AnimeNEXT 2014: a con in review

AnimeNEXT returned to the Garden State Exhibit Center from June 6-8 for a weekend of anime, cosplay, video games, fashion and music. Heavy on the fashion and music. The organizers really outdone themselves this year, inviting Studio Trigger designer Wakabayashi Hiromi and animator Koyama Shigeto to promote their latest series of action awesomeness, Kill la Kill. For the fashion line, we have h.Naoto’s Acryl agitt with designer Ishikawa Daisuke for the latest in Japanese punk and galaxxxy’s Arai Jun for their spin on Harajuku fashion. This year, they have their own celebrity models with Kawaii Ambassador (yes, that is an officiated position) Kimura Yu and MATENROU OPERA bassist, yo. The range of punk and lolita extends to music as well with Friday’s concert with ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D and Sunday closing with Luna Haruna of Sword Art Online and Fate/Zero fame. Stateside guests does not lose in caliber as they include AnimeNEXT favs Bill Rogers, Michelle Knotz as well as new guests Matthew Mercer, Alexis Tipton, producer/director Jonathon Klein and husband/wife VAs Ellen Steryn and the epic Richard Epcar amongst others. The highlight of the weekend besides the concerts, the fashion show and the panels would have to be the North Eastern World Cosplay Summit preliminaries, the winner which would move ahead to the finals at Acen and obtain the chance to represent as Team USA in Japan. For a con in the middle of New Jersey, it is definitely a weekend that would put it on the cosplay map! Let’s get started!

Friday: June 7

Unlike last year’s rain, this weekend at AnimeNEXT was bright and beautiful. Hot too, temperatures in the high 80s that heralded in the summer months. It didn’t stop cosplayers from coming out in full attire starting thursday.

Around 7pm, there were still tons of people waiting on line at the con center. I noted that this weekend, the area where the lines led outside the hall for the Dealer’s Room, Artist Alley, Main Events were upon paved stone rather than grass and mud like last year. Unfortunately, there was a singular canopied area rather than the entire line area which was put up last year to shield the attendees from rain. Guess they didn’t think about the sun….
On friday, I went around grabbing cosplay photos before the Dealer’s Room opened. The red bridge near the Doubletree had a volleyball net set up (perfect for the Haikyuu cosers that took over the con this year!) with a strong game going.

first glance: Dealer’s Room

At 12pm, the Artist Alley and the Dealer’s Room opened. Near the entrance, I found the ROOKIEZ’s and Luna Haruna booths where I bought an album each. For every $10, we received a raffle ticket.

The Vertical booth had the lastest of Yoshinaga Fumi-sensei’s What Did You Eat Yesterday? and Gundam Origins.

Grabbed some pics of the goods we had this year.

Media Blasters had there usual plethora of hentai and yaoi…and interestingly, they were selling old promo ads and posters from Japan. For the frame and the great condition that they were in, the prices were definitely reasonable.

kimono break

I headed to the Doubletree for the Kimono for Guys panel. The info given was very interesting and I enjoyed it immensely.

Opening Ceremonies

After the panel, I headed to Opening ceremonies where Uncle Yo and Euphoria (cosplaying as Levi) hosted the opening ceremonies with humor. There were no special games this time, as the opening ceremonies started late and there was a large number of guests to introduce. That suited me just fine.

lots of pink

I took another look at the Dealer’s room to see what I missed the first time.

I quickly dropped off my things at the room and headed over to the Kimura U: Kawaii Aambassador panel. I sat near the left side, missing part of the slides on the projector at the right.

ROOKIEZ is PUNK’D concert

The fans were definitely intsense for the ROOKIEZ concert. A mixture of anime themes, their iconic songs and even a little surprise for us, the setlist boasted something for the crowd, the anime fan and the loyalists.

autographs

There was only one encore and then a call for photos. I bypassed the photo and headed to the autograph area. Thankfully, I had my raffle tickets from the merch with me so I was allowed to go to the autograph area ahead of those without the merch tickets. (No, there weren’t any instructions for that…thankfully, I just had them with me.)

Of course, they had a merchandise table set up as well.

Saturday: June 8

signing issues

In the morning, I headed to the Doubletree where the American Voice Actors Autograph session was being held. The line already extended out the door, but it wasn’t terribly long, just rounding the tree. While I was waiting, I caught sight of the Euphoria as Levi monitoring the line.

The line moved inside around 10am and it was long one that filled the large panel room. While we were waiting, they went over the rules ‘one autograph per voice actor, no photo requests, no ‘silly’ requests, no voicemail requests etc’ repeatedly. Which is fine. The cosplaying staff were very polite about it and we weren’t troubled by their presence.

(*points above* A fan bought this Ghost in the Shell shirt for Richard Epcar to sign. So many VAs from the series…that’s awesome!) The signing began somewhat on time when some of the VAs trickled in.

They did something which I never saw in any of the signings I’ve attended: they had the voice actors list what they appear in. Which makes no sense since people who attend the signings should already know who they are. If they were trying to avoid ‘confusion’ over who was who, they could’ve just made signs to place in front of them. As is, I went through mass signings before with very little confusion. It was nice for the staff to have them give a run through of their credits, but it also cut into the signing time which was already pass the starting time. And for some reason, the signing took place very slowly. There were lots of talking up there and not enough moving despite the repeated instructions of ‘sign it, speak and go’. There was talk about not enough time and granting priority to Saturday only passes since Sunday also has a group signing.

The room was split into four quadrants and by the end of the autograph session, the last quadrant in the room already left so I pity them who had saturday passes and were not given priority. Truly, they could’ve signed much faster then this. (The Rookie signing the night before was faster…though there was less talking…and the VAs spoke English.)

I mentioned to Josh Grelle that I was a big fan of Initial D and thought his performance as Takeuchi Itsuki was hilarious. He said that he was also very happy to have worked on the series.

To Alexis Tipton, I mentioned that I’m looking forward to hearing her as Yuzuriha Inori in Guilty Crown. She said that when she received the role, she looked ahead and even spoke with the director to understand her character more. Of course, when she found out about the ending, she was in tears. It truly was so sad!

*points above* Bill Rogers…being himself.

Having finished Tales of Xillia, I told Matthew Mercer that I really liked his voice as Alvin in Xillia. That character had so much depth…especially the sadness in his voice. <3

When I brought out my 3×3 Eyes dvd for Jonathon Klein to sign, he was very happy. He mentioned that this series was one of the ones that he will be presenting during the ‘Five of the Best Anime English Dubs You Have Probably Never Heard of’ panel.

Luna Haruna panel

The Luna Haruna panel was held in the same room. There were a good number of attendees, though the room did not fill up. The staff asked us to chant ‘Luna! Luna!’ in order to call Luna into the room. During the panel, they played Luna’s songs in the background which though messes with our recordings, is always a nice touch.

On the way past the pool, I grabbed pics of some Free!! cosplayers that were there (truly, there were always Free!! cosplayers by the pool the entire day.)

short signing

I headed over to the Bridgewater as fast as I could and found the line for Luna Haruna already snaking around the corner of the hallway. The signing started somewhat on time and it was not much longer that I got my Oversky cd signed.

fashion show galore

Press area for the fashion show. was in the middle row so that we could get a good view of the middle catwalk and the full stage. The fashion show displayed the two vastly differing styles of punk fashion Acryl agitt and playfully cute galaxxxy.

cosplay break

The back of the Dealer’s Room has a small booth with someone making gunpla.

Kill la Kill Studio Trigger panel

Afterwards, we headed over to the Doubletree in order to attend the Kill la Killa panel with Trigger. There was a long line outside the room, going out the door to the outside…just like how it was in the morning with the autograph signing.

masquerade fun

Prior to the masquerade/WCS, they presented the AMV winners which I enjoyed immensely at the variety of the fandoms. The first one was a touch of nostalgia with Sailor Moon. The masquerade was a definite improvement in comparison to the previous years…but not by much. I am always hopefuly though.

Afterwards, I hung around the outside area taking pics of cosplayers. I met the Sakura cosplayer and congratulated her on her win. She was so surprised at her win despite her outfit being as perfect as it was. She was definitely too modest.

Sunday: June 8

Cosplay chess: Shonen vs. Shoujo

The main event of Sunday besides the concert is the annual Cosplay Chess.

Despite arriving a bit late, the event was just beginning and they were introducing the pieces to the board. The theme of this year’s chess was Shoujo vs. Shonen. series with Princess Serenity and Tuxedo Mask as the Queen and King of the Shoujo side. Phantom R from Rhythm Thief was on the shoujo side as a pawn…but I wouldn’t know why. ^^; On the Shonen side, the king is Red Power Ranger and the Panty is the Queen.

This year, there were way more switching of places, changing of character locations, corrections then before. I can’t imagine why besides the POV of everyone is a bit different and to settle in on a board isn’t as easy as just moving one piece. Certainly, I felt the game dragged on a bit due to the changes.

Hilariously, after every ‘death’, Levi would appear on the board and sweep up the mess with the broom. It was certainly like a video game.

Also, besides the characters from the same series as their partners, some characters from different series would appear as partners or opponents. Like Kirito from Sword Art Online would have Arale from Dr. Slump jumping to his aid (little sister perhaps?) and a Titan would appear on the opposing side whenever a Shingeki character comes into play.

Plot contrivance as this game goes, there is a showdown between the two Kings and ‘The Power of Love and Friendship’ overtook the board. They shook hands civilly and all the pieces hugged as the game came to a close.

After the game, I took a pic of Arale-chan which is definitely a little girl. Kawaii!

last of the autographs

The signing for Trigger was held in the Mirabelle room…aka. as the karaoke lounge. The location wasn’t the best for the amount of people that were certainly going to be there.

There was some confusion since the fashion show signing was taking place first in the same room and the line was much shorter so people were wondering which line was the fashion show or Trigger line.

The line quickly turned into a Kimura Yu and Trigger signing. The signing began on time and we were ushered into the room.

As Shigetou Koyama-san was signing, I told him that I was a fan of Eva to which he smiled. He put the sticker for Techno Cop on it. Sugoi!

Kimura Yu-san sat at the end decked out in pink.

I took a few quick shots of them signing with the attendees before grabbing my things and rushing to the concert which is almost underway.

Luna Haruna concert – press shots

The best way to close the convention would be a Luna Haruna concert which is why I was thrilled when this was the Sunday concert. Her music is beautiful, catchy and makes people smile. After the concert was the final autograph session which during her panel, was suppose to include photo requests which is definitely a unique thing.

retrospect

This weekend went well enough despite the heat. However, due to the heat, the lack of increased air conditioning in the Doubletree made the rooms very stuffy. One of Japanese guests even commented on it. For the Studio Trigger panels with packed rooms, the temperature was definitely higher than usual.

Besides the temperature, many others have mentioned and I agreed was that AnimeNEXT had one of the worse case of delayed starts in panels and events. Although the panels didn’t usually run over (unless there was no panel in the next hour,) fans lost much of their time due to the waiting. Rather than a full hour panel with a guest, there was only 40 minutes. It truly was a pity since we had a plethora of good Japanese guests this year.

Despite the shortcomings, this was a definitely a good year for AnimeNEXT. At over 11,900 attendees, the con has steadily grown out of the Exhibit Center. Besides utilizing the Holiday Inn and the Doubletree, panels have expanded over to the Somsert Bridgewater hotel. The out-of-the-way hotel is now a part of the con which confused many, but was definitely a way to spread out the people. Organizers have hinted that there is another building which they can use in the future years. I look forward to seeing what they will do to expand. We may have outgrown this venue, but there will be some time before a decision is made to move.

2015 AnimeNEXT will be held on June 12-14. Tickets are already available which would be the lowest of year. Hope to see you there!

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