New York Comic Con and Anime Festival 2011

Back in October, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in New York City attending the sixth annual New York Comic Con and Anime Festival, or NYCC/AF for short. Having attended last year as well, I already had expectations for the convention after an incredible year last year. This year, for the first time, NYCC lasted four days and filled the entire Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. While I wasn’t able to attend the first day (or day zero, depending on your count) as it was Thursday, October 13th, and I had work all day. My first day at NYCC this year was the evening of Friday the 14th. What a crazy night that was.

Day One – Friday, October 14th

I arrived at NYCC on Friday around 5pm edt, giving me two hours to spend on the show floor before it closed for the night. Interested primarily in the anime portion of the convention, I headed up to the fourth floor. It was packed. Had I not stopped to look down at the third floor from a couple of windows, it easily would’ve taken a good eight minutes to cross the floor, at least. However, realizing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere fast and curious to see what was down below, I stuck to the right side of the hall and stopped to look out the window. What I saw was a show floor twice, if not three times as packed as the fourth floor. There were booths everywhere. And just about everywhere there was a booth, there was a huge crowd of people. However, on the upside, the window offered a great view of the floor down below, providing the excellent opportunity to find the booths I wanted to visit first.

Likewise, the windows on the fourth floor also did an excellent job showing off just how big NYCC had grown this year. Huge would now be an understatement. While I can’t vouch for how it compares in size to other comic or anime conventions, it’s large enough for me. The view from the fourth floor was from roughly the middle of the convention center, between halls C and D I believe (the halls in the Javits center are A-E with A at the right end of the center and E at the left). As the fourth floor was new this year, I decided to take a look out from the newly renovated balconies, which offered a fantastic area to rest away from the crowds. The view outside was fantastic and unlike inside the convention center, calm.

After enjoying the views the fourth floor had to offer, I decided it was time to head down to the madness that was called the third floor. Just like last year, the third floor was the main show floor, packed as much as possible with booths. However, I was very happy to see two things that were different from last year. First, the show floor appeared to be a fairly even split between Comic Con and Amine Festival, unlike last year’s dominate Comic Con. Second, in many areas the aisle were much larger than last year, but it was still difficult to get around, especially on Saturday. As I only had a few hours on the show floor Friday, I was only able to see roughly 3%, if even that. I spent most of the day getting oriented with the show floor, stopping only a few booths, primarily Crunchyroll. For those of you who don’t know, Crunchyroll is kind of like Hulu, except it only shows anime and asian dramas. As a premium member, I stopped by the booth to pick up a shirt, one that actually fit me this time as I had out grown the shirt I received from last year. However, my main reason for stopping by was for the livestream, an HD Logitech camera on top of a TV showing the livestream and comments from viewer on the site flying across the screen. If you’re familiar with the video player on Nico Nico Douga, it was exactly like that.

Given that I didn’t have much time on the floor to begin with, I stuck around at Crunchyroll’s booth until security finally came around to kick everyone out of the show floor at about 7:15pm (thanks for the extra 15 minutes this year security!). But just like last year, the show didn’t stop at 7. There were still plenty of panels running into the late hours of the night. I elected to go to just one as it was the only one I was interested in Friday night and the only one that fit my schedule anyway. That panel was the Madoka Magica screening by Aniplex of America. If you aren’t familiar with Madoka, it’s a very twisted but absolutely fantastic series. If you are familiar with it, contract? The screening opened with the president of Aniplex of Japan speaking, mainly thanking fans for their support, while some cosplayers stood behind and tossed out loot after he was finished. I have to say, it was pretty clear pretty damn fast that there were some hardcore fans in the room, by which I mean a fight between three guys over a t-shirt. That’s right, a t-shirt. Sure, it was a shirt from Japan but spoiler alert: it’s called Amazon Japan 😉 After the brawl was finally broken up (rather slowly I might add, great job on that one ReedPop), the screening finally began to…. technical difficulties. Having been to NYCC last year, I honestly would’ve been very surprised if it didn’t. Both last year and this year any panel with video or audio had a problem getting it to play (pop quiz: how many technicians does it take to make sure the video cable is plugged in right?). Once it finally got going for real, we were treated to the first three episodes subtitled in English officially for the first time. Having already seen a fansub (yes, shame on me), I was mainly interested in seeing how the subtitles compared. To be honest, I liked the fansub better. Note to Aniplex: “Alright!” in Japanese translates to “Alright!” in English, not “OK.”

After the Madoka panel and screening was the AMV Contest. To put it as nicely as I can: To the entrants, don’t quit your day job. In a room full of Otakus, rap is a really, really bad choice for music genre. Also, there’s more to anime than Naruto and Bleach. Shocking, I know. That said, I left to catch a train home before the panel was over.

Day Two – Saturday, October 15th

Saturday for me started with waking up at 6am to catch a train in to New York to make it in time for the opening of the floor. If I had to pick just one perk of attending as an industry professional to be my favorite, it’s the skipping of the line to get in. Thank. You. ReedPop. Seriously, that line was a disaster. Luckily, there was a dedicated entrance this year for press, pros, and VIPs. If there wasn’t, from what I heard on the floor, it would’ve been a good half and hour or more to get into the center. So again, thank you ReedPop for letting me skip the line.

To put Saturday into to just three words, like last year, it was “The big one”. While I never heard an official count, the unofficial count was 60,000 people that day, likely much, much more. While moving around in the morning was still doable, come the afternoon, traffic in the show floor ground to a halt in most places. You’d have an easier time getting around Times Square durring the holidays than getting around the show floor. Trust me, I know. While not as bad as last year thanks to less construction going on at the center blocking off areas, it was still a living hell. Having a full schedule, I had very little time to spare on the floor so I attempted to get as much in during the morning as possible. Permitting I don’t have my days screwed up, the first panel of the day for me was the Bandai-Aniplex panel. This year’s panel was full house and seemed to focus mainly on upcoming Gundam series releases. That said, if you are a fan of Gundam, you would’ve found the panel a lot more interesting than I did. However, a thank you to Bandai for the Ray-Out shirt from Eureka Seven (side note: if you haven’t seen it, stop reading and get over to Crunchyroll and start watching it. It’s amazing.)

Had it not filled up before I could get in line, the second panel of the day for me would’ve been the Hatsune Miku panel. Turns out there were quite a lot of Miku fans this year. I know of only one other panel that reached capacity: the screening of The Avengers. On the bright side, it did mean I know actually had time in my schedule for lunch before the Makoto Shinkai spotlight panel. Pro tip: make sure you have at least $20 cash for lunch if you plan on buying something at the convention center. Personally, I would’ve walked up the street to Five Guys if I had the time. It would’ve easily been half the cost (and they would’ve accepted plastic…) However, that isn’t to say that the food at the convention center is no good. While it will depend on what you get, it is actually pretty good, but still overpriced. But hey, it’s a convention center (bonus pro tip: even the Starbucks is more expensive than usual). After eating lunch, I headed back down to the first floor to get in line for the Makoto Shinkai panel a full 45 minutes early. Best. Decision. Ever. By the time I got in line, it was already into the overflow area with four full rows ahead of me. Luckily, some truly awesome hero of a person brought a ball to hit around while waiting in line. I think the record was a successful 103 passes, with a good portion of those headbutts. Needless to say, it made waiting in line a lot easier.

Remarkably, the panel actually managed to start on time, despite the huge crowd needing to get seated. I actually still can’t believe I got as good of a seat as I did. In a nutshell, the panel was about what you’d expect: Makoto Shinkai and his work. However, I was a bit surprised that it was not scripted, given the language barrier and all (although Shinaki-san actually does know a fair bit of English).

After the spotlight on Shinkai-san, it was back to the show floor for shopping – and trying to find a bag to put all my loot in… Even with roughly four hours to spend, I still didn’t get the chance to see all of the show floor, no doubt thanks to the insanely long line to try Skyward Sword. Honestly, it wasn’t even really worth it. Yes, it was a demo of an unfinished product, but it hardly made me interested in seeing what the finished product looks like, let alone buying it. But for the sake of not going on a rant, I will simply say better luck next time Nintendo, if you last that long. And so after easily spending $200 or so on loot, 7pm rolled around, closing the show floor for the day. Knowing from last year that there would be an insane line, I headed down to Hall B on the first floor to line up at least an hour early for the Masquerade. I never expected it to be total chaos.

To put it bluntly, ReedPop, what in the hell where you thinking? The Masquerade line was easily the NYCC 2011 disaster. Someone came up with the brilliant idea to line everyone up in one hall only to have that entire line walk through the first floor hall to another hall to get in line once again. Not to mention wait another hour and a half. Did we in line have any idea why it was running late? Nope. Not until actually getting in the theater were we told it was because the previous panel ran late. I can understand a panel running up to 15 minutes late. Shit happens. An hour plus is beyond late. While in the initial hall there was enough room to sit down and rest, the second hall was so closely packed that just turning meant you would bump into someone. I’ve been to Apple product launches and even those lines were better orchestrated, civil, and we knew what the heck was going on. Once the line actually started moving, honestly, I think it’s a miracle no one got hurt (that I know of). Never in my life have I been in a line with more pushing. You can have staff yell “No pushing” all you want, but if you don’t enforce it, you might as well have the staff save their voice. However, there was one really awesome part about the line. Someone dressed up as the Joker managed to get the entire line to start singing on multiple occasions from the Pokémon theme to “It’s a hard not life”. Kudos to the Joker for not being so serious.

Once we finally actually made it into the theater, the staff attempted to apologize for the delay by showing the independent animated film “This Boy Can Fight the Aliens”. I kid you not, that was the title. I won’t even begin to describe it as I don’t want to make you throw up. Yes, it was bad enough that when it was over and the staff took the stage back, they were almost booed off. Congratulations ReedPop. You went from catastrophe to PR fuck up of the year, even topping the PSN incident. Thank God the skits this year were incredible. This year’s Masquerade had an absolutely amazing show of talent, which did make up a bit for the wait. If it were shorter, I would say it was worth it. Don’t get me wrong, the actual skits were indeed the highlight of NYCC this year, but given how many people gave up on waiting, the theater was only half full, if that, when we were finally let inside. You could’ve sat outside the main theater entrance, skipping the line, and still gotten a decent seat. Because of how late the Masquerade started, it likely wasn’t until midnight that I started making my way to the train station to catch the train home… and fall asleep on it and miss my stop. Thank God it terminated at Long Branch… My apologizes again to the NJT conductor who had to wake me up. Finally getting home at 2am, I immediately passed out in bed.

Day Three – Sunday, October 16th

Sunday. The last day. Finally. By Sunday I was so tired that I was actually a bit glad I couldn’t make all four days. There’s no way I would’ve been able to get up for work the following Monday. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must’ve been for the exhibitors, let alone the convention staff and volunteers. Luckily, Sunday was, as per tradition, the shortest of the days, ending completely by 5pm. Sunday may easily have been the most awesome day for me personally. Once again, I arrived at the convention center at 10am, skipping the line to get into the center, and headed straight for the IGN Theater. Sunday morning was the morning that Makoto Shinkai’s latest work would premiere in NY, and I believe the US in general. Expecting a huge line for it, I lined up an hour early, only to find myself in the first row of people waiting. However, it was the best decision I made during the entire convention. What happened when I got in line I honestly would have never expected. For being among the first people in line, I was invited to meet Shinkai-san in person at a private signing later in the day. I can’t even begin to describe how happy I was and grateful for the invitation. There was a public signing on Sunday as well, but its time conflicted with that of another panel I planned to attend. Had it not been for sheer luck, I never would have had the honor of meeting Shinkai-san in person.

At 11am, we were let into the IGN Theater where we heard from Shinkai-san talk about his latest work before getting to watch it. If you don’t know Makoto Shinkai by name, his works include 5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised in our Early Days, and Voices of a Distant Star. You may also know him as the next Hayao Miyazaki, which he is very insistent is not true. However, having now seen his latest work, Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, Shinkai-san, if you’re reading this, you’re going to need a really good argument to prove otherwise now. In the interest of not spoiling the movie, I will simply say this: it is very rare that you come across a movie in which the soundtrack is a masterpiece, the art work is a masterpiece, the storyline is a masterpiece, and all of those key elements come together to make an even larger masterpiece. Children is by far movie of the year in my book. There has never been a movie that I have more eagerly awaited to be released in theaters and on disk. I can tell you now, if Children makes it to US theaters, it may be the first movie I ever go to see on opening day. I will also be pre-ordering the Blu-ray as soon as it hits Amazon on RightStuf! I don’t want to call it an amazing movie because that honestly would be an insult to the movie. It’s better than that. Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki have some very serious competition. Or, you have the potential for a very interesting collaboration effort. Either way, if you have the opportunity to see Children, TAKE IT.

Following the screening of Children, I headed upstairs to the fourth floor Anime Stage for my last panel at NYCC this year, the Gaia Online hour[s] (or Experience, as they put it). Yes, I am a member of Gaia, going on four years now. However, you don’t have to be a member of Gaia to enjoy the panel. This year’s was a tremendous improvement over last year’s. Rather than have multiple panels with different focuses and crammed into a tiny room on the first floor, Gaia made the brilliant decision to take up the fourth floor stage for a couple of hours, complete with plenty of contests. If you’ve been to a Gaia panel before, you already know the contests. If you’ve never been to one, the contest range from simply the craziest hat, to finishing a box of Pocky in full in a minute. And when I say in full, I literally mean in full. Drop some on the ground? Doesn’t matter. Gotta eat it. Since I’m sure not everyone cares what transpired at the panel, I will simply say that it was awesome and that if you do care, search the Gaia forums for a recap. I’m sure someone has one.

As the Gaia panel ran until 4:30pm, just half an hour before the end of the convention, I wanted to make two last stops before heading home for the year. My first stop was back at the Crunchyroll booth to say goodbye to the livestream viewers (If you were one of them, I’m Steve from the livestream). My second was to meet Makoto Shinkai in person. I made my way down to the first floor to the press, pros, and VIPs area to a small room off to the side. It’s a good thing I went when I did as I was the last to come in (sorry everyone that was there for keeping you). As I mentioned before, Shinkai-san does actually speak some English and we were able to have a small informal conversation while he signed an autograph for me. Needless to say, that autograph is now in a secure location.

Until Next Year…

All in all, NYCC 2011 was yet another amazing year. Insanely tiring with soreness to match, but absolutely worth it. I was very happy to see it significantly larger than last year, even though I didn’t get to see the entire floor, let alone all the panels I was interested in due to scheduling conflicts. However, the crowding problem from last year still exists. It was better, but even with things significantly more spread out than last year, Saturday some parts of the show floor were still impassable due to the crowds. I do hope to be able to attend next year and make it a tradition, perhaps even cosplay next year, but I’m making no promises on either of those. If you’re an anime, manga, or comics fan in the New York area, New York Comic Con and Anime Festival is definitely something to check out. If you’re a fan of all three, you should have no problem keeping yourself busy throughout the entire convention. If you’re interested in the seeing the loot I picked up, check out the video below.

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