Summer's here which means the con season is about to start. What better way to start of the season than the 10th anniversary of AnimeNEXT in Somerset, New Jersey. This mid sized convention was held in the Garden State Exhibit Center and the nearby Double Tree and Holiday Inn hotels. This year the convention grew even bigger in size with crowds beginning to choke the convention even on a Friday. Despite the crowding, I've been pleased with the panel line-up, the constant presence of staff, and the overall atmosphere of everyone there.
This is my 3rd time at AnimeNEXT and not much has changed since last year. Coming in on Friday I noticed that there were quite a bit more people than usual. Picked up my badge pretty quickly and had plenty of time before the first set of panels. Usually Fridays are more laid back, but this year almost every good panel was scheduled on Friday and felt like I had fun non-stop the entire day. Lining up for popular panels seems to have become a norm at animenext.
Panels and Guests.
Although AnimeNEXT is only mid-sized con, it is able to attract some big names in the Japanese anime industry. Studio I.G.'s animator, Satoru Nakamura, and episode director, Koudai Kakimoto, were the guests of honor this year around which was quite awesome as they are responsible for working on Moribito and Eden of the East. There were no big name musical guests this year which was somewhat disappointing but the ones that were featured were still very cool.
I attended many panels which were mostly hosted either by the Reverse Thieves, Anigamers, or Charles Dunbar who run many high quality panels. Whenever you see their panels listed in the con guide, make sure you attend them. I've noticed that panels were not scheduled until after 11 AM which is pretty good for most people. But there were still some problems with panel rooms being too small for popular panels. In addition, they put panels in workshop rooms that had no projectors which caused problems to panelists that depended on powerpoint for their presentation. I noticed that AnimeNEXT seemed to have a shortage of panels, with a few of them being programmed for all three days to fill in time. If you have a great idea for a panel, now would be a great time to think about submitting it for next year's AnimeNEXT.
Dealers Room, Artist Alley, etc.
Since the convention is in the same location, the dealer's room is the same size as it was, crowding near the entrance was somewhat of an issue but once you leave the area it was pretty smooth to navigate. The variety of dealers wasn't as good as last year mainly due to the fact that AnimeNEXT was scheduled at the same time as another bigger convention. There were noticeably more booths for guests and such than before and Funimation, who's usually at AnimeNEXT, was completely absent.
They located the artist alley in a completely different place than last year. Last year the artist alley was in the double tree hotel. This year they moved it to right across the dealer's room next to the main events stage. This was a good decision as it enlarged the artist alley and allowed for more walking space.
Once again, the anime screenings and the video games were in the training center and the holiday inn hotel as last year. Unfortunately, this will always be the issue of the venue. Fortunately, I was not troubled by the detachment of screenings and video games as I never really had time to check them out.
In short, AnimeNEXT continues to be one of the best anime conventions to attend in the North East US. This year, there was a significant increase in attendance and the convention will continue to grow. Although the convention will still take place in the same venue next year, I can foresee AnimeNEXT to outgrow the convention center and eventually move once more to a bigger venue. Hopefully, next year, the convention won't be scheduled on the same weekend as another bigger convention.