major anime and manga companies. Yen Press, Crunchyroll, Bandai, and Aniplex all had impressive looking setups. There was the usual smattering of dealers selling anime, manga, t-shirts, and merchandise. Arcade and tabletop games had plenty of people playing all weekend, too.
More notable was the section that had festival masks and other cultural items imported from Japan, plus food which weren’t necessarily all anime related. The other standout in the exhibitor’s hall was the Noir Caesar Entertainment booth. I’d never heard of this group but they create comics and animation, plus have a blog. One video they were showing had well-done animated fights that were definitely inspired by Naruto.
I think everyone agreed that having the panel rooms visible from the exhibitors section was a great setup. It made getting to a panel very quick and it was easy to assess if you needed to line up for something. It also facilitated being able to pop in a panel at random without too much commitment since the rooms were in the heart of the convention action. And panel attendance were definitely high judging from the ones I went to.
The main stage was a bit of a trek compared to the rest of the sections. I hope they can bring it a little closer next year. It still had good attendance but I think it could have been better. This was also a case where they could have had big signs and advertising at the convention about who would be at the main stage.
I noticed one random thing in the Exhibitor’s Hall. The rise of grab bags have slowly but surely went from something you would see randomly at a few booths to a near-ubiquitous phenomenon on the floor to the point where even major companies have some sort of grab bag. There is one dealer now that has nothing but grab bags in well-designed boxes. So they have Dr. Who merchandise in TARDIS boxes or Naruto items in a box with the symbol for the Hidden Leaf Village on them. It is a brilliant scheme when you get right down to it. You take a bunch of merchandise you can’t normally sell and throw it into a box. People wind up buying things they would never normally touch with a ten-foot pole with the dream of getting some amazing deals. It is like the real-life version of Loot Crate.
Kate and I even got a bit of the old hard sell for the grab bags at the Crunchyroll booth. Their whole shtick was the fact that some of the bags had golden tickets that were gift certificates. So Crunchyroll added gacha loot boxes to the Loot Crate formula. That is almost admirably sinister.
Overall I am not condemning or praising this practice. I just wanted to point out how big it has gotten.
I was quite excited, but a little cautious going into this convention. I do so little anime and manga stuff at New York Comic Con that it was nice to have an anime-centric show so close to home again. At the same time, we’ve seen in the past how short-lived some of these cons can be. It feels like AnimeNYC got it right and I hope it sticks around for many years to come.
It was not soon after Anime NYC ended that they were already announcing when it would take place again in 2018. Considering the general level of activity at the convention it seems fairly likely that Anime NYC hit the goals they wanted in terms of attendance. I always noticed a steady stream of people in Artist Alley and the Expo Hall. All but two of the panels I attended were at least 80% full. The events were all packed with only a few free seats.
One of the best compliments I could pay to Anime NYC is that they seemed to have an excellent grasp on how much room they needed. They had enough room that it never felt like you were an extra in Soylent Green but everything felt like it was constantly busy. You have enough room to breath so the convention never felt overwhelming but there was enough to do that it never felt like a relaxacon. That takes a precision amount of planning (and a bit of luck) to get that happy medium.
If anything my major complaint was I wish there were more panels. I know that the current layout had some major benefits but the second set of panel room would have made me much happier. Hopefully, that is something that can come down the line but as it stands this is not an event that can compete with Otakon or AnimeNEXT when it comes to fan paneling.
Does that mean ten years down the line Anime NYC will still be running? I can’t say that for sure. There are too many factors that could doom this convention that involves behind the scenes details on or are far too unpredictable for anyone involved. That said it does seem like a convention that might be able to go the distance. I definitely see Anime NYC running for the next two or three years and more importantly, it just might have what it takes it thrive in the Big Apple.