AnimeNEXT 2015 — Premature Jubilation

I like to consider myself a professional when it comes to things like reporting, even if it’s on something as “low” as anime conventions and their derivatives. Therefore it may come as a surprise that I pulled the trigger comparatively early when going to AnimeNEXT this year. Maybe it was because my convention appearances weren’t as frequent as the others on the show. Or maybe hearing them talk about how they enjoyed Denver made me feel left out. Either way, I briefly devolved into some overeager little kid going to his first convention and looking back, I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

Once again, AnimeNEXT came to us from Somerset, New Jersey…and more specifically, for the last time. See, the convention has outgrown the Garden State Exhibit Center, and, for the last couple of years, has been looking for a larger venue to house everyone and everything. And they’ve chosen the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City. Well hot diggity daffodil, it looks like I’m going to see a Casino Con after all! Though, in a very roundabout way…

Things started out nicely enough, as I had specifically said I’d be doing my pregame at 8 on the Break in nearby Dunellen. It was only about 15-20 minutes away, and remains one of my favorite arcades…and when there are fewer arcades around, you gotta hold onto the really good ones for as long as you can. I didn’t have any set ritual aside from just showing up at The Break and wasting a couple hours gaming, as well as getting something to eat. There was a pretty big crowd for a Thursday afternoon, and a few pf the people I talked to mentioned going to the convention that weekend as well. I only remember one woman specifically, who was tearing up all the rhythm games the Break had, but I hope she enjoyed the convention as well.

That was the high point of Thursday.

You see, I had been led to believe—inadvertently, now that I look back on it—that we had the room at the Doubletree for the Thursday before the convention weekend. Perhaps I had been at enough conventions to assume that that was the norm for us. One day conventions aside, I didn’t have the wherewithal to think otherwise.

But no. I got to figure out that we didn’t. The hard way.

I got to putz around the hotel for a little while on Thursday not knowing I had to come back the next day to actually start the convention. Fuck me, I felt stupid. So I was left with the choice of driving all the way back home and trying again early in the morning, or finding a hotel nearby and crashing for the evening. I called an audible and found a Days Hotel nearby. It was relatively inexpensive, and I simply used my Paypal card to pay—especially since I had already put the money on the card in the past. So it was not as much of a pain in the ass as it could’ve been.

Although, I did eat dinner at the Hooters attached to the hotel. So the bad guys won that Thursday night.

I started out Friday morning early, not wanting to miss any of the convention. I putzed around for a bit, then made the stop at the train station to pick up my associate. I finally got to check in and put my stuff down, then ran to get my press pass. It paid for itself the first panel I went to.

The first panel was “Anime Openings Through the Decades.” It was less of a showcase of how awesome certain animes are/were and how awesome their openings are/were, but it also showed off the styles, techniques, and trends used in the openings, which (sometimes inadvertently) made them more dated than they would be. Of course this is a non-issue for shows like Space Battleship Yamato, whose opening was remade/reimagined when 2199 was created.

The next panel I attended was “Japanese Pro Wrestling: Eras.” This covered primarily the wrestling organizations that were predominantly active in the mid-80s to today, and had several matches from each. Even more interesting—or unsurprising, really—was the number of pro wrestling cosplayers in attendance, the line going down the hall waiting to go in. I was there in my HSAU!Daniel Bryan cosplay, which was well received…only from the other panel attendees, but I’m used to that. Besides, we had fun riffing on the current pro wrestling product, and off one another. The biggest laugh came when an AJ cosplayer cued up “Cult of Personality” and I belted out, “Hey, could you take a look at my staph infection?” To which everyone laughed…and someone followed up, “Just take a z-pack; you’ll be fine.” Good times.

I ended up wandering around some more, and even made my way to the pool. I say pool, because although the Doubletree has two, one indoor and one outdoor, the former was closed for the weekend. I didn’t know the full extent of it, and apparently it was closed since before everyone got there. Either way, going for a swim in the outside pool as hot out as it was felt very good.

The dinner I had that night was significantly less good. The hotel’s bar had a rather limited dinner “buffet” as it was, and for the money they charged, it was very much not worth it. Before my last panel, I ate one of the appetizers at the bar, not wanting to take my chances on lukewarm hamburger patties and rubbery chicken fingers.

The last panel I ended up going to that day was “Show and Tell with Todd.” Basically, Todd Haberkorn shows off interesting videos and telling stories to people in the audience. It was light and fluffy, and a good thing to end the day on. After which, I met up with some friends of friends, and we wandered around the convention, mostly drinking at the bar and taking photos of others. After which, I ended up crashing in my room, and going to bed at a fairly decent hour.

Saturday was a little bit better, since I was, you know, actually at the hotel the convention was hosted at. So that was a plus. I ate breakfast down at the breakfast buffet at the hotel’s…“nicer” restaurant. It was…okay. Not a whole lot had changed since last year, and it was the typical breakfast fare, and there’s only so much that can be done with it, especially served in semispherical stainless steel pans. The taste didn’t change much…but the price certainly did. More expensive than I remember last time. I had asked myself what I was doing eating there, even while I was actually eating it. I’m weird like that, yes. If nothing else, taking more than I normally would meant—in theory—that I wouldn’t have to buy lunch later that day…which, for my wallet’s sake, I didn’t.

Also, Saturday was a big day for me, because this was the first time I was really cosplaying in a long time, and it was the debut of my cosplay of Bear Hugger (Title Defense version) from Punch-Out!!. I wore it throughout most of the day, and for the most part, the reception was mostly positive. One guy somehow managed to confuse me for King Hippo, which…kinda hurt, really. I also went with the Title Defense version, which means he wears a tuque and walks around with a pet squirrel—the latter was so I could stuff all my hair into the hat instead of cutting it all off, which I am very averse to doing. All in all, not bad for a fat shit like me, huh?

Saturday was more about wandering around in cosplay, but I still had time for a bunch of panels. The first was “New Anime for Older Fans,” a panel intent on previewing new and exciting anime titles for people who grew up watching older stuff, or got into anime via the various “booms” of the 80s and 90s. Most of the titles they previewed either just got animated forms from their respective manga, or only have a couple episodes published so far. Suffice to say, no word on when (or even if) an English dub is forthcoming.

After a round robin interview with con guest Brittany Lauda, I was still on an animation kick during that part of the day, so I ended up at a panel simply titled, “American Animation.” It delivered exactly what it promised—a look at current and recent animation, primarily from Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and how it was not only inspired by anime, but was—and had for a long time—secretly snuck in jokes and references that only the older audiences would get. It certainly helps that people grew up watching cartoons and anime are now making the stuff themselves. And/or watched a whole lot of Animaniacs. Probably both.

One of the biggest panels of the weekend, and one I was especially looking forward to seeing, was “Mystery Science Theater: Anime Style.” It’s easy to get a panel to appeal to me sometimes; I like anime, I like Mystery Science Theater 3000 (and by extension, RiffTrax). Hell, I even threw together a mockup of the MST3K theme just for this occasion. Imagine my surprise when what he showed was distinctly not anime. It was in fact one of the mockbusters put out by the Asylum, this one ripping off the Terminator franchise. Sure, he had a few comments about the movie as he watched it, but since he was soloing it, some of the humor fell a little flat.

I should mention at this point that I didn’t make it over to the Holiday Inn across the road from the industrial park where the Doubletree was located; as the weather was rather hot and muggy throughout the weekend, and the thick, heavy work boots used as part of both cosplays I wore seemed to drag me down the entire weekend. Ironic, because usually in video games—RPGs, typically—some piece of footwear would provide a boost to one’s armor and/or a special ability or two. But this isn’t a video game, is it? And since I knew that they’d have the same old game rooms with the same old games over there, as well as panels that didn’t interest me, it really wasn’t worth it for me to go over there. I’m sure next year that won’t be a problem.

One panel after that that really gained my interest was “A Video History of Anime,” which was…well, a history of the medium as a whole. But this didn’t go back to just the past couple of decades, or even to the postwar era; this panel showed stuff from before even the first world war, including what is supposed to be the first Japanese animation ever, Katsudo Shashin, three seconds of animation drawn directly onto the strip of film itself. Its origins put it “somewhere” around 1907; some Japanese historians want for it to be earlier, because it would go on record as being the first animated cartoon in history. Of course, a lot of their archives were destroyed during World War II.

The last panel I attended that Saturday was “Bad Anime, Bad!” a celebration of all the worst kinds of anime—not from a subjective view; that would no doubt degrade into a your-favorite-anime-sucks pissing contest. We’re talking about stuff with terrible plots, terrible voice acting, and just some of the stupidly weirdest things imaginable. I’ve been to this panel before at different conventions, now that I think about it, which is why mention of Garzey’s Wing and that anime where Dracula mugs a guy for his wallet and eats at a Burger King sounded uncomfortably familiar. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the Korean giant robot anime that shamelessly ripped off designs from better, more superior anime. The panelist pointing out the blatant design rip-offs—including an egregious copy/paste of the Castel of Lions from Voltron/Go Lion—was pretty damn surreal.

After an uneventful if alcohol-fueled evening, Sunday started off pretty somber and dull, most of us feeling like we just wanted to get the day over already. I didn’t attend any panels, as our attention was drawn elsewhere; specifically, to the usual cavalcade of interviews conducted with other cosplayers, pulled aside as they were wandering around, enjoying the last few hours of the convention. We’ve had some memorable interviews on the site—including ones at AnimeNEXTs past—but I finally got a truly memorable (in my view) interview when I got to “talk” to a guy cosplaying as Buckethead. I was the only one really talking, as my suggestion to him to stay in character the entire time was taken quite literally. We ended up parting ways after the interviews, as I had to get home to cook for a Money in the Bank pay-per-view party. The card was alright, and my food was a big hit.

AnimeNEXT felt weird, mostly because we (AJS) knew that this was going to be the last year of it in Somerset. Its new home is going to be in Atlantic City, in the Atlantic City Convention Center, which is situated at the literal end of the Atlantic City expressway. Surely the larger venue will mean everything is in the same building, and exposure to the elements would be rather limited, especially if next year’s summers end up ho like this year’s. We talked to plenty of people about it throughout the weekend, no doubt, and the reactions were a mix of surprise, confusion, and anger. Naturally the strongest reactions happened online, with people already declaring they couldn’t afford it, or weren’t going to go out of misplaced anger, either towards the convention, Atlantic City itself, or whatever reason people might be able to dream up.

Not us, though. We already have our room reserved. Our convention game is strong, yo.

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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