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AnimeNEXT: First Year Con-A-Go-Go
By Dillon Font
The New Jersey anime con is finally back! After the insanity that went down after the fall of the almost-legendary Anime East back in 1995, New Jersey has been bereft of a general-fan anime convention for seven years. However, with only eight months of planning and a relatively small staff, AnimeNEXT put on its show; and was for the most part, very successful in its execution.
Located in Secaucus, New Jersey, only miles from Manhattan in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the convention was host to around 800 attendees. These mostly consisted of local fans supporting this first-year endeavor, the majority of whom were day-trippers on Saturday. The hotel resembled most cons with a plethora of cosplayers, exuberant fans pleased with their hauls from the sizable Dealers Room, and others enjoying the many panels, screenings, and video-gaming offered by the con.
One of the more notable attractions to AnimeNEXT was the large video game room. It was filled not only with multiple systems, but also offered a wide range of video games outside of the standard fare of most anime cons, like Dance Dance Revolution. Despite facing a late opening on Friday due to circumstances beyond the control of the video game room staff, it's opening preceeded a weekend of the room filled to near capacity. The corner of the room also offered a nice extra; a computer hooked into a large screen TV constantly screening J-POP and J-ROCK music videos, great for those looking for a short break between games.
Both the video rooms and the panels had one thing in common; a strong industry presence. While the video rooms had a distinct lack of fansubs within its lineup, the titles chosen truly were the cream of the crop. Excellent features such as Rin Taro's "Metropolis" and Studio Gainax's "The End of Evangelion" were shown. The panels themselves were mostly industry panels, but since this convention wasn't big enough to have the likes of acquisition announcements, the industry panels turned up to be a lot of fun. They were mostly spent talking about how the companies were doing lately and what projects the industry reps were most looking forward to. Central Park Media's panel consisted mostly of discussion of the future releases of their manga division, and were particularly exciting to this writer, who is eagerly awaiting their adaptation of "Alien 9" to hit the states.
The non-industry panels were a mixed bag of unusual delights. Friday had a string of interesting panels focusing more on Japan than on anime. First up was a panel on culture shock in Japan, discussing the issues facing international anime fans, and whether they were plrepared to live in Japan. Following this was a very useful panel on tips for going to Japan on a shoestring budget. Saturday also saw some fun panels, such as the unfortunately too-short "Anime, Your History" panel, presided by Brian Price and Robert Fenellon. It was an interesting journey through historical representations in anime from Urusei Yatsura to Princess Mononoke. These two seasoned fans and panelists put together a tight presentation on the reflections of Japanese history in contemporary anime.
The Dealer's Room for a first year con was first-rate, containing many dealers selling a variety of anime goods. Those who entered were not disapointed, despite an apparent lack of merchandise from more recent series. The size of the room and the relatively small number of attendees resulted in no lines, leaving the room mostly uncrowded. Showing their support of the other local cons, the dealer's room also hosted free tables from the two other, specialized Jersey cons, Shoujocon and Yuricon. Their table staff were always available for good discussion between bouts of binge spending.
Sadly, due to the the small number of attendees in general and cosplayers in particular, a typical con highlight, the Cosplay was very short-lived and not very memorable. However, the other big events at the con were much more well-received, particularly those involving AnimeNEXT's big-name guest, Kia Asamiya. Asamiya was there mostly to promote his forthcoming work on Marvel's "The X-Men" and was one of the friendliest and most engaging guests I've seen in quite a few conventions. Those waiting on the line for signatures were in for a special treat. Asamiya likes to play Rock-Paper-Scissors with his fans, and those who win get a free sketch to go along with their signature. Once again, this is a luxury of the small con, as the guests were much more able to interact with the con-goers and were privy to such perks such as Asamiya's sketches.
Is this con worth going to for it's second year? I simply can't recommend it enough. The con's excellent location, friendly atmosphere, and quirky attendees guarantee a fun time yet again. Keep it on your convention calender in the upcoming year, it'll be worth the trip.
Images are complements of Jeanne Huff, (Hisui's Lipstick Cherry Red Anime Site).