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Anime NYC 2021
Anime NYC Sees Big Conventions' Return to Form

by Lynzee Loveridge,

If this year's Otakon convention felt like a local, more intimate gathering, then Anime NYC's take over of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was a return to large-scale cons. Approximately double in attendee size, Anime NYC's passes were nearly sold out by the time the event was set to open its doors at 10 am on Friday, with attendance capped at 50,000 attendees. The huge turnout isn't surprising for an area that, like the rest of the country, has missed the community of anime conventions. New York Comic Con offered some respite last month, but that event is more pop culture than strictly otaku. However, with any large event comes large logistical challenges, and unfortunately these marred what would have otherwise been a celebration of everything anime and manga.

New York City was unseasonably warm on Thursday. The air was a clear and comfortable 70°F (21°C), but it wouldn't last come Friday morning. Temperatures dropped over 20° with strong, sporadic wind gusts. I made the mistake of deciding to walk the quick mile from my hotel at 10 am to the convention center only to end up walking against 30mph gusts. But I got in quickly. Press members, exhibitors, guests, and pro pass holders were able to utilize a dedicated entrance lane that had no line whatsoever. I received my vaccination bracelet, picked up my badge at the press office, and was able to browse the sparsely populated floors with minimal issue that morning. I didn't yet know exactly how privileged this was until the early afternoon, and it was about to get worse.

Photo provided by John-Paul Natysin

Attendees had begun lining up ahead of the convention opening, and as New York's PIX11 reported during its morning news segment, that line wrapped around the block. Long lines at large conventions isn't exactly unheard of; Anime Expo dealt with a similar issue in 2017. However, that NYC block grew to seven (or approximately half a mile) as congoers snaked around in convoluted angles and continued to wait to get in. Eventually, all the jokey displays of playing the Squid Game card-flip challenge would wane and the queue, including some who had stood in line for four to five hours, devolved into a mass of humanity. This is a scenario that is most reasonably described as "dangerous." According to multiple attendees I spoke to who were in line at the time, frustrated ticketholders began pushing toward the doors.

Photo provided by John-Paul Natysin

Thankfully, the absolute worst-case scenario didn't occur. Much of the frustration and slow entry could be attributed to bottlenecking. Approximately 50,000 people were funneled through two side-by-side entrances staffed by Javitz Center employees. Attendees were required to provide proof of vaccination and photo ID to receive a bracelet before being allowed to enter and pick up their badges. General attendees were able to pick up their badge and bracelet on Wednesday and Thursday, but there was no streamlined entrance for those who had already. That's not how the staff originally envisioned Friday's run. The Crystal Palace lobby entrance, the primary entrance for the Javitz, was supposed to have four lines based on bracelet and badge status.

Anime NYC showrunner and founder Peter Tatara shared the logistics of the event, and what led to Friday's multiple-hour wait. The issue, according to him, was primarily attributed to the staff's underestimation of demand.

"We, of course, knew how many fans were coming, but we didn't expect the vast majority of our Friday and 3-Day Badge holders to arrive very early on Friday morning and overload our Crystal Palace entrance," Tatara said. "The convention's events began at 1 PM on Friday and doors to the building itself opened at 10 AM, but a tremendous number of fans arrived well before then, which caused a backup that only continued throughout the day. I want to be clear though – the fans are not to blame. This was Anime NYC's plan failing to meet our fans' demand."

Once inside, for the few like myself who were in at the 10 am opening, it was initially difficult to find something to do. The Dealer's Hall didn't open until 1 pm and there was no panel programming until 2:30. Even the Attack on Titan manga gallery, a display piece located in an open-air area, didn't 'open' until noon. Instead, the big draw for Friday in particular was the live hololive English -Council- panel, which, unsurprisingly, also garnered a massive line. There would be similar queues for the limited ticketed events, like Mamoru Hosoda's BELLE screening, the Demon Slayer panel, and composer Yuki Hayashi's live My Hero Academia performance.

The Anime NYC staff attempted to course-correct for Saturday and Sunday, and the weather was, gratefully, better. In an e-mail sent to attendees, event staff outlined the new queuing system based on badge and bracelet status while promising more staff at the doors, moving the general attendee entrance to another section of the building, as well as vaccination screening throughout the line instead of at the entrance.

"This made entrance more efficient, making what took some multiple hours on Friday now averaging under 30 minutes on Saturday and Sunday morning. And after the morning, most entry points were then freely flowing for the rest of Saturday and Sunday," Tatara said.

Still, implementing a new procedure can be difficult if there aren't clear communication channels between management and staff, and attendees still voiced frustrations on social media that staffers were unaware of the new color-coded groupings. Further, for reasons I am unclear on, all except one single set of double doors at the Crystal Palace area were blocked off to exit the building through the front by Saturday afternoon, which seems like another potential disaster in the event of an emergency.

Outside the main events, both industry and fan panels enjoyed full to nearly-full room turnouts. Pre-COVID, it was common to see middling to low attendance even for Japanese guest panels at a convention, but not this time. Every panel, whether I was seated in the audience or part of the presentation, was packed. If anything, it reaffirmed that the audience for anime has far from diminished in the last two years and is especially enthusiastic to catch up on what they've missed the most. Likewise, sellers in the Dealer's Hall began selling out of merchandise as early as Day One. Retailers I spoke to shared their pleasant surprise as inventory quickly rolled out of their booths.

Anime NYC wasn't just a "line con," but there certainly were two sides to it. One side was stuck outside and for those who had single-day passes, there was sure to be a sense of disappointment. Tatara recommended that any attendees who had an issue to contact the convention via e-mail at [email protected]. As for the future, Tatara and the Anime NYC team are looking into technological advancements that can help meet the high fan demand for the event as well as further streamline venue access and tickets distribution.

"Our goal is to be an amazing experience for all our fans, and we know we weren't for everyone this year. We can and will be better," Tatara said.

Want to see more pictures from the show? Head over to Anime News Network's cosplay gallery!

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