Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2007

Topics: ,
AnimeNEXT 2007
July 6-8, 2007
Meadowlands Exposition Center
Secaucus, NJ, USA

AnimeNEXT was held this year on July 6-8, and I figured since it's almost time for NYAF (New York Anime Festival), and I put it off for so long, I might as well write this damn convention report. This was my fourth anime convention, and my first time going for a full three days. Sadly, I was unable to fully experience the three days, since I live in NJ, and stupidly decided that driving to Secaucus each day would be easy. Instead, I ended up missing out on a lot of late-night stuff that would have been possible had I shelled out the dough to stay at a hotel in the area. Nevertheless, the con was, as it was the past few years I attended, a ton of fun.

Friday

On Friday, there wasn't a ton of programming, so I spent a lot of my time in the Dealer's Room, Video Rooms, and hanging out in between, taking cosplay pictures. AnimeNEXT's format is a little odd, with a single Expo Center holding the main con (Signings, Main Theater, Dealer's Room), and two adjacent hotels containing various other events. (One, for example, has a game and a panel room. The other has a bunch of video rooms, some panels and workshops, a manga library, and a tabletop games room) This means a lot of walking back and forth from these different hotels, which is a nice walk in sunny July, but not so fun when you're rushing between panels.

One of the panels I attended on Friday was titled "All About DBZ," and it was easily the highlight of the day. Sadly, I never got the names of the two people running the panel, but these two guys were great. They sat in front of a packed panel room, talking about, notably, the Dragonball Online MMORPG, but also simply answering questions and discussing Dragonball and DBZ canon. Being a Dragonball Z aficionado myself, I found it not only lots of fun (as you'd expect from crazy, now-grown-up DBZ fans), but also very informative.

The other important events I went to involved the guests at the show: Gus Sorola (Simmons) and Kathleen Zuelch (Tex) of Rooster Teeth and Red vs. Blue fame. They held an introduction to Red vs. Blue first, in which they went over how RvB was founded, who Gus and Kathleen are, and answered questions. I had luckily just started watching some Red vs. Blue in the spirit of the occasion. After all, where's the fun in guests when you haven't seen why they're famous? Directly after the Intro, Gus and Kathleen were set up at a signing booth, and I waited briefly on a refreshingly short line to get signatures both for myself and Kevin (The RP Phantom), who attended with me.

Saturday

Saturday was a really fun day, and as usual, had the most panels in it. After some wandering around the convention, I finally went to the Del Rey industry panel, and was not disappointed. Del Rey had apparently skipped attending Anime Expo, and brought their new announcements right here to New Jersey, to my delight. Titles like Alive, Minima, and Aventura were announced for the first time, and I took some notes as for what to keep an eye on. (I even found a copy of Alive a few months later and beta-Reviewed it) After much hand-raising and scoffing at horribly thought-out answers, I finally won one of the promotional manga they were giving out for answering questions about their titles. Sadly, the only one left was a new shojo cooking title, Kitchen Princess, but I took what I could get, walking away in shame.

Next up was C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. (believe me, it's a pain to type out), essentially a huge contest/party run by the NJ-based group of the same name. They are a growing organization that can best be described as a large anime social-network or anime club. (Visit their website: CRAZYOTAKU.com) The panel was really fun, as Ben Schoedel, MaryEllen Sloan, and other leaders of the group put us through a variety of tests, including holding up stacks of manga, answering trivia, creating improv skits, and even balancing Pocky! Our very own Kevin ended up winning the so-called "Pocky Olympics," and our forums member (whom I met at AnimeNEXT) Kaper got second place. There were awesome prizes to be had, such as Kevin's GameBoy Micro, and a Hellsing boxset. And to top it off, it seems now that the officers of C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. might be scouting out NYAF next weekend as their new center of operations.

While I of course spent some good time on Saturday in the Dealer's and Video Rooms, I also decided to stop in at another industry panel. Bandai Entertainment sent in a representative to promote their newest products to us, and I--being a true Haruhiist--was obviously in attendance. The panel was not as entertaining as the well-presented, newsworthy, and prize-filled Del Rey one, but the speakers did a good job of presenting their newest stuff (notably Haruhi, but also including titles like My-Otome) and answering questions. There were lots of questions from the audience about Gundam series, Haruhi, and new shows that they would like added to Bandai's roster. I also found their thorough explanation of the distinct difference between Bandai Entertainment and Bandai Visual to be quite informative. Finally, after leaving this panel, I stopped in for the end of the Cosplay Masquerade. Sadly, I had missed the performances by many cosplayers (including Kaper and Zopney of our Forums and their friends) of the Hare Hare Yukai dance from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Sunday

Sunday had a lot of stuff packed into a little time. Early in the day, I headed over to a panel called "Debate: Anime or Manga?" I couldn't even sit through the entirety of this disappointment, as an older fan stood in front of us droning on about differences between manga and anime. I give him points for trying, but the host was unable to produce a reaction from the audience, turning a debate into nothing more than a monologue. Later, I attempted to go to two forums gatherings, one for Anime News Network and one for the AnimeNEXT forums, but no one showed up to host them. I thought that it might be possible to visit a Square Enix industry panel in hopes of coming out with some meaningful new info, but sadly the crazy fans blocked my way and filled up the room.

I spent the rest of the day in the Video Rooms and hangin out outside on the "Field of Cosplay," where most of the cosplayers go to get their pictures taken and pretend to fight with their cheap kendo sticks. During this time, though, we began and epic impromptu event right in the middle of the field of cosplay: Limbo. Using the magic staff from Kaper's Negi (of Negima) costume, we set up a makeshift game of limbo, with a can of soda as the prize. We had some great contenders, including a dude who leaped over the stick, landing in an action-roll. Plus, a great Allen Walker (D.Gray Man) cosplayer limboed with his giant arm as a counterweight. It was incredibly fun, and we even got posted on YouTube by some nice congoers. (Video 1 and Video 2, I'm the guy with the green shirt and tan shorts, Kaper has a white shirt, Kevin is wearing black, and they're both holding the limbo stick)

After that, Kevin and I headed over to closing ceremonies. They were dull, but served as a satisfying ending to an all-around fun convention. AnimeNEXT is not the most exciting, action-packed con, but it serves as a great social scene for otaku. The setup can be a bit hectic with the con spread over three buildings, but most of the time that makes for great outdoor activities like limbo. Good panels are hard to come by, but there are a few gems here. C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. meets here every year, so you can look forward to that if you're thinking of attending. In general, it's a great local con for people in the New Jersey/New York area looking for a fun, low-key time with lots of other fans.

Continue Reading...

Con Report: New York Anime Festival 2007

Topics: ,
Bamboo Dong, Vampt Vo, and Daryl Surat New York Anime Festival 2007
December 7-9, 2007
Jacob Javits Center
New York, NY, USA

*Photo Gallery*

The New York Anime Festival (NYAF) is an event that many anime fans and members of the press have been waiting for for months. In an attempt to make up for the lack of the Big Apple Anime Fest as the major New York City anime con, NYAF has tried in its inaugural year to create a convention of large scope and credibility. I was only able to attend the con for one day due to my personal schedule, but even in only one Saturday, I was convinced of the potential of this startup convention.

- The Arrival - Art of Reviewing - Anime Outtakes - Kobun Shizuno - Anime News Network - Geek Nights - Protoculture Addicts - Otaku USA - Conclusion -
The Arrival To top of page

First things first, the New York Anime Festival is a breeze when it comes to transportation, but a horror when it comes to lodging. Once you're in the New York City area, all you need is a quick train into New York Penn Station and a quick walk down a few blocks to the Jacob Javits Center. I came from New Jersey, and had no problems with public transportation. (My friend took the bus, and also did not run into trouble) However, finding a cheap New York hotel is not easy. Luckily, I only went for one day and live in NJ, or I would have faced major problems.

As soon as you catch sight of the Javits Center, you'll get a sense of the scale of this convention. While NYAF did not rent out the entire center (only a small part of it as a matter of fact), the building's all-glass architecture is stunning. Registration was easy, and started nice and early for people like me who wanted to get to the front of the line. Everything in registration ran extremely smoothly, to the convention's credit. Once I got on the entrance line and waited a while, it became clear that getting there early had been a good idea. The line stretched completely around the perimeter of a massive, warehouse-sized dealer's room not being used by the convention.

Having only been to two different conventions before (Anime Boston and AnimeNEXT), the show floor at NYAF blew me away. The dealer's room not only had an enormous number of tables, but also happened to be nicely carpeted. While I very rarely buy from the limited and predictable dealers at AnimeNEXT, I ended up purchasing a lot from the NYAF dealer's room. Before departing for my first panel, I had already bought the classic 80's anime film Golgo 13 and three awesome posters (from Death Note, One Piece, and Serial Experiments Lain).

Reviewing is an Art To top of page

The first panel of the day was conveniently my personal highlight of the convention as well. In "The Art of Reviewing Anime," Anime News Network's Zac Bertschy (Hey, Answerman!) and Bamboo Dong (Shelf Life), and Otaku USA/Anime World Order's Daryl Surat quite simply gave tips on reviewing anime and manga. The panel--which I obviously attended so I could improve my review-writing skills for Ani-Gamers--was really pretty informative, and it was made even more exciting because Zac, Bamboo, and Daryl are three of my favorite figures in the anime press scene. (If you're reading this, guys: "hi!") For those interested, here is a summary of the tips given by the trio:

  • Saying something is cliched is, in itself, a cliche.
  • Write with your own voice, but don't make the review about you.
  • Don't get bothered by people who say you're biased.
  • Always write subjectively.
  • Make your review timeless, and very importantly don't use internet memes. (Daryl refuted this claim later in the day during Dave and Joel's NYAF podcast)
  • Daryl prefers to review whole series, but Zac and Bamboo go the ANN way with separate DVDs. They almost got in a real argument about this topic.
  • They did agree that single volume reviews are the current trend, but whole series reviews are the future of the reviewing scene. (That's what we do, so yay!)
  • Get a feeling for the Japanese voice acting, but as an English speaker, you shouldn't review the Japanese audio track.

Tom and Mike Forget Their Lines To top of page

Next up was Anime Outtakes, a panel held by Tom Wayland and Mike Sinterniklaas, two respected voice actors and ADR directors. The way "Anime Outtakes" work is that often, when actors are recording in the studio, they will either mess up their lines, crack a joke, or even engineer a parodical sequence. Tom and Mike spent the entire panel (after running off to buy some technical supplies from a nearby store) showing us clips from various anime and Turkish soap operas (Tom's company did some voicing for it).

The outtakes included such voice talent as Sean Schemmel (Goku, DBZ) and Dan Green (Yami Yugi, Yu-Gi-Oh), and the anime used included Twin Signal, Magic User's Club, and the Cutey Honey live action film. The clips were pretty funny, but Wayland and Sinterklaas had a little trouble stretching what was often the same joke ("blah blah blah I forgot my lines") across an entire hour of panel time. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the panel, and the hosts were very entertaining.

Kobun Shizuno v. Patrick Macias To top of page

The Guest of Honor at the convention, one Kobun Shizuno, was not the most high-profile guest, but he was definitely interesting, and there sure were a lot of people excited to meet him. My camera decided to run out of batteries right before the event, so I ended up borrowing my friend Jon's for the rest of the day. Kobun Shizuno was a small part in lots of big things. For example, he worked as a storyboarder on Giant Robo, co-directed Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0: You Are [Not] Alone, and is directing the new live-action Fist of the North Star movie. Interviewed by Patrick Macias of Otaku USA Magazine, Shizuno divulged his deepest, darkest secrets. (namely just how he got into anime, how he sees himself as a director, etc.)

Shizuno-san went through a few stages in his anime career. Originally he liked anime, but soon lost interest. Then one day, when he was in his 20's or so, Shizuno saw some old show (he doesn't remember the title) on TV, and it clicked--he wanted to make animation. He started off doing production work, and soon realized that he would not be able to become a director easily. When the topic of questions moved to G.I. Joe Sigma 6 (directed by Shizuno), Shizuno let us all know the answer to the age-old question: his favorite G.I. Joe character is Tunnel Rat. Kobun seemed very optimistic about his career and the anime industry in general, saying that he faced no major difficulties in getting where he is today, and that he focuses on fullfilling his visions, never on the problems he might face. Additionally, he was very thrilled about the possibilities that digital animation is opening up to animators.

Then...the conversation turned to Evangelion. You knew it had to happen. As co-director, Shizuno helped with additional filming and editing, so his position is not as crucial as the title makes it sound. According to Shizuno, the staff of Rebuild was unbelievably excited to be participating in such an influential project, and they all put in an incredible effort. When asked about his feelings on meeting legendary Gainax director Hideaki Anno, Kobun simply stated that he was a "brilliant...hard-to-forget person" and an "exceptional individual."

Finally, the lucky audience was shown a world-premiere of the trailer for Shizuno's first original work: a new anime series called Cross Climb. The somewhat cheesily narrated trailer showed the story of an English woman who enters an MMORPG-like program called Cross Climb. It is a world of dreams where she can "find a new her," but there is, as always, something sinister beneath the surface. While I will commend the series for it's high production values and noble attempts at 3-D animation, the trailer left me with nothing but disappointment. With all of it's flashiness, Cross Climb looks like just another overhyped, unoriginal action show. We'll have to wait and see if Shizuno's largely successful career will continue into Cross Climb.

FREE STUFF! Also Anime News Network To top of page

The Anime News Network panel was interesting, if a little uneventful. Nothing particularly interesting was announced, and it was really just some Q&A with some of the minds behind the website. These included founder Justin Sevakis, editor-in-chief Chris MacDonald, executive editor Zac Bertschy, and managing editor Bamboo Dong. And making the panel completely awesome, they also gave out free anime to anyone who asked a good question. (After asking what anime got each of them truly interested in the genre, I got my hands on a Spiral boxset, which so far looks like it's worth how much I payed for it)

Geek Nights and Midget Hookers To top of page

The next hour I split between the Geek Nights live podcast, some random anime screenings, and the Protoculture Addicts panel. At the beginning of Geek Nights (the only part I saw), they talked about their first time at a convention, which was OhioCon. During a bout of drunkenness at the convention, the two ended up playing some Settlers of Catan in the lobby of the hotel. Suddenly, some people came up and started playing with them. As Rym and Scott said, "We were 90% sure they were hookers, but we were 100% sure they were midgets."

The Longest Running Anime and Manga--Yeah, Yeah, We Get It Already To top of page

Just like the Anime News Network panel, this one was not particularly thrilling, but was still fairly informative. Chris, Zac, Bamboo, and another guy I don't know from Protoculture Addicts were running the panel, in which they mainly just answered questions about the direction the magazine was going. As was to be expected, there was much mention of Protoculture Addicts being the longest running anime and manga magazine.

We've Got Naruto On the Cover! To top of page

Next up was yet another magazine panel. This time it was the brand-new magazine Otaku USA, and a panel of 4 writers for the magazine, as well as editor-in-chief Patrick Macias. First they introduced themselves: Daryl Surat from Anime World Order, Dave Riley from Dave and Joel's Fast Karate for the Gentleman, Ed Chavez from MangaCast, and Erin F. from the Ninja Consultants. (Yes, they all have podcasts) Soon, Patrick was reminding us to buy the newest issue, which has Naruto on the cover! "Maybe a few of you have heard of it," remarked Patrick.

Then we were introduced to how their magazine runs. As Mr. Macias reminded us, "It's not that we're better. We're just different." Of course, Dave chimed in with the makeshift Otaku USA catchphrase of the day: "Differently better. Or, perhaps, betterly different?" In no time, though, the audience was able to eat up half of the panel's time with what could have been an interesting topic: the use of the word "otaku." Regarded in Japan as a derogatory term, people wondered about the implications of using the word otaku on a magazine cover. Soon, Patrick had satisfactorily answered the question, but that wasn't enough for the masses. The questions kept coming, each a slightly changed version of the last, like some sort of carousel of pain.

Eventually, we trudged through the crap to the good part, where the writers discussed what it's like working for Otaku USA, and their attitudes towards their work. According to Patrick, "[Our writers] write about what they want, not what they have to." For example, they had a large segment on the classic anime Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato), which is clearly not the kind of mainstream stuff Newtype talks about. (Daryl tells me that he's writing a Golgo 13 article for next issue, too!) Overall, the panel was pretty fun. The atmosphere was much more laid back than the more professional (not always a good thing) mood of the Protoculture Addicts panel. And at the end I stepped up and had a brief chat with Ed Chavez and Patrick Macias, congratulating Patrick on a job well done at all of his events, and receiving a pin and poster from him.


The train ride back on Saturday night was relatively quick and painless, up until I missed my stop by about 2 seconds, and had to walk twice the distance to get home. The New York Anime Festival was a great experience, especially for someone who has not really attended a bigger, more corporate convention before. The guests of honor were not as famous as the ones that usually appear at places like Otakon, but the minor guests, like Patrick Macias, Daryl Surat, Rym and Scott, and Justin Sevakis, are rare treats for those who keep up with the anime internet scene. There were a whole lot of people in attendance, so I hope to see an even bigger and better installment of NYAF in 2008, when I will surely attend again.


- Top - The Arrival - Art of Reviewing - Anime Outtakes - Kobun Shizuno - Anime News Network - Geek Nights - Protoculture Addicts - Otaku USA -
Continue Reading...

Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2008

Topics: ,
AnimeNEXT 2008
June 20-22, 2008
Meadowlands Convention Center
Secaucus, NJ, USA

*Photo Galleries*



Every year, the entire anime-loving population of the tri-state area (NY-NJ-CT for those unfamiliar) saves up their money and drives down to Baltimore for Otakon, the largest anime convention on the east coast. Recently they've been flocking to the New York Anime Festival in Manhattan as well. But at the same time, a once-insignificant fan-run convention in Secaucus called AnimeNEXT has somehow risen its way into the ranks of some of the greatest conventions in the country.

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.

Friday
- Arrival/Photoshoot - Drummond/Swaile Press Conference - American Animation - Del Rey - These are a Few of My Favorite Scenes - Concert -

Saturday
- Uncle Yo - Fansubbing w. Greg Ayres - C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. - Media Blasters - Gaijin in Japan - Anime and the Revolving Door of Culture -



Friday
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 Arena 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).

Drummonds, Swaile, and I 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 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.




Saturday
Uncle Yo To top of page

Uncle Yo 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.

Greg Ayres 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.

CRAZYOTAKU panelists 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.

Rob, Brian, and Walter 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?



*Photo Galleries*

- Top -

Friday
- Arrival/Photoshoot - Drummond/Swaile Press Conference - American Animation - Del Rey - These are a Few of My Favorite Scenes - Concert -

Saturday
- Uncle Yo - Fansubbing w. Greg Ayres - C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. - Media Blasters - Gaijin in Japan - Anime and the Revolving Door of Culture -
Continue Reading...

Con Report: New York Anime Festival 2008 (now with pictures!)

Topics: , , ,
New York Anime Festival 2008 - quite crowded New York Anime Festival 2008
September 26-28, 2008
Jacob Javits Center
New York City, NY, USA

Photo Gallery - at last!

Walking down 34th St., you would never have guessed what was going on at the nearby Jacob Javits Center on a rainy day in late September. Sure, maybe there are a couple people with weird leather jackets on, but you expect such things from the greatest city in the world. Take a walk inside the Javits Center, though, and everything changes. Inside of this fantastic world, presumably normal people shed their skins, and the mundane world of the city streets comes alive with the boundless passion of anime fandom. As I stood on the escalator moving down into the heart of the New York Anime Festival 2008 Dealer's Room, I felt like I was on the threshold of an entirely different world.

The New York Anime Festival is far from my first convention, but it is surely the first one that really made me say, "Wow!" That was last year, and I definitely got the same impression in 2008 when I once again beheld the spectacle that is the blue-carpeted Dealer's Room at NYAF. At the front of the hall was Bandai Entertainment's gargantuan screen showing previews for their newest shows. Not to be outdone, FUNimation had an equally large (albeit more shop-like) booth, which focused much more on actually buying DVDs and talking with sales reps. The rest of the room was coated with dealers selling everything from brand new DVDs to retro VHS's, from replica swords to Legos. The Artist's Alley was along the right wall and in the back corner.

Unfortunately, I wasn't as free to attend panels as I was last year. With press badge in hand, I was forced (by my own boundless ambition?!) to run from industry panel to industry panel, only shirking my duties once so I could visit Otaku USA Magazine - a panel run by Erin Finnegan and Jeff Kight that ended up being very informative, regardless of the lack of Patrick Macias. The industry panels often held little of interest, but there were a couple gems hidden among the reiterations of existing licenses. As always, the rest of the "press gang" helped spice up some otherwise boring panels, so of course I'd like to give some shoutouts to Deb Aoki, Erin Finnegan, Gia Manry, Brad "Dick McVengeance" Rice, and of course "Kurono K," who's not really press but we'll let him off the hook this once.

As is to be expected from the wonderful people running the convention, everything went perfectly smoothly in terms of my being press. My badge was quickly approved, as was my interview request, and a press-only computer was provided for on-site blogging without the $70 Wi-Fi fee. I did have a problem with some faulty power outlets during my interview, but it all worked out in the end. Special thanks to Peter Tatara and Kim Mueller for all of their helpful work in setting up my press access and interview (and of course for being really friendly people).

Still, the actual way that the convention hall was set up was noticeably less intuitive than last year. Whereas last year the Festival used the back of the Dealer's Room for a huge stage, this year that back area was unused, and instead there were two different stages for different activities. Closed into what were essentially two panel rooms was the "Anime News Network Theater" (yes, they sponsored NYAF), hidden behind walls where few were likely to find it by accident. Outside of those doors was the hallway that lead between all of the panel rooms, and dead center in this hall NYAF had placed a large stage where musical performances and other events would be held. Believe me, when our very own Uncle Yo was performing, it was frustratingly difficult to move past the stage and get to a panel room.

The two stages represent two very different - and very wrong - ways to make your stage/theater: one is too central, and one is too hidden. Exacerbating the above problems, the Festival also closed one of the Dealer's Room entrances, meaning that there was only one way in and one way out. Luckily, everything was nicely compartmentalized so that events were in one hall, the Dealer's Room was in another, and con-staff rooms were on the outer periphery, making finding my way around the huge area a little bit easier.

I hung out with the usual folks (as well as some new ones) over the course of the weekend, including Brad, Gia, Scott, Kurono K, Stephen Walker, Deb Aoki, DJ Ranma and Kuro Usagi, Erin and Noah, and of course our very own Karl Custer, who kindly allowed me to use his Artist's Alley booth as my base of operations.

Even with some of its navigational problems, the New York Anime Festival is a downright great convention. Peter Tatara and his crew of awesome convention organizers constructed a show that not only featured amazing guests (Yoshitaka Amano, Hideyuki Kikuchi, and Rie Tanaka) and a great location (NYC baby!), but also attracted pretty much everybody who's anybody in anime journalism in the New York-New Jersey area. If you are an anime fan living reasonably close to New York City, you have absolutely no reason to pass up New York Anime Festival 2009.

Read more about New York Anime Festival 2008

Continue Reading...

Con Report: New York Comic Con 2009

Topics: , ,

Or click here for the Photo Gallery
New York Comic Con 2009
February 6-8, 2009
Jacob Javits Center
New York City, NY, USA

I remember the first time I ever went to an anime convention. It was Anime Boston, and I stepped onto the stairs overlooking the main hall, full of 13-year-old excitement, only to find a sea of cosplayers in front of me. Terrified, I contemplated going back for a good two seconds, as I stared into the gaping maw of nerddom. But soon I steeled myself, and took that fateful step into the craziness of anime convention culture.

This year was my first time ever attending a Comic Con. I stood atop a staircase once again, somewhat older and slightly less terrified, but I still felt the echoes of that scared 13-year-old stir inside of me. But just like that time at Anime Boston, I stared into the abyss, took it all in, and finally took that step.

The New York Comic Con has been held annually at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City since its debut in 2006. It is essentially the younger cousin of the San Diego Comic Con, where most of the big action happens, but that doesn't stop NYCC from being one of the largest human gatherings in New York City. Plus, the best part about Comic Con is that it is not simply about Western comics – it's a convention that embraces all segments of pop culture, from Western comics to cartoons to video games anime/manga to movies and even to television. Nothing is off-limits at this con, and so it is littered with geeks of all different shapes and sizes.

On that note, Comic Con is littered with lots of geeks. I mean lots of them. The attendance was around 77,000, and it was clear from standing in the sea of people that the New York Comic Con was the largest convention I had ever been to. There were people like Ani-Gamers' own Karl Custer who were at the convention, but who I never ran into for all three days.

The convention center is luckily large enough to handle such a huge number of people, but sometimes navigating it was a little difficult. The exhibitor's hall was the centerpiece, and there were various entrances into it from different floors. However, the panel rooms were off in a corner, down a flight of steps, and the press room was completely on the opposite side of the convention center from the panel rooms. Exacerbating the situation, the press room was nudged against the "IGN Theatre," meaning that we had to push through a massive line almost any time we tried to get in.

Yen Press's Comic Con booth

Most of the panels that I went to (predominantly industry ones) were well-run, and the Comic Con staff did a good job of keeping things orderly, setting up tech, and transitioning between different panels. For example, a con staffer was on-hand during the Yen Press giveaway, and she nobly kept the crazy forces of teenage anime fandom at bay by making sure that they lined up in a mature, orderly fashion.

The feeling that I got from the anime and manga industries at their panels was that, while the economy is in shambles right now, the companies will move along with their normal plans with only minor setbacks. Some excessive programs are being cut back, such as FUNimation's podcast, but in general the strategy seems to be the same as last year, with niche titles still getting licenses alongside more mainstream ones. On the mainstream front, Yen Press seems to be picking up some real money-makers, including the new shonen posterboy Soul Eater and the long-awaited Yotsuba&! (which was announced at NYCC). I am of the opinion that over the course of the next year, Yen Press will rise to be as big as Tokyopop once was, and will be Viz's primary challenger in the shonen arena. (Think Naruto vs. Soul Eater)

The anime industry, on the other hand, didn't announce any new licenses, but FUNimation, Bandai and Viz focused heavily on their new online streaming services. This is going to be the future of the anime industry, so it's great to finally see the distributors giving up on single-volume releases and moving to boxsets and streaming video.

The New York Comic Con was also my first time attending a con as video game press. I checked out games like Velvet Assassin, X-Blades, Prototype, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, The Conduit, MadWorld, and Red Faction: Guerrilla, most of which should have hands-on coverage on the site soon. I must say that at some of the gaming booths, I didn't receive very much help from the reps, but the SouthPeak Games booth was really fun and inviting. I received some very informative walkthroughs from developers and representatives for Velvet Assassin and X-Blades, as well as a great interview with the voice actor starring in Velvet Assassin.

John Martone, Gia, Scott, and Evan

Outside of scheduled convention programming, I also got to hang out with some really awesome people throughout the weekend. On Friday afternoon, I stopped by the "Versus Mode Live" panel, featuring Bioshock director Ken Levine and Fallout 3 producer Todd Howard, and moderated by legendary gaming journalists N'Gai Croal and Stephen Totilo. After the panel, I chatted for a bit with the four of them, and they even recorded openers for the Ani-Gamers Podcast. Both on Friday (when the Vertical panel ended early) and on Saturday (when the same happened for CMX), I had a fun chance to meet a bunch of fellow anime/manga bloggers, journalists, and industry professionals – including Brigid Alverson, Deb Aoki, Casey Brienza, Ed Chavez, Erica Friedman, and Michael Pinto.

One of the highlights of my personal con experience was a "blogger dinner" on Saturday night, wherein fifteen or so other bloggers and I headed down to the Tick Tock Diner on 34 St. and 8th Ave. In attendance were friends like Gia Manry, Scott VonSchilling, Hisui, and KuronoK, as well as new acquaintances like Michael Pinto and John Martone. My table was particularly fun, as I sat with Narutaki and Kohaku (from Reverse Thieves), Dave (from Subatomic Brainfreeze), and Carl (from Ogiue Maniax). We discussed ninja self-destruction, Segata Sanshiro, and pedo high school teachers, but quickly noticed that the other tables were all talking about actual anime stuff. (Hah, silly them!) The other highlight was, of course, on Sunday, when I sat down with Brigid, Scott, Hisui, and Narutaki for Ani-Gamers Podcast #012.

I really enjoyed the New York Comic Con, despite my general preference for small, anime-centric cons. I would without question recommend it to any geek with an interest in anime, manga, games, or (naturally) comics – as long as they are okay with large conventions. It's big, it's crazy, and it's hectic, but dammit if the New York Comic Con's not fun as hell.


Click for our New York Comic Con 2009 coverage

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Castle Point Anime Convention 2009

Topics: ,

Or click here for the Photo Gallery
Castle Point Anime Convention 2009
March 29, 2009
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ, USA

Why do we go to conventions? To meet thousands of people who love the same silly cartoons that we do? To scout out great deals on DVDs, figures and the like? To meet guests and attend fascinating panels? Nobody has the same answer, and that's why it is not just the Otakons and the Anime Expos that are running the anime con scene. That's why a college anime club at Stevens Institute of Technology can concoct a new convention in 2008, and pull a startling number of attendees and panelists (EDIT: 1,016 attendees to be precise) to a college convention held in a small venue, with one guest, on a Sunday!

The reasons why fans flocked to Castle Point for the second year in a row are numerous. First was the price point, bumped up $5 from last year, but still at the low figure of $10 for the whole day. Also, the con was only one day, so all of the programming was packed in, making for a very dense, satisfying day. Finally, the Stevens campus is in Hoboken, right down the street from the train station, so commuting was easy from either New Jersey or New York City. All of these factors add up to an experience that doesn't require the time or money commitments of a big convention, with its high fees for travel, lodging, and attendance.

The programming was astounding for such a small convention. My favorite part about CPAC has consistently been that it provides the sort of panels that you get at bigger cons, but in a smaller, more personal venue. For example, CPAC 2009 was home to C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. and the Super Mario Super Panel, two popular panels that are often run at AnimeNEXT and MangaNEXT. Walter Amos and Rob Fenelon – typically seen at AnimeNEXT – were even in attendance, running two panels in which they described old-school anime fandom ("Otaku History 101") and showed clips of their favorite scenes (appropriately, "These Are a Few of My Favorite Scenes").

Otaku History 101

Of course, the convention also featured Ani-Gamers' first panel: "You Wanna Be a Blogger/Podcaster?", in which Ink, Hisui, DJ Ranma S, and I laid down the basics of how budding Internet superstars can create and maintain their very own blogs and/or podcasts. I've been talking up the idea of running this same panel at both AnimeNEXT and New York Anime Festival, so keep your eyes open for that. (And JT Maguire kindly recorded part of the panel, which you can view in its sweet video-tastic glory over at blip.tv.)

Unfortunately, despite its great programming, CPAC 2009 faced some fundamental problems. First and foremost was the fact that it only had one guest: locally-based voice actor Bill Rogers. (Michele Knotz was supposed to come, but canceled at the last minute.) That meant that there was very little in the way of Main Events programming, lending to the con an unstable, decentralized atmosphere. The other major problem was that the staff had decided – for some unfathomable reason – that no panels could possibly compete with their concert/rave, which featured some 8-bit musicians and other geeky music. So naturally, there were no panels during the concert, while the video game and dealers rooms both closed up shop right as the show began. For the considerable number of people who weren't interested in the concert, that meant that the convention was effectively finished a full two or three hours earlier than they had thought.

Despite these flaws, the convention staff volunteers (made up entirely of Stevens Anime Club members) were very friendly, and they could be found nearly anywhere at the con. There were occasional complaints from attendees, panelists, and staffers about registration and other logistical issues; probably due to the inherent difficulties of a college club organizing a quickly growing anime convention. One attendee inexplicably wasn't in the system when he arrived, and had to convince the folks at registration that he had a panel that was about to start before he could be allowed upstairs to set up. One anonymous staffer expressed some exasperation at panelists who were simply not showing up for their panels.

I really enjoyed my time at the Castle Point Anime Convention. It's a small, personal environment in which fans, guests, panelists, and staffers can all get together and talk about anime, a pursuit that is so often forgotten in our age of big conventions and the Internet. "Little guys" like CPAC provide a way for us to connect with each other as our predecessors did – through the amazing technique of "talking to each other." If, years from now, anime conventions cease to be, it will not be for lack of money or guests; it will be because fans will have forgotten the simple, priceless significance of their own interaction.


Click for our Castle Point Anime Convention 2009 coverage

Continue Reading...

Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2009

Topics: , ,

Or click here for the Photo Gallery
AnimeNEXT 2009
June 12-14, 2009
Garden State Exhibit Center
Somerset, NJ, USA

There is little to say about AnimeNEXT for those who have never attended the New Jersey convention. That's not because there was nothing to do; in fact, quite the opposite. The reason is that AnimeNEXT is a fan-run convention that feels less like an organized series of events, and more like a giant, three-day party. It's an experience like no other.

Those who have attended previous AnimeNEXT conventions will know the crowds sprayed across the grass, taking cosplay photos and fighting with their newly-bought wooden swords. The panels, run by an ever growing crowd of intelligent and funny panelists both young and old from around the tri-state area, will also be familiar. Then there is also the huge concrete convention center, filled with cosplayers in its massive open area.

The difference is that the lawn, the convention center, and the panel rooms were all new this year, a change that came with the convention's move from the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus to the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset. The move brought the AnimeNEXT about 45 minutes southwest of its previous location, which posed a significant problem for New York-based convention-goers. Driving to the con was impractical, and public transportation could only get one as far as the New Brunswick train station (though AnimeNEXT kindly provided a shuttle bus between the train station and convention center in the absence of taxis). For lucky folks like myself who live in the suburbs of New Jersey, the drive was relatively short and painless, clocking in at around a half hour in my case.

Prior engagements unfortunately got in the way of me attending the convention on its most densely-packed day, Saturday. But during Friday and Sunday, I did my best to get an accurate picture of this year's three-day-long anime party. First on my list were the panels, which never fail to impress at this convention. Friday night featured a string of panels run by Walter Amos, Rob Fenelon, and Brian Price, who I praised for their wonderful presentation at AnimeNEXT 2008. This year, they ran "Anime Princesses Rule, Disney Princesses Drool," a new panel revolving around the idea of powerful, political female royaly in anime versus flowery, helpless female royalty in American cartoons. I didn't catch very much of the other two late-night panels, but they were "My Stereotypes Are More Offensive Than Yours" (a new one about differences in cultural stereotypes) and the three panelists' old classic, "These Are a Few of My Favorite Scenes" (a clip show).

Voice actor Kyle Hebert and his co-host Marc Swint showed up at the con for a live episode of The Big Bald Broadcast, and even invited voice actors Bill Rogers and Michele Knotz to join in on the show. While I wasn't able to attend most of the events, I know that Kyle, Bill, and Michele ran tons of events throughout the weekend, from storytime for kids to Gravitation open discussions. (Wanna hear more about Kyle Hebert? Check out his appearances on Ani-Gamers Podcast episodes #006 and #015!)

Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions

One of the most surprisingly enjoyable panels at the con was something called "Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions." Run by the "IchiP!" anime dance troupe, I was quite honestly expecting a very silly, inconsequential discussion at the panel, considering the group hosting it. However, they really wowed me with some serious discussion of the way in which people view anime fans, and how those perceptions are at times correct and at times woefully misinformed. They opened the floor for questions and comments throughout the panel, which resulted in some very off-topic discussions as well as thoughtful commentary. The "IchiP!" girls definitely have some room to improve their concision and crowd control, but I can't say that I'm not looking forward to seeing their next panel.

The funny thing about AnimeNEXT, though, is that much of its charm comes exclusively from its attendees and panelists, who form a generally friendly and fun-loving group that is always a joy to be around. As such, this year's convention was still lots of fun despite being even more dreadfully disorganized than the year before. The location, as mentioned before, made public transportation difficult, but the big problem was in scheduling. Most panels that I attended were moved to new times and/or locations, which cut down panel attendance significantly. (The blogging panel, for example, was attended almost exclusively by... fellow bloggers.) There were also some less significant panel scheduling problems, as Walter, Rob, and Brian pointed out when they noticed that their panels had been inexplicably given an 18+ rating. To the convention's credit, they published a sheet of last-minute scheduling corrections, but this noble attempt was made mostly useless with all of the new corrections being made mere hours before panels started.

Cosplayers on the lawn

As was the problem last year, there was no Guest of Honor for this year's AnimeNEXT, resulting in a decentralized feeling that left the convention with a list of main events that did not capture as much attention as it should have. Of course, it didn't help that the convention center was new and events were still scattered into various nearby buildings, further confusing convention-goers looking to check out all that AnimeNEXT had to offer.

Regardless of these defects, I continue to promote AnimeNEXT as a fun New Jersey convention, especially now for those living too far to make it to New York Anime Festival. It might not have been well organized, but there was "usually a lot of stuff to do," as one attendee remarked. If you can't make it to a bigger convention like New York Anime Festival or Otakon, AnimeNEXT is certainly a viable alternative for those in the area. It might not drag in the big guests of those cons, but what it has is heart. And that is something that money, organization, and reputation just can't buy.



Oh yeah, and finally, my highlight of the con...

Golguie
Continue Reading...

Con Report: Otakon 2009

Topics: , ,

Or click here for the Photo Gallery
Otakon 2009
July 17-19, 2009
Baltimore Convention Center
Baltimore, MD, USA

In the Compromise of 1790, the North and South – who had been perpetually at odds with each other – agreed on a location for Washington D.C., placing it between Virginia and Maryland in a spot that sat nearly in the center of the Eastern Seaboard. Just an hour away from our country's capital is Baltimore, the site of geekdom's own version of that North-South negotiation. I am, of course, talking about Otakon, a convention that is, without a doubt, the capital of North American anime fandom.

There are a number of factors that make this convention the "capital." Of course, it is the capital in terms of sheer numbers, since people from all across the East Coast (and even other parts of the country) flock to Otakon's location, which allows for attendees from both the north and south. But it is also the cultural capital of anime fandom, in that it is where the panelists, podcasters, bloggers, cosplayers, and other folks come together and meet each other. It's like the American dream of a giant melting pot, except with a lot more sweaty guys dressed as Gaara.

Otakon might not have the industry presence or attendance numbers of Anime Expo on the West Coast, but it is the largest fan-run anime con in the United States, and when that fan-run nature is unleashed in the wide halls of the Baltimore convention center for an entire weekend, it's sure to be the craziest weekend EVER. As a first-time Otakon-goer, I can confirm that, yes, it was indeed the craziest anime convention I have ever attended.

Anime Recruitment

The biggest difference between Otakon and everything else is numbers, and with official attendance at 26,586 this year, it is clear that Otakon has once again proven itself as one of the biggest cons in the country. As a result, a panel about an obscure anime series scheduled opposite a Saturday night concert (often considered a "death slot") can pack the panel room, simply by virtue of the fact that, with so many people at the convention center, there are bound to be hundreds of people who are bored and looking for an event to attend, even during the concert.

That, combined with six panel rooms (not counting workshops), meant that Otakon had, without a doubt, the greatest panel lineup I've ever seen. There was a Leiji Matsumoto panel, a Mecha Appreciation panel, panels about Neo-Shonen and Yoshinobu Nishizaki (run by AWO's Daryl Surat), a panel about recruiting new anime fans (run by the Reverse Thieves), a panel about the word "otaku" (run by Alex Leavitt), a Japanese pro wrestling panel, as well as all of the typical Evangelion and zombie apocalypse panels and such things. Pretty much, if you were interested in anything anime-related, you could find a panel about it at Otakon.

And if you couldn't find a panel about it, you could sure as hell find a dealer selling it. While I only spent about two or three hours total in the Dealer's Room and Artist's Alley, there were a ton of great dealers (including Science Fiction Continuum, with $5 DVDs!) and artists (like Hieng Tang, who sells awesome clothing designs that are actually not even anime-style at all).

In terms of convention organization, things went pretty smoothly. Panels had no significant problems starting up (save for a lack of sound at the GeekNights' "Know Your Creators" panel), and there were techs on hand during all panels to keep any computer problems from slowing down the show. This unfortunately didn't help Daryl Surat, who had his panel shut down by the convention when his clip from Apocalypse Zero during his "Anime's Craziest Deaths" panel went too over-the-top for the staffer who was on-hand moderating.

Fred Schodt Q&A

The guest lineup was simply amazing, and while some guests didn't get as much attention as they should have, there was certainly a guest for nearly every interest. Whether you wanted to meet a director, producer, character designer, voice actor, musician, or translator, whether you liked moe or sci-fi, dubs or subs, you could find somebody interesting at Otakon. The con's ability to bring in high-profile guests should be a model for other fan-run conventions who say "we're fan-run, we can't get the big guests that NYAF and Anime Expo get." Otakon proves year after year that a popular fan-run convention can get guests on par with any professional convention.

As many readers might notice, Ani-Gamers hasn't posted any interviews from Otakon 2009. That's because we were unfortunately not approved for interviews with any of the four great guests we requested (Ishiguro, Yamamoto, Schodt, and Willingham), an outcome which I was not altogether surprised by. What I was taken aback by, however, was that I was never once notified of if I actually was approved for an interview or not. If I had known that the answer to all four requests was "No" by, say, Friday night, I would have been able to adjust my schedule so I could attend the Q&A panels for each of the guests I requested. As hard as the press folks at Otakon worked, with their constant Twitter updates and frequent accommodation of press requests, I would have very much appreciated some prior notice about interviews.

Cosplayers from Space Battleship Yamato

In all this hubbub about panels and press ops, though, let's not forget that conventions have been and always will be about hanging out with fellow fans. Being that it is both a fan-run con AND the "capital of American anime fandom," it is, bar none, the best place to meet other fans. I stayed in a hotel room with the Reverse Thieves and Ogiue Maniax, attended a room party filled with fellow podcasters, ate dinner with Twitter friends, and even ran into someone who I had only met briefly a year ago at a summer program. The greatest thing about Otakon is that you probably already know someone who is at the con, and if you don't, it is the absolute best place to meet someone new!

So, long story short, I loved Otakon 2009 and, time and funds permitting, I will be back next year to experience it all over again. As a fan-run convention, it definitely has its organizational flaws, but nothing beats the attitude that, for one day, pervades the entire Baltimore Convention Center: "We're all fans, and we're all friends. Now let's party!"


Click for our Otakon 2009 coverage

Continue Reading...

Con Report: New York Anime Festival 2009

Topics: ,

Or click here for the Photo Gallery
New York Anime Festival 2009
September 25-27, 2009
Jacob K. Javits Center
New York, NY, USA

Last month we saw the final hurrah for a fantastic convention. The New York Anime Festival, started three years ago by the folks at Reed Exhibitions as an anime response to the New York Comic Con, is finally folding back into its sister convention. The merge means that the new version of the con will be filled with an incredible amount of events for all kinds of fans, but it also means that the anime focus of NYAF will be gone.

This year the New York Anime Festival once again impressed me with its wide variety of programing from both fans and professionals. There were the typical guest panels, with introductions to voice acting scheduled next to Question and Answer sessions with Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, but there were also a fair number of fan-run panels about things like Korean MMOs and Japanese ghost stories.

Even so, I was disappointed with the way the events schedule turned out. There were times (mostly early in the morning) when the convention was hosting three different events that I wanted to go to, followed by hours of a thin schedule with panels in which I had little to no interest. Perhaps this year's events situation was perpetuated by the lacking industry presence at the con this year. Bandai Entertainment's massive booth from last year was missing in action, and Yen Press, a New York-based manga publisher known for their great convention showings, was almost entirely AWOL.

The Central Park Media Retrospective panel on Sunday

But with all that free time came a chance to delve into things that I would not normally check out. On Friday I watched Cencoroll, the new anime short created almost entirely by one man (Atsuya Uki), and later that night I stopped by the Cosplay Variety show, thinking I would find nothing more than silly fanboy/fangirl antics as usual. Much to my surprise, however, I was rewarded for staying through some of the more inconsequential presentations with an operatic performance by Mario Bueno and a whole troupe of cosplayers, who acted out the final scenes of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion to the tune of Coldplay's hit single "Viva La Vida." Not being a huge fan of cosplaying myself, I didn't think that anything at the Variety Show could impress me, but Bueno's breathtaking performance completely blew me away.

Saturday night was my personal highlight of the con, despite the fact that most of the fun wasn't even directly related to the con. (Not a ringing endorsement of the NYAF schedule, unfortunately.) We started off with a massive "Bloggers Roundtable" panel, featuring ten different outlets (Anime Almanac, Anime Vice, Anime wa Bakuhatsu da, Manga Worth Reading, The Gaming Dungeon, Manga.About.com, Ogiue Maniax, Reverse Thieves, Subatomic Brainfreeze, and, of course, Ani-Gamers) representing our varied views on the anime blogging scene. The panel – on video thanks to Anime Diet – went pretty well despite our being scheduled opposite the cosplay masquerade and the resulting lack of attendees, but the best part of our whole blogging reunion was the karaoke right after the panel. There are few things more fun than hanging out with a bunch of insane anime bloggers, singing "Take On Me" and "God Knows" late into the night.

Overall, I think the New York Anime Festival was really starting to come into its own this year, despite the crowded Javits Center with its expensive food and out-of-the-way location. With a truly big-name Guest of Honor (Tomino) and an open floor plan that allowed for more free navigation, it seemed like the folks at Reed Exhibitions were beginning to balance the needs of a professional convention with the desires of fans. It's a shame that the con will be folded into Comic Con next year, but my hope is that the lessons learned in organizing the past three years of NYAF will carry over to next fall's gigantic event. If it's anything like 2009's New York Anime Festival, it's sure to be a blast!


Click for our New York Anime Festival 2009 coverage

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Zenkaikon 2009 - Cramped But Competent

Topics: ,
Zenkaikon 2009 November 7-8, 2009
Radisson Hotel Valley Forge
King of Prussia, PA, USA


A merger of two formerly separate and smaller cons (Kosaikon and Zentrankon), Zenkaikon 2009 is the fourth incarnation of a relatively small (but rapidly growing) Pennsylvania anime convention that serves up the standards: guest speakers, industry- and fan-run panels, video game rooms, and live performances.

There were only two very cramped gaming rooms (with an admirable amount of systems squeezed in) and as many video rooms, which were split between live action and anime. While some might consider this a horrible decision given both the size and purpose of the con, I thought it was a ballsy effort to offer something more despite the smaller space and projected number of attendees (they vastly underestimated). The highlight of the viewing I was able to see was the first three subbed episodes of Princess Tutu.

The attending bands, with the exception of J-pop singer Rina Mimura, were only moderately alluring as a taste of J-music. Eyeshine, geist, and Eden Star all had members of Asian descent and were all/mostly influenced by J-Punk/-Pop, but sounded too little like it to evoke an Asian feel. That’s not to say they weren’t good, however. I’ve seen Eden Star before, and the lead singer as well as the drummer exhibit very impressive energy and talent. It just seemed a little too tellingly inauthentic. Hell, even Castle Point Anime Convention got Peelander-Z.

The dealer’s room was about the size of a classroom, and did just about all it could with the space provided, but navigation was frustratingly tight and rewards far too few. Similarly, Artist’s Alley was a joke. Very few artists were actually displaying their work (the room was smaller than the dealer’s room), and what was there seemed lackluster.

Panels were many, but scheduling was, as usual for any con, poorly arranged (at least for my tastes). All the uninteresting panels seemed grouped together to form hours of free time, and all the interesting panels overlapped separate rooms. In addition to a wonderfully informative kendo demonstration, my particular interests were with “Anime in China,” “Moe Anthropomorphism-tan,” “Psychology of Anime,” and “Do Anime Conventions Have a Future?” Luckily, I was able to catch all but the last, and reviews/summations can be found on this site for those who could not attend these enlightening and well-handled panels.

So, if you were looking for a lily pad to serve as a fix between New York and Hoboken or wherever anime pops up next – a place to commune with your fellow lovers of anime, cosplay, and all other aspects of American otaku-dom – then Zenkaikon is a decent enough pit stop. There is vast room for improvement with regards to venue, organization, and space allocation, but that will hopefully come with time.

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Setsucon 2010 – Over-packed at Penn State

Topics: , ,
Setsucon 2010, held at The Pennsylvania State University January 15-16, 2010
Days Inn State College
State Collage PA, USA


Editor's Note: I apologize for the lateness of this article. We got held up in publishing it because of Tezuka Month. – Vampt Vo

I was once asked what was the better convention experience was: the small convention or the big one. I responded with the small convention, and to this day I still really love the small cons. So when I was able to go to Setsucon at The Pennsylvania State University, I immediately jumped at the chance.

The con was on the small side for sure, with only two panel rooms, two video rooms, a game room and a Dealer’s Room. However, what it lacked in size it gained in popularity with the addition of special guest Vic Mignonga, the voice of Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist). If there was any doubt that this man can draw in crowds, it was dispelled at this con as Setsucon reached maximum capacity at 3 PM on Saturday.

Lucky, there was more to the con then just the presence of a voice actor. The con had multiple events going on throughout the day, including, of course, the normal "How to Draw" panel and a Q&A with Vic, but Setsucon still brought some very interesting ideas to the table. For example, the “Iron Cosplay” panel pitted four attendees against each other in a contest to see who could create the best cosplay in 40 minutes out of their “special secret” medium.

Another great event was the Cosplay Auction, the basic concept being that the staff of Setsucon would put on their best Wild West versions of our favorite anime characters and auction them off for charity. Some of the best moments were during the bidding wars, when some characters were sold for as much as $200!

The favorite event, though, was “Rock Band Idol” where over a dozen bands competed on Harmonix’s Rock Band. The format of the event was the most interesting part: while notes hit was a part of the game, stage presence, crowd control, and several other factors also lead to the decision of the winners.

Vic later moved from voice actor to musical guest as he preformed a medley of his greatest hits on stage for a packed hall. After that, the dance went on until the con closed at midnight on Saturday.

The Dealer’s Room was actually a mix of dealers and the Artist’s Alley. However, for the con being on the small side, the Dealers Room had an excellent amount of choice,s from cosplay to line art. My buddies from Tekkoshocon also showed up to promote Tekko this year and test-run a Scavenger Hunt to be fully instituted at Tekko itself.

The Game Room was probably my highlight of the convention. Never did I walk into the room and not find a game being played or a game that I wouldn't mind playing. I also got my butt kicked in the Pokémon tournament.

Like I said, I love the small con, but with over 900 attendees over the two days of this con, next year it will be anything but. Fortunately, however, next year they will have yours truly to help keep the peace!


For video and interviews from the con check out Kit's independent video report here.

Setsucon Official Website

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Kitacon II (2010) – Packed with People and Goodness

Topics: ,
Kitacon II, held in Northampton March 25-27, 2010
Park Inn, Northampton, UK
Attendance: 650 (full capacity)
Official Site


AUTHOR NOTE: I apologize for the delay in presenting this report — a house move dragged out the editing process. –Elliot

First of all, I wish to give a small disclaimer. I am assuming that the majority of people who view this site are from the US and so I want to make obvious here that UK anime conventions are a lot smaller than what you may be used to hearing about.

At 650 attendees, Kitacon is a respectably sized fan-run con by UK standards, fitting snugly into the confines of the conference rooms of Northampton's Park Inn. (Sometimes a little too snugly, as with the exception of the main events hall many of the other event rooms were often packed out with attendees during panels.) The games room in particular was a victim of this, and while the staff running it (DDR:UK) did a stellar job setting up the room, there simply was not enough space for it to accommodate everyone who wished to enter.

Thankfully this kind of crowding never became a major issue, due in part to the 16+ age requirement that the convention enforces. This age requirement is starting to spread among fan-run conventions in the UK, and as someone old enough I heartily endorse this measure. It helped to set a much more mature, measured tone for the convention, as well as a marked lack of idiotic “Hug me” signs and random glomping. From talking to staffers it appears that this move was made in order to prevent insurance costs from crippling the convention, so don't think this was an act of ageism!

While some of the convention rooms were rather small, the events within them were excellent. The main defining event of the convention, and something I want to see stolen and put on at all anime conventions, was something called “Build-a-Mecha.” Provided with a basic set of materials such as cardboard, tape, pens and wallpaper, different teams were tasked to build a robot shell around one of the team members. The whole thing was great fun, with lively joking and a great sense of humor throughout. Not to brag, but my team won the event. Shout-outs to Zelly, Caroline, Chris, and Guy, my teammates! You can see our horrific entry, “Ravager, Warrior of Love”, below.

Ravager, Warrior of Love, our winning entry in the Build-a-Mecha panel

Another of the stand-out events was "Kita's got Talent?!," a send up of the recent trend of reality talent shows that are on UK TV. This differed from the usual "Omake" event at conventions as none of the sets were anime-based, and because it was actually good. I could write a whole additional review of this single panel, but it would just be a thousand words of me gushing about how pleasantly surprised and genuinely entertained I was by the event.

Some fan-run panels were available, such as the “Cosplay On the Cheap” panel, the “Metal Gear Solid Fan Panel”, and more than a few boisterous quiz events. All those I attended were good fun, well presented, and well received by the audience. Personally I would have liked to seen more on the timetable, but the practice of putting on a panel is not as widespread in the UK as it is elsewhere, sadly.

I also presented my own panel “Anime You Should See”, to introduce fans to a wide variety of well-regarded anime. (Credit to Geeknights for the name.) This was my first time putting a panel on and I was nervous as hell, especially as there were a few difficulties with the equipment and the timing of the event. Despite initial nerves the panel went over well, and at one point I remember mimicking the signature “Piston Punch” move from Big O to an amused crowd. Rather predictably, some experienced fans attended (not the target audience!) and after the panel gave me some very solid advice for developing the presentation. One kind person even bought me a drink, which shows you the friendly atmosphere of the convention.

There were a number of problems early on with event scheduling, including for my own panel, due to one simple issue: The printed con guides that staffers handed out at registration were out of date mere hours after the convention started. One inspired idea that the convention had was to provide a constantly updated copy of the timetable in xhtml format on the website, which was a great help when planning what events to attend. However as not everyone present at the event had a smartphone like myself, there was some confusion with events until halfway through Saturday. At this point updated color-coded printouts of the revised timetable suddenly appeared next to every set of doors and convention room and all confusion was dispelled.

The convention staffers handled registration (usually a horrific rigmarole at UK cons) with the utmost efficiency. The staff even put on an impromptu pre-registration session the day before the convention started, and I was one of the lucky 50 people who were present for this.

The hotel staff was helpful for the most part, with the notable exception of the cleaning staff. These brave souls were also acting as room checkers for the duration of the convention to prevent over-capacity hotel rooms. I am not against room checks in principle (and will admit I have stuffed a room with extra people at other conventions to lower the price of the stay), but they border on insulting when they occur at 7:45 in the morning. We were then told to vacate the room, along with our hangovers, so that the staff could start cleaning. There was no budging on this demand.

A good measure of a con is how willing people are to return next year. At the bombastic closing ceremony the staff announced next year’s convention date and venue to roaring applause. I have to admit that this is a masterstroke — get people when they are most pumped and sell them on the next event. Kitacon was, without a shred of hyperbole, the best convention experience I have had to date, and I cant wait for next year!

Continue Reading...

Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2010

Topics: ,

Or click here for the Photo Gallery
June 18-20, 2010
Garden State Expo Center, Somerset, NJ
Official Site


AnimeNEXT is my "hometown con," so to speak. This is in part because it is New Jersey's largest anime convention, so it is the closest major con to my house, but also because I've attended it every year since my freshman year of high school. Unfortunately, for the past few years AnimeNEXT seemed to be struggling to find their footing. While the convention has certainly grown considerably — enough to make moving from Secaucus to the Garden State Exhibit Center an absolute necessity — it has also lacked a true Guest of Honor for about three years now. Despite some continuing stumbles on the convention's part, AnimeNEXT 2010 represented a refreshing return to form for the sizable NJ event.

Most notably, this year marked the return of the Guest of Honor spot, which housed Kenji Kamiyama, director of Eden of the East, Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex, and Seirei no Moribito. With signings and Q&A panels spread throughout the weekend, it was clear that the AnimeNEXT staff was making the most of this exciting guest. I wasn't particularly impressed by his showing, but it may have had something to do with his translator, who — despite some noble efforts — didn't seem to communicate the questions and answers very well. (For more on Kenji Kamiyama, read the questions and answers from our brief round-robin interview with the director at AnimeNEXT 2010.)

Guest of Honor Kenji Kamiyama at his Q&A panel

As always, I was quite pleased with the panel lineup, as it included a number of popular panelists as well as brand-new presenters. A lot of the new panels that I saw (History of Mecha, Cosplay Comedian Joe) were pretty disappointing, but I'm always glad to see new faces presenting their stuff. In terms of known commodities, I attended the Sunday morning panel "Otaku: Perceptions and Misconceptions," run by the girls from the IchiP dance troupe. In my con report last year I remarked that they ran a startlingly interesting and thoughtful discussion during the first iteration of the panel, and this year they built on their previous success. Crowd control was much better than last year, though the panelists' discussion meandered a little more than I liked. Nevertheless, I enjoyed their open conversation about the "otaku" lifestyle and the stereotypes associated with it.

Brian Price, rocking out after his Bad Anime Bad!! panel

I checked out a number of panels run by convention veterans Walter Amos, Rob Fenelon, and Brian Price, who presented a compilation of odd video clips from Walter and Rob (These Are a Few of My Favorite Scenes), a bad anime clipshow from Brian (Bad Anime Bad!!) and a presentation on French animation from Walter and Rob (It Came From France!!), among other panels. I attended the first two, both of which always manage to entertain me with stuff I've never seen before, but I ran into a bit of a problem in going to It Came From France!! Namely, I had been avoiding lines with my press pass throughout the convention, but when Narutaki of the Reverse Thieves, Brad Rice of Japanator, and I tried to get into Walter and Rob's panel, the staffer said that we would have to wait on line. Naturally, we hadn't grabbed a spot on the line, since press usually don't have to do that, so we just ... didn't go. I heard some complaints from staff later that members of the press had been "abusing their privileges," so in the future, I would highly suggest that AnimeNEXT write out what those privileges ARE (and what privileges we don't have) instead of complaining that the press are doing things that they're allowed to do at every other convention.

Meanwhile, I ran two panels of my own, which generally went over smoothly. Convention staffers were very helpful in making sure I had all of the equipment I needed, and did their best to keep crowds under control while waiting for panels to begin. My first panel was the Friday afternoon "Fandom & Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing," which featured Ink, Uncle Yo, and me in a roundtable discussion of critical thought and its application to anime fans and critics. We did our best to engage the audience, and actually ended up getting quite a few very interesting responses from the crowd. On Saturday, I stuck it alone for "The Changing Faces of Anime." To my delight, there was actually a sizable line of attendees waiting to see the panel, in which I described the history of anime character designs, pointing out important artists and paradigm shifts. The crowd had a lot of great questions at the end, and they seemed to really enjoy it!

The pathway between the Expo Center and the Doubletree hotel, which only had space for two lanes of people and often got quite congested.

At times, I felt like the Garden State Exhibit Center, Doubletree Hotel, and other areas, despite reportedly being much larger than the space provided by the Meadowlands Expo Center and nearby hotels, was actually smaller that the convention's previous location. However, it might just be because of the attendance, which must be growing at an alarming rate if NEXT is already feeling cramped in its second year of the new location. A handful of the six panel rooms were tragically tiny, allowing for something like 30 attendees, and only one of the rooms was actually a large-scale panel room for particularly popular events. In fact, with such a wealth of great panels and panelists at AnimeNEXT, one of my top suggestions to the staff is to get bigger panel rooms. I would think that the last thing they want to do is drive away these presenters who provide such a great backbone to the convention.

Overall, I certainly enjoyed my time at AnimeNEXT this year. The convention seems to still be settling into its new location, which should hopefully be remedied for next year when they've figured out better ways to optimize their space. Regardless, I was very glad to see a Guest of Honor at AnimeNEXT 2010, which shows without a doubt that AnimeNEXT is still going strong and hasn't completely faded into the background as the little brother of the New York Anime Festival.



For more AnimeNEXT 2010 coverage, click here!

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Otakon 2010 and the Generational Divide

Topics: , ,

Click here for Evan's Photo Gallery
Click here for Ink's Photo Gallery
July 30 – August 1, 2010
Baltimore Convention Center
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Official Site



I'm getting older. (In fact, I'm older than I've ever been and now I'm even older.) This is pretty normal as far as I can tell, but as many folks have pointed out in the past few years, anime conventions aren't growing up with me. EDIT: After four days at Otakon, one of the largest anime conventions the United States, I realized that, at the tender age of 19, I was finally starting to feel the widening of this gap. The strangest thing of all, though, is that it doesn't really bother me very much.

Indeed, the theme of this year's Otakon seemed to be immaturity, as staffers at the massive Japanese pop culture event fought to contain epidemic shouting of popular memes such as "Buttscratchers" — a one-time joke from Family Guy — and "Marco Polo." Vuvuzelas, the strident noisemakers popularized thanks to their appearance during the World Cup in South Africa, were preemptively banned weeks before the convention even began. One attendee even pulled a fire alarm during peak time on Saturday for a laugh. Unfortunately, though, containment was a near-impossible task when Otakon's staffers were faced with thousands of teenage troublemakers, many of whom probably view memes as a way to make an impression on their fellow attendees and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Naturally, most of the bloggers with whom I shared two adjoined hotel rooms for the weekend (including the Reverse Thieves, Carl Li, Scott VonSchilling, Dave Cabrera, Caleb Dunaway, Kyle "Lwelyk" LaCroix, and Patz) couldn't stand the immaturity of these kids and their memes. Truthfully, I can find no reason to defend their actions, but to me, they represent the continuing strength of the anime community, even when their "unique" form of comedy may fall on unhappy ears.

Otakon's sign proclaiming that the blowing of Vuvuzelas would NOT be tolerated

You see, the anime fandom is still growing. Attendance rises every year for many conventions — including Otakon, which saw an increase of nearly 3,000 members — even as Japanese studios deal with financial troubles, North American distributors close their doors, and fans grapple with the moral repercussions of pirating the content they enjoy. Anime fandom might not be moving in the ways that some its opinion leaders want it to go, but it's difficult to ignore the continuing flow of young fans coming into the medium.

That said, it's been a couple of years since I attended a convention from the perspective of an average con-goer, which is to say, without any preparation nor knowledge of the guests and their previous work. I was flying by the seat of my pants for the entirety of the weekend, which, though it was far from intentional, resulted in a refreshing experience. It also helped to highlight some of the unique challenges facing anime conventions due to their overwhelmingly adolescent audience. You see, most young fans simply aren't aware of the myriad Japanese guests Otakon brings to the convention every year (including veteran guest Masao Maruyama, founder of studio Madhouse). Last year I even wrote a post from Otakon 2009 about the need for more curiosity from newbie con attendees.

This year, when I saw nearly empty panel rooms with the creators of the new anime Rainbow (Hiroshi Koujina) next to hallways ringing with memes and lined with fans waiting for English dub actors' autographs, I didn't despair. I didn't get angry at these kids for being "bad anime fans." I simply saw it as a missed opportunity. And I realized that, despite my interest in Japanese creators, I too was, to some degree, ignoring these great guests, mostly because the "typical" convention experience simply does not include poring over the details of the con book.

The creators of Rainbow pose for a picture with the criminally small panel audience that came to see their Q&A.

When I walk past young fans screaming annoying in-jokes at Otakon, I don't see the death of conventions. What I see are people who have an interest in this medium, but are not being given the correct tools to seek out more information. They are being sold an experience that is all fluff, all Vic Mignonas and pop idols and J-Rock pretty-boys. (Fluff is, of course, acceptable in limited quantities.) When I see packed rooms for panels about Japanese mahjong (run by Carl Li and Dave Cabrera), anime about cults (Mike Toole), and obscure anime (the Anime World Order podcasters), and hear spirited praise from surprisingly young audience members in my character design panel, it is clear that fans desire substance. Furthermore, large cons like Otakon deliver that substance in the form of big Japanese guests and an incredible variety of fan panels; they just fail to make a big deal about it. The director, producer, AND character designer of Welcome to the SPACE SHOW are certainly more important to fandom than a dub actor, so there is no reason why the latter should be the guest that gets more attention from the convention.

My Otakon experience, a unique one for this longtime convention blogger, has re-opened my eyes to the way the rest of the fandom sees conventions. Yes, screaming a tired, tasteless Family Guy line, blowing a vuvuzela, or pulling a fire alarm are all incredibly stupid things to do. Yes, they take away from my fun. Nevertheless, they are the icky things that remind us that fandom is still young, strong, and involved. Helping to engage it in more productive activities is, I think, the most commonly forgotten responsibility of anime conventions.



Click here for more of our Otakon 2010 coverage

Continue Reading...

Con Report: New York Comic Con vs. New York Anime Festival vs. You (2010)

Topics: , ,

Click here for Evan's Photo Gallery
Click here for Jewels's Photo Gallery
New York Comic Con / New York Anime Festival
October 8 – October 10, 2010
Jacob Javits Center
New York, NY, USA
Official Site



It's hardly a secret that anime fans are often driven to their fandom by their desire to be a part of something "different." It's one of the primary reasons that anime fans tend to be so much younger than fans of other media. So, what's the most logical thing for Reed Expositions to do with their successful New York Anime Festival, which has been running as the dominant New York-area anime convention since 2007? Obviously, merge it with pop culture mega-event New York Comic Con, where anime fans can finally be integrated with American comic book readers, cartoon fans, sci-fi geeks, and all other manner of nerdy folks. A little counter to the wishes of most anime fans? You bet!

This year, Reed rented the entire Jacob Javits Center, providing a positively massive space for all sorts of panels, events, and dealers. The entire top floor was dedicated to a series of exhibitor halls, featuring everybody from indie comic artists to small press to comic dealers to massive video game companies. Meanwhile, the bottom floors featured dozens of panel and video rooms, the IGN Theater (for large screenings), and — as I dubbed it upon my first visit — the "anime ghetto."

It almost seems like Reed was trying to have it both ways: get the anime fans to come to New York Comic Con without making them feel like they're "just like everybody else." The result? The anime segment was shoved off to the hallway on the south side of the convention, where attendees could go to find the anime panel rooms, maid café, and "Anime Artist's Alley" (yes, completely separate from the Real Artist's Alley).

This setup doesn't make any sense for anyone involved. Clearly regular Comic Con attendees, who tend to skew a little older, don't want to be surrounded by squeeing, glomping anime fans, which explains the implementation of the ghetto. If so, though, why combine the two cons? Surely not for the convenience of anime fans having access to both anime content and comic/game/etc. content, since fans interested in more than just anime would just be attending the all-inclusive Comic Con in addition to (or instead of) the Anime Festival. And the non-anime fans don't gain anything by the addition of anime fans except more people and booths to take up space in the Exhibitor's Hall. It would seem that the only reason for the integration was to save money on running two separate, annual conventions in the exorbitantly expensive Javits Center.

The 'anime ghetto,' packed to bursting with frantic young anime fans Speaking of space, the hall was a complete nightmare to navigate. Open until 7pm on Friday/Saturday and 5pm on Sunday, the Exhibitor's Hall was absolutely massive, and yet was filled with people at all times of the day. In fact, due to the intense masses of people throughout the Javits Center (but particularly in the Exhibitor's Hall), it took me a full 15-20 minutes to get to a booth from the anime hall. That's right, my "commute" to and from a booth required 30-40 minutes of my time, due to both distance and volume of people.

So while anime fans might enjoy the feeling of being "separate" from those "un-cool" comic fans down the hall, the inconvenience of having their anime-specific dealers right next to giant booths featuring Michael Jackson dancing games neutralizes any sense of uniqueness. Most anime fans spend the bulk of their time in the Dealer's Room at any convention, so the all the integration seems to have done is made it harder for everybody to move around the con by stuffing everyone in one Exhibitor's Hall. Additionally, the inconvenience of getting back to the anime hall — which featured a number of great panels and events — made it utterly impractical for anyone but the most hardcore con-goers. (In fact, one of my friends never stepped foot in the anime ghetto except to see the Gundam 00 movie premiere.)

I'm being very harsh on the convention, so to be fair I should point out that the programming itself was still top-notch at this year's NYAF. A number of East Coast anime gurus (the Reverse Thieves, Charles "Anime Anthropologist" Dunbar, the Ninja Consultants) ran fascinating panels, companies from FUNimation to Vertical to Bandai Entertainment held industry panels, and guests — both official and otherwise — like Masahiko Minami and Minori Chihara made NYAF's programming well worth checking out for fans both young and old.

On the non-anime side of things (which I only really got to experience through the Exhibitor's Hall), Comic Con continued to prove itself to be a stunning hub of pop culture for the East Coast. With giant video game booths, movie studios, local comic dealers, and independent artists, the show provided a little something for everyone, even if navigating the mass of shuffling shoppers and obnoxious cosplay photographers was often terribly frustrating.

The Exhibitor's Hall, featuring both Anime Fest and Comic Con booths As I mentioned earlier, I don't think that this strange merger-but-not-merger is good for anyone on either side of the fence. The supposed convenience of having lots of anime content at Comic Con didn't amount to anything in practice due to the long commute between the anime section and everything else, and the Comic Con attendees still had to deal with anime fans clogging up their dealer's room hallways and registration lines.

I only see two viable solutions to this problem, and both are bound to leave some people unhappy. One: completely integrate the two cons, essentially making it "New York Comic Con, but with more anime content than usual." Two: separate them into two different conventions at different times, just like previous years. The second option is not going to happen for obvious reasons (i.e. Reed has already committed to the combination), but the first option makes a lot of sense. If you're going to merge, go all the way. Anime fans will have to learn to be more mature in a con setting and Comic Con regulars will have to just suck it up when faced with the occasional (and often understandable) immaturity of teenage cosplayers.

Sure, young anime fans might be disappointed that they're not "special" anymore, but if you're screening things like The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and inviting guests like Minori Chihara, what are they going to do? NOT attend? Without another anime con competitor in the NYC area, I wouldn't count on it.



Special thanks to Jewels Lei for providing a fantastic photo gallery from both the Comic Con and Anime Festival, and Hisui of the Reverse Thieves blog for providing me with a roof over my head and a bed to sleep on over the weekend.



Click here for more of our New York Comic Con/Anime Festival 2010 coverage.

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Zenkaikon 2011 – Room to Grow In

Topics: , ,


March 18-20, 2011
Valley Forge Convention Center
King of Prussia, PA, USA


Zenkaikon, the follow-up to Zenkaikon 2009, escaped the previously exclusive and cramped confines of the Radisson Hotel in King of Prussia and took over the entire* Valley Forge Convention Center. The extra space, more than adequate to accommodate the 3,168 paying people who attended (not to mention guests, vendors, artists, staff, and press), was definitely worth the extra four-month wait caused by rescheduling that consequently eliminated the chance for a Zenkaikon 2010. Floor space allowed for generous registration and autograph queues; two Artist Alleys, the main one incorporated into the Dealer's Room and a small hallway that bordered the upstairs panel rooms; and navigation that was fast and easy compared to last con's experience of swimming through Con Funk-flavored JELL-O Pudding. The Dealer's Room, also benefiting from increased breathing room, was capacious and easily navigable, while the sole Main Events room was capable of hosting a riotous crowd.


The abundance of space in the Main Events room, however, also seemed an overbearing presence at times with regards to some of the scheduled panels and acts. On Friday, the Ancient Greek-themed Opening Ceremonies at 1pm brought in a decent crowd, but one that only occupied 1/5 of the room; Uncle Yo's standup around 5 pm almost filled the main section of the same space but saw sparsely populated wings; and Gelatine's concert at 7 pm catered to roughly 17 people total (some of whom unfortunately and very noticeably left during the performance). Though I didn't attend them, events such as the Sakura Cosplay Ball Dance, its after-party, the masquerade, as well as anything involving guests Vic Mignogna and Todd Haberkorn most likely saw much better attendance due to scheduling (at least).

Thankfully, the echoes of footsteps audible on Friday were stifled by Saturday's deluge of congoers. The main parking lot was mostly full as of 10 am, registration lines snaked with eager attendees, and the aisles between rows of dealer tables bustled with patrons. Almost every panel I attended seemed to bring in a decent size audience that either almost or completely filled generously sized rooms. Some panels even turned people away due to being over capacity. Sadly, I left early on Sunday and did not get a chance to gauge attendance. I hope the trend continued; the last panel I saw, Charles "Anime Anthropologist" Dunbar's Miyazaki presentation, was pretty full.


As with the previous Zenkaikon, events scheduling was a bit awkward. Some of the troubles could be pinned on the fact that other groups had reserved certain rooms in the convention center during the con and Zenkaikon had to work around such obstacles, but the programming coordination, set to 15 minute intervals, led to awkward overlaps that often forced attendees to decide whether to leave early or arrive late if seeing consecutive panels in separate rooms. With that said, room proximity and general utilization of the convention center's layout made for effortless transitions between events.

There were myriad points of interest, enough to cause internal conflict within even the most focused con-goer. Regarding live music, NYC's Gelatine put on a fun, energy-filled show — I regret not being able to see them for their second concert on Sunday, and Tokyo's own Rose Noire gave their U.S. concert debut to the applause of many decked out in goth/lolita fashion. Of course there was no shortage of good panels. Some of my favorites included "Iron Artist," "Feminism and the Ladies of Final Fantasy," and Charles Dunbar's Modern Mythology and Miyazaki sessions. Zenkaikon also hosted karaoke, electronic and tabletop gaming, as well as a con-long LARP (Live Action Role Play) event. All this was supplemented by video rooms showing a decent range of anime and live action series and movies.

Panels and guests weren't the only focus of this heartfelt convention. Held just one week after Japan was subject to an earthquake as well as the resulting tsunami and nuclear plant crises, Zenkaikon put sympathy front and center. $3,750 in donations were collected throughout the venue, supplemented by some dealers and artists passing on all or a portion of their profits towards specific charities of their choice. Perhaps the most heartwarming sight was that none of said donation stations were ever empty, illustrating the love and concern shared by all attendees for the nation and people whose culture and art have given us so much.


Thanks to a very dedicated staff (I overheard members on many occasions offering to forsake breaks in order to help out wherever needed), Zenkaikon was efficiently run and easy to enjoy. The availability of a Press Ops room was also a welcome addition for productivity as well as actual and proverbial battery recharging, and the Scanticon Hotel's bar certainly didn't hurt either. At its current rate of expansion (there were 1,988 attendees in 2009), I have no doubt that Zenkaikon will fill those spacious rooms without any problem and for very good reasons. Looking forward to 2012!

* minus select rooms dedicated to other organizations**
**what other organizations? THERE IS ONLY ZENKAIKON!!!


Click here for more of our Zenkaikon 2011 coverage
Continue Reading...

Con Report: Castle Point Anime Convention 2011 @ Stevens Institute

Topics: ,
April 10, 2011
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ, USA


Ed. Note: My bad! Here's the (very late) Castle Point report — the lateness is all my fault, not Ink's!

Castle Point Anime Convention (CPAC) at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken was the first anime con I ever attended in my home-state of good ol’ Nieu Joisy (and perhaps the second con I ever went to outside of my first Otakon). It was also where I first met Evan Minto of Ani-Gamers fame, who launched me into this high-profile world of aniblogging. While it remains a small, one-day con, the 2011 incarnation of CPAC has experienced very clear growth as seen via its inter-building pathway traffic and increased panel attendance.

This year promised a decent selection of panels, which I generally look forward to most at any con. Spread out between 3 rooms, there was always some title of interest with which to whittle away the span of the con via one- to two-hour sessions. Immediately, however, the first panel I was looking forward to, “Otaku on a Budget,” was cancelled. CPAC staff was on the proverbial ball and made sure audiences didn’t wait around in false hope, but this event ended up foreshadowing my overall panel experience.


The substitute first panel – “Lost in Adaptation,” which addressed inter-medium inadequacies – was lacking in anime examples and focused instead on video games. This was fine given the inclusive nature of anime cons as well as the highly transitory nature of the videogame medium, but the proverbial straw that broke the panel’s back was that the host called Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within a GOOD movie ... not to mention his unreasonable assertion of its claim to the “first occurrence of a space marine.” While he tried to tackle differences of various examples with humor, redundancy made of his pre-programmed wit little more than an annoying and stuttered rant.

“Otaku Culture 101,” the second panel I attended, was definitely not what I was expecting but in a very good way. It focused on the Tohou and Vocaloid aspects of Otakudom, things with which I was and still am not very familiar. I left early, however, as watching the panelist play video games and video game videos, without relevantly linking together cultural poignancies, seemed ... well, pointless. As explained to me later, the panelist did manage to tie together some relevancies at the end.

The unexpected pinnacle of my panel-going experience was the arbitrary attendance of the most academic-sounding offering on the schedule: “Asian Ball-Jointed Dolls as Visual Culture.” Despite the panelist’s seemingly creepy and frequent doll caressing, there were offered up multiple vantages on and aspects of the appreciation of said hobby as well as a rather adept examination of external media bias towards it (review/summary forthcoming).

Trying to end the panel experience on a happy note, I attended “Jawdropping Moments in Anime.” Two words: editing needed. Even if you forgive the showing of the entire Naruto Sports Festival episode, the subsequently selected clips could’ve been shortened with no adverse effect to the intended shocking/humorous situations, which were, to the panelist’s credit, decently chosen from fairly mainstream series. The only thing that made my experience lackluster, however, was that I saw this clip-show last year and, aside from a couple of new inclusions from anime I’ve already seen, everything was regurgitated and consequently seemed neither shocking nor worth more than an inconsequential chuckle of acknowledgement.

On the whole, CPAC staff and organization were superb. Room schedule postings and amendments were clear, and there were people at every turn to help attendees get wherever it was they were going. The space allotted for the combined Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley, moved from one gym to another on the evidently athletically oriented Stevens campus, was more than spacious enough to accommodate the traffic without necessitating the insult of the staggered wait lines of yesteryear. Also, tabletop and electronic gaming rooms offered a decent selection given their respective allotted areas, and video rooms were offering an eclectic mix of accessible anime. Additionally, I have to say that my inner-otaku regrets not having my picture taken with a maid at the newly instituted Tenshi No Ai Maid Café! or attending Cosplay Chess, especially as this year saw a significant increase in cosplayers.

All-in-all, despite disappointing panels and my own event choices, CPAC, which attracted such voice talent as Michelle Knotz, Bill Rogers, and Mike Pollock, still managed to serve up a decent, otaku-themed Sunday getaway from the everyday. The experience would not have ended on such a copacetic note, however, if not for dinner and discussion with Alain (Hisui of the Reverse Thieves duo) at the Japanese restaurant, Robongi. That conversation seemed to fill in everything CPAC panels left out.  I think, for next year, problems with panels could be well on their way to being solved by listening to suggestions on the CPAC forum's Guest Wishlist thread and inviting Charles Dunbar as well as the aforementioned Reverse Thieves.
Continue Reading...

Con Report: Genericon 2012

Topics: ,
IMG_2934

Held at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, Genericon has now been running for 25 years, but despite such a legacy, Genericon remains a small-ish convention. Size does not denote quality, however. The classroom atmosphere instantly gave the already distinguished panelists — Erin Finnegan, Noah Fulmor, and Scott Fermeglia, among others — either a scholarly air or at the very least the instant focus of everyone in a chair. My full-on panel report is forthcoming.

There were two rooms dedicated to panels, but the programming was well balanced between the expository, the entertaining, and the academic (last link is of the crowd at the "Fandom & Criticism" panel). Sequentially, there was never too much of one type of panel or the other; the rooms were close together, which made transitions a breeze; and scheduling was such that I experienced no real conflicts of interest or extended periods of panel drought. Even during times when I deemed both panel rooms skippable, there was still plenty to occupy my time throughout RPI’s campus during the 24/7 (ok, 24/2.5 if you wanna get all technical) con.

IMG_2715

Three video rooms were allocated for live programming, animation, and a mix of both, all showing a good range of shows and movies. To test these rooms, I stayed awake from Saturday through Sunday, catching Excel Saga and the dub of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion for the first time (both are extremely funny when sleep-deprived, in case you were wondering). If watching away the early hours of the morning wasn’t enough, the video game room and tabletop gaming areas also remained open for attendees. Though definitely sparse compared to the daytime attendance, the con remained populated and appreciated by the night owls (and those without accommodations). So thanks, Genericon! (EDITOR'S NOTE: For the record, I did offer to let you crash in my dorm room.)

IMG_2708

Being held on a college campus, Genericon did a wise thing and segmented its Artist's Alley and Vendor areas into multiple, smaller, side-by-side classrooms. This seemed to alleviate some of the crowding, but the vendor areas were still packed, and inter- as well as intra-room flow was still a bit chaotic. Also, completely square rooms made it difficult to determinine which dealer was responsible for which items(s). Though the range of products from vendors seemed to dwarf the offerings from Artists’ Alley, there were still plenty of attendees circling both areas.

While I’ve never felt video games to be an integral part of a con, Genericon left open a 24/2.5 room for such, and I can definitely see (and indeed saw) how it would be appreciated by attendees...especially those covering the graveyard shift. Since Genericon’s video game room “runs on charitable donations,” the mix of consoles and games, coupled with the amount of available stations at which to play said games, was as excitingly eclectic as it was sparse. While this certainly did not hinder the late night crowd, I could see how the more enthusiastic daytime masses might arrive en masse and quickly turn around in impatient disappointment.

To the contrary, Genericon’s mobile app — complete with con schedule, interactive indoor maps, and more — looked like it would have been amazing. I have a dumb-phone, however, and the app was not compatible with my Kindle Fire, so I cannot report firsthand the awesomeness it seemed to offer. You, however, should totally check out its page and features and come around next year in hopes that you too can use it. Speaking of mobile device compatibility, RPI offered free (if only somewhat finicky) WiFi. That, combined with decent cellular coverage (at least for AT&T), made keeping in touch with friends much easier than in NYC’s Javits Center.

IMG_2793Though you wouldn’t guess it from the pictures I took (for some reason, being a 30-something non-student asking to take pictures of kids that were of college age or younger just seemed wrong on a campus), fandom was in full swing at Genericon. Cosplayers were everywhere, from recent series such as Madoka and Hetalia to older cartoons like Inspector Gadget and anime legends like Space Battleship Yamato. In short, the kids are, in fact, alright, and they also know how to rock.

While I wasn’t expecting anything from a rock band that calls itself “Eyeshine” and is fronted by an American anime voice actor (I’d never even heard of the band until Genericon), I have to admit that I underestimated it. Eyeshine had me bouncing from song one or two, and the hypnotized crowd eagerly filled in clap rhythms and screamed in enthusiastic appreciation after each song. Songs ranged from straight-out rock and pop-rock to anime OP (J-rock)-sounding pop but never lost an ounce of energy. My pictures of the concert can be found right here on anigamers.com (via Flickr)!

If you’re close to Troy, I’d recommend attending Genericon. There’s honestly nothing here I don’t think you won’t find at any other con (aside from the 24/2.5 openness ... which was AWESOME), but it’s got a great sense of programming, good layout and administration, and decent geographical placement (not but a couple miles away from two fantastic bars: Kokopellis and Dublin). I traveled 3.5 hours at break-neck speeds to get there, and do not regret a single moment spent.


DISCLAIMER: Ani-Gamers editor-in-chief Evan Minto was the Vice-Chair and Public Relations Coordinator of Genericon XXV. He was involved in copy-editing and fact-checking this article, but did not contribute to the value judgments of Genericon detailed above.

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Zenkaikon 2012

Or How I Learned to Forsake My Watch and Love the Con

Topics: ,
IMG_3221Zenkaikon Map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to rising popularity and corresponding attendance levels, Zenkaikon has never been lucky in terms of venue. That is until last year, when there was even space enough to account for future growth. Unfortunately, the hotel decided to put in a casino and thereby displaced Zenkaikon. All things considered (all things being the last-minute rush to find a new venue and all the prep work involved thereafter), the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center served as a lovely temporary home for this con, especially on the short notice in which it was procured. There was definitely enough space to accommodate the 2,743 attendees without feeling packed, and the single-level, open layout negated cramped hall navigation. And while attendance was down slightly from last year, enthusiasm was not.

IMG_3228IMG_3284

As the good so often comes with the bad, I’ll be the first to acknowledge the sound issue. As the Main Stage was located in a hangar-like room shared by the Gaming "Room” (a partitioned corner), Autograph Area, Photo Booth, and Demos areas, it was pretty much guaranteed that whatever was being featured was being heard throughout for better and worse. In terms of the better, the lack of walls meant you could take in multiple events simultaneously ... a con-goer’s dream! Unfortunately, this arrangement also meant that regardless of what was going on, con goers were experiencing it all. This wouldn’t have been all bad, actually. Imagine playing in the Halo Reach or Modern Warfare tournaments to the sound of the taiko performance! That would have been awesome, but the taiko was actually scheduled opposite the Dance Central tournament to pose a rhythm vs. rhythm battle. Still, most gaming/main stage pairings seemed to work, with raves supplying energetic background music for retro gaming and sports tournaments, while other main stage events — masquerade, comedy, weaponry demos — were relatively unobtrusive.

IMG_3253IMG_3263

Panels were strong this year, with presenting talent such as Geek Nights, Uncle Yo, and Charles Dunbar as well as myriad fans tackling some genuinely interesting topics. The location of the panel rooms, relative to the rest of the con, made them both easy to find and accessible. The only problem was the location of the panel rooms in relation to each other: back to back ... with only a flimsy divider betwixt them. Depending on the presenter’s lung power and adeptness for mic volume adjustment, the rooms were often fighting for the attention of their respective audiences.

Aside from the aforementioned issue of sound bleed, the gaming corner looked cozy. It was stuffed with a good variety of systems and featured a few large screen monitors for select systems and games. Whenever I peeked my head in, I never saw an empty chair (or at least one that didn’t fill quickly after being vacated), and yet the area never seemed overly crowded. Tournaments were scheduled every two hours, and other games were constantly in play.

IMG_3286IMG_3289

The Dealer's Room/Artist's Alley, which was perfectly sized and well organized, was even able to accommodate the ever-annoying mid-aisle cosplay shoot without much disturbance to flow from vendor to vendor. Artists seemed a little under-represented, but all the consumable usuals seemed present (with only a notable shortage of figures). I ended up getting an excellent vintage kimono from Yokodana Kimono, a few Portal 2 buttons with which to adorn my bag in honor of the con’s theme, and a few other gifts for friends who couldn’t be there.

There was some great cosplay during the two-day con (which ran on both days to a lovely 1:30 AM in a very sleepy town), though I saw very few costumes that coincided with Zenkaikon’s Retro Sci-Fi theme. Madokas were omnipresent, but my favorite, for what will be an obvious reason if you’ve seen the show, is the one who attended with her friend who came as Medusa, the witch from Soul Eater. My other favourite bit of cosplay was this wonderful Count from Gankutsuou!

IMG_3300IMG_3344

Friends made this con. The programming, purchasing, and learning were great, but hanging at the bar and talking over a meal or drinks, lounging the off-time away in a hotel room tradin’ memes, and after-parties discussing everything that had soaked in during the experience was priceless. Zenkaikon’s website mentions a 3-day event next year, and shortly after this con ended, some guests for 2013 were already announced! As confirmed via email and video, Zenkaikon will be moving once again, a little further west, to the Lancaster County Convention Center, which looks to be very spacious. Will it be worth the trip? Come and find out! Here’s looking forward to next year; I hope you can make it.


Click here for more coverage of Zenkaikon 2012.

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Otakon 2012

There's a Reason for the Reputation

Topics: ,

"All roads lead to Otakon." I've heard this phrase repeated by lots of anime bloggers, podcasters, and pundits, and this year's version of the annual Baltimore anime convention really drove home this message. Otakon isn't just a convention: it's an unforgettable experience, something that I find at no other con in the United States.

The Comic Cons in San Diego and New York get lots of mainstream media attention for their massive attendance numbers and appearances from celebrities, but these conventions are industry-centric affairs, in which fans serve only as passive spectators to the latest Marvel film, DC reboot, or vaguely sci-fi-themed TV show. Otakon is different. Run by volunteer fans, Otakon is a weekend-long party, a chance for East Coast anime fans to get together and celebrate their shared fandom. It's a chance to be a part of something bigger than a simple anime club or local convention. Indeed, all roads lead to Otakon, because when you're looking for a connection with your fellow fans, you go where everybody else is. And everybody is at Otakon.

Everybody from Internet anime giants Anime News Network to studio Madhouse founder Masao Maruyama to "Anime Anthropologist" Charles Dunbar to podcasters Anime World Order. More importantly, though, that "everybody" includes far less famous names. Friends. Members of your local anime club. People you've met at other conventions. Otakon pulls in people from all across the East Coast (and quite a few from out west), and the huge, varied crowds are what makes it such an amazing experience. At no other con have I felt as connected to the collective experience of American anime fans than at Otakon.

That said, the programming, the guests, and the other technical and organizational aspects of Otakon really aren't all that important to its success in anime culture. If the convention has a string of poor guests in the future, their attendance might drop a little, but their reputation as the be-all-end-all American anime convention will remain.

Luckily, Otakon has hit no such stumbling blocks. The 2012 convention featured a number of voice actors from the latest hit show Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Ai Nonaka, Christine Marie Cabanos, Lauren Landa, and Sarah Williams), the previously mentioned Masao Maruyama, Madoka and Fate/Zero writer Gen Urobuchi, and a bunch of music, fashion, and other guests either directly or tangentially related to anime. While I wasn't particularly looking forward to any of the selected guests this year, I think it was interesting to see so much representation from Madoka. As David and I mentioned in our podcast about the series, Madoka has been touted by some as a landmark show, something that may stand with the likes of Evangelion and Akira in terms of its influence on fandom. Surprisingly, despite a bevy of voice actors from both sides of the Pacific, the lead writer of the series, and a recent DVD/Blu-ray release all on display at Otakon, Madoka cosplayers seemed to blend into the crowd during the weekend. In fact, no costumes from any particular anime series stood out, which I see as a symptom of a fragmented, increasingly niche fandom. Of course, cosplay from the popular webcomic Homestuck continued to dominate most anime series, a curious paradigm shift I discussed in a recent Ani-Gamers feature.

One thing that distinguishes Otakon from every other convention in the country is its panels lineup. Since everybody who's anybody in East Coast anime fandom makes the yearly trek down to Baltimore, Otakon is able to pull in some of the best anime con panelists, from the versatile Mike Toole ("Dubs That Time Forgot") to the convention veteran Walter Amos ("Hetalia History") to the prolific Charles Dunbar ("Beyond Castles, Forests and Bath Houses: Politics and Philosophy in the Films of Studio Ghibli"). We discussed the panels we attended at length in our panels write-up, so I won't get into the details here. However, I will mention that there were a few odd panel scheduling choices. I met with a number of "dead zones" where there was nothing I was interested in, followed by two or three panels I wanted to go to all at the same time! (In fact, Otakon scheduled Daryl Surat and Gerald Rathkolb of Anime World Order against each other AND against their friend Mike Toole, whose panels attract a similar audience.) As someone who has worked on panel scheduling in the past, I understand the difficulties in the task, but some of the mistakes — like the AWO/Mike Toole mix-up — seem pretty obvious.

It's also worth throwing in here that, as Kate from the Reverse Thieves pointed out throughout the weekend, the Artist's Alley this year was pretty excellent. I always try to do at least one quick round through the alley at every con, but I rarely buy anything (alas, shirtless Naruto/Doctor Who crossovers just aren't my cup of tea). This year, however, not only were there a bunch of artists who I legitimately considered purchasing from, but I actually bought something from one of them. To be more specific, I highly recommend Emily Smith (from whom I bought a very cool print of a surreal cityscape) and "Mike Hates Meathook" (who makes robots out of old video game parts)!

I can talk all I want about how great the programming and the guests are at Otakon, but nothing compares with the true experience. From cruising into Baltimore with Ink and All Geeks Considered's Vinnie, blasting Soulja Boy's magnum opus, "Anime," to stopping for a conversation with a group of complete strangers I met at a panel, there's nothing quite like Otakon. I'd claim that it's because of the 32,000 people who streamed into the Baltimore Inner Harbor this year, but numbers don't tell the whole story. Otakon is an experience like no other. I've loved it every year I've been, and this year was no different. All roads really do lead to Otakon, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Otaku Bingo!

This year we brought back Otaku Bingo, our cheeky dig at the silly shenanigans of anime con attendees. Our bloggers participated, as did some of our friends and readers. Below we've included some scans of the Bingo cards from the participants.

 

Feedback!

Before I finish up here, I'd like to remind you that Otakon currently has a panel feedback form up on their website. We ran two panels — "Fandom & Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing" and "The Changing Faces of Anime" — and we would really appreciate you heading to the Otakon site and letting their staff know what you thought of our panels. This form is used to decide which panelists to invite back to the convention, so leaving nice feedback will increase the likelihood of seeing another Ani-Gamers panel at next year's Otakon!


Click here for more coverage of Otakon 2012.

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Genericon XXVI

How I learned to stop worrying and love the con

Topics: , ,

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, I (Evan Minto) was the Convention Chair for Genericon XXVI. However, I have absolutely no control over the tone of Ink's coverage of the con (press relations was handled by someone else and other than some tiny copy edits, I kept my editorial hands out of his report). The opinions below are solely Ink's.


What started over 25 years ago in Troy, NY as a strict sci-fi convention has morphed into a post-apocalyptic-themed celebration of sci-fi, anime, ponies, Homestuck, gaming, and just about everything geek. Genericon is run annually by a volunteer committee comprised of RPI (Renneselaer Polytechnic Institute) students, and the 26th iteration (this one) was chaired by Ani-Gamers Editor-in-Chief Evan Minto (Vampt Vo).

Genericon ran from 5pm Friday straight through to 5pm Sunday. Panels were stop-and-go in the wee hours, but the gaming areas (video and tabletop and everything in-between) and video rooms were always open. While I cannot speak to the gaming side of the con, a lot of the video content was right in line with the post apocalypse theme. This also carried over into many of the panels, even those not directly related. Since this was a multi-fandom con, it was easy to relax and just let everyone do their thing without judging and melt into the fun of it all. Homestuck cosplayers, ponies, anime fans, belly dancers, belly dancers AS anime characters, and even a genuine, award-winning science fiction author were all in attendance!

I have to say meeting and talking with guest Tim Maughan after enjoying his Twitter rants for some time now was one of the highlights of the con. I never took sci-fi seriously before. I liked sci-fi movies and TV shows but solely as entertainment. After a few panels on apocalyptic fiction and cyberpunk, however, I was raring to get my hands on some solid sci-fi literature. Luckily, Maughan had a handful copies of his book of short stories, Paintwork, on hand. They sold out after the “Meet Tim Maughan” panel, and I was one of the lucky ones who got a copy. On top of hearing how and to what he spoke of concerning sci-fi, what really convinced me to take the genre seriously was a “rough draft” of a short film Maughan premiered.

Genericon had some insightful panels last year, but this year’s selection blew it away. Panelist Walter Amos relayed an experience of hearing one of the Antipode belly dancers remark, “at least there’s something intellectual at this con” (or something to that effect) after noting Walter’s “Science in Anime” panel in the con guide. But that was just the tip (of the iceberg). There was also a history lecture, a biographical retrospective, genre retrospective, artwork analysis, manga industry insight, and so much more! Apart from the academic, there were a range of fun panels, including anime-themed game shows, “Convention Horror Stories,” and (admittedly my favorite title of the lot this year) “Pony Should Pony Pony.”

With all the appealing panels, one would think it would be difficult choosing what to attend. This was not the case in my experience, and upon speaking with the con chair (who’s incredibly hard to get a word with), he commented how much care was taken not to schedule panels dealing with like fandoms opposite each other. There were also only two panel rooms (plus Main Events), so that also facilitated things. Still, good to know someone was looking out.

Vendors also benefitted from good forethought, specifically space allocation. Previously segmented betwixt several small rooms, the vendors got an exclusive and spacious area (with slight spillover into tables lining the Great Hall) at Genericon XXVI. The resulting lack of crowding and congestion was a great relief and gave everyone breathing room. The organization was such that it felt like a Dealer’s Room at any other con rather than reminding attendees that this event took place at a college. The fare to be found was fairly nominal, though the con’s history, theme, and multi-fandom added a decent bit of diversity to what is a fun-size version of larger cons’ Dealer’s Rooms.

Artist’s Alley was likewise commodious. It was still segmented amongst several small rooms, but the lack of traffic from vendors created a comfortable air in which to appreciate the artists’ offerings. The more relaxed atmosphere was especially more conducive to custom commissions, like furry portraiture and custom scrolls. The latter were actually quite lovely and out of the ordinary, as were a couple other offerings which made AA worth attending.

Speaking of addictions, there are (at least) two food joints worth checking out while in Troy: The Brown Bag, a burger joint that serves this, and Dinosaur BBQ, which does not serve dinosaur but does have a tasty craft beer selection and some very yummy BBQ (that isn’t dinosaur). Food is never so tasty as it is with friends, and it’s here I’ll whole-heartedly say hanging out and attending panels at a small- to medium-sized con with old and new friends really made the weekend wonderful. This was the first con I was actually sad to see end.

Well-organized (aside from the occasional extended panel room handoff) and enjoyable from start to finish, Genericon is wholly recommended for those near Troy, NY. Ani-Gamers will keep the coverage a rollin’ in the following weeks with in-depth panel write-ups and a general panel summary. For now, I’ll leave you with a few shots I snapped of cosplay, panelists, and areas around the con:

Continue Reading...

Con Report: AnimeNEXT 2013

We're gonna need a bigger convention center

Topics: ,

The entrance to the Garden State Exhibit CenterFour years ago, New Jersey anime convention AnimeNEXT made the big decision to move from the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus to a bigger space further from New York City: the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset. Now the Garden State Exhibit Center can no longer contain the yearly growth of AnimeNEXT. The 2013 event was bigger than ever, with over 10,000 attendees (likely closer to 11,000 by my estimation) as compared to last year's 9,800. "Growing pains" would be putting it lightly; AnimeNEXT is obviously too large for the convention center and nearby hotels, and there were clear consequences at this year's con.

Attendees waiting in line in the rain

Navigation was a nightmare at AnimeNEXT 2013. Large crowds were constantly milling around the small hallways on either side of the DoubleTree hotel, which housed all of the panels. Of course, it didn't help that it was rainy on Friday and Saturday, forcing many attendees inside (and squandering the location's beautiful outdoor areas). In one extreme case, staff had to close off the hallway that provided access to the large ballrooms (Panel 1 and Main Events A and B) on Saturday because it was over capacity. That's right, there were so many people in the hallway (not just the rooms themselves) that it was unsafe to let anybody else in. This was phenomenally inconvenient for lots of attendees, as the hallway provided access to three rooms containing a wide mix of programming. To be clear, however, I think the con staff did their best given the circumstances, and it's really a case of needing a much larger space rather than poor planning.

Panel rooms had consistent space problems as well. The DoubleTree is cursed with an uneven distribution of room sizes; the first floor contains three large ballrooms and the second floor has four small conference rooms. As a result, panels in the large ballrooms consistently did NOT fill, while panels in the small conference rooms were almost always filled to capacity. Exacerbating this problem was the staff's policy of performing a full room clear and lineup for every panel. There are valid reasons to perform a room clear (preventing squatting is one of them), but by instituting them for every single panel in rooms too small to contain even half of the people in line, staff inadvertently created needless inconveniences for people who wanted to see a string of panels in the same room.

Panelists from "Samurai Stereotypes in Anime" panel

But hey, those long lines for panels were also a good thing in a way, since they represented AnimeNEXT's continuing dedication to excellent fan panel programming. Our buddy Vinnie (from All Geeks Considered) was in charge of panels this year, and he pulled together a really nice mix of topics, from a panel about anime "Pilots and Precursors" to another on "Respect and Positivity in Cosplay." In fact, in a first for me at AnimeNEXT, there were very few points when there wasn't a panel I wanted to attend going on, and when there was, there were often multiple interesting panels taking place simultaneously. It's a testament to the great panel lineup that I barely made it to half the events I was interesting in attending. (For more detailed discussion of the panels, check out our upcoming panel reports.)

AnimeNEXT has had a somewhat spotty history with guests, but this year delivered just the kinds of guests that I like — Japanese anime creators. Namely, Sayo Yamamoto (director of Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Michiko & Hatchin) and Hiroshi Shimizu (key animator on Fujiko, Michiko & Hatchin, and lots of other stuff) were in attendance, and a combined four hours spent with them over the course of the weekend (two panels, a press interview, and a signing) really drove home how nice it is to have prestigious anime creators at a convention like AnimeNEXT. The con's relatively small size means that Japanese guest events are poorly attended, which is bad for the con, but good for the few people who do show up, as we get to ask a lot of questions and spend a lot of time having conversations with awesome directors and animators.

Mike Toole presents "Anime Cult Classics," about anime commissioned by cults

The convention also made the bold choice of inviting Mike Toole (anime blogger and host of Anime News Network's The Mike Toole Show) as a guest. Mike's got a lot of name recognition among bloggers, con veterans, and his online audience, but he hardly has the sort of star power of an anime voice actor. However, his panels are some of the best out there, and he's made a name for himself at Anime Boston, where he routinely fills huge ballrooms with panels like "Dubs that Time Forgot" and "Anime Hell." Unfortunately Mike's panels weren't as popular at AnimeNEXT — though they were just as good — which I think is only because it's his first year at the con. Give him a few more years and NEXT attendees will finally realize that they should get on line early to see Mike's stuff.

I did my share of wandering the Dealers Room and AnimeNEXT's charming Artists Alley, both of which were basically the same as last year. [INK'S NOTE: I thought Artists Alley had a tad more craft representation and noted the presence of some of more interesting prints, such as the 1940's yaoi booth by Grave Impressions.] Anime distribution giant FUNimation, however, didn't have a booth in the AnimeNEXT Dealer's Room, a conspicuous absence since they were there last year and there was no conflicting convention on the same weekend. I stopped at Vertical's table to pick up volume 1 of The Flowers of Evil (check out Ink and David's impressions of the anime!) and grabbed some $5 manga at my go-to dealer, Sci-Fi Continuum, but not much else jumped out at me in either Dealers' or Artists' Alley. [INK'S NOTE: I also stopped by Vertical, where I picked up a copy of Utsubora, and elsewhere found a Penguin No. 3 keychain (Mawaru Penguindrum) to keep my dangling Clara (Princess Jellyfish) company.]

A plushie booth in the Dealers' Room

It's no secret that I'm a little bit of an AnimeNEXT fanboy. The con's proximity to my house makes it accessible, and its mix of small-con spunk and big-con organization make it a really enjoyable way to kick off my summer. This year's problems are largely a symptom of a healthy, growing convention. I have no doubts that a larger space will solve most of the issues, but unfortunately NEXT is slated to be back in the Garden State Exhibit Center next year (though I hear rumors that they're looking for a new space for 2015). Knowing that, I've got my fingers crossed for some creative reorganization in 2014 to make better use of what space the con does have. I'm not worried, though. If there's anything I've learned in nine years of attending AnimeNEXT, it's that this is a nimble con that's quite good at changing itself to fit new circumstances.

Looking for more photos from AnimeNEXT? We've got you covered. Panels, cosplay, and more: Ink's Flickr Set. Evan's Flickr Set.


Click here for more coverage of AnimeNEXT 2013.

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Animation on Display (AOD) 2014

Welcome to the West Coast

Topics: ,

The main hall of AOD 2014It’s perplexing that Animation on Display is as small as it is. The San Francisco-area convention, which began as college con Anime Overdose, has grown over 11 years into a multi-genre event catering to the whole geek spectrum (hence the new, less Japan-specific name). This year — my first time at AOD and my first time at a West Coast convention — the con had a new, more spacious location near San Francisco Airport and a bevy of big-name guests. Somehow, though, AOD remains a tiny convention, coming in at around 2,000–3,000 attendees over two days (January 25 and 26, 2014).

Typically, the caliber and volume of guests at a convention is a good indicator of its size and influence, but despite AOD’s attendance numbers telling the story of a larger-than-average college con, the event grabbed a lot of great guests. Anime voice actors Cristina Vee and Mike Sinterniklaas were in attendance, as was Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series creator and Internet superstar LittleKuriboh. Melissa Hutchison, the voice of Clementine in the award-winning Walking Dead video game, and Tommy Yune, an ex-game dev and current Harmony Gold creative director, brought up the video game contingent. Then there was Ken Pontac, creator of Happy Tree Friends, and Noelle Stevenson (a.k.a. Gingerhaze), creator of webcomic NIMONA. That’s a nice list with a variety of guests, but the issues became apparent when I glanced at the schedule.

While the guests had a few interesting panels scattered throughout the convention, AOD 2014’s events schedule was embarrassingly bare. Blocks were filled with barely thought out fan panels in which dubious “experts” answered questions about how to be Internet famous or get a job doing nerd stuff, with only a few going for the unique approaches and level of detail that I look for in panels. Heck, I actually attended the cosplay masquerade at AOD because there was so little on the schedule that appealed to me!

The Walking Dead voice actors share a laugh at their panel

The most interesting events were invariably guest and industry panels, such as the excellent Walking Dead panel, which featured most of the cast of season 1 of the episodic game series in a frank and funny roundtable discussion. The fan panel "Philosophy in Anime" was a surprisingly fulfilling conversation too, and a late-night block of game show-style panels featuring the guests seemed fun, though I didn’t get to attend. (Also of note: I was on my very first Crunchyroll panel at AOD, which was pretty exciting!)

There was a strong focus on gaming, as the con featured a video game room, a tabletop gaming room, and an arcade showcasing both cabinets and speedrunners playing on a projector. Despite playing a lot of video games, I’ve never been big into gaming events at anime cons. Still, for the multi-genre con geek, AOD provided some nice variety outside of its traditional anime programming.

A glimpse of AOD 2014's combined Dealer's Room/Artist's AlleyDealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley were conveniently combined into a single large and centrally located ballroom, and there were just enough exhibitors in attendance to make it manageable but still worth a look. A lot of vendors were selling imported anime products (model kits, figures, accessories, etc.), something you don’t always see at a con of AOD’s size. Unfortunately, my mainstays Sci-Fi Continuum rarely make it out to West Coast cons, so I passed on most of the overpriced anime and manga. However, I did buy some adorable Kill la Kill stickers from fan artist Gus Gutierrez.

A line snakes out from Main Events, separated from the hotel proper under an outdoor awning.AOD ran smoothly from start to finish, with very few hiccups that I could see. Press registration was a breeze, and when I checked in periodically at public registration it looked extremely efficient, with anywhere between three and ten staffers, depending on the volume of registrations, handling forms and speeding attendees on their way. I never once saw a crowd control issue or an obnoxious panel hijacking by an audience member (something that’s become all-too-common at lots of other conventions lately).

Despite a very well-organized convention and well-behaved attendees, I often felt like something was missing from AOD 2014. Maybe it was the lack of a vibrant and unified con culture, likely caused by the fractured hotel layout that split fans into small groups in isolated alcoves. (I’ve also heard that West Coast con attendees are often more subdued than their East Coast counterparts.) Maybe it was a panel schedule that left me perpetually waiting around for something to do. More likely, it was just my newcomer status. AOD seems like the sort of small convention that lives and dies by the strength of its local community. Attending when you know only a few people doesn’t deliver the full experience, because AOD is much more about hanging out with friends than it is about bouncing from big event to big event. That’s a shame, since the convention staff seem to have the chops to create a much richer experience that blends great guests and events with that friendly local atmosphere.

Continue Reading...

Going Gonzo: Genericon XXVII

Sleep is for the Weak

Topics: ,

My favorite thing about Genericon — a sci-fi-turned-multi-fandom convention in Troy, NY — is that it runs nonstop from its 5PM Friday opening until its 5PM Sunday "GO HOME!" Panel programming may pause in the wee hours of morning, but there are plenty of other opportunities with which to whittle away the meantime: video rooms, electronic and tabletop gaming, LARPing —all the usual con mainstays but at … unusual hours. Staying at the con 24/7 is not prohibited, but sleeping there is. While some may view this as passive-aggressive evacuation, I take it as a challenge! After all, I got a late start and had to make it up somehow.

The road to Genericon XXVII was dark and cold … at least until the heat came up in the cabin of my 2002 Hyundai Accent (complete with Powerpuff Girls floormats and Fullmetal Alchemist decal). From thereon in, the trip was dark and warm. I’d just finished answering questions about poetry from the bottom of a pint of smoked porter in New Jersey on Friday night when I realized I had a con to get to. sci-fi, anime, and gaming: Genericon was calling. Sure, I woke up at 5 am that morning to make chili, but that gave me just enough fuel to answer.

“Of course you can get your badge,” one of the graveyard shift staff stationed in Ops (Operations) replied, “that’s why we’re here!” I couldn’t tell whether his ecstatic tone was a result of it being the third hour after midnight, his genuine enthusiasm for his position, or the fact that my mere presence there justified his own, but it didn’t much matter; we both occupied the same lot: stuck at a con of our own volition. The person who I was going to stay with was probably already asleep, so I fled with that consideration to the only respite I knew: anime.

It was something past 3AM, and the choices were Psychic Wars or M.D. Geist; surely Anime Coordinator Annie Sardelis was either a sadist or a genius. Regardless, the "THAT Guy" in the audience of maybe fifteen people, who read every single bit of on-screen text just in case everyone in attendance was blind and 98% deaf, ruined what could’ve been a very laughable experience. Space piracy was to follow, but luckily in another location — one with a captain’s chair … OK, several captain’s chairs.

The chairs of Video 3, even without the influence of abusive substances, required an odd mix of submissive surrender and reckless abandon. I spent more time amused by my own efforts trying to stabilize myself than I did watching Space Pirate Captain Harlock attempting to resurrect his legacy with the aid of his barfly crew. There wasn’t a "THAT Guy" in that room, but there was an oddly persistent hiccup, which, like a water drip, raised my ire in steady intervals until my bloodshot eyeballs beamed wide and accusatory. Otherwise, after a couple of hours (and many a suppressed chuckle) battling gyroscopic balance, programming called for a switch to Trigun. But since that couldn’t be found, a quick substitution of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt filled the void.

I watched it stream, I own the DVDs, and I have watched the dub, but my favorite thing about watching P&SwG is doing so in the presence of those who’ve never seen nor heard of the series. This is the best reason to visit video rooms at anime cons. The audience's disbelief, as opposed to my early sleep deprivation or the show’s excellently executed jokes and voice acting, was the source of my multitudinous grins. But the hiccupping persisted, and after vicariously reliving my initial fascination (and in want of some serious leg stretching), I decided to leave my seat to greet the sun for some fresh air and silence.

It was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I saw the sun, part of its promising rise, and my breath and quickly returned to the heated, hiccuppy oasis of Video 3, where, by then, they’d found the missing Trigun DVDs. There I remembered laughter in spite of circumstance, recalling a show I’d long since forgotten and all the joy it brought. But time is linear and, at times, unforgivingly slow. Now at a little past 24 hours of consciousness, I decided a sustained bout of cold air was in order. After walking to the door and quickly back in, I remembered my duty to check out the Video Gaming room.

To be fair, nothing was on the schedule that early. But as I stepped over the last of the stairs, I couldn’t help but laugh at the bodies I saw sprawled on the floor to my left: either sleeping or in the midst of a lethargic LARP. The occupants of the video game room, while more conscious, weren’t any more defined. When I popped my head in, Staff shirts were clustered together MST3K-ing the second installment of the Star Trek reboot; not a single monitor attached to a video game machine was turned on. If I hadn’t already seen the movie, I might’ve stayed. But I had, so I left. With the sun in the sky and panels close to starting, I moved in to start my ping-ponging between the con’s two panel rooms and Main Events A and B. (To read more about that, check out the forthcoming Ani-Gamers Panel Report.)

In-between sitting down in hour intervals for various demonstrations and listening to fans squee over or attempt to justify their fandom of choice, there was ample time (due to egregiously large and numerous programming gaps) to roam the hall. The level of energy continued to rise as attendees poured through the front gates wearing costumes from all walks of geekdom. By midday, the Great Hall saw congregations comprised of titan slayers, maids, Homestucks (who asked ya?!), elves, a dandy guy form the space, …was that a Sengoku period-style Sailor Moon? Yes! Some were modeling Lolita fashion, some were cosplaying old cartoons, some were cosplaying newer games, some just threw on whatever they found on the way to the con. All were busy talking amongst each other excitedly or posing silently at the business end of strangers’ cameras.

While costumes were pretty or pretty interesting (homespun cosplay always warms the cockles of my heart), some were also pretty in the way; instances where neither poser nor stalker chose to abandon their across-the-thoroughfare-photo-session to let the ever-queuing throng through numbered many. Needless to say that as the hours inched on, my patience wore thin. I’m sure I appear as an inconvenient blur in many such attempted shoots. Likewise, crowd control was not even present at the bottleneck which was the badge check point of entry, where, for some reason, an errant vendor table caused traffic troubles during all but the lightest traffic flows throughout the entire weekend.

Navigation anywhere else was absolutely unhindered. The grounds were not so full of people as to hinder a healthy stride, and clear, comprehensible directional signs were EVERYWHERE. These came in handy particularly when finding my way to the vendors, even if I didn’t unintentionally follow a young woman, a stranger to me, who was literally narrating every aspect of her trek there. Repeating, almost singing, “vendors” with a ring to her voice, she oft ad-libbed common objects as new verses. “Stairs,” she’d exclaim as she encountered stairs. “Doors,” she’d grunt as she opened (and held) a door. (Thank you!) Whatever the vendors area (Dealer’s Room) lacked in geospatial relativity to the con proper was more than made up in … materialism.

Aside from a rather sizable manga centerpiece, the vendors were smart in their choice of showcased wares. Items which would incur large shipping risks/costs if bought over the Internet or those that would be bettered by a pre-purchased fitting seemed sold in abundance, whereas media almost seemed an afterthought. The usual anime food tie-ins were all there, with the very sad exception of melon bread (Where’s the Shana love?); dice and other tabletop supplies stood at the ready for those discovering they forgot their own or misplaced them along the way; and model kits with fragile wings and figurines with dainty waists abounded—unaffected by any would-be manhandling by the USPS.

After I’d done my walk-around and snapped a few photos (inadvertently catching figure buyers…ahem…inspecting the goods), my next stop was the stepchild relegated to the con’s basement: Artists’ Alley. The three or four rooms comprising Artists’ Alley were in serious want of flow control. Most if not all rooms had 2 doorways, and even just an enforced “entrance only” and “exit only” policy would’ve helped alleviate some confrontational traffic patterns. Then again, who’d want to leave?! The best thing about this incarnation of Artists’ Alley was that only one room was 99% fan art prints, while the other rooms were 99% print-free. Plush and jewelry seemed the order of the day, with one artist in particular catching my eye with bedazzlements made from electronics (broken bits of PCBs, capacitors, batteries, etc.).

Speaking of, my batteries were low. Luckily Ani-Gamers, Vertical, Inc., and others were going to get food. This foreshadowed my downfall. Despite knocking back a shot of Turkish coffee and devouring the residual sludge like Garfield on a Monday, no matter how many stairs I climbed or buildings I ran between, nothing could negate the food + empty stomach = sleep formula. After roughly 36 hours, some duration of which included me almost falling asleep in the front row of a panel (thank heaven for voice recorders!), I grabbed an hour nap which got me through 6 more hours of con.

By the end of the last panel I attended on Saturday (actually Sunday at 1AM), I’d been without sleep for 44 hours over a 45 hour period—delirium at its peak. I was starting to see people in costume I could’ve sworn were dressing as friends of mine; I’m certain there was an Uncle Yo clone and someone dressed as Badass Viga. Small hallucinations started occurring on such a regular basis that I thought I was IN an anime. Naturally, this was the best state in which to drive (my passengers will attest to this).

Why drive? Because Troy has a few pretty wonderful eateries and bars peppered throughout the downtown area, which is but a few minutes away from the con. Several delectable-sounding establishments were rattled off to me, but the splendiferous discovery this year was Brown’s Brewing Company. Forty-some hours of unanswered consciousness had nothing to do with that fact. The burger I had there, with smoked gouda and baked-in delicious, was amazing enough even without the several tasty beers I saw on the menu. Also, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a must-visit staple for BBQ and decent microbrews. My visit there on Sunday afternoon was to be, sadly, my farewell toast to Troy. After a good drink to compliment a Flinstones-car-tipping side of ribs, I could hear New Jersey beckoning. But while returning (and trying desperately to not fall asleep at the wheel), I could hear a steady voice repeat: “See you next year.”

Continue Reading...

Con Report: Spring Kraken Con 2014

Release the... oh forget it

Topics: ,

One-day cons are a rare treat. The three-day convention is the standard format, and sometimes results in events that overstay their welcome, stretching into lazy Sundays with very little in the way of interesting programming. My first con experience out here on the West Coast was Animation on Display 2014, which still felt a bit too long at two days. My second West-Coast con was another local joint, but instead of two days, it was only one: the fledgling Kraken Con, held on Sunday, April 6 at the Oakland Convention Center. This was only the second event for the convention, which runs one-day cons twice a year in October and April.

The coolest thing about one-day conventions is that they're low-commitment. Show up in the morning, hang out all day, go home. Done. There's none of the laborious back-and-forth or pricey hotel worries of a longer con. Kraken Con nails that convenience. The Convention Center is located directly outside a BART station, providing easy access from San Francisco and most other spots in the Bay Area, and some nearby restaurants provide ample diversions when con events get a little boring.

Luckily, that didn't happen all that often, as Kraken Con packed a surprising number of events into its single-day run. Adventure Time writer and storyboard artist Natasha Allegri ran a panel about her new web animation series Bee and Puppycat, where she walked the audience through her storyboards (with hilarious live narration) and answered questions about her work and its anime influences. Viz also ran two industry panels about their anime offering and Haikasoru, their Japanese sci-fi novel imprint.

Despite a pretty full schedule, most of the other panels weren't quite up my alley, as they seemed to focus on how-to's about typical fan creative pursuits like cosplay and fiction writing rather than analysis, history, or comedy relating directly to the actual content that Kraken Con purports to center on ("anime, cartoons, and comics"). In fact, my panel "The Beautiful Backgrounds of Anime" was the only non-industry event that was explicitly about anime. This is something I noticed at AOD too, such that I'm beginning to wonder if this focus on creating your own fan works rather than discussing the things you're a fan of is symptomatic of Bay Area con culture or West Coast con culture as a whole. It's certainly apparent in con dealer's rooms and artist's alleys across the country, but I've rarely seen it so perfectly reflected in panel programming.

Speaking of dealer's rooms and artist's alleys, Kraken Con's exhibitor's hall was a fairly interesting small-con twist on the typical layout; dealers, artists, video games, screenings, and a maid café all occupied the same ballroom, which overflowed into the panels hallway as well. At a larger convention this open layout, with screenings and video games circumscribed by nothing more than some stanchions, would have resulted in pure chaos, but at Kraken Con it actually kept the convention centralized. In fact, I feel like it helped maintain a nice consistent energy throughout the day. Most attendees spend the majority of their time in the dealer's room and the video game room anyway, so why not mash these things together so they both happen in roughly the same area? (Body odor might be a good reason not to, but I learned years ago not to breathe through my nose at conventions, so I couldn't tell.)

Kraken Con is hardly a standout experience, but as it's only on its second year, I could see it growing into something much larger. It is extremely well located, went off without any major hitches, and attracted a fairly interesting guest lineup, so there's really nothing to complain about. Really, the best part is how short it is. If you're in the Bay Area and looking to sate your appetite for anime conventions without blowing a whole weekend on it, there’s virtually no reason to skip out on Kraken Con.

Continue Reading...