Ari Rockefeller presents New York Comic Con/Anime Fest 2011 — Five Boroughs, One for Each Day

                So, right off the bat, I have to rescind something I said in my review of Otakon 2011. When I traveled to Baltimore to take part in Otakon, I had mentioned that it was the earliest I ever arrived before a convention. That was simply because Otakon was a three-day convention; NYCC/AF, on the other hand, is four days long, and being how it started rather early on Thursday, it facilitated getting to the city on Wednesday. At five days in NYC (six if you count my return on Monday instead of after the con on Sunday), this makes it the longest I’ve ever been away at a convention.
                You’d think I was some kind of reporter or journalist, the amount of time I’ve spent at these things.
                My experiences getting up to New York City can be summarized thusly: I can get there much more cheaply by taking a Greyhound bus, the aggravations about gas, tolls, miles and parking aren’t worth it, and the NYC subway system only looks intimidating and confusing. As opposed to a straight trip to the city, my bus ended up making an additional stop in Newark to pick up additional passengers, at a time in which every other car in the area threw itself onto the Turnpike and streets of Newark. For a while, I wasn’t certain whether or not Newark was a worse place in Jersey to be than Hoboken.
                After a late arrival into the city, I quickly acclimated myself to New York’s vast subway system, and aside from a few changes, it was like I never left. Sure, there were vagrants, musicians and religious whackjobs haunting the causeways and train platforms, but there were different vagrants, musicians and religious whackjobs in different locations. For one, the merchant(?) distributing Chick tracts was long gone and his wares nowhere to be seen; instead, about a hundred yards prior, was a disheveled fundamentalist shouting religiously fueled (and direly negative) vulgarities at anyone who passed by—and giving blessings upon those who called him out for harassing them. One platform saw a Beatles cover band playing on instruments that were in surprisingly good shape for street musicians.
                I wonder if long-time residents of New York City just tune these people out after a while…
                Eventually the subway took me to Brooklyn, where I would be staying for the weekend—specifically, with Anime Jam Session cohort, DJ Ranma S. The good news was that such an amicable arrangement saved me a bunch on hotel fares. The bad news was that DJ had to put up with me for almost a full week—not an easy task, for sure. To be fair, our adventuring party spent a relatively small time (even as far as conventions are concerned) at his place, while the rest of our time was spent bombing around New York City in and around the convention. 
                Thursday at the convention was, in theory, for those who had special 4-day passes, or for exhibitors, guests, press, and that sort of ilk. I say “in theory” because Thursday is supposed to be the least inhabited day of the con. Those regular attendees have to pay extra for the 4-day pass, and when you consider that the convention isn’t even in full swing on Thursday—and has shorter hours—the costs far outweigh the benefits. But apparently NYCC/AF had their moneymaking pants on this year, and was selling 4-day passes to anyone who wanted one. Thursday was the least inhabited day, but given how the number of attendees broke the six-digit barrier, that only happened due to simple statistics. There were only a handful of panels, and the main exhibit halls wouldn’t let people in until 4:00. Aside from meeting up with some old acquaintances, Thursday was much ado about fuck-all.
                I had to pick up my press pass on Thursday night. Now then, when you get a press pass, it usually comes with some added perks—getting early or preferred seating at panels at events, the chance to conduct interviews with some of the guests, stuff like that. This time, though, NYCC/AF gave members of the press virtually nothing to justify actually getting a press pass. The press area was on the bottom floor on the far end of the convention center, far removed from any kind of excitement in the con. The “lounge” was about half of a room typically used to hold panels, and we were provided with jack. The room was mostly bare, with only a handful of tables and chairs for us to use. Nothing about being a member of the press benefitted the experience at the convention in any way. Hell, I wound up carrying around DJ Ranma’s stuff on Saturday, and was hailed as some sort of genius just for having a power strip on me. But I’ll get into that later.
                By the way, last year’s attendance was around 96,000, and the average increase in attendance since its inception in 2006 is around 31%; an increase of just 5% would put them over 100K.
                Trying to get food that weekend was a rather expensive endeavor. Things in New York City tend to be more expensive than the area I’m from, even in low-tier convenience stores such as 7-11. That’s especially not good considering roughly half of my “meals” came from there, something I’m not too proud to admit. There were, though, a few really good places to get food while in the city, most of which are New York City staples, such as pizza and delis.
                Friday was my first real day at the convention, and as the resident intrepid reporter for the website, it was upon me to cover the various panels and report on their goods. And as there’s so many panels at a con and I’m only one man, I can’t cover every last one, much as I’d like to. So I picked out a handful that especially appealed to me and took it from there. Now let’s not waste any more time, shall we?
                The first panel I attended was called “Meet Me at the Arcade.” The “arcade” in general relates not only to the general arcade scene in the United States, but also about the legendary Chinatown Fair arcade. This past February, CF closed down, ending the arcade’s 50+ year history. Even worse, it was the last traditional arcade in Manhattan, and while the arcade was gone it left legions of dedicated gamers with nowhere to go. The panel was ran by Capcom PR man Seth Killian, CF regular Norman Burgess, and Henry Cen, founder of CF’s successor Next Level arcade. Chinatown Fair saw most of its traffic come in playing fighting games, and later, DDR. Indeed, CF helped to proliferate the connection between players in the fighting game community. Their players, when in person, are more devout and respectful, and there’s much better communication between players playing next to one another at an arcade, standing there at the cabinet playing. You can’t get the traditional arcade experience while playing online (especially considering the homophobic and/or racial remarks used online will get someone kicked out of the arcade in a heartbeat). Comparing the differences between Japanese and American arcades to night and day understates how different night and day are. The technology goes from the industry to the public much more quickly than it does in the West. Things that are unique or nifty make it across the ocean months, even years, after it’s been out in Japan, if at all. Japanese arcades will typically have crane machines take up the bulk of the floor space (or the entire floor, if the arcade has multiple floors). Plus, crane machines in Japan tend to have more than just candy or cheap stuffed toys in them. There’s also a secret to winning at crane games, which Seth learned the hard way. Seth shared a hilarious story about Justin Wong and his most recent trip to Japan, and his love affair with the crane machines. He went on a long winning streak, winning all sorts of prizes. He won so many, that he couldn’t fit them all in his suitcases when he had to return. So he found a crane machine that had luggage as a prize, won a new suitcase, and put all his prizes in there. For the “real” arcade games, there is much greater attention to detail and emphasis on customer service. If a button breaks or stops responding, all a player has to do is raise his or hand and a tech comes over and fixes it right there. Things like that are unheard of in the States. For one, American arcade owners are absolutely terrible at their jobs in comparison to their overseas counterparts. Aside from terrible maintenance practices, American arcade owners typically do little to nothing to encourage the growth of the arcade community. They’re treated as a cash business, and are typically seedy and unclean, and have developed poor reputations. Even the parts manufactures are worried about profit above all else, and are exceptionably cheap. In order to get on the level as Japanese arcades, they, at the very least, have to spend more attention to the social aspect of arcades.
                Remember last year when we complained/raged about the Anime Fest part being relegated to the bowels and/or uppermost outlying areas of the Jarvis Center? Yeah, that shit happened again. And I’m not exaggerating about the Anime Fest’s placement. They (and this includes the Artists’ Alley / Dealers’ Room; the exhibitors were in a completely different section) were given the far end of the fourth floor, and a few scattered, disorganized panel rooms throughout the weekend. That’s about it. Again, it felt like the Anime Fest enthusiasts were beneath the comic book nerds, especially strange considering both otaku and comic book geeks are about the same on the grand Geek Hierarchy. And both groups will be deep in the cold, cold ground when they suffer the slings and arrows of trekkies.
                I found my way to one of the anime sections of the convention and dropped in on the “Road Trippin’” panel, hosted by Uncle Yo. The title of the panel is taken from a script for a pilot written by Uncle Yo himself. He told us he spent over seven years working on the script for the pilot, which saw a live reading by him and about half a dozen guests.  He also commissioned a few artists to draw up concept images of the characters, which were on display by whoever was reading that character’s lines. It’s a very ambitious project for certain, and we at AJS hope it gets picked up.
                There was a bunch of wandering around the convention hall after that, particularly the exhibitors hall on the main floor, and both DJ Ranma and I found our way to an independent game company named YYRGames, who had two very fun games to demo—the first was Snake 361, and if you’re imagining a souped-up version of the old Snake games from waaaaay back in the day, then congratulations, because that’s essentially what it is. Aside from the massive 3D graphical upgrading, the game features additional modes, such as co-op and puzzle mode. The other was demoed by AJS and goes by the name Bungee Ferret Tossing. You’re a soldier dangling from a bungee cord tied to a helicopter, and you toss ferrets onto all sorts of attacking baddies below. Self-explanatory, very addictive, and it’s only going to cost M$80 when it’s released late 2011. Needless to say, the prospect of throwing small animals onto another human being is a joke, and their flyer explicitly warns about it being cruel and illegal. They plan to donate ten cents from each sale to the North Shore Animal League.
                After traversing the exhibitors’ hall, I was drawn to a panel entitled “Writing: Story Structure.” I was a little late getting there, and as a result, had to make due with sitting on the floor. The panel was conducted by Daniel Way, Jimmy Palmiotti, and David Hine. They emphasized the importance of outlining your story before writing it, as outlines are meant to aide creativity, not stifle it. Some spontaneity is also acceptable, as explaining a story, like explaining a joke, kills it. No matter how you end up writing, it all comes back to structuring in the end—you can either do all the structuring at the beginning, or explore what you’re writing and wind up repurposing it to fit a structure later. Also to consider: there isn’t one set, all-encompassing style of structuring; it will differ from writer to writer. Becoming a doctor is hard, but comic writing is at least more plausible, but is on you to pull off. They also offered advice on how to overcome writers’ block, with techniques such as attending workshops, talking to other people (not necessarily writer) and bouncing your ideas off of them, or just flat-out writing something else and coming back to it at a later date.
                The last panel I attended on Friday was the Street Fighter  ͯ Tekken panel, hosted by Yoshinori Ono himself. Katsuhino Harada was scheduled to be there as well, but travel problems delayed him from being at the panel on Friday. Ono-san discussed the rivalry he and Harada-san have developed over the development of the game, and it would manifest in a special football game (as in, full, American football) they would have the following day. The winner would get to “kick off” right between the loser’s legs. Ouch. He explained some new features the game would have, including a “gem” system for customizing your fighter. You can set up a clip of five gems in five categories, each one effecting game play in a different way (boosting ATK/DEF/SPD, throw escapes, auto-blocking). Compounding gems of the same type will, obviously, enhance that stat significantly. However, they each have different methods of activation (landing X special attacks, taking Y amount of damage, etc.). Ono-san explained that this would be a creative way to get newcomers into gaming, especially non-gamers and/or the girlfriends of male gamers; Ono-san himself met his future wife while helping her with the original Resident Evil game. There was a surprise spoiler that turned out wasn’t that much of a surprise—Rufus from Street Fighter IV is confirmed as a playable character, which was mostly a formality because the “Bob vs. Rufus” trailer featured him so prominently. Thankfully, Ono-san mentioned that the final roster wasn’t even remotely complete. Also at the panel was plenty of shouting for a new Darkstalkers game, which Ono-san did not confirm or deny.
                We ended up wandering around the convention hall long after the last panels ended and watched the place close down. After shooting the breeze with some old acquaintances, we headed back and got some pizza from a nearby (to DJ’s place) pizza place. Definitely a step up from 7-11.
                Saturday saw my return to cosplay for the first time since…well, last year’s Comic Con, interestingly enough. I and DJ went as Jake and Elwood Blues from The Blues Brothers. It was mostly because we both love the movie and the music, and partly because it was a balls-easy cosplay to put together and being I’m mostly impoverished, I gotta take what I can get. It had been so long before someone pulled me (us?) aside and said, “Hey, can I take your picture?” that I had almost forgotten what it feels like. But after the first handful of pictures, I remembered that feeling. And it felt good.
                The first thing I caught on Saturday was the Uncle Yo and Mario Bueno Power Hour, held in the big, sunlit stage of the Anime Fest portion of the convention. Uncle Yo even commented on the setup, comparing the anime fans to the disturbing family member who’s sent to the basement and told to stay there and told to stay there when company’s over. Of course, putting the otaku up in the sunlit portion gave us a distinct advantage over the comic book geeks, in that we can tolerate exposure to sunlight while they cannot. Also, his mom called him on his cell phone during his set. As he would say, “that happened.” His set lasted for half of the panel, while Mario Bueno took over the second half. He has an incredible singing voice, and left it all out on the stage. His set included awesomeness such as “Heart of Sword,” “GO!!!” and a bilingual version of “Real Emotion.”
                The other major panel I attended that Saturday was a comic studies panel entitled, “Iron Man vs. Batman—Can A Person Truly Become Either One?”. It was held by members of the Institute for Comics Studies, who argue for the social and literary legitimacy of comic books. They discussed the circumstances behind Bruce Wayne’s and Tony Stark’s origins, especially the psychological aspects—Bruce Wayne watched his parents get murdered when he was a child, while Tony Stark was bombed, held hostage and forced to make weapons for the enemy, and watched his friend die. They’re motivated by vengeance and atonement, respectively. They hypothesized that since both Wayne and Stark have high IQ ratings and are highly self-sufficient, they are incredibly apt at getting over post-traumatic stress syndrome. The physical realities of being either one are intense—Wayne puts himself through an insane training regiment, and is versed in numerous styles of martial arts. Stark, underneath all his armor, is a glorified crash test dummy with an Olympic physique. Both men have their corporation’s massive bankrolls backing them up. Batman pushes the limits of human physiology, while Iron Man enhances human biology with supreme technological advancements. They finalized that despite the huge leaps necessary to get there, the “roles” of Batman and Iron Man are feasible. However, since everyone wants to be a superhero, they don’t always have the necessarily personality traits to implement them properly. Said traits are scattered across several people, but only in very rare cases (such as Wayne and Stark).
                There was, again, much ado about fuck-all after that, so I decided to do some more wandering around the convention hall. Looking over the program and running down the guest list, I noticed on the interviews listing that Diamond Dallas Page was going to be available for autographs. As he would say himself, “That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing!” For those of you who listened to our podcast before NYCC/AF, you’ll remember DJ and me tossing around DDP-related memes like they were throw pillows. There were numerous other guests holding autographs, including the star attraction—hey, kids! It’s Mark Hamill! (applause). As much as I love Star Wars, I wasn’t too keen on getting his autograph, for two main reasons: 1) my press pass wouldn’t get me any further ahead of the line, and 2) an autograph from Luke Fucking Skywalker would run you one hundred goddamn dollars. I wasn’t about to stand in line for what had to be at least two hours to torpedo half of my budget for the weekend, so I would up in line for DDP. A few other patrons and I were discussing DDP’s exploits before the session started, and one asked if he would Diamond Cutter (his finishing move) us for the picture. A few had expressed anything from concern to disinterest, but I countered by suggesting if it was Stone Cold Steve Austin giving out Stone Cold Stunners with each autograph, you’d be all over the opportunity. They admitted I was right, and were all over the prospect of getting Cutter’d. I was towards the front of the line when Page showed up, and the first thing I noticed about the guy was ay dios mio this guy is tall. He’s about 6½ feet tall and looks as ripped and in shape as he did the last time I saw him wrestling. My only guess is that he supplements his training regimen with his yoga program of his own design, Yoga for Regular Guys. It’s done him wonders, I’ll admit. By the time the fourth guest was taking the Diamond Cutter, a guy in back of me in line bemoaned the lack of “selling” (making the move look painful/effective) the move. So when it got to me and DDP asked, “You want me to hit you with the Diamond Cutter?” Apart from suppressing shouting out, “Do I?!” I made the most elaborate (and ridiculous, I’ll admit) oh shit! facial expression I could. Everyone else got a good chuckle out of it, including Page. Good times.
                After that, I ran across DJ Ranma waiting in line for speed dating. Apart from having multiple sessions throughout the weekend, it was apparently going to be recorded and aired on national television for the new series Geek Life on the Discovery channel. As my previous experiences with speed dating at the convention were stuffed in the I-am-never-fucking-doing-that-again file, I left him to it. I asked the people running it about signing up, and was told you apparently had to preregister for it. Well that was news to me. In any event, at his request, I took his recording equipment off of him and looked for a place to charge his camera. For you see, I was tasked with recording the masquerade that evening.
                Charging the equipment was going to be far, far, far easier said than done. Trying to find a decent power outlet was an exercise in futility. I only happened upon a couple by complete accident. There were a total of four outlets available in the entire convention center, and all four were in a small hallway across from a handful of panel rooms. Jumping on the opportunity, I sat down beside one of them and managed to plug in the camera and my own cell phone charger (I brought mine with me, as the past days I had problems with insufficient battery power). After rummaging through the bag a little bit, I happened upon a power strip, which I promptly plugged into the wall and moved the other equipment over to. This was a godsend to other con goers with similar problems, and some were hailing me as a genius because of it. It took some time for all the equipment to charge to acceptable levels; so long that a line for an upcoming panel was encroaching on us—or, as explained by the volunteers, we were getting in the way of the line. So we lied. The half dozen or so of us lied and said we were on line for the panel. We didn’t even know what the panel was for (and we didn’t care); all that mattered was getting our gadgets recharged.
                Someone recharging their laptop brought up a very interesting point: a renaissance faire he went to recently had numerous charging stations available, i.e. a handful of towers with power outlets scattered about. That blew my mind; you mean to tell me that a renfaire allowed people to recharge their gadgets, but a highly tech-savvy con like NYCC/AF didn’t? This didn’t make a goddamn lick of sense. I can hope for NYCC to correct this problem for next year. But then again, I can hope the Anime Fest section will be given more respect with about the same results.
                Once the gear was all charged, I started on the process that would, inevitably, enrage me to the point where I devolved into an inarticulate Neanderthal. The Masquerade was fixing to start soon. A legitimate staffer explained to me, after seeing the press pass, to go over to where the line was forming—in this case, a large, unused warehouse-like room—and tell them I’m with the press, and I’ll be led to a special section where I and other press and VIP would be given early entry and priority seating. Well, I tried to relay that information to a volunteer, who promptly dismissed every last word of it and told me to get in line with everyone else. Any attempt to intelligently argue my case was immediately shot down and ignored.
PRO-TIP to the people running NYCC: If the volunteer’s sole motivation for volunteering is a free pass to NYCC/AF that year, they’re not qualified for the position. Find someone else!
So we had to wait in line. And wait. And wait. How long did everyone wind up waiting to get in? Almost three hours. I would later (read: the next day) learn the reason for the delays was technical issues. What kind of technical issues could last three hours? Did the light control software crash and it had to be reinstalled? That’s the only thing I can think of off the top of my head. Someone suggested one of the performers in the masquerade was having a diva temper tantrum. I wouldn’t have put it passed anyone, but as it turns out, that was not the case. We had also heard the prior Jay and Silent Bob panel was running a little over, but almost three hours? Preposterous.
                So finally, finally we get let in. Part of me was worried there wouldn’t be enough seating for everyone and I’d be hung out to dry. But then I got in and saw the people waiting to get in took up only about 2/3 of the available seating. It just made the preceding issues getting in all the more ridiculous.
                Uncle Yo was on hand again to emcee the night’s festivities. Before the first skits took the stage, an independent film entitled That Boy Can Fight Aliens was aired for the first time in America. It was about an alien invasion, who, being generous aliens, set up a system with the aforementioned boy, where he and he alone would have to fight the aliens; every time the aliens lost, their invasion plans stopped. His best friend was worried about him getting too burned out over all the fighting. There was some romantic (read: yaoi) subtext between the two, and the audience, in their unparalleled appreciation for artistic integrity and merit, whooped it up and hollered at any romantic moment between the two. They took the piss right out of the creator’s efforts, which I’m sure didn’t sit well with him. After the screening, Uncle Yo chewed everyone out over it, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer group of people. He even asked, “So how many of you out there have their own movie like this?” Realizing the error of their ways, they made no effort to change their behavior.
                The shits should be up on your YouTube channel, so I’m not going to go into too much written detail on them. I will say, however, that the best costume of the night—and hell, the entire weekend—was a fully-transformable costume of Bumblebee from the Transformers live-action movies. And yes, the skit did involve the cosplayer going from Camaro to giant robot mode right there on the stage. The pops it got were deafening.
                After the masquerade finally let out, it was around midnight, and we returned home to rest for the next day. That was how my Saturday night ended.
                Sunday was a little more fruitful. I was tasked with recording the IchiP! dance troupe up in the Anime Fest stage. That’s also up on our YouTube channel for our readers’ perusal. There was only one panel I was dead set on attending that Sunday, and ironically, it was the same panel I closed off last year’s NYCC/AF at—Animate It! With Veronica Taylor and Misato Rocks!. I got a little lost finding the place, as it was given the same treatment anything anime-related got that night. It ended up being on the Hasbro stage, which was in the “kids” section of the convention (right before the autograph booths, interestingly enough). It had a similar format to last year—Misato Rocks! (that’s how her name is written) went through the basics of character design by drawing a few examples for everyone to see, while Veronica discussed the finer details of voice acting and how to make a character sound the appropriate age. When someone asked her about it, she explained how she’d make her voice sound deeper or more mature to make Ash Ketchum sound older. She concluded by saying when (if?) Ash turns sixteen, they would’ve replaced her altogether.
Consider the following: Who do you think they would cast to play teen!- or young-adult!Ash?
Nightmare Mode Enabled—You can’t pick Johnny Yong Bosch.
They then had several members of the audience (read: kids) come up and sketch out a character, while Veronica would come up with a voice for him or her. Some looked decent and very inspired. Others…well, did not. She thanked them for their time as the panel ended, and announced she and Misato had their own autograph session to attend. I did manage to get a word with them before they departed and I rendezvoused with DJ Ranma and much to my delight, Veronica remembered me from last year. It really made my convention weekend. Though I was kicking myself internally for not having any business cards on hand.
                After the interviewing montage (also on the YouTube channel), DJ and I departed the convention, but the partying was far from over. He led me to a place in town that served excellent Korean cuisine. He had asked me at one point when the last time I ever had Korean was (if at all), and I’d respond by recalling my three weeks in Seoul in Jan. 2001. After that we found a party at a karaoke bar, where the individual rooms doubled as game rooms. There were about half a dozen rooms set aside for gaming, which was fine in some of the bigger rooms, but if you were claustrophobic, you’d probably stay out of the smaller rooms. I played Tatsunoko vs. Capcom in a room that wasn’t even bigger than my own bedroom. After an hour or two in there, we made our way back. I crashed at DJ’s place that Sunday, and I’m glad he could tolerate five days of me hanging around his place. Monday morning was very brief—I gathered my stuff, headed for the bus station, and from there, made my way home.
                Any convention where one of our adventuring party offers to let the rest stay at their place for the duration will wind up being on the cheaper side, but that doesn’t excuse the convention itself from its flaws. New York Comic Con / Anime Fest is easily the biggest convention I attend per year by a wide margin, and this year it had no problem breaking the 100,000 attendee ceiling. That said, bigger isn’t always better. Sure, there was plenty to do and lots to see, but standing virtually shoulder to shoulder with legions of other nerds who are operating under different definitions of “hygiene” than you can make the convention a lot less fun.  The Jarvis center is massive, and even though they have to plan ahead and be wary of sections that were being used by other conventions, NYCC has made more than its share of bank to buy up the con for the entire four-day excursion. The treatment of the Anime Fest part of the festivities was regarded with passive-aggression at best and blatant contempt at worst. Though there were plenty of anime cosplayers wandering about, the amount of stuff related to the “Anime Fest” section of New York Comic Con and Anime Fest was even less than last year. I don’t know where comic book geeks get the idea that otaku are automatically beneath them. What do you think we are—Trekkies? NYCC has a lot of problems, and if they’re not going to take the interim year to fix them, then people are going to stop coming. Add power stations for recharging gadgets. Treat press passes as something beyond just glorified four-day passes. And for crying out loud, show some more love to the Anime Fest section of the weekend! At the rate this is going, the Anime Fest section will have to be spun off into its own separate convention. They’ve been squeezed almost completely out of the convention…and in true anime style, NYAF will probably go careening over the horizon and disappear with a bright twinkle in the sky.

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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