AnimeNEXT 2011: a con in review

AnimeNEXT had its 10th year anniversary on June 10 to 12 at the Garden State Exhibition Center. AnimeNEXT which started in 2002 had a steady growth in attendance from about 1000 attendees to over 8000 in 2010. It has also been the first con to have a manga library held on the grounds for the period of the weekend. Many people had high expectations for the 10th Anniversary con and were thusly rewarded with a plethora of Japanese guests. Famed animator for Ghost in the Shell and recent hit, Higashi no Eden, Satoru Nakamura-san was in attendance. Besides Harajuku model and singer, Kimura Yu, the bands, Mix Speaker’s Inc. and Uzuhi also appeared in concert. On the fashion and culture side, Sakurai Takamasa-san and Kanon came to speak about cosplay and Gothic Lolita as well as Sixh, who are blazing the way to mix music and fashion. There was a score of US voice actors which included Trina Nishimua, Robert Axelrod and a fan favorite, Greg Ayres. To match the guest list, the panels were wide and varied giving people an opportunity to listen, speak and participate in activities and topics.

A smaller convention then most, but with the size comes the air of familiarity for friends and staff alike, the opportunity to see everything without being overwhelmed, and perhaps meet and greet guests without waiting 3 hours in line…except of course, unless you’re waiting for Vic Mignogna.


For more pics from the con, please check out Flickr.

Friday: June 10

Vertical Inc

Highlights of the day included being able to speak with Vertical Inc. at the dealer’s room. I was able to ask a few info related questions to Ed Chavez, the marketing director. Are they willing to pick up titles that are ‘long’ running? They noted that long series (above 8 volumes) is not as appealing to license and they tend to lean towards omnibus-type releases for them. Of course, the question is leading up to the logical one being are they looking to license the released licenses from Tokyopop? The short answer…yes. They requested that this question be asked at the Vertical Inc. panel later on in the day…but I wasn’t able to get to the panel. But it’s official anyway!

As an aside, they did mention a title which I am not at liberty to divulge to the public since it’s in the planning stages of licensing. I hope the best for them. The quality that they put into their books, color pages, attention, translation has always been very good. Their reputation precedes them. Chi’s Sweet Home is a perfect example. Besides the decision to flip the manga, everything else is almost the same as the Japanese versions, down to the type of paper used and of course, color pages. As an aside, I did ask why they decided to flip Chi’s Sweet Home. Was it because they were marketing to younger children? (Kingdom Hearts was one that was flipped since it’s a Disney title for kids….) The answer was no. The market for Chi is actually for adults, being a seinen series. It’s for adult women who might not read manga and could possibly get into it through this series. What a wonderful idea! Of course, a series that is flipped is much better for those that are unfamiliar with the medium.

Opening Ceremonies

One thing to note about this con is that although some things may start late, they still end the event on time…which is good since making things end later would cause delays down the line. This is only as an aside since the Opening Ceremonies started half an hour late and pretty much lasted only 20min. Which makes me wonder what were they planning to do during the opening if the introductions were only going to last that long…? But I’m digressing….

All the Japanese guests were introduced first, with Nakamura Satoru-san heading things off. Poor Nakamura-san…he didn’t know what to do when he got onto the stage and just stood at the side after speaking. Finally, he got the hint and stepped off stage. Truly wish someone directed him. Mix Speaker’s Inc appeared in their zombie animals outfits for their concert tonight! The Japanese guests attempted to speak English with the usual greetings of ‘Hello’, ‘I’m ___’, ‘I’m from Japan’, ‘I’m happy to see you’. Then the English voice actors were introduced along with other guests.

I’m still amazed at Robert Axelrod being present as he is a voice actor of the ages spanning from Dr. Zero in the classic Space Pirate Captain Harlock to Wizardmon in Digimon and Chairman Katakura in Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd Gig. Of course, he will always be known as Lord Zedd, the villian in the first seasons ‘Power Rangers’.

Hilarity ensued when they announced that Tom Wayland hasn’t shown up yet and Bill Rogers decided to do his impersonation of him. XD He jumped onstage with whom I believe to be one of the con staff who has super long hair (just like Tom) and with the staff’s hair falling on top of his head, he spoke in Tom’s usual way with hair tosses and a flair that is truly Tom-like (since I’ve seen him speak on several occasions.) That has got to be the best out of the Anime Next opening ceremonies.

Kanon and Sakurai Takamasa Press Meet

Sakurai-san arrived first and was asked if he wanted to start first. He said that he’ll wait for Kanon. Due to time constraints, we were only allowed one question per person, with the instruction to say pass if we didn’t have one.

    Q: When you were younger, what kinds of things did you do to prepare for what you’re doing today?
    Kanon: When I was little, I wanted to be a hero.
    Sakurai: Young Japanese kids really like anime and manga so I really liked them too.

    Q:: Kanon-san, can you tell me about KanonxKanon?
    Kanon: In Los Angeles in July, they had their first live concert there.
    Interpreter: I’ll just read from the description they gave me before. It’s a cello playing vocalist and an Akiba-styled creator collaborating together into a “2.5 dimensional musical unit”. Both of their names are Kanon, so that’s why they’re KanonxKanon. The reason for their 2.5 dimension is that in order to create a unit that is sort of between space, time and reality, they don’t actually exist. That’s why they’re playing on a role of a spirit.

    Q: How do you think the fashion world has evolved over the years in a way that it affects you?
    Sakurai: Anime and manga in general have a curious effect on fashion world in Japan. In Harajuku, that is where people from all over the world are inspired by fashion in the community in that area. That is how people change very much. The band that he [Kanon] is in, AnCafe is like a Harajuku style…they’re very much representative of the Harajuku style.

    Q: When Japanese celebrities are interviewed in general, they are so humble and say they’re so surprised that they have fans in North America and all over the world, mainly because of the language barrier…they wonder because why do they like the music if they don’t understand it. Alot of them are very sincere that they’re surprise though. The more times you visit North America or Europe, do you accept it that your music is an influence and you have fans from all over the world that doesn’t speak the language?
    Kanon: I get surprised every single time. Besides being surprised, it’s like I don’t believe it. I’m just an ordinary boy.
    Sakurai: You know Disney is trying to reach all over the world. Japanese people with their art, music, fashion…they don’t create it to spread the fashion or the style. It’s more in their own culture. People from worldwide pick up on this. They actually support this though the creators didn’t intend for this to be outside of Japan. Even though there is a language barrier and cultural differences, people have the same interests.

    Q: Both of you have started in two difference areas. However, you seem to come together over fashion and culture. Did Sakurai-san and Kanon-san known each other before? Or have they recently joined up or have they talked to each other to go to conventions together or appearing together?
    Kanon: Sakurai-san went to an AnCafe live concert and he was really interested and that was how they got to know each other.
    Sakurai: AnCafe fans are called Cafe-ko. I can understand why they enjoy AnCafe so much.

Just a bit from the ‘Soul Eater’ panel

I made it for the end of the Soul Eater discussion panel with Vic Mignogna (Death Scythe), Trina Nishimura (Mizune) and Leah Clark (Blair.) The panel was somewhat a musical one since some time during the panel, someone asked Vic to sing a bit from Guilty Beauty Love which he did. Then there was a duet of the Dragon Soul song. There were actual questions too. A fan was asking about the voice actors being asked to do voices that they don’t normally do. (Paraphrased beginning of the answer since I wasn’t recording at that time.)

    Vic: I was asked to do a character for a video game…in Russian. I don’t speak Russian and I wanted to turn them down but they were like, “You’ll be fine”. I don’t pride myself for being very good at accents. I can fake them, but when you suddenly have to do lines, I was like “Oh my gosh….” I spent the night before listening to all these Russian videos, Russian dialogues online. And I went in to do this character who had 300-400 lines. And I was just terrified because I didn’t think this was something I’ll do a good job at. I think they came out okay…at least I hope so.

    Trina: For the longest time, I was cast as sweet young girls. And then we got Negima season 2 and Jamie Marchi directed it. She told me to come and be a frog. I was like “Great!” I’m already in this show *lapsing into the Chao’s voice* and I play Chao Lingshen and she sounds like this! She is really happy and she is really cherry and chipper! *returning to normal* And so we need something different like a frog. So she played it in Japanese and I was like, “I should play the cat! I should be Shichimi!” She was like “No, Brina will be the cat, you’ll be the frog.” I was like okay and I did Motsu *lapsing into Motsu’s voice* and he sounds like this because he’s a frog and kinda boy and gruff and *turning to Chao’s voice* completely different from Chao Lingshen. *audience applauds for hyper change voices* Awww…thanks guys!

    Leah: There was a show a long time ago called Beet the Vandel Buster. [Eric Vale] who was directing called me in and told me to do a boy character and I never did any boy characters in my life. He was like “We already have Brina cast as boy, and you’re best friends, so you can play boys too….” And I’m horrible at that, absolutely horrible. He said to give it a try, so I was like “How do you play a boy?” “Take your voice low and gravely.” So like *lowering her voice* “I’m a boy now right?” *returning to normal* And it worked and now I play the boy role after that.
    Trina: You say that every time you go into a recording booth.
    Leah: And I do! I have to. Every time I go in, “I’m a boy, I’m a boy, I’m a boy….” *voice slowly lowers* “I’m a boy!” *audience laughs*
    Vic: Well, that is what I have to say every morning…. *audience cracks up*

Evangelion Panel with Trina Nishimura

I felt that Trina was very hyper during the end of the Soul Eater panel but I didn’t realize how hyper she was until the following Eva panel. She is the embodiment of genki girl…not a bad thing at all! It was my first time meeting her and she was great, engaging, hilariously funny and entertaining as a person and a personality. Instead of sitting down, she rotated between sitting, standing and walking around on stage. She is known to babble and babble she did. Her energy was simply amazing. She also has a really cute smile. ^.^

(I was unable to do the usual oral transcription since the audio was pretty bad since it was held the main events hall. I apologize.)

In response to the questions concerning her debut in the Rebuild Eva movies, she was very excited. She understood that the series was very popular and that it has a huge impact among fans. She was very nervous and honored about voicing Mari Makinami Illustrious. Nervous since she is entering a series that is long established and honored since she is voicing the only new character in the movies. She felt that the character is very unique and thankfully didn’t take up too much screen time or take over the entire story. (I felt the same way.) She also felt that voicing Mari was physically straining at times, especially the screaming that she had to do was difficult. I inquired about her favorite line from the movie and requested her to do one of my fav lines. Turns out, they were one in the same. *Trina breathes in deeply* “You smell like LCL. You smell good.” *audience applauds* Echoing the fans, Trina also enjoyed the aquarium scenes which was simply fun even when she wasn’t in it. She is intrigued by all the theories that surround the series, the themes, the explanations…though she isn’t able to create any of her own.

Production IG Panel

The following Production IG panel was held in the same room as Trina’s Eva panel. What I’m surprised about was that the number of people who came to see Nakamura-san was very little in comparison to those who attended panels for English guests. Especially surprised since Ghost in the Shell is quite popular in the US and is geared towards more mature fans. I guess it says something about the ages of people attending conventions….

I grabbed a quick autograph with Leah Clark before heading to the concert….

Mix Speaker’s Inc concert

The Friday concert was by Mix Speaker’s Inc. The smoke rolled out as circus music filled the hall. The members come on stage one by one with deliberate movements, oscillating back and forth since they were zombies…zombie animals to be exact. Color outfits with ears and tails, true to their character and demeanor. S (drums) came on first as the “sheep who doesn’t sleep.” The others (in no particular order) was Keiji (guitar) as a lion, Aya (guitar) as a rabbit in a dress, Miki (vocals) as a cat and Yuki (vocals) as a dog. The first song opened with no live instruments and them just singing, all of them showcasing their vocals.

Their music is upbeat, close to heavy metal at times but with haunting themes through them. Always on the left side is Seek while my favorite member guitarist, Keiji stood at the right of the audience. Though Miki and Yuki take centerstage, their is a constant switching between them and the others so that fans can see their favorite in the middle in their colorful and lyrical glory.

There were at least 3 songs for the encore and throughout the concert, Yuki had a paper his scripted English so that he may be able to speak to the audience. It’s elementary speech, reminiscent of sentences that my own students use to create. After the 2nd or 3rd song, Yuki had asked each of the members to say a little something in English. It was hilariously disastrous and simple…and we loved it.

No setlist at this time, but if there is one, I’ll upload it.

Saturday, June 11

Kanon and Sakurai Q&A

The first panel on Saturday that I wanted to attend was the Kanon and Sakurai Q&A, which was Kanon’s second panel at the con. It is always interesting to note the combinations of careers that celebrities can take on in Japan. Kanon is a bassist for AnCafe, a fashion model and has taken an almost cosplay/culture ambassador-position along with Sakurai Takamsa-san. It is a wonderful example of how they’re able to showcase and certainly excel in their many roles.

Inside the Voice Actors Studio

First comment about the voice actors panel is that it was about random questions that were asked by the host. The questions were intriguing, interesting and gave the fans a chance to know the VAs as a person and not just a voice. In short, it was NOT about ‘inside the voice actors studio’ and strangely enough, there was hardly any questions about voice acting itself.

Second comment is that this panel got pretty racy and scandalous early on and throughout the panel. Not as racy that you had to put a 18+ sticker on it, but there were some comments that are usually found at ‘Voice Actors After Dark’ sessions. But there was no ‘VA After Dark’ this year (sad really) and so that’s why they’re probably found here. But still….

And lastly, it was fun. The VAs were relaxed, the answers were funny and with Robert Axelrod present, it made for some interesting moments. Fans (even the young ones) were respectful of his honest answers that were a bit slow, realistic and as Trina mentioned, very cute!

I was able to catch a quick pic of the autograph signing afterwards with Greg Ayres in attendance….

Sixh Q&A

Prior to the Q&A panel, there was a Sixh Fashion show with Vic Mignogna as a surprise model. I heard that he is a big fan of h.Naoto which was why he was asked to model their clothes. (h.Naoto being the umbrella for Sixh.) I never knew Vic was fan…he certainly doesn’t dress all gothic-y…. Awesome surprise though. Although I didn’t attend the event, S-inc covered the event.

Interesting comment though, lots of Japanese singers and celebs like to have their names in all capital letters. When they were writing about Vic, it was VIC.

Instead of the fashion show, I went to the Sixh Q&A.

Mix Speaker’s Inc Q&A

The Mix Speaker’s Inc panel was right after the Sixh one so I stuck around. As soon as people started moving, I rushed to the center. They introduced band from left to right: Seek, Miki, Yuki, Aya, Keiji and S. The interesting part was that they wore black and white suits, unlike their usual concert wear. Very formal.

Vic Mignogna’s Q&A

Unbeknowest to me, they switched up the ‘Power Rangers Power Hour with Robert Axelrod’ with Vic’s panel. Which meant that Vic’s panel was next and I never knew. I noticed that something was up when there was TONS of screaming fangirls in the main events…and I heard Vic’s voice echoing through the Dealer’s Room. I put my shopping aside to return to the main events hall…and thankfully found a seat near the middle back.

Masquerade

The masquerade opened with Mario Bueno came on stage and sang. He was cosplaying genderbender Stocking. I totally enjoyed his singing back in AnimeNext 2008 when they did the exhibition skit from Ouran and of course, the one he did at NYAF last year as Scott Pilgrim. Links to his youtube page, EMPManiac.

The host of the masquerade has been the same girl for the last few years. This year, she cosplayed Princess Bubblegum from ‘Adventure Time’. There were some great acts this year, but the number of skits was surprisingly small. The winners obvious, with the very first Final Fantasy X-2 dance skit who won Judge’s Awards for Craftsmanship and Honorary Mention for Performance. Their cosplays were good and they performed to the English version of ‘Real Emotion’ which fit wonderfully. My favorite solo act was ‘Aerodynamic’, from Daftpunk. A unique performance with dancing fingers. Later, I found out that she is a girl! I didn’t notice…since I was so far away. From the start, we knew that ‘The Geass Chronicle’s White Day’ from Code Geass was going to win Best-in-Show. The pairings was cute, the dance and the context of the skit was such a great idea. There was also a BL moment that of course fit wonderfully with the subtexty story.

The walkons for the hallcosplay came up next and there were a few that I really liked. But the highlight of the halftime show was Sakurai-san coming on to introduce Yu Kimura who did a mini concert.

Like all Japanese celebs, she spoke to us in English while reading off a piece of paper.

Yu-san performed 4 songs, the last of which was Hare Hare Yukai. People were dancing in the aisles. ^_^ She was so adorable in her outfit…soft and cuddly pajamas. Her songs were totally addicting and cute.

The masquerade concluded with the announcements of the winners. Overall, the event was well done…although surprisingly short as previously mentioned and the skits were average…though that can’t be blamed on the organizers. For a 10th year anniversary masquerade, it wasn’t anything special which was what many people felt was lacking. Also, the usual AMV results were not shown during the halftime show. Later, they announced that the amvs were not ready yet. The staff did bring the winners vids to the masquerade but they weren’t able to set it up in time, hence the lack of amvs. Very unfortunate since I always enjoyed watching the results.

Sunday, August 1

Cosplay Human Chess

My one and only event of the day was the cosplay human chess with the theme, Magic vs. Might, black vs. white respectively. Unlike previous years, the cosplay chess was held at in the main events hall so the many chairs, video cameras and large screens could be utilized. They cleared out the middle for the board. I don’t know why they put the squares so close together though. There was enough room for a person in their cosplay to stand in, but its hard to see everyone. Perhaps it was to make it easier to figure out how to move? Of course, those moving the pieces were on the stage with their own chess set.

There was a commentator on the floor who doubled as a ‘director’, making sure the pieces know exactly where to stand and move as commanded. The comments were funny, relevant with the characters he was referencing.

The pieces for Might were introduced first followed by Magic. Of course the king and queens of both sides stepped on the board and the game beginnings. The way the game was played was odd and offblanced. Perhaps for a game itself, it was good strategy building and well thoughtout traps, but for a game which we have to watch, it was not very entertaining. For after one piece was ‘killed’, the two on the stage started making defensive moves without anyone attacking the other. It was a good half an hour before the killing started.

I don’t know if they did it on purpose, but the killing was pretty even out with both sides at various losses. But as said, with all the defensive moves without making offensive gestures, the game became pretty boring to watch as a cosplay match.

However, it was good that all the pieces got to fight. It was interesting to see many of the pieces didn’t want to die right away. They duck, opponents’ attacks don’t work the first time…drawing out their scene on the board. It made for some interesting conclusions.

It was a pretty even match with the pieces killed bringing it down to the 2 kings. They were going to call it a draw, but the Red Mage (Magic) and Sub Zero (Might) started to fight anyway. Up until now, the Red Mage had it’s share of battles while Sub Zero was stuck in a castle position for some time, protected by other pieces. Finally, one of his few times to fight, Sub Zero won.

In short: a slow start to the game, but a wonderful finish when pieces actually start moving offensively. ^.^

I only attended one press panel, but I know others were set up which is awesome. It was a good con…I enjoyed it tremendously since I met new friends and had tons of fun. Not a ’10th anniversary’ kind of con, but its what you make of it. Next year’s convention is already scheduled for June 8-10, 2012 and I definitely will be in attendance.

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