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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.
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.
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.