This "mini-Otakon" is right up there with the big guys, creating a laid-back, fan-based atmosphere that has made it the most securely popular convention in the tri-state area for over half a decade. While I only attended Friday and Saturday at this year's AnimeNEXT, 2008 provided an expectedly great experience from this exceptional convention. The best part, though, wasn't even directly part of the convention programming. AnimeNEXT this year was a success in my book simply because of all of the awesome, really cool people I was able to meet. In terms of networking with professionals and fans in the anime world, you can do no better with your $35 dollars in the tri-state area than AnimeNEXT.
Arrival/Photoshoot To top of page
This year's AnimeNEXT began just like any other. I caught a NJ Transit train into Secaucus Junction, got held up for a half hour and missed the free shuttle, paid for a taxi and arrived right on time at the Meadowlands Exposition Center. This year, however, my heart was just a little bit lighter. I walked right on past the long pre-reg line (which has surpassed the length of the at-the-door registration line nearly every year I've attended it) and up the stairs to the press room, where I received my first ever press badge (note the excitement) and signed up for a press conference later in the day.
Okay, so here's the deal with the AnimeNEXT convention center. The con is held primarily in the Meadowlands Exposition Center, where the Dealer's Room and most of the panels are held. However, it also books the Holiday Inn down the street as well as one other hotel (either the Embassy Suites or the Marriot). The Holiday Inn holds video rooms and a couple workshops, while the second hotel is for video games. This year, the convention was a little bit more spread out and confusing than it usually is. A couple panel rooms and the Artist's Alley were moved to the downstairs area of the Expo Center, a new addition to the convention that had many (including myself) incredibly confused. I actually never even got a chance to go downstairs, thanks to all the events I had to go to and the inconvenience of finding those stairs.
The video game room was also moved all the way down the street to the Marriot this year, so far away that it felt like I was leaving the convention behind to go play some Rock Band. Finally, the Dealer's Room was no longer a large, clearly-marked rectangle; it had become a strange, L-shaped mass somewhere in the back of the Expo Center that was criminally difficult to reach.
Once I was in the Expo center, press badge in hand, I headed to a new area called "The Arena," a wide floor fitted with bleachers, where cosplayers were swarming like an ant colony. For a little less than an hour, I wandered the Arena and the grounds outside the Exposition Center, taking pictures of any cool cosplays that I found. Before heading to my first event, I made sure to check back with Trisha Sebastian, AnimeNEXT 2008's immensely friendly and helpful Director of Publicity, to get the refund on my pre-registration. (Press get free membership)
Drummond/Swaile Press Conference To top of page
As if getting into the convention free and getting infinitely increased respect from people thanks to my press badge wasn't enough, I also was able to sign up for a press conference with the three Ocean Studios voice actors present at the convention. Yes, that means that I was able to sit down and chat with Brian Drummond (Vegeta in DBZ, Zechs in Gundam Wing, Ryuk in Death Note), his son Aidan Drummond (Shino in Inu Yasha Movie 4, young Teru Mikami in Death Note), and Brad Swaile (Quatre in Gundam Wing, Light in Death Note, and now Setsuna in Gundam 00).
While waiting to be escorted to the press conference, I actually met up with Anime Almanac's Scott VonSchilling, who was diligently blogging in preparation for his interview with voice actor Greg Ayres regarding his stance on fansubs. We talked for a bit and promised to meet up later, but had to part ways so I could head to my interview--I mean press conference.
You see, I tend to call the conference more of an interview, since the only people there were DJ Ranma S and Kuro Usagi from the Anime Jam Session podcast, two writers from Montclair University's college newspaper, and me. There's not much to be said that hasn't already been said in my recording of the press conference in Ani-Gamers Podcast #002, So make sure you listen to it to get the whole story.
This really was my first taste of the privileges afforded by a convention press badge, and boy was it delicious. Not only did I get to meet and talk to these incredible voice actors (in my opinion a far superior feat to simply getting autographs), but I also recorded the interview for my podcast. Does life get any better? Short answer, yes. Long answer, read on.
American Animation To top of page
Next, I headed over to a panel about American animation, where two self-proclaimed animation experts talked about the state of the American animation industry, their favorite shows, and what new stuff is coming out. I stayed for most of the panel, but unfortunately I'm not a huge fan of recent American cartoons (especially not Avatar, which the conversation inevitably turned to).
Del Rey To top of page
I walked into a crowded room, and sat down in the front row next to Scott. Quickly I found that my other neighbors at this industry panel were none other than Gia Manry of a geek by any other name, Brad Rice (a.k.a. Dick McVengeance), of Japanator and Destructoid fame, and Japanator reader KuronoK. I'll honestly say that I was on cloud nine at that panel, knowing that I was sitting right there with my press badge next to big-time anime bloggers like Gia and Brad. It's those sorts of connections and networking opportunities that make having a press badge (and being an anime blogger for that matter) so worth it.
Dallas Middaugh, Associate Publisher at Del Rey, started his panel off by letting us all know that there would be "no new product announcements" at the manga giant's AnimeNEXT panel. Naturally the entire room let out a synchronized, disappointed sigh. Not one to displease, however, Dallas provided us with what might have been the best non-news industry panel I've ever been to. He discussed the new releases from Del Rey (all of which had been previously announced), and gave us some details on a couple of them.
There were a lot of manga mentioned, but not a lot of newsworthy info, so I'm keeping this short. Nevertheless, the one more interesting bit was Del Rey's new X-Men and Wolverine manga, in which they are trying to do their own, manga-inspired interpretation of the comics, without straying too far into typical Marvel territory. Interesting philosophy to say the least.
Soon, Dallas moved on to giving tips to OEL (Original English Language) manga, "or whatever we're calling it today." Primarily, he told potential authors to "always, ALWAYS get a lawyer to review the contract." Finally, Dallas went over the types of contracts Del Rey gives out, as well as their submission guidelines (which you can find on their website). Overall, it was a really, interesting, informative panel, regardless of the lack of new product announcements.
These are a Few of My Favorite Scenes To top of page
I walked into this panel thinking with a heavy heart that my bored feet had found their way to the Kujibiki Unbalance panel. Instead, the people from that panel hadn't shown up, so the three panelists running their panel before it had simply... taken over for them. And so, the panel "These are a Few of My Favorite Scenes" added an hour to its running time.
My first sight of this panel was of a screen playing Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the classic sci-fi epic known to many anime fans for its use of extensive discussions of military strategy. Imediately, my mind jumped to an episode of Anime World Order in which the podcast interviews Rob Fenelon and Walter Amos, two well-respected anime fans from "the before-time." Walter Amos in particular ranted about LotGH for much of said podcast.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I asked one of the panelists his name and the name of his two cohorts. "Well," he says, "He's Brian Price, the other guy is Walter Amos, and I'm Rob Fenelon." I immediately struck up a conversation with the three of them about Anime World Order, Star Blazers, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and the show they all go gaga over: Code Geass. The little I saw of their panel was pretty much just a clip show from classic anime, including Prefectural Earth Defense Force and the previously mentioned LotGH.
Concert (Rentrer en Soi) To top of page
I stopped by the concert after that, and met up with Brad and Gia in the back row. We weren't allowed to take pictures, and Rentrer en Soi played nothing but screamo music, so I quickly vacated the premises. At that point, there wasn't much left to do, so I headed home after a long, long first day of being press.
Uncle Yo To top of page
If you attend any conventions on the east coast, you've probably heard of our anime reviewer, Karl Custer, who goes by his stage name, "Uncle Yo." He has appeared at various anime conventions, performing his trademark otaku-based comedy skit. He appeared at AnimeNEXT for the first time this year (in the Arena no less), and boy, did he get a big audience! Karl's performance was really very entertaining, especially considering how much he has improved since beginning his act about a year ago. If he's ever at a convention near you, make sure to pay him a visit. You won't regret it.
Right after this, I ended up participating in an on-camera interview for Kawaii Films' anime convention documentary with Stephen J. Walker and his cameraman Jordan.
Fansubbing w. Greg Ayres To top of page
Best. Panel. Ever.
Greg Ayres is a voice actor from shows like Beck, Negima, and Welcome to the NHK, but that's not what this panel was about. Ayres also happens to be a big otaku himself, and since he rather cares for our American anime industry, he would hate to see fansubbing "parasites" kill our industry. This was the centerpiece of his panel. Greg took ideas from the audience about why it's okay to watch fansubs, then systematically shut them all down.
Not only was this panel eye-opening when it came to the fansub situation, but it was also a really intelligent, informed commentary on the whole industry itself. Greg was intelligent, funny, and approachable in his attack on fansubs, making this quite possibly the best panel I have ever been to. Scott was sitting next to me throughout the panel, as Greg referenced their interview only minutes before. Lucky bastard!
If you want to hear Greg's panel for yourself, I recorded most of it for the Ani-Gamers Podcast. Listen to it in Episode #003.
C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. To top of page
I ran from Greg's panel to the sushi shop behind the Holiday Inn, and waited for over a half an hour for some rainbow rolls and miso soup. Then I headed back to the C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. panel as fast as I could, snagging a spot in line near some friends of mine. I got up to the front and sat down with my camera for the amazing show that is C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U.
Describing C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. is hard when talking to people who haven't been there, so let's just say that it's a giant party/gameshow sort of thing. The heads of the panel sit in the front and organize games like "feats of strength" (standing in push-up position on your fists), trivia, "word association" (a picture of three guns means 'Trigun'), and even games on the Nintendo Wii. The winners of each of these challenges move on to the Pockylympics, wherein contestants must hold two pieces of Pocky, with a third stick balanced perpendicularly along the other two. Then, the goal becomes to knock your opponent's Pocky off without losing your own.
This year was a little disappointing (no, NOT just because I lost). The primary problem is that AnimeNEXT still hasn't taken Ben and his group seriously. They cannot be crushed into a small panel room for only two hours! The best thing for C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. (as we saw at Castle Point Anime Convention) is for them to get three hours in the Main Events room or Arena, so they can really stretch their legs. There's no denying that C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. is consistently the most popular panel at AnimeNEXT, so I don't see why the staff doesn't make that change.
Media Blasters To top of page
Media Blasters' presence at AnimeNEXT was as minimal as it could be. They sent two of their representatives (I sadly didn't catch their names) out to sit at an industry panel and inform us of the latest news in their company. There were no new product announcements, though the two men kept up a nice, informal atmosphere. I have to say though, that the panel was very awkward, with lots of uneasy pauses when nobody had any questions, and the MB folks didn't really have anything to say.
I did manage to pick up two bits of info from the panel, namely that MB has indeed licensed both seasons of Club-to-Death Angel Dokuro-Chan, and that in terms of digital distribution, "the ideas are getting kicked around... We're definitely looking into different venues." Sadly, the panel ended a whole half-hour early due to the lack of topics to talk about.
Gaijin in Japan To top of page
This panel was quite an interesting little piece. Run by Corbin of the Front Row Crew, "Gaijin in Japan" was all about his experiences in Japan as an exchange student. As a student of the Japanese language myself, I found the panel really interesting and informative, since Corbin gave us a great perspective into what Japanese life is really like for us "gaijin" (foreigners). He also summoned the help of audience member Mari Morimoto, New York's own manga translator/veterinarian (also a guest at the con), who provided insights from the Kansai (Osaka) region of Japan. The clash of perspectives (gaijin-vs-native, Tokyo-vs-Osaka) made for a really intriguing panel.
Anime and the Revolving Door of Culture To top of page
This was a long one. Walter Amos, Rob Fenelon, and Brian Price, who had also run "These are a Few of My Favorite Scenes," were heading up a panel called "Anime and the Revolving Door of Culture," which they had mentioned to me earlier. In this 90-minute panel, the three discussed the ways in which anime and Japanese culture have crossed-over with American culture, creating a sort of "ping-pong" or "revolving door" effect between the two cultures.
It would be hard to go through all of their examples, but let's start where all stories about anime history start. Osamu Tezuka, just a child at the time, sees Popeye the Sailor Man, an American cartoon. He creates Astro Boy (among others), and practically creates the manga and anime industries in Japan. Anime comes to America, and some American animators decide to create a show called Avatar the Last Airbender. If you trace the roots back, Max and Dave Fleischer (creators of Popeye) are the grandfathers of Avatar. Plus, they mention cool stuff like how the Cowboy Bebop opener is based off of James Bond-style crime drama openers that were popular in 1960's Britain.
There were some great quotes here, including "Voltron: Offender of the Intelligent," "What's wrong with little schoolgirls getting raped from the inside by Jello pudding? Oh, right! Everything," and "since Schwarzenegger is not the easiest name to say... the Japanese call him Shuwaa-chan." I have an almost complete recording of this on my hard drive, so maybe I'll put it up on the podcast at some point.
AnimeNEXT this year was difficult to judge. There were some problems with the organization, such as the badly placed video game and dealer's rooms, confusing use of the lower levels of the convention center, and C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U.'s far too small venue. Of course, I also had to deal with only going two out of the three days.
In the end, though, a convention is all about experiences, not hard facts and numbers. Regardless of problems with the organization, I had fun at AnimeNEXT. I received my first ever press pass, and was able to get unexpected amounts of access and respect thanks to it. But let's not even talk about the press pass. I was simply able to hang out with, listen to, or otherwise interact with so many awesome people that I can simply forget about the bad parts. I know it sounds really cheesy, but this really was the first convention that I've done any hardcore networking at.
Since AnimeNEXT wouldn't have been anything without them, I'd like to give shoutouts to Walter Amos, Greg Ayres, Gene Ballesty, Corbin, Karl Custer (Uncle Yo), DJ Ranma S, Aidan Drummond, Brian Drummond, Rob Fenelon, Jamal Joseph, Jordan from Kawaii Films, Gia Manry, Dallas Middaugh, Mari Morimoto, Brian Price, Brad Rice, Ben Schoedel, Trisha Sebastian, MaryEllen Sloan, Brad Swaile, Kuro Usagi, Scott VonSchilling, Stephen Walker, and anyone else I forgot.
If you're debating about going to AnimeNEXT 2009, don't even think twice. It doesn't matter how this convention is run, or how things are situated, or which guests are coming. Sure, AnimeNEXT is about anime and manga. But when you get down to it, it's really all about meeting, talking, and laughing with really fun, cool people. Isn't that what an anime convention is supposed to be about?