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Event Report: Anime Fest 2019 at New York Comic-Con

by Rai Kelly,

I'm the kind of person who likes to give others the benefit of the doubt. That's why I tried to find the positives in last year's first ever Anime Fest @ NYCC, even though it was poorly received by many attendees and vendors.

All of the complaints about last year's Anime Fest were completely valid, but despite the distance from the Jacob Javits Center, the questionable location (Pier 94), the low attendance, and its additional flaws, I did enjoy Anime Fest 2018. It was definitely far from the grandeur I expected, but anime fans were able to get away from the insane hustle of Comic Con, get some air to breath, buy anime merch, and see a few interesting panels.

However, the same thing can't be said about Anime Fest 2019. To put it bluntly, it was very disappointing. Before anything else, let me explain how things worked this time around. Anime Fest was held in a separate location at the Hudson Mercantile. The first floor of the Mercantile had a general area where anime fans could hang out, while exclusive events were held on the sixth floor. Attendees could gain admission to the first floor by either having a Comic Con badge or a ticket to an Anime Fest event, which had to be purchased separately.

While the new location at the Hudson Mercantile was much closer – only about a block away from the Javits – the first floor was tiny. It was a single room, about the size of a small apartment. Kalai Chik, another ANN correspondent, said it felt like the event was hosted in someone's garage.

The cramped space included a Japanese torii gate, a Fire Force display, a couple tatami mats, two TVs for playing Super Smash Bros Ultimate, an area for autographs, a community wall for messages and drawings, a Wild Bill's booth selling soda… and that's about it.

No vendors, no artist alley, no place to even sit down except for three tables that were always full. Barely anything. Last year you could spend maybe an hour or two checking things out; this year you could spend only about 15 minutes wandering around before becoming uninterested.

The only exceptions seemed to be attendees playing Smash, getting autographs, or taking pictures with the Japanese displays. But once you finished doing that, there wasn't anything else left to do. Because people left so quickly, it was hard to gauge the attendance. But it was certainly less lively than last year and obviously much less packed than the Javits. I wasn't the only one disheartened. Negative comments on Twitter and Instagram have been popping up stating things like:

While I was there, I also heard many negative comments from other visitors. I even witnessed an exchange between two attendees and a crew member. The attendees asked, “Are there any vendors or artists here?” to which the staff member replied, “No, it's all at the Javits. Our events are on the 6th floor of the Mercantile but it's separate.” The two attendees gave an unsatisfied look and then left, heading back toward Comic Com.

Speaking of the staff, this year's Anime Fest staff members were very friendly. One thing I personally disliked about Pier 94 last year was that their security was not very welcoming. The staff for Anime Fest 2019 year were generally enthusiastic, handing out free items and offering to take pictures of attendees with the Fire Force tank or mascots. So that's at least one positive.

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, Anime Fest did schedule events. There were some big names involved, such as Yoshitaka Amano, Veronica Taylor, Chris Sabot, and Sean Schemmel. There were also noteworthy panels that were held, like the US Premiere of Frame Arms Girl: Kyakkya Ufufu na Wonderland! and Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld.

However, there was a big problem with these events: the price tag. While some were only around $25, others cost as much as $70 to $100. If I wanted to attend every event I was interested in, it would have cost me an arm and a leg. The reason for the high price, according to Anime Fest's information page and social media accounts, was because they included photo opportunities, meet and greets, and exclusive merchandise. They also claimed that the tickets guaranteed a more “intimate experience” with the guests, where fans wouldn't be bombarded with the usual hoards found at Comic Con.

Providing all of these things does cost the convention more money and resources, so charging a little bit more is understandable (though still undesirable). But asking attendees to fork over so much isn't right. Aside from autographs and photo ops, Comic Con attendees get to enjoy most events and guests with the price of general admission.

But anime fans need to pay a ton more? It's not fair. Meet and greets or merchandise may not interest every fan and therefore should be optional, just like at NYCC. In my opinion, if a payment is absolutely necessary for separate events, attendees should be able to pay a set amount to attend ALL of the anime events like last year.

Despite the high price, the events appeared to be successful. Some of them almost or completely sold out. And many of the fans that attended the events seemed to really enjoy themselves.

The guests at Anime Fest look like they had fun with too.

And apparently a couple even got married at the Dragon Ball panel?

It's great that these attendees had a good time, but it still it's unfair that only a select few could enjoy these experiences. Between the location and the prices, Anime Fest really dropped the ball this year. They dropped it even harder than the first year, which is kind of hard to believe considering all the negative feedback they received. Their information page even admitted that they messed up last year and that they were planning to make things better. One of the promises on the page was having more anime “E V E R Y W H E R E” but the amount of anime content at NYCC seemed about the same. There was maybe slightly more, but not enough to make a huge difference. So, sadly, their promises didn't hold up. To be fair, the small space at the Hudson Mercantile was probably an availability issue. They have a limited number of places to choose that are in walking distance from the Javits. But this also brings up the question – why not just have it at the Javits itself? The place is gigantic. And like that one crew member said, most of the anime stuff is already held at the Javits anyway. Why not have one designated area in the center that has all anime-related content?

The only downside about having it at Javits would the crowds, but it seems like many anime fans already deal with them anyway. I liked that they had a separate location last year and hate crowds… but if I had to choose between masses of people or a subpar experience, I would go with the former.

In all honesty, besides the overcrowding issue, there's really no need for NYCC and Anime Fest to be separate. Some of the most popular comics right now are Japanese; titles like My Hero Academia or One Piece can be found everywhere at Comic Con. But lesser known Japanese titles are practically nonexistent. Yes, they may be not as big as Marvel, DC, or Shonen Jump, but they're still a part of comic culture.

This is why anime fans feel so grifted at NYCC; it's hard to find events, merchandise, or other fans of more obscure titles. No matter its physical location (whether at the Javits or not), Anime Fest had the potential to fill in the gaps and provide a more inclusive experience for anime devotees, niches, and fandoms. But this year's fest didn't provide that at all, except for fans who were able to attend the autograph sessions and special events. Or maybe hardcore Fire Force fans.

Like I said, I always try to be positive. Unfortunately, it was really difficult to find the positives in this year's Anime Fest, other than the closer distance, happier staff, and better (albeit expensive) anime events. I did see attendees smiling, taking pictures under the torii gate, and getting autographs from voice actors… But in the end, Anime Fest 2019 felt like a step backwards rather than forward.

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