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Convention Report: Anime Fest @ NYCC 2018

by Rai Kelly,

With everything from super heroes, movies, cult classics, and obviously comics, New York Comic Con has a reputation as the biggest show of the year for pop culture fans on the east coast. The convention itself has something of a rocky history when it comes to anime, though – for years, NYCC ran concurrently with the New York Anime Festival, an event that was slowly – and quite literally - shoved into the basement at the Javits Center over the years by NYCC management until it ceased to exist altogether. That experience left a bad taste among longtime attendees of the show, who expressed sincere distrust of ReedPOP when this year's Anime Fest @ NYCC was announced, a joint venture between ReedPOP and The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, which is the organization that runs Anime Expo. Anime Fest, a new event exclusively for anime, manga, and Japanese culture, was to be a separately ticketed affair held offsite, complete with its own slate of panels, guests, events and shopping.

While Comic Con is usually held at Jacob Javits Center on 34th Street, Anime Fest was held at Pier 94 on 52nd street, approximately 18 blocks away. To make commuting easier, NYCC provided a free shuttle between the two venues. If you were coming from Javits, however, there wasn't much information about the shuttle. There was no sign in the pickup area and no information in the NYCC program, at least not to my knowledge. They only way to find the shuttle was to ask an informed attendee or look for a group of anime cosplayers standing on the corner. This was frankly a hassle, but once you found the shuttle, it was easy to find it again.

Despite this, there were some attendees who got frustrated or confused, and decided to take taxis or Ubers. Or, if you're like me, you walked! It's not a bad walk if you don't mind the exercise. But it's not very convenient for someone who is disabled, tired, etc. Hopefully, next year information about the shuttle will be more transparent.

When you finally got to Anime Fest, the location felt a little surreal. Pier 94 is literally a pier. It's directly on the Hudson River, surrounded by cruise ships, and tucked away behind highway ramps. My initial reaction was “Am I in the right place?” since it was hard to spot the venue with all of these distractions. It would have been nice to have some signs pointing attendees in the right direction. Though, if you were lucky, you would catch glimpses of cosplayers or attendees headed toward the entrance.

Once you got inside the venue, though, it was like finding a hidden anime treasure trove. Anime Fest was somewhere between the size of a small or medium-sized convention and had your usual setup of booths, artists, and areas set aside for panels. And yes, it was all about anime. You could actually look for the titles or characters that were more or less non-existent at Comic Con. It was also the perfect place to search for a charm of your waifu/husbando or find a fanart of your OTP. In addition, there were some cool displays, such as the bilibili display and even some nice backdrops for taking cosplay photos.

But the displays were surprisingly normal, nothing like all the big money at NYCC or Anime Expo in Los Angeles. What was really awesome, in my opinion, were the little lounge areas where fans could hang out (or sleep in some cases). There were chairs and beanbags, and one area even had tatami mats and pillows. Overall, Anime Fest had a slower pace and a lot more elbow room compared to the chaos and crowds of Comic Con. Even on the busy days, there was always more than enough space. You could shop without someone breathing down your neck or take cosplay pictures without 20 people walking in front of your camera. And even without the lounge areas, you could find a place away from everything to recollect yourself. Oh, and don't forget the much shorter bathroom lines.

As for the attendees, the first day was, admittedly, a little low energy. Not all of the vendors were there yet, and the number of attendees was quite small. In my experience, every convention has its own culture. There are some conventions where fans prefer to socialize and take tons of photos, whereas other conventions have more panel- or shopping-focused attendees. Since this was the very first time Anime Fest was held and it is so different from the disorderly fun of NYCC, the attendees and exhibitors alike seemed a little bewildered. They weren't sure what to expect or how exactly to act.

Conversely, the anime-centered panels on Friday were packed full of passionate fans, though none of these events were actually held at the Pier itself, which was still experiencing some serious attendance issues. But it wasn't all bad news - both Anime Fest and NYCC attendees lined up incredibly early to see the Voltron panel at Hammerstein Ballroom and went ballistic during the sneak peak of Season 8. Later that day, the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden held – no exaggeration – almost 8,000 Dragon Ball Super fans for the Broly panel. The ground shook when nearly all of them cheered Masako Tsukada, the Japanese voice actress of Goku, and Christopher Sabat, the English actor of Vegeta, came on stage. Saturday felt like a turnaround at the pier; Anime Fest had completely sold out of tickets, and at one point, the venue even reached full capacity. Even in this situation, however, there was still plenty of room in Pier 94. As expected, the energy level was much higher on Saturday and Sunday. Fans walked around with smiles on their faces showing off their latest purchases, discussing their favorite series, swooning over cosplay, or checking out the ongoing panels. All of the excitement reached a fever pitch Saturday night at the My Hero Academia panel. If you know anything about this show, you can probably imagine the energy in the room without even being there.

The Voltron panel in the Hulu theater

For more on the issues Anime Fest @ NYCC experienced over the weekend, check out our reporting on it right here. As for the show itself, it's a mixed bag - the expectations for this event were pretty high, given that it's a collaboration between two big names in the convention space: ReedPOP and Anime Expo. What it ultimately wound up being was somewhat underwhelming, but it wouldn't be accurate to call it a failure – it was a first-year show with a grim start that saw a healthy turnaround once the weekend hit. If they're serious about growing this event - and not just attempting to step on November's AnimeNYC event, as has been speculated by fans for a while now - it will need a lot of development (and a better shuttle) to become the show they seem to want it to be. Even with all the hiccups, however, this year's show still had some stellar programming and acted as a nice little escape for attendees who wanted both a geeky getaway from NYCC and a much-needed anime fix.

Photography by Rai Kelly and Cindy Sibilisky

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