Traveling up to New York City to meet friends living in the area isn’t always an easy for me. The trek to the city from South Jersey can take two hours if I’m lucky enough that the roads up in north Jersey have been completely abandoned. The further north you go and the closer you get to the city, the more the roads resemble a parking lot…a parking lot where everyone is idling in their cars, but a parking lot nevertheless. To say nothing about the paradoxical sentiment that no one drives in New York City because there’s too much traffic.
So what do I do to get to NYC? I spring for a bus ticket (about $35 round trip off of Greyhound) and ride a bus up to the big apple, sparing myself the cost of gas, tolls and miles on my car. It’s much less of a hassle, moving luggage through the subway system notwithstanding. I arrived at my friend’s apartment in the dead of night and got very little sleep before waking up early, getting into cosplay and trekking through New York City on my way to the Javits Center for the convention; in short, typical start to a con.
One of the first things I noticed when coming into the convention center is that two conventions were advertised: New York Anime Fest and New York Comic Con. Financially it seemed like a sound idea—put them in the same building at the same time to cut costs. It wouldn’t be until later, as the weekend progressed, that it turned into a logistical nightmare.
The first few hours were actually pretty peaceful. One of the first things I found was the game demo area, where I got my hands on several upcoming titles. First was Marvel Super Hero Squad. The gameplay and design was similar to the various Lego-themed games (Batman, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc.) but with cartoony, almost super-deformed versions of Marvel characters, and instead of Lego bricks, you’re running around picking up gemstones. The plot has a few allusions to the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, which doesn’t mesh entirely too well with the TV-PG aspects of the Superhero Squad series, especially when you have Iron Man and Hulk trading childish insults with Dr. Doom and Super Skrull.
While I’m on the subject of Marvel, I made a beeline for the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 demo area soon after, which had a pretty decent line of people waiting to play. There were about 20 characters available to play as, ten for each side (I think Capcom had one less, though). MvC3 standouts such as Deadpool, Dante and Chun-Li saw plenty of play time, while newcomer Super Skrull was tearing it up when in the right hands. I battled to a time limit loss in my battle; I understand that there are (usually much) better gamers than me out there, but I felt I was at a disadvantage, because I didn’t learn about the drastic change in the game’s control scheme until I had the arcade stick in my hands. See, Capcom uses the familiar six-button layout – PL PM PH KL KM KH – for its fighting games. For Marvel vs. Capcom 2, they switched out the medium attacks for two assist buttons, resulting in the control scheme we all know and love – PL PH A1 KL KH A2. But Marvel took the control scheme from Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and modified it for MvC3, giving it two assists and an “exchange” button which kinda acts like a universal launcher/combo set-up – ATKL ATKM ATKH AS1 AS2 EX. The end result was a lot of awkward button pressing on my part, making me feel like a n00b all over again. It was pretty embarrassing.
Thankfully, the next game I played served as a much-needed palate cleanser. Goldeneye 007, the game based on the James Bond film of the same name, is returning to the Wii, and for people who played the Nintendo 64 version, we couldn’t be happier. It’s a remake of the aforementioned N64 version, although Daniel Craig is Bond here instead of Pierce Brosnan. What a shame. On the plus side, Judi Dench is voicing her character M, in all her sarcastic, deadpan glory. The game promises 8-player multiplayer, but there was only one Wii set up running it, so we had to settle for 4-player. The characters are from various Bond movies, not just Goldeneye. I for one had lots of fun shooting people as Boris, especially once I got my hands on the Golden Gun. And yes, I did bust out Boris’s famous “Yes! I am invincible!” line in the cheesiest Russian accent I could muster. Good times.
It was after leaving the Goldeneye booth that I noticed something about the convention that struck me as…odd. While there were plenty of people wandering around, there was a massive wave of humanity lined up outside, waiting to get in. I didn’t know what to make of it, until I saw a sign with the convention’s hours on it. On Friday, the convention opened to the public at 1:00 PM. My press pass and I had a four-hour head start on anyone who didn’t have a press, exhibitor, or other non-general public badge. Once the general public was let it, moving around from one place to another became a bigger chore than it would be of a typical convention. It was even worse when you factor in the layout of the convention. New York Anime Fest took up about ¼ of the convention floor; the other ¾ was all New York Comic Con. It didn’t help that the NYAF section was far in the corner, practically in the basement…which made me wonder if it was a passive-aggressive jab at anime fans in general.
The first full panel I sat in on was “Robotech with Tommy Yune.” Certainly one of the more upfront panels at the convention—Tommy Yune, who worked on such titles as Transformers, Battle of the Planets, and Robotech, talking shop about his days working on said titles. He spoke a lot about Robotech, especially his experiences working with Carl Macek, combining Macross with Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada to form Robotech. He had a lot of pleasant things to say about both Macek and the multitude of people who worked on Robotech.
My next move was to get to the panel for Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It’s been ten years and lots of demand (and a few April Fool’s Day articles teasing a release), and needless to say, there is a lot of anticipation for its March 2011 release. Unfortunately, I could not get into this panel. The line to get into the panel was long. Easily the longest line in the convention. So long, in order for me to (possibly) get in, I had to get in line around the time I went to listen to Tommy Yune talk about Robotech. So I cut my losses and headed over to “The Onion News Network presents Future: News from the Year 2137.” The Onion had a very unique take on the future. Apparently, one of their satellites was able to peer into a wormhole to the aforementioned year, giving the present day a small window of the future. Some of the ways this world has been shaped—technology plateaued around the 2080s, there was an event called “the Burn Down” which left the world a scorched hellscape similar to Mordor, humanity is on the verge of extinction, and there are mutant groups living underground. Plus, the Onion News Network has, more or less, a monopoly on news in the future.
We hit the ground running on Saturday. I managed to get in early to the “Marvel Video Games” panel, snagging a good seat close to the front. Marvel announced a new game based on Captain America. The story will focus more around his origin; Steve Rogers, overflowing with Super Soldier Serum, is deployed to take out Red Skull. Next was news on Marvel vs. Capcom 3, rather, introducing new characters they were creating (but weren’t available to play in the demo), including M.O.D.O.K., who had lots of potential despite his unusual appearance – they wanted to experiment with characters who weren’t humanoid – Magneto, who’s gameplay is just as fucking broken as ever, Spencer from the Bionic Commando reboot, Arthur from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, and Spider-Man, who will, apparently, have a different costume depending on which button you use to select him. The final game announced was a major surprise…the X-Men arcade game from 1992, set to be released for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
Next was the panel “Voice Actors: East Meets West.” The panel was a discussion regaling the experiences in voice acting, from working second or even third jobs while diving on whatever voice acting opportunity they could get. Japanese seiyuu Minori Chihara (Yuki in Haruhi Suzumiya, Aya Natsume in Tenjou Tenge) discussed voice acting with a handful of American voice actors, mediated by Veronica Taylor (Ash in Pokémon, Amelia in Slayers). There are some rather…stark differences in attitudes and methodology of voice acting. For one, while recording a part for the dub in America, the voice actors are in a studio by themselves recording their lines. The Japanese typically have everyone in the recording booth at the same time. While putting everyone for a given scene in the booth at once does happen in America, it’s executed much differently. The VA-to-mic ratio is 1:1; in Japan, where group recording is a more intimate affair, it’s typical for everyone to use the same mic. This, coupled with the notion of voice actors having their own music stand to put their scripts on, left Ms. Chihara speechless.
Among the vendors at the convention was Wizards of the Coast, publishers of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering. Throughout Friday and Saturday, Wizards had Magic tournaments, with the game’s newest expansion, Scars of Mirrodin, at the forefront. I stopped in to play in a draft tournament, partially to get my hands on the new products, but also to try and get away from the main herd, at least for a bit. The main convention floor (the Wizards booth was on an upper floor) was packed shoulder-to-shoulder in some places. It was equally bad downstairs, especially around the food court. The food was overpriced and not really all that good. The various carts scattered around the convention center were also chancy. There was also the option of wandering around the city looking for meals, if that’s what it came down to. It was a no-win situation.
At around 6:00, I hit what was unquestionably the lowest point of the convention for me. A few weeks before the convention, I got an email from the con asking if I wanted to sign up for speed dating. “Could be fun,” I briefly thought. I signed up, and patiently waited for the hour to roll around on Saturday night. There was a good crowd, sixteen guys and sixteen girls, a DJ, and one very loud host who seemed especially thrilled to take potshots at me for being in cosplay (I wasn’t the only cosplayer there, just the only guy in a costume). Actually being there felt awkward enough without being ragged upon. But the real downer came at the end, after all the guys had spoken to all the girls. For those of you who haven’t done speed dating before (good for you), you’re given a number before the “dates” begin. This number corresponds to a piece of paper where potential matches can write down their contact info at the end of the exercise. I gave my info out to a few people who I was genuinely interested in. What did my contact sheet look like at the end? Blank. Completely blank. I felt awful. Essentially, over a dozen women were asked their opinion of me, and the general consensus was, “No, fuck that guy.” My camera wielding associate would later tell me that I wasn’t the only one to not get any contact info. But I didn’t see that. I was one of the last to retrieve my sheet, and the only ones left were mine and those of two or three other guys. It was a really disheartening experience.
I don’t remember what happened too well after the speed dating fiasco. I did drop in on the panel “Studio Gainax: From Daicon III to Evangelion” at around seven-ish, but I felt so dejected from earlier that I could hardly pay attention. The few things I did pick up on were that Gainax is/was a for-fans-by-fans kind of company that made really bad business decisions, and that now, in part to those bad business decisions, they are on the verge of bankruptcy. Also, the panel was conducted by a guy dressed up as V from V for Vendetta. Or he was just wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and going as anon. It was hard to tell; the panel room was pitch black save for the projector screen. After that, I was wandering around the convention center, not really going anywhere or paying attention to anything. The last I clearly remember was talking to DJ Ranma S after the masquerade, and then leaving.
So along came Sunday. I had one specific goal for this convention, and since this was the last day, time was of the essence. The one panel I needed to be at wasn’t until 3:00. So realistically I didn’t have any excuse to miss it. In the meantime, I managed to find a gem of a panel entitled “Anime Press Your Luck.” The premise was exactly what it sounds like—the popular game show Press Your Luck (the 80s version) with all the questions pertaining to anime and/or video games. There were three rounds, and the winners got store credit from the online store owned by the hosts of the game. There was a bit of audience participation as well, in the form of everyone yelling the correct answer when all three contestants got the answer wrong, to cosplayers acting out the Whammy animations due to technical glitches. I, too, managed to get in as a contestant, as the last player on the last game…and after two people called before me no-showed. But I still got up there to play. The questions rounds were a snap. It’s just a shame that my luck is abysmal. Three whammies in the first round, then whammying out on my first spin of round 2. I think I hit more Whammy spaces than actual prize spaces. And I ended up with the most spins after both question rounds. What a letdown. Oh, and special thanks go to DJ Ranma S, who, cosplaying as Luigi, acted out a Whammy when I hit one.
After recording DJ Ranma S conducting a few interviews, I found the panel “Voice and Art – Veronica and Misako.” Alongside Veronica Taylor was Misako Takashima, a.k.a. Misako Rocks!. The panel was mostly a crash course in voice acting and character development. Several attendees were asked to come up and draw “their” characters, while several more were asked to provide voices and backgrounds pertaining to the drawings. It was an interesting experience, with Taylor leading the panel in warm-up exercises for voice acting which did look a little bit silly. Once the panel was over, Misako and Veronica were kind enough to sign autographs, take pictures, etc. for the con goers. This was what I was waiting on; I got her to sign my Ash Ketchum jacket. After six years and over a dozen conventions, my Kanto!Ash cosplay is now officially retired, hanging up in a display case with Veronica Taylor’s autograph proudly displayed. It was my highlight of the convention, and it more than made up for the previous night’s fiasco.
We returned to my friend’s apartment after the convention, only to go back a little while after, in order to help another friend break down their dealers’ room booth. I was asked to replace another booth staffer who had become ill that Sunday, and was tasked with driving back to the con in a moving van. And after the trip in a surprisingly well put together van, I can safely say that I have survived driving in New York City, and I can drive anywhere. The rest of the night was spent eating pizza and watching TNA Bound for Glory, nerd-raging all the while over the more asinine parts of the pay-per-view, of which there were many.
New York Comic Con/Anime Fest wasn’t what I had expected to be. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time (mostly), but it wasn’t without problems. For one, the decision to merge the two conventions and to cram the Anime Fest section to one distant part of the convention hall was good on paper; it saved money by not having to book the same venue twice. However, it made the building into a densely packed, amalgamated mess. Rumors told that the convention housed almost 90,000 attendees, and there was talk that they wanted to turn it into the NYC version of San Diego Comic Con, which probably would’ve done more harm than good. Aside from Big Apple Anime Fest, which lasted all of three years, New York City doesn’t really have an anime convention to call its own, which is surprising considering it’s New York City. You’d think they’d have a whole line of organizations stepping over one another to call themselves New York’s anime convention. But I digress. My hopes for next year are that the Anime Fest and Comic Con aspects are booked independently of one another, and that Anime Fest doesn’t get swept away and lost in the ever growing specter of NYCC. I’d book my own New York City-based anime convention, but a) I’m not from the city, b) I don’t have the financial resources for it, and c) I already have plans for my own convention. Coming soon: From the glittering lights of Atlantic City, South Jersey, it’s “CasinoCon!”
When Ari isn’t writing for Anime Jam Session or catching Pokemans, he’s writing for the Philadelphia Examiner
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