New York Anime Festival 2008
Interview - Peter Tatara, Page 2

by Zac Bertschy,

What problems did you encounter last year and how have you resolved them for this year's show?

LB: It's interesting – we didn't really have any problems last year. It was a fairly smoothly-run event. Especially one that we ran for the first time ever. We like to say that we really worked out a lot of our issues in year one of New York ComicCon, and put what we learned there to practice at NYAF. Having the stage with the panel rooms, for example, we did learn is a big improvement.

PT: I'll give you a few examples; last year we were in December, December 7-9 in New York City. The week after the anime festival it snowed. I didn't want that to happen this year, so we asked fans and exhibitors if they wanted the show to be in September or December, and we heard “go to September”, and hey, it's not snowing. It's 70 degrees today. So that's one of the big changes.

The other big thing is that a lot of our programming wrapped up at around 7pm last year, and that's early for an anime show. This year we have programming from 10am to 10pm, so the dealers will close up around 6, but special events, panels and screenings will run until 10pm.

Is there any pressure to move the show into the summer frame where basically the teenage audience traditionally has time to travel?

LB: Honestly when you do large-scale events, you find that you rarely ever please everyone. When we asked fans when they wanted the festival to be, summer was up there, but September was actually rated higher.

Beyond that part of what we struggle with is that this is New York City and the venues aren't just sitting there wide open waiting for us to move in. So we looked at what our options were and the fans told us where they wanted us to be.

PT: And if you look at summer right now, there's an anime con – if not two – every single weekend, especially since you have Anime Expo and Otakon, and we don't want to compete with those guys. We don't want to say “hey, you can go to AX or go to NYAF. You can go to Otakon or you can go to our event.” We want fans to be able to go to all three events. So we're staying clear of those big guys.

Is there any concern that now that you're only about a month and change away from Otakon that you might lose some attendees, because they feel like they just went to a big show?

LB: Not if we do our jobs well. Part of what we always want to do is create a unique experience, and if you look at what Peter's done with the programming, a lot of what's happening here couldn't happen in any other city. We're doing things that are here and only here, using the assets of the city, which sets us apart. Like Peter said, you can do a Masquerade at Otakon, but they don't have the World Cosplay Summit. There are outside parties but not at Chef Morimoto's restaurant. There are concerts, but not at the Knitting Factory. Not that that makes those shows worse, but it's what makes us unique. I think Peter's done a great job programming a festival that could only take place in New York City.

You have a lot of musical guests – more than most other cons by a considerable margin. Why the focus on music? Has that been proven to be something that's exceptionally popular, or what?

PT: Music is definitely a huge part of anime fandom. It bridges borders; even if you don't know Japanese, you can appreciate the music. Good music is universal, and what we've done is bring a ton of great bands out. Not only that but we have bands from all over the country coming in that are in some way connected to Japanese popular culture.

Is there one band you consider to be the headlining act?

PT: My personal favorite band is called HappyFunSmile. They're awesome – a New York City band that plays all sorts of old timey old school Japanese songs, with this amazing pop spirit. They're one thing at the show I want to make sure I see.

LB: I won't speak as to who I consider the big headliner but one I personally want to see is Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re. They rock.

PT: The notion is that we don't have just one big headliner – we'd bring in 5 or 6 great bands.

How do you go about selecting these bands and how tough is it to get them to come to the show?

PT: We're working with our good friends at Karaterice to arrange this showcase, and they already have relationships with these people, and we have relationships with Sony and with Avex and other labels. It's not tough for us to contact them; it's mostly about their schedule, if they're free to come. It means we have to contact them 6-10 months in advance. We're already talking to people about NYAF 2009, which goes to show you how far in advance we plan this stuff out.

Speaking of your non-musical guests, how do you decide who to invite?

PT: NYAF is a spinoff of New York Comic Con, and Comic Con is a celebration of everything in American pop culture. It's a big tent. American comics, movies, games, whatever's hot right now. At the Anime Festival, it's the same – inclusive toward big names in Japan's pop culture. And that's what we went for – what big names could we bring in? Not just directly related to anime, but big well-known names across fashion, cooking, all aspects of pop culture. What do we as fans want to see? We talk to fans in New York, and ask them who they want to see.

You're both convention veterans; how do you think anime conventions have changed over the years, and do you think New York Anime Festival reflects those changes?

PT: Yes, anime cons have changed hugely and the tastes of the fans have as well. It's no longer something that's held in one room of a hotel. It's mainstream now – especially titles like Naruto, Bleach, Death Note – it's part of American pop culture now. And the fanbase is getting younger and changing. It's no longer 18, 24, 38 year old guys watching 3rd generation fansubs; those guys are still around, but it's also kids now. Teenagers. It's no longer this secret underground thing. Middle school kids aren't talking about Batman and Superman anymore, they're talking about Naruto. It's about what's popular today.

And if you look at our programming, we're trying to stay as current and as bleeding edge as possible. But given that I'm over 20 years old, I remember older shows. I got in to anime through Vampire Hunter D, and I want to give a shout out to older fans. I want to bring in people like Amano, people who have been big for generations. Which appeals to older fans. We're programming for everyone. Of course we have things like Bleach and Death Note, but we also want something very tangible for older fans in the audience.

Finally, any tips you might have for new attendees? Someone for whom this might be your first convention?

PT: Well, I guess I could say this: you know about Death Note, you know about Gundam 00, you know about these huge franchises. Definitely go see those panels, but don't stop there. Go to the panels you don't know about, the guests you're not familiar with. We have Peter Fernandez and Corrine Orr, the voice of Speed & Trixie are back this year. Go see them. We have over 150 hours of content, and I'd love for fans to not only see the things they love, but take a chance and find something you don't know you'll love yet.

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