This past weekend I attended AnimeNEXT in New Jersey. While held this year in Somerset at the Garden State Exhibit Center and conjoined Somerset Doubletree Hotel, in years prior the convention was held at the Meadowlands Arena in Secaucus. However, seeing as this was my first ever AnimeNEXT this did not have much of an effect on me beyond the fact that I was basically required to stay at a hotel, an experience which turned it from a commuter convention to a hotel convention, and perhaps turned out better because of it.
AnimeNEXT is a fairly small con whose guest list is comprised mostly of locals. There are no big name Japanese guests at AnimeNEXT but the convention doesn’t really pretend to be an Anime Expo or an Otakon. It’s in this environment that I was able to do my first two official con panels ever (I was a last-minute panelist on the Comic Market panel at Otakon 2006), and I managed to learn a lot despite attending relatively few panels myself. At a convention like this, fan-run panels really are the order of the day so that was the majority of my activity at AnimeNEXT.
Friday, June 12
Friday I arrived in Somerset accompanied by kransom from welcome datacomp and the Reverse Thieves. After finding out that my site was apparenty called “Ugiue Maniax” I went to the panels. Getting there too late to see the mecha panel or others that might have been of interest to me, I ended up going to the “Anime Through the Generations” panel, curious as to who would be giving such a panel with such a name. It turned out to be a group of girls who were fairly young but also fairly diverse in their approach to the fandom, and with the help of Rob Fenelon and other (seriously) old school fans it turned into an interesting discussion about how otaku relate to each other across age gaps.
Next was a panel about Anime Pirates, whose name was fairly confusing because I was unsure of whether or not it was a panel about Pirates in Anime or about Anime Piracy. It turned out to be the former…sort of. Apparently Gurren-Lagann totally counts as pirate anime because it makes Captain Harlock references.
Probably the highlight panel of Friday was Anime Princesses, or as the full title goes, “Anime Princesses Rule, Disney Princesses Drool,” run by the aforementioned Old Guard Anime Fans, which talked about female royalty in recent anime and how their portrayals as figures essential to the governance of their respective kingdoms contrasts heavily with the traditional portrayal of the damsel-in-distress Disney Princess. I noticed a lot of girls leaving once they realized that the panel was essentially about politics in anime rather than talking about princesses per se, but for those who stayed it was an informative hour. My only complaint with the panel really was that too much time was spent on too few princesses and there was a glut of video clips. Points that could have been illustrated with one or two videos were expanded to four or five. Still, a fun panel.
At this point I’d like to talk about the game rooms set up for AnimeNEXT and how pleasant it turned out to be. They had six separate rooms dedicated to different genres with the most popular ones getting their own rooms out of consideration for said popularity. Most importantly, they never really smelled too badly. It was a well-run game room overall.
Saturday, June 13
Saturday began with the panel run by the Reverse Thieves and I, titled “I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen This!” Though it was among the first panels of the day, running from 9am-10am, we still managed to get a fairly large crowd and for that I am thankful to you our panel attendees, whoever and wherever you are. It’s our hope that we could expand your selection of possible anime to watch and to go beyond what you know already, and people came away ready to look at the titles we recommended, among them being Kaiba, Rose of Versailles, and Kekkaishi. Again, thank you to everyone there.
Vertical Press also had their panel Saturday, led by Marketing Director Ed Chavez. In it, he tried to clear up misconceptions about Vertical Press, which is often touted as a provider of manga classics but should more accurately be seen as a provider of the widest range of material indicative of Japanese popular culture. Ranging from cook books to light novels to non-fiction memoirs and of course manga, no topic is taboo for Vertical Press. Having spoken to Ed on multiple occasions now, I have to recommend anyone who has an interest in manga or Japanese pop culture who has the opportunity to listen to Ed speak should take that opportunity. While a Marketing Director, he does not speak like a stereotypical spin doctor, and will fast convince you that Vertical Press is trying to sell you something worth your time. I know I felt that way at least.
The panel immediately following the Vertical Press one was a dub voice actor panel featuring Michele Knotz and Bill Rogers. The crowd was significantly larger than the Vertical Panel, which came as no surprise once it was revealed that both Knotz and Rogers are voice actors for Pokemon. Both are talented individuals, though the main reason I was there is because Knotz is the English voice actor for Ogiue. So naturally I had to ask Knotz for her opinion on Ogiue. Michele called Ogiue a “very interesting” character, and a type whom she had never played prior to landing the role of Ogiue. Recalling difficulty in achieving the right voice for Ogiue, Michele mentioned that the voice director told her to do a voice akin to “Wednesday Addams.” While I don’t think Ogiue is quite like Wednesday Addams (a more accurate description would be to imitate a girl imitating Wednesday Addams), it was interesting to see how she approached this most important and defining of roles in anime. Both of them also talked about how much they’re looking forward to Genshiken 2’s US release. There were other questions but as far as Ogiue-related topics were concerned this was it.
One of the panels that caught my eye on the programming schedule was “Restricted Rock Paper Scissors.” Anyone who’s seen Kaiji should be familiar with this concept, though interestingly only half of the people at the panel had even seen Kaiji. After a few hiccups and the panelists warning the half who didn’t see Kaiji to say away from the half who did, the game was afoot. I managed to be a finalist in both of the games I played, remembering that there’s no such thing as Honor in the ultimate gamble and to avoid the mental trap of “balance.” My prizes were candy and a tiny deck of Uno cards. Truly I was at the very least a Penultimate Survivor.
The highlight of Saturday by far was dinner, as I and other bloggers converged on the local Ruby Tuesday and chatted it up. Many of the bloggers were ones I met for the first time at AnimeNEXT and it’s always enjoyable to see new faces. Among them were the Reverse Thieves and kransom, my fellow Sunday panelists Omo, Super Rats, and Moy, as well as Anime Almanac’s Scott and Japanator’s Brad. I got the dry-rub Memphis ribs with mashed potatos and steamed broccoli, and followed it up with a decked-out baked potato.
After dinner I arrived just in time for the “Bad Anime, Bad!” panel, where we watched select clips from an old Toei animation called “Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned,” an entertaining movie which plays fast and loose with the story of Vlad Tepes and whose plot involves Dracula pretending to be Satan so he can trick Satan’s bride into marrying him. The movie managed to continually top itself in ways that few could imagine. It was also apparently based on a comic by Marv Wolfman, writer of the most famous Teen Titans run as well as many other comics.
Hisui from Reverse Thieves joined us halfway through Dracula, the other half having been spent at the “As the Otaku Grows” panel, which he informed us was a very misleading title as it turned out just to be a guy with a serious hard-on for 90s anime. He would declare that everything made before and after the 90s was worse by comparison, and would apparently give inane evidence to support his claims. I guess if we have so many people calling the 80s the greatest anime decade it’s inevitable we’d get one for the following decade. I look forward in 15 years when someone declares this decade of Zaizen Jotaro and Slap-Up Party Arad Senki to be the greatest period of anime ever.
Sunday, June 14
Due to rearrangements in the AnimeNEXT schedule, I essentially had my entire Sunday convention experience in the same room. Starting off with the History of Manga in the US panel, I learned a lot about not only manga translations in the US, but also the many attempts to either take existing manga properties and get American artists to draw comics based on them, or to draw a comic in a deliberately “manga-esque” style. It’s a side of the manga industry that isn’t really explored much and I learned a good deal, particularly in regards to how the companies constantly try to adapt to the shifting environment. My only regret was that I had to leave the panel a little early so I was unable to ask him about anything he knew in regards to Marvel’s Shogun Warriors comics. For those who don’t know, Shogun Warriors was a toy and comic line where popular Japanese super robots were brought to America with their stories entirely changed so they could fit in the same universe, somewhat similar to Super Robot Wars but not at all like Super Robot Wars.
US Manga History was followed up immediately by “Otaku Perceptions & Misconceptions,” and it turned out to be a panel by the same people who ran the Friday Anime Through the Generations panel. The conversation revolved around how not only others see otaku but also how otaku see themselves, and it eventually boiled down to how otaku could and should work to fight misconceptions, a topic I contributed to based on my own beliefs.
And then after that was the moment of truth, the “Anime Blogging Basics” panel. As expected from a 1:30pm panel on the last day of a con, barely anyone we did not know showed up, but again that was hardly a surprise. We talked mainly about the “Why” of anime blogging, which turned out to be quite interesting because of the level of variation between our blogs and our styles. Omo enjoys focusing on the fandom (he mentions that his feed contains over 400 anime blogs), Super Rats concerns himself primarily with anime figures and photographs of, Moy’s blog has gone through many variations until it settled into something more personal, and my own blog is defined by the description you see at the very top of Ogiue Maniax. Omo described my blog as the evolution of those old character shrines from 90s online fandom, a description I can’t quite disagree with. In the end, I think we managed to lay down some solid thoughts and opinions on blogging and perhaps helped the two or three guys we didn’t know to engage in their own blogging adventures.
With the con over, I and the others had lunch at Marita’s Cantina, which turned out to be a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant, and one that I would recommend if you are ever in New Brunswick. After eating to our content, we took the train back to New York.
AnimeNEXT as mentioned in the beginning is not a widely attended convention, but it still managed to attract a lot of dedicated anime fans. While I did not focus much on cosplay, I did notice a lot of dedicated cosplayers, and to those of you who dressed as Eureka Seven characters I salute you. I do not know if I will attend again based on circumstances beyond my control, but I would recommend it if you live in the area. It’s not the most exciting convention but it’s certainly not a nightmare. AnimeNEXT is the type of convention where being around good people and great friends can magnify your enjoyment of the con tremendously.
Oh, and if you’re taking the train to New Brunswick to get to the con, watch out for bums. Just a warning.