When last I was at Anime NEXT, it was the ’09 event at the previous year. Back then, I saw the convention as a spur-of-the-moment affair – somewhere between a tune-up for Otakon and a weekend long distraction. There were times last year when the con seemed to really drag on, mostly because I spent Friday and most of Sunday manning a booth in the Dealers Room, selling T-shirts and DVDs at the behest of a friend who needed an extra set of hands for the weekend. Far be it for me to sound ungrateful, but I felt like last year made me miss out on quite a lot the convention had to offer. Thankfully, this time around things would be drastically different.
I felt much better about Anime NEXT ’10. I had a room all set up just a stone’s throw from the convention, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer group of roommates. There were only two problems with the hotel (the Crowne Plaza Hotel) – the food in the restaurants was overpriced, as was the little sundries store. The less that is said about the room service, the better; sticker shock of that magnitude is usually found when buying a new car. The second, and more damning, problem was with the deposit after checking in. See, they ask you for a credit/bank card to verify you’re the one checking in, but they also charge $50 to it that you don’t see again until check out and the money is refunded. I didn’t find out about this until I used an ATM and realized, “Wait…I came here with more money than this.” It torpedoed my budget for the entire weekend.
But no need to dwell on that—it’s a convention after all. And you don’t go to a convention and spend all weekend at the hotel, now! So allow me to recall my experiences with Anime NEXT ’10.
The convention itself had its numerous events divided between five buildings set up in and around the Garden State Expo Center. The Expo Center proper was host to the event rooms, the dance (it was moved to there from the Double Tree hotel), as well as the sprawling Dealers’ Room. The Double Tree hotel had the Artists’ Alley, karaoke, tabletop gaming, as well as various panels and workshops covering a wide variety of topics. At the far ends of the convention were the Holiday Inn on one end, which played host to the game room, and an office complex, hosting video programming on the other. The programming offered was excellent and the competition in the game room was easy to come by, but going to and from both area was a bit of a hike. The heat and humidity didn’t make things easier. Having an elaborate cosplay and/or uncomfortable shoes didn’t help any, either.
The cosplay itself was always a treat to take in. While there were plenty of cosplays from perennial favorites such as Pokémon, Sailor Moon, Naruto and Bleach, and a decent EGL showing, it was Axis Powers Hetalia that saw more cosplaying than any other series that weekend. I admit that I’m only vaguely familiar with Hetalia, but they were pretty hard to miss; just look for people carrying around flags of various countries.
I made sure to see as many panels as I could during this convention, as previous convention experiences involved wasting too much time in the game room, and I was trying to break that habit. The first panel I sat in on was “Inside the Lives of Congoing Otaku,” a discussion of what motivated people to go to conventions, what memories we’ve made, and some notorious encounters with “con funk,” as well as the evolution of conventions of all sorts (such as generic sci-fi cons spinning off into cons geared toward specific shows). Towards the end, and I found this to be especially touching, is the prospect of introducing the next generation to anime, conventions and so forth. Special mention to those who had a baby roughly six months old in attendance there.
I next attended “Fandom and Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing,” which ended up being a lot deeper and more technical than I could’ve imagined. The main idea offered by the panel was why do we watch anime? Why are we so critical of it? Is it the art? The music? The writing? The argument of subs vs. dubs was tactfully left alone.
Another panel which defied my expectations was “Cosplay Randomness.” Though, unlike the previous panel, it defied them in a negative fashion. The panelists compared the idea to Whose Line Is It Anyway with nothing but anime/manga/gaming themes. Good in theory, but the execution was lackluster. The situations were not all that imaginative, the dialogue was stilted, and the comedy aspects seemed forced. Granted it had its moments, but not many. Overall the panel was a downer.
When Saturday rolled around, I found my way to the “Anime Talk” panel, sitting in on stories about voice acting told to us by Kyle Hebert, Stacie Renna, among others. One of the things they brought up was that voice acting for anime is difficult, and doesn’t pay as well as other acting jobs or even other voice acting jobs. Though, they still get a lot of enjoyment out of it, and the voice acting community is like a family.
The next panel I was a part of was easily the most entertaining all weekend—“War Stories from the Conventions.” Kevin McKeever regaled us with his own stories of con experiences in America, good, bad or otherwise. He even added a new term to the otaku lexicon: “Hobo” (horrible otaku body odor). But the real attention grabber was when he spoke about bringing anime conventions to China. Apparently, the Chinese have a different idea of what a convention entails. From what he gathered, they saw pictures of American conventions, particularly the big, sweeping establishing shots on websites and in brochures, and thought our conventions drew attendees in the millions, and that an industry-only gathering only had 15,000 in attendance. Mid-sized conventions don’t draw that many. He forgot his badge by accident one day, and had to purchase a new one at the behest of security—in this case, the People’s Liberation Army. His liaison apologized for the wait; to them, the notion of waiting in line for more than five minutes waiting to purchase a pass was unacceptable (it is, but that doesn’t stop anything). He also had spent an evening someone who “[ran] the town, but was above the mayor”). Turns out they were talking about the provincial leader, who was also, for lack of a better term, a major Robotech fanboy. Kevin McKeever was surprised.
I barely made it to the “It Came from France” panel, as the line was far more than the panel room could contain. Only two or three more people after me were allowed in before the cutoff point. The next wave of animation awesome would be coming from, well, France. We were about two minutes into the discussion when we got our first Totally Spies and Code: Lyoko references. The MMO Wakfu was adapted into a series, drawn entirely in Flash. If it were ever dubbed into English, it could prove to be wildly popular. Valérian and Laureline is another series to look out for; it involves a time-traveling soldier, Valerian, and Laureline, a girl from the 10th century, brought to the “present” time and soon becomes as skilled in warfare as Valerian. Also: the Earth goes missing as a result of traveling into the future. Azur & Asmar was the last series discussed, a film that debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. It’s the story of two boys raised together, until they are forcefully separated (the former sent for formal schooling, the latter banished along with his mother), who seek to release the Djinn-Fairy of legend, who will only appear before a good and heroic prince. All of which had gorgeous visuals, and have the kind of strong female characters that Joss Whedon would be proud of. It was an interesting look into what would be coming down the pipe in the near future.
Sunday was more for winding down than anything. The end of the convention always puts a damper on Sundays for me. The day was made much brighter, however, as I caught a viewing of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series. The line was the longest I had been in that weekend, and I was at the very end of it. I chatted with the convention staffer holding a THIS IS THE END OF THE LINE sign. We BS’d for a few minutes, when he noticed my press pass. One thing led to another, and next thing I knew, I had a good seat and was chatting it up with some of the cast, before anyone else was let in. We ran through about two dozen episodes, including the latest episode (which I won’t spoil for anyone here). My only regret is that I hadn’t followed this series sooner.
So there you have it. Thus was my experience with Anime NEXT ’10. My experience last year simply does not compare to this one. I had a much better time this year. I was able to take in so much more than last year, and had much more fun. New Jersey doesn’t have all that much in terms of convention representation, and I’d like to see more and more from this convention in the coming years (until my dream of starting up “CasinoCon” out of Atlantic City comes to fruition).
When Ari isn’t writing for Anime Jam Session or catching Pokemans, he’s writing for the Philadelphia Examiner, swing by and take a look at his reviews.