As promised, I figure I’d do a write-up on the convention itself! I’ve had quite the history with AnimeNext. While not as long as my sis, whose a veteran from the earlier days in Secaucus Convention Center, I have at least a good 6 – 7 years under my belt. Now, some conventions have been better than others. But, the last couple of years have hit an unfortunate slope of disappointment from a mix of overpopulation and lack of organization on a grander scale. Now, I know how much planning goes into making a huge event. The Q&A panels at the end of each convention give at least a little bit of insight for the common con-attendee, but experience behind the scenes certainly helps. That said, this convention has improved since 1 – 3 years ago, when it was probably around its lowest point. But, enough summaries, let’s dig a little deeper. As always, more after the jump…
In terms of convention panels, it’s a mixed bag. As you’d expect, I enjoyed some a lot more than others. In terms of highlights; the culture and impact of Sailor Moon, Bad Anime Bad/Totally Subversive Toons, VGO’s panel on Final Fantasy & other VG Soundtracks. The Sailor Moon panel was insightful, always interesting, and lead by a very strong panelist. Never once did her panel feel uninteresting or merely a lecture panel. Bad Anime Bad/Totally Subversive Toons was consistently humourous for myself, while learning more about the darker sides of the animation world. While much of the humor was off putting to many attendees, I was able to look past it. VGO/Video Game Orchestra’s panel did play with my expectations, as I expected a musical performance. What I got was just as good, as the creator of the VGO himself, as well as several associates, explained the type of work they do as well as featuring highlights from various projects. As a fan of orchestrated remixes as well as a genre mix they coin as “rockestra”, I was more than pleased with the work they showcased. As always, it was a pleasure to see the geek-oriented comedian, Uncle Yo again. Most of his act was rock solid, even if I didn’t care for the large segments on my little ponies and Twitch-Pokemon. That said, I had a good chuckle from some topical humor like the 2014 Godzilla movie, as well as his current events and human rights issues segments. While I agreed on the social commentary presented in the latter, I did feel he got caught up in preaching to the choir. None the less, this didn’t detract from his panel being a continuously funny one.
That said, I had some less than satisfactory experiences with some of the other presentations and workshops. Without mincing words, the panelists from “Lost in Adaptation” shit-faced drunk. When someone running a panel is a little tipsy, it can be funny. But, in the case of this one, it was downright embarrassing. When discussion on why the adaptation of Scott Pilgrim worked in cinema form somehow hopped to a tangent about chairs sculpted to fit a co-panelist’s lady parts, I patiently hoped this derailed panel would move forward and not stop in stupidville. But, lo and behold, we get stuck on a tangent on how putting sunglasses on M. Knight Shyamalamadingdong would be totally hilarious… for 10 – 15 minutes. As the panel continued, one of the co-panelists darted out of the room in mid-discussion to puke her drunken guts out… Again, not a professional method of handling a presentation. If the former was part of a 18+ panel (especially since one of my good friends brought along members of her 4H Anime Club), I wouldn’t mind. And when the panel was being cut off, they questioned where time went. That said, if both panelists waited till after the panel to hit the pub, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had a problem.
Beyond panels, the organization has had its ups and downs for this year. The attempt to close off the wing outside of the main event hall feels more like a temporary patch until a better solution can come along. But, as I’ve said, things have improved every year, so maybe the feedback from staff Q&A will fix that next time around! From more efficient ways of blocking the hallway off to various alternatives in maintaining the clutter, staff were given many ideas to work with.
But, if there’s one sign that commentary on organization has worked, it is lines for the artist alley and vendor areas… and hell, even the panels themselves! In years past, guests were shoved here, there, and everywhere; while the staff tried to figure out what to do with us. We were pushed outside by the registration area, resulting in the two lines combining into a clusterfuck of madness. But, this year things ran smoothly like clockwork. Even if it took me a while to check out what A-Next had to offer in terms of panels and con-swag, it didn’t bug me. That said, I’m still not content with the system of “raffling” spaces for artist alley and vendors. This can either result in a lot of unique choices to look into, or a lot of overlap and direct competition. But, since coming up with a more practical solution has been a challenge, I won’t hold this against them too much. I suppose I have a bit of a bias, since several of my friends have been trying to get a spot either in dealers or artists for a while now, but to little or no avail. But, jumping back to the organization of the con, one question stood out to me; why weren’t board games placed with the rest of table top? After discovering that board games were not in the new building, it took me until the last hours of the convention to find said room. As staff brought up, this was a last minute decision that was not for the best. But, they said themselves that they learned from the mistake.
One thing I wanna focus on is the new building that A-Next grabbed for the 2014 convention. As the con grew, it needed to invest in more space to accommodate guests safely and effectively. The overflow of people in previous years resulted in a horrible time trying to sift through crowds just to maybe get in line for a panel or what have you. Plus, with a quick shuttle bus in store for next time, it will be no hassle at all to jump to that next panel or just relax with some table top gaming. That isn’t to say I didn’t have a few problems with the new building. While the convention has been improving over the years in response to the large attendee size, they’ve still experienced some curious decisions along the way. Also the lack of lighting and security between a dark roadway in between the buildings was a huge safety concern. Several Q&A attendees and myself voiced our discomfort as we may our way across the dark highway side bridge. Plus, the lack of water stations resulted in heat-related illness that could have easily been cut down.
All in all, AnimeNext is a convention always striving for improvement. Even though it was faced with some massive challenges when the convention got big, it has slowly but surely tackled and solved them. And even if you’re a more casual fan of anime like myself, there are tons of amazing panels and guests to check out and speak to. Plus, as a convention hitting an ideal corner of the tri-state area, it’s convenient for countless con-goers! So, if you’re interested in checking out a new convention, A-Next might be worth a shot.
EDIT: It looks like I got some slight misinformation in regards to the vendor/artist area based on past experiences. I’m glad it was clarified. A thanks to Vince from the AN staff for pointing that out.
EDIT X2: The panelists who ran Anime for Older Fans are NOT the same as the ones who ran Lost in Adaptation. My apologies go out for creating a mix-up