AnimeNEXT 2013 — Rain Clouds and Chlorine Clouds

If you’re the type that does a lot to get to a convention, well then good for you; you’re in good company, and can very easily understand just what I’m talking about in one of these reviews of the conventions we go to. If not, then take a seat at an open desk, because Dr. Rockefeller’s lecture is about to begin. You see, even though life ostensibly comes first, something that interests someone in a diversionary style will often go to great lengths to accommodate, regardless of how hard or lightly it will impact the “real” world.

Everyone needs a hobby, I suppose.

 

And going to conventions and tooling around with anime and its ilk is quite within the realm of “hobby” even if it’s perceived as weirder than others. But the fact remains the same—things like work, bills, etc. come first. Although the occasional exception can be made, like I did with AnimeNEXT 2013.

Working for the government—state, federal or otherwise—means your employers are more than a little stricter and uptight; schedules are set in stone and it can take quite a lot of finagling to get so much as whatever days you have off switched around, even if you don’t gain or lose any hours. Thankfully, for this convention, I was lucky enough to get a coworker to switch days off, essentially giving me off from Thursday to Sunday (unprecedented for where I work, unless of course you have a vacation week coming). Granted, the Thursday off doesn’t do much for me unless we’re traveling pretty far off and have the hotel for that Thursday night as well; here wasn’t the case.

I arrived at the convention early around Friday morning, having woken up early and gotten breakfast, and had little issue getting up to the convention. Even though I have come to this area numerous times for numerous different conventions, I still experienced a thrill turning the corner and seeing the hotels, expo center and numerous people milling about both in or out of costumes. Also what was surprising was the timing in which I arrived. You see, as the various members of the adventuring party are scattered around the NY/NJ area, and even getting to a convention in that general region can involve one or more of us arriving at staggered intervals. So imagine my surprise when I was walking down the hallway to the hotel room and came across the rest of the adventuring party. It may not mean much to you, the reader, but it was thrilling for me, at least.

This wasn't the first time I saw this particular Iroh cosplayer (or the last, as he did the White Lotus version of him on Sunday), but he always turns in solid performances.

This wasn’t the first time I saw this particular Iroh cosplayer (or the last, as he did the White Lotus version of him on Sunday), but he always turns in solid performances.

We stayed at the Doubletree Hotel, right in the heart of the convention scene. I’ve harped on the pros and cons of this hotel often enough, so I won’t dwell too much on that. The one thing that did bother me, though, was the hot tub in the area with the smaller pool. For those of you not familiar with swimming pools, hot tubs, and their ilk, they’re very high maintenance, and require a lot of money, power, water and chemicals to maintain and keep clean. The latter was especially damning, as the hotel staff had apparently recently cleaned and put more chemicals in the hot tub. Normally that wouldn’t be that big of a problem, except for a few things: 1) the hot tub was unusually hot, like you could cook pasta in it and wasn’t all that relaxing; 2) the hot water was boiling away the chemicals, leaving a cloud of odd gasses lingering above it, and 3) the go-to chemical to keep pools, etc. clean is chlorine…which is quite nasty in gas form. I wasn’t in that tub for more than five minutes before I started coughing and feeling short of breath (spare me the out-of-shape jokes, peanut gallery). It wasn’t until I saw all the vapors wafting off the water did that run together for me. So I told the front desk about it, and not only were they legitimately surprised by the news, but they actually took measures to fix it. I know this because as I was walking by a few hours later, the hot tub was completely drained, and a few workers were in there scrubbing the walls with brushes; by the next day it was up and running properly.

Quite frankly, given how heavily chlorinated the hot tub was, and that I had my head under the water plenty of times, I expected my hair to wind up at least partially blond from the incident. This wasn’t the case.

While that was being sorted out, I decided to go ahead and do what I do best at these sorts of things—report on the various panels I’ve attended. The first on the itinerary was “Philosophy of Pokémon” because of course I’m going to wind up at the Pokémon panels in one way or another. The panelists running the event took the audience on a tour of the Pokémon world, which they imagined as a sprawling, Lost Woods-style forest of epileptic trees. They discussed the various implications of sending children out into the world at the age of ten to amass a personal battalion of living, walking weapons, liking it to a Lord of the Flies-style environment, especially since—if every child partakes in that rite-of-passage—every single person you talk to in the games or see in the anime is or was a Pokémon Trainer, and they keep training until relevance leaves them. And speaking of environment, they saw the Pokémon world as one that takes place in a post-scarcity setting, especially considering that Pokémon are the sources of their food, heavy labor, and even their religion. It’s fun to think about the workings of such a world, I’ll admit, but if the panelists were in the Pokémon world, they’d be the nut-jobs living way off the grid with the tinfoil hats.

I did manage to get myself some lunch, this time at the TK restaurant/bar on the main floor. They had a lunch buffet at about $11, which, given the price and the location, was actually pretty appealing. I partook of it, though the buffet consisted of light, barbecue-level stuff like hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, and the like. I ate enough so that I wouldn’t be too upset about not getting to dinner, so I can’t complain that much.

How many of you remember "Super Mario RPG?" If you don't, then what is wrong with you?

How many of you remember Super Mario RPG? If you don’t, then what is wrong with you?

I also wanted to cosplay as Dan from Street Fighter, but in my haste to get that cosplay into my suitcase, I failed to see if the damn thing would fit properly or not. Guess what: it didn’t. I’ve had all matter of body dysmorphic issues and depression for most of my life, and seeing the cosplay unable to fit really rained on my parade.

Not literally, and certainly not as bad as the actual rain happening that Friday. Oh yes, friends, that entire Friday was harangued by torrential downpours that lasted until around midnight. This is why on Friday I made one trip to the Holiday Inn on the other side of the convention (where they kept the game rooms) on Friday and exactly one. It wasn’t raining (too badly) on my way over, but the way back was a disaster in and of itself. Walking back to the Doubletree while soaked to the bone is not something I would want to do more than once. Thankfully I packed more clothes than usual, just in case something like that would happen.

Another panel I attended later in the evening was “Conventions 101.” It was basically a field survival guide to enduring (?) your first convention…but the premise quickly fell apart when, upon being asked if this was your first convention, only three or four people in the room raised their hands. So after a while, it became a cavalcade of old information presented as new information. I’m sure the handful of newbies appreciated it, but for the grand majority of the people in attendance, it was redundant and old news. It didn’t help that the other two panelists there were late by a good ten minutes, making the panel quite unprofessional.

After that panel, I got myself geared up to go out to dinner. A lady who ran a booth in the Artists’ Alley and I had been chatting to one another since after the last CPAC, and when told about it to others in the adventuring party, “take her out to dinner” was the overwhelming response. But she was busy with her duties (read: commissions) at her booth to leave, so the alternative was to bring food down with her and chill out there. Works for me…and for her as well. That is, until there was a slight logistic issue. Nothing I can’t deal with. But after about an hour or so of putzing around, we decided “fuck it” and landed at the Somerset Diner, where I was told that a bunch of other artists in the Alley would be meeting. It just meant waiting out in the waiting room of the diner for a while until they all got there. It wasn’t a big deal, until I learned that some of the waiters at the diner were less than gentlemanly and/or respectful. See, I had stepped away to use the bathroom and subsequently stand under the jet hand dryer in the bathroom to (at least) attempt to dry off. While I was there, according to her, she was ogled by no less than three waiters, two of which wandered past the glass doors to “test they were closed” while ogling her in her cosplay and bright white wig. Even with all that, the group all ate and enjoyed one another’s company. In the end, we agreed this was a date, but she told me that she wasn’t very good at the whole dating thing. Neither am I, so that makes two of us.

If you’ve ever slept in a room with more than four people in it for a convention—or more people than available beds—you wind up sleeping elsewhere, like on the floor. That’s what I ended up doing, and let me tell you, the floor fucking hurts to sleep on. Even with a brand spanking new sleeping bag, which I purchased specifically for this particular scenario, I might as well have had an inanimate carbon rod for a spine, I was so stiff and immobile. It took about ten minutes to get back to functional, at which point I decided to go for a swim before getting to the convention proper. The water was nice and much to my delight (and health) the hot tub was in perfect working order. One nice, long soak in that did wonders for me and my mood.

I felt really fucking stupid that I didn't notice this was the same woman until AFTER I told her I saw a Lucina cosplayer the day before. And I LOVE Fire Emblem: Awakening, too...

I felt like a fucking idiot that I didn’t notice this was the same woman until after I told her I saw a Lucina cosplayer the day before. And I LOVE Fire Emblem: Awakening, too…

Once I had my fill of swimming, I headed back to the room, got changed, and decided on breakfast. The Tuscan restaurant in the hotel had a breakfast buffet, which I partook of. It cost about $15 overall (that includes tip), and the food was pretty decent, albeit the staff was more than a little rude. At the panels in the Doubletree itself, lines would often extend outside and into the courtyard simply because there were numerous highly popular events happening at the same time, yet the space to hold everyone was finite albeit mismanaged. Not to mention that the staff could get very pushy when trying to filter people into the rooms once they finally got in.

Other panel rooms in the hotel weren’t as bad, such as the first one I attended on Saturday, called “Anime Under the Radar.” It was about…well, anime that nobody was watching—and it wasn’t just about modern titles that weren’t getting any love; it was about older stuff that had slipped completely unnoticed. For example, at one point, Miyazaki once attempted to get the rights to Swedish creation Pippi Longstocking, but creator Astrid Lindgren shot him down. A few cells and sketches wound up in his sketchbook and eventually used as inspiration for Nausicaa. Another series the man running the panel (a retired professor from Penn State) talked about was Heidi, Girl of the Alps. It was remarkable in that it was dubbed gratuitously, including adaptation in Farsi and Arabic, the first of its kind to be done so. But the biggest anime that no one was watching (at the time, anyway) was Attack on Titan, a manga-based series about one of the last bastions of human civilizations that’s under constant siege by incredibly tall (but physics-defying) humanlike abominations called titans, that devour people and can only be permanently destroyed by striking the back of their necks in a very specific fashion. But of course you probably only know it for its impeccably memetic opening, complete with kick-ass opening theme. I’m not sure if it was here specifically at AnimeNEXT that this became so popular, but I can’t help but notice just how more popular it’s become since that weekend.

Later on, I wound up back at the game room at the Holiday Inn. It was rather hot out, but not nearly as bad as last year…more humid than anything. Unfortunately, it was still a bit of a hike, and there was no shuttle service. Not even when the day before when it was raining like we expected to see Noah’s ark float by at any second. The rooms were laid out about the same as years before, both for video and tabletop gaming. I killed a few hours in there mucking around with both, generally enjoying myself. The service at the sports bar / restaurant was slow, as I’ve mentioned before, though the lunch was serviceable.

Chrono Trigger cosplay is always a plus, but this guy went out of the way and made Crono's most powerful sword, the Rainbow Blade.

Chrono Trigger cosplay is always a plus, but this guy went out of the way and made Crono’s most powerful sword, the Rainbow Blade.

I made it back to the heart of the convention in time to see a panel that looked quite bizarre just by the title alone: “Evolution of American Anime.” The very term is a flat-out misnomer; anime is Japanese, made by Japanese artists and writers and released (first) in Japan. Sure you can have more than your fair share of anime-inspired works, but this guy was essentially trying to rewrite an entire definition to suit a heavily misunderstood notion and make it the genuine article, especially considering that, before becoming big in America, anime had closer ties to France than the USA. Not to mention that he deliberately tried to pass off anime-inspired American cartoon series as legitimate anime. I will give him credit, though, because he did properly point out that the second generation of animators in Japan were heavily inspired after the Second World War by Disney films, and that insane attention to detail—especially for backgrounds—helped codify the style of the art. He brought up two Disney films: Sleeping Beauty, for the aforementioned attention to detail, and Beauty and the Beast, which is already notorious for a) the reason an animated film won’t even be nominated for Best Picture, much less win (the subsequent creation of “Best Animated Feature Film” also helped) and b) the poster child for fucking Stockholm Syndrome. He also believed that character development and atmosphere are character traits are exclusive to anime; I could rattle off about a dozen titles just sitting here typing as a counterargument.

Within that same time frame, I attended another panel called “Totally Subversive Toons!”. Immediately I thought it would be “Getting Crap Passed the Radar: the Panel,” but lo and behold, it wasn’t an 18+ affair. It took a more nuanced look at animation, seeing how it wasn’t just the parental bonuses and jokes that would fly right over the target audience’s head. The subversion they talked about was more political and culturally poignant than simply slipping in a way to tell the producers and the think-of-the-children types to go fuck themselves (though more than one example of the latter was shown). Two culturally subversive scenes came first from Black Lagoon, where a son casually dismisses his entrance exam progress as an exercise in futility. In a culture where those kinds of tests for both high school and college can be held as make-or-break for one’s entire life, seeing such a casual dismissal must’ve been pretty jarring. Another scene came in His and Her Consequences, where a boy and a girl, both at the top of their class, start dating one another, and their grades slip…mostly on behalf of them acting like normal kids their age. The principal steps in—and gets the parents of both kids involved!—in an effort to force the two apart. But they both see right through it and call bullshit, and tell him, essentially, that this would be the best thing to happen for the both of them. Again, going back to the strong emphasis on schooling, the process of studying unthinkable numbers of hours, combined with cram schools and their ilk, have been putting a massive strain on kids in Japan, and seeing two kids telling their society to calm the fuck down must’ve been, again, more hard-hitting shock and alarm. On the western side was a legendary scene in ReBoot, where Dot is trying to find entertainment for her brother’s birthday party, while a morally uptight adviser soundly rejects all acts for whatever dubious, flimsy reason. That is until they get to a group that is essentially a Village People send-up, complete with a YMCA spoof called “BS&P” (the overarching joke involves the production company’s long standing issues with the very intrusive censors at ABC, and given how many times they were made fun of, they never caught on).

After getting myself dinner later that night, I attended one last panel for the day (and the con, but I wouldn’t know about that until tomorrow): it was called “Bad Anime, Bad!” It was a celebration of anime that was greenlit and produced by otherwise great producers in Japan. It wasn’t a matter of personal taste, either; it was anime that was bad because of terrible artwork, inconsistent character designs, convoluted plots, and of course, bad dubbing. One anime shown that involved a guy being transported repeatedly back and forth in time from the modern era to some war in what looked like the feudal era, to the point where people started getting up and walking out at some of the especially WTF moments. More than one person shouted, “Fuck this!” as they got up and left. The other anime on display was an anime dubbed into English that centered on Dracula. The plot it set in motion during the 18th century, when Dracula, seeing the writing on the wall and knowing that humans were amassing demon hunters, decides to flee central Europe. Why he chose to go to Boston in the US is anyone’s guess. But the true low/high point of this series comes when Dracula ends up losing his vampiric powers, and has to eat human food like a normal schmuck. That itself isn’t the low/high point (why such a conundrum for Dracula wasn’t explored in other works is another question I have, but that’s neither here nor there). The true height of this anime’s madness, and quite frankly the most surreal thing I’ve ever seen, is when Dracula, starving, mugs some guy and his woman, takes their money, and one scene later is seen at a fast food joint going to town on a hamburger. I was too stunned and that image was too funny to laugh at; all I could do is just look at it and go, “…wow.”

And the award for most surprising cosplay goes to...

And the award for most surprising cosplay goes to…

Sunday started the same as Saturday, with me waking up from my spot on the floor and feeling like my back and most of my limbs had car boots latched onto them…though we slept in a little later. We had all packed up and gotten the room (mostly) neat and clean, and we ended up shooting video interviews for the site. They went nicely, as before, but the high points came when, during a Sailor V interview, we were (inadvertently) video-bombed by a King Candy cosplayer in the background, and the even higher point came with a totally in-character Marty McFly talking to us, complete with trying to schmooze whoever was watching (glasses lift and wink combo included!) which made our fearless leader corpse like a motherfucker (AnimeNEXT has a tendency to give us great interviews, including one which had a Mr. T cosplayer absolutely tear the roof off). Good times.

We went our separate ways during the afternoon, and while the others went to their respective bus stops and trains, I made my way back over to Eight on the Break in nearby Dunellen, for my little tradition when it comes to visiting cons in the northern New Jersey area. The crowd was pretty good for a Sunday in there, and I decided to get myself a bite to eat while I was there. Aside from nifty little snacks like jalapeño poppers (very tasty, by the way), corn nuggets, and others, they had their signature dish called the Wiffle: it’s a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two deep-fried waffles and topped with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce. It’s good in that form, but they recently got a peanut butter drizzle variant that is especially delicious. After hanging out and playing around there for a few hours, I finally returned home and settled down.

I can see why the rest of the crew likes AnimeNEXT so much, and quite frankly, I share in their sentiment. It wasn’t without its problems, though, as the staff’s mismanagement of the lines and rather blasé attitude did kind of put a damper on things. The rain was also a problem, and without the shuttle service in (a few) past years, it made plenty of other congoers in less than pleasant moods. I myself had a bit of a nervous breakdown one night, but that had more to do with my own issues than the con itself, and I’ve already taken steps to correct them. Thankfully I have my friends and crew to hang around with to keep me sane and relatively grounded.

At least for Otakon I won’t have the same issues with sleeping, as I’ve already called one of the fucking beds.

Ari Rockefeller

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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One Response to “AnimeNEXT 2013 — Rain Clouds and Chlorine Clouds”

  1. Thanks for the con review. I’ll make sure we review the line issue. Not sure how much we can do at our current location, which we’ll be in again in 2014, but we’ll definitely try. We’re also looking into the issues you and others have mentioned about our staff.

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