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October 8 – October 10, 2010
Jacob Javits Center
New York, NY, USA
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.
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.
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.