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Garden State Expo Center, Somerset, NJ
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.)
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.
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!
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!