Ari Rockefeller presents AnimeNEXT 2011 — The Weekend of Too Many Anniversaries

                This time last year, I was walking around the convention halls that housed AnimeNEXT in Somerset, NJ. As it turns out, this year’s AnimeNEXT is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Hard to believe they’ve been going strong since 2001. Good work on surviving a decade, fellows.

                And as I trudge through my own writing archives, I come upon the discovery that the convention itself is not the only one celebrating an anniversary. That’s right, my devoted followers, it was AnimeNEXT 2010 that was the subject of my first convention write-up for Anime Jam Session. Huzzahs are in order! And I’m going to mark this momentous occasion by…not doing anything out of the ordinary, really. It’s not that I’m a dullard and a workaholic (far from it), but it didn’t even occur to me until I got my press pass and it said “10th Anniversary” right on it. It’s not like I’m going to go to the rave and whip up a fresh batch of bad memories…
                A weekend away at a convention center could not have come at a more needed time, as the day before was a string of family- and health-related issues one after another, culminating in yours truly ending the day in the throes of a nervous breakdown. I didn’t even get any sleep that night; I spent about six hours laying in bed with my eyes closed (trust me, they’re not the same thing). I “woke” at daybreak, got myself ready and was on the road before 8:00 that Friday morning.
                It’s becoming more and more of a habit in regards to going to conventions, but they’ve all started in similar fashion—as typically the only one with a car out of our adventuring party, I arrive at the venue first, then when my cohorts arrive at a nearby bus or train station, I ferry them back to said venue. This may happen more than once, depending on how many are coming at any particular time. It’s one of the perils that come with current locations, work schedules and financial issues that have absolutely no overlap from one person to another.
                You can see the appeal of conventions, can’t you? It’s a place where, for the next three days, the “real world” has no meaning.
                The first panel I took to attending was entitled, “I’d Voice That!” essentially a Q&A session with a bunch of voice actors the convention had as guests. The panel was very well put together and efficiently run…in that the panel started late. Furthermore, Vic Mignogna and Greg Ayers, who were also slated to appear, were nowhere to be seen. Apparently the two of them ran into difficulties getting to Somerset, with their flights being delayed or rerouted. So Michelle Knotz took control of the panel instead. At around the twenty-five minute mark, Dave Lister showed up to aid the panel. The rest of the panel involved Dave drawing things for Michelle to voice, and then invited people in the audience to do the same. The highlight of the exercise came when a girl provided the “voice” for a Metroid (who probably never played any of the Metroid games before). The end result was a sickly sounding little thing that got too full from eating too much Samus. Hey-oh, indeed.
                After making a run to the nearby train station to pick up two other members of our adventuring party, I made it back to catch a fanfiction panel entitled, “Writing Awesome Fanfiction.” A panel about not just writing or fanfiction, but a panel about both at the same time? Finding me in the audience would be as predictable as the sun rising. The panel was run by a group called Super Awesome Go Time. They stated that good fanfiction can leave you blown away, but bad fanfiction can easily leave the reader emotionally scarred. Experienced writers might have recognized some of their points as old hat (do your research on the characters, the storylines and the motivations; Mary Sues and Gary Stus are one-way streets to failure; plots must have substance), but they were things that are very important and bore repeating.
                After that, there was a bit more wandering around the convention area. The con’s venues were divided between a handful of buildings—the Doubletree hosted most of the panels and whatnot, while the main events, Artists’ Alley and Dealers’ Room were in the nearby expo center. It was odd to find the Alley and the Room so close by, probably because it’s not all that usual for a convention of its size. An office building in the complex hosted the video rooms, but I didn’t stop there this weekend. The nearby Holiday Inn hosted the Game Room, with dedicated sections set aside for rhythm games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. There were plenty of tournaments going on throughout the weekend, with all the usual gaming suspects on display.
                Getting to and from the heart of the con to the game rooms was an ordeal all of its own. If you didn’t mind (or were hard up for) exercise, had a non-hindering cosplay and didn’t mind the heat, then walking between the buildings was no problem. Except that the temperatures for Friday were well into the 90s all the livelong day. And then there was the humidity—the sticky, stifling, unrelenting humidity. Did I mention that the Holiday Inn’s entrance was right on the main road, while the Doubletree and the rest of AnimeNEXT were located deep within a business complex? This made walking even more fun an experience. There was a shuttle service that ran between the hotels and the shopping centers (read: places to get food) in theory—in theory because I can count the number of times I saw a shuttle in operation on one hand. Any kind of fluid I drank on Friday felt like it was sweated out just as fast as it was consumed.
                I tried to go to the “J-Rock Revolution” panel, hoping to listen to a deep and technical discussion on the merits and shortcomings of Japanese rock music. But considering I was sweaty from head to toe and not even remotely comfortable or able to pay attention, I bailed after about ten minutes. It wasn’t just to cool off, but the stench of con funk was hanging thick in the air wherever you went, and my disposition wasn’t helping matters any. So I instead retreated to our hotel room, changed, and headed down to the swimming pools. That’s not a typo, by the way; the Doubletree had two pools in service—one outside (with different colored lights in the walls for after nightfall), one inside (smaller, but with a hot tub). The pools, by the way, felt wonderful. Just the thing one needed to cool off. And they were both decently populated, too; that’s something I never liked when using the pool during a convention—having the whole goddamn thing to myself. That’s no fun. The hot tub didn’t have quite as much emphasis on “hot” when compared to your typical hot tub.
                After spending some time swimming, I got cleaned up and went looking for dinner. The last time I was in the area was for the Steampunk World’s Fair held the month prior. There was a quaint Japanese restaurant in a shopping center that I wanted to try, assuming it was a ramen bar. I assumed wrong. I didn’t realize my mistake until I was sitting at the bar with a menu in hand that various forms of sushi were the house specialty. And walking out didn’t seem like an option, either. That would’ve been rude. I read over the menu several times, tiptoeing around the selections to find something I could physically tolerate. I have really bad seafood allergies, and I was in a place where two-thirds of the dishes on their menu could at best leave me on the floor with blurry vision and gasping for breath and could at worst fucking kill me. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
                Though the teriyaki chicken I settled on was tasty.
                After returning to the convention, an hour or so went by when one of the members of our adventuring party was having a bad night…as in I-can’t-be-here-anymore-I-have-to-leave-right-now bad. It was depressing, yes, but unfortunately no amount of coaxing or encouragement could alter the decision. So I was asked to make one more run to the train station. I offered to hang around and also wait for the next train, but was met with insistence that I return to the convention and enjoy myself. I would be perfectly fine with waiting, but my offer was politely turned down. So, our party was down one person. Thankfully, the rest of us were TXT’d when the train arrived and home was in sight. As for why the sudden need to leave, I’m not at liberty to say.
                I made it back to the convention in time to catch “Anime Incorrect,” a send-up of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. And playing the role of Maher (read: moderator) was Anime Jam Session’s very own DJ Ranma S. He had a panel of four additional guests to discuss some of the most pressing issues in the anime world today. The topics included Tokyopop, responsible for manga in the US as we know it, and their recent decision to shut down US operations; pirating, and how it’s led to a wave of spoiled, entitled assholes who want things subbed the day after it comes out in Japan (and more than a little reminiscing about going to the nearest Chinatown and buying anime on VHS from a shady importer); the live-action adaptation of AKIRA, and how it’s fundamentally stripped out everything unique about the original (including the main point of how much it sucks to be Japanese in a post-apocalyptic Japan), and because fuck Warner Bros. and their whitewashing; and the Tokyo Youth Ordinance passing, which “regulates” titles that are “bad for youth development,” and while it’s indirectly aimed at getting rid of lolicon stuff, the potential for abusing it to get shit pulled and citing said ordinance is unprecedented. There was another subs vs. dubs argument slated for discussion, but it was wisely cut for time (and the possible backlash was not something anyone wanted to deal with). Oh, and this was an 18+ panel, so needless to say nothing was held back.
                Saturday was much different from Friday, in that it was much cooler and it rained most of the morning (though it cleared up by afternoon). There was one particular panel I wanted to catch that morning, and it was a who’s who of anime voice acting for the day. “Inside the Voice Actors’ Studio” kicked off with Michele Knotz (Jessie and May from Pokémon), Bill Rogers (Brock from Pokémon), Chris Niosi a.k.a. Kirbopher, Robert Axelrod (Lord Zedd from Might Morphin’ Power Rangers), Leah Clark (Ayanokoji from Ouran High School Host Club), Onezumi Hartstein and Tom Wayland (Blister from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds). Vic Mignogna was slated to show up, but he was late…which would turn into a no-show. It was commented that Vic liked showing up late and stealing the show with a really dynamic entrance. We didn’t get that this time around because we didn’t get Vic period. Also, Bill and Michele left about halfway in to attend an autograph signing. The majority of the panel involved the panelists fielding various questions that were a little off the beaten path from the audience. Robert Axelrod stole the panel at parts, as not only can he still pull off Lord Zedd’s voice pitch-perfect, but after answering a question, more than once, Leah and Onezumi expressed interest in taking the guy home with them. He was rather flattered by the offer.
                I found my way back to the game room in the afternoon, and dug myself in. Though I didn’t participate in any tournaments, there was never a want for competition. I spent a lot of time there playing Super Street Fighter IV—Arcade Edition, which was just like SSFIV, only with the addition of four “new” characters (Yun and Yang from III, the return of Evil Ryu, and Oni, who is Akuma with the dickery ramped up tenfold). After a rough start, I faired fairly well, racking up a ten-game winning streak before losing and moving on.
                By the way, to the people who use Akuma and Ken religiously, allow me to say this: you people are the reason I main as Dan.
                I considered taking another dip in the pool/s, but they were mostly unpopulated throughout the day. Still, I later stumbled across a panel called, “Dave Lister’s Pokémon DS Party!” Yes, it was a celebration of all things Pokémon, from the anime to the games to everything in between. There were games played by people in the audience, with shiny Pokémon as the prize. That’s a pretty powerful motivator if you’ve ever played the games. Also, there was singing. They got everyone to sing the first (English) opening theme and the infamous PokéRap. Needless to say, I’m not nearly as big a fan of either of those songs as anyone else attending that panel.
                As we tend to scatter and do our own things at these conventions, I’ve always insisted on our adventuring party having at least one sit-down meal with everyone together during a con weekend. And this weekend was no different. The four of us made our way over to a T.G.I. Friday’s about half a mile from the convention. It was suggested that we drive over there, but we decided to walk instead, seeing how a) I was the only one who had a car this weekend and b) trying to find a parking space in the Doubletree parking lot was an exercise in automotive futility. I know the convention was packed, but there’s no reason I should have to drive for 15-20 minutes to find a parking spot in a fucking hotel parking lot. Since no one wanted another instance of that, we hoofed it on over. We were told the wait would be 20 minutes, but it thankfully didn’t last that long. Dinner was nice…until we looked outside and discovered that it was raining again. And we walked over. The walk back was just so much fun!
                At the very least I didn’t wear sandals this weekend.
                Sunday was another slow convention day, as the main activities included packing up, finding food, and recording interviews for our YouTube account. I was surprised to discover that our numbers were down to three, as another member of our adventuring party left really early Sunday morning—as in, we woke up and he was gone. We ended up with about half a dozen or so, including one with a cosplayer that behaved like a fusion of Mr. T and his The A-Team character B.A. Baracus, which is easily the best interview Anime Jam Session has ever done. More surprising, to close out the convention, we and a handful of other reporters were on hand for an interview with Vic Mignogna. He fielded questions from the lot of us, with each rep getting in two questions each. He mentioned that he had strained his voice over the course of the weekend, and spoke more quietly than normal. As a result, he came off sounding really mellow and chill, which really added to the experience.
                That was the last thing we did before we three departed the convention. Before heading out to the train station, we decided on a quick lunch. My attention was brought to a Cluck U Chicken restaurant that sold us on, essentially, the name alone. The food was well done, and served in short order. The other members of my adventuring party left for the train station with their orders piled up with their suitcases, while I ate mine on the way home.
                Sadly, it didn’t dawn on any of us to hit up 8 on the Break again before parting ways. 
                Even taking into consideration that I’ve been doing this for a year now, AnimeNEXT, sadly, felt like just another convention to me. Probably because I didn’t notice the coincidence until I stumbled across it well into the convention’s festivities itself. It’s hard for me to grasp that I’ve been contributing to Anime Jam Session for a whole year now. I never would’ve expected to go to nearly as many conventions per year as I did before signing on; it would’ve been one other convention and Otakon for the entire year and I would’ve been content with that. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the opportunity (god no) or that I’m getting a swelled head over this (hell no), but there are times when I wonder if I’m doing enough. I’ll always be grateful to Anime Jam Session, because bombing around the country going to conventions has given me some of the best moments of my life in recent memory, and believe me, some days I need all the cheering up I can get.
                So allow me to close out my one-year anniversary contributing to Anime Jam Session by saying, “Here’s to you, here’s to me, the best of friends we can be. If we should ever happen to disagree, the fuck you and here’s to me.” (with all due respect to DJ Ranma S)

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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