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The Rise and Fa?l of NY Conventions

The ? can be an i or an l, or nothing at all.

Because I’ve been attending NYCC for all days religiously since 2009, plus all of NYAF’s short life, a lot of people ask me about conventions and if it’s worth pursuing their curiosity to break into the scene. My answer used to be that buying a con ticket is a leap of faith – you’ll be buying your way in before knowing what that year’s offerings are, and you’re buying into the hope that they’ll have something to cater to your interests. Barring that, there’s the option of simply roaming the show floor and perusing the myriad of exclusives, sale items, game demos, screaming competitions (that is not a joke), contests, cosplays, and tons of free shit.

I think I have to modify my answer a bit… I’ve never been to SDCC but people have told me (A) it’s glorious and (B) it’s also a pain because of “high levels of exclusivity”, the nightmare that is entering Hall H, and generally having difficulty doing what it is you came to do. I won’t say NYCC is at SDCC level (especially since I haven’t experienced it myself) but I would say that the joy of a convention is participating in your fandom, and it’s becoming difficult to do that at NYCC.

Rest in Pieces, NY Anime Festival

So for all the weeaboos and weebs, there was once NY Anime Festival. After a few years, NYCC merged the event back into itself. I attended all years of NYAF and the things I noticed:
1. It was WAY smaller than NYCC, probably akin to a small-time con. But also, for the few years that it existed, it didn’t really grow.
2. I blame a few things for that – not widely advertised and no major-player backers, but also, what was there wasn’t super hot either. Anime guests that people care about are usually creators and voice artists; while people who help BRING anime to the US are super vital, people don’t know them by name and don’t care about them as much in the grand scheme. It sounds cold on paper but that’s really how it is.
3. Weeaboo girls mobbing and shrieking every minute or so. I’m not kidding.

So NYAF was merged into NYCC, the anime booths pressed into the back of the expo floor, the anime artist alley dissolved completely (this particularly sucks – not just the art but the crafts were fantastic) and that was, up until now, that.

The con that keeps on growing

The first time I went to NYCC, I walked into Jim Hanley’s Universe, bought a pass, and strolled out.
When 4-day passes started, I bought them online at my leisure.
In 20XX (sorry, I forgot), the 4 day passes sold out within a few weeks. Yikes! I bought a Thursday and 3 Day. That was the last year of peace. The demand for tickets became so wild that the ticket sale servers couldn’t bear it. Scalpers were making a killing, and retailers were getting hammered (like… riots and police being called). The following year, only Midtown Comics was allowed to sell tickets in-store. The eventual remedy for the scalper issue and online purchase grievance was “Fan Verification” – essentially a profile to show you are a genuine attendee and not a scalper. Anyone without a profile can’t get a ticket or activate it. Not a perfect solution (if you miss the profile creation window you better have a friend to help you or that’s that) but better than nothing.

TL;DR THE CON GOT REALLY POPULAR AND IT’S KIND OF A PAIN TO GET IN

So, it must be an amazing show, right? Depends.

One of the problems they had with the popularity spike is the lack of room to house everyone in the Javits center. Plus, the policy was always that once you’re seated in a panel room or auditorium, you could stay as long as you like. So when the Walking Dead had an evening panel one year, people waited on line all day only to not make it in because the room got camped all day long. The solutions were to have wristbands (later, badge-taps) to get into Main Stage panels so the room could be cleared each time, and in order to boost capacity, they started sending people out. Hammerstein Ballroom, Madison Garden, and now Hudson Mercantile now house external panels and you can camp as much as you want in MSG from what I’m told.
Plus: more people get to see what they want!
Minus: If you have a variety of things you want to see and do, hiking back and forth to the center is a major stress (the one time I took a bus… walking was faster). If it’s a MSG panel in the evening, you might end up sitting there all day. How am I supposed to party like a rock star if I’m stuck in a seat all day?

The stuff on the menu

To try to give this some brevity, my theory is that the anime/manga side of things was drier than usual this year since AnimeNYC’s launch is just a month away. The figure collecting crew was disappointed to see Kotobukiya’s usual State of the Union panel was off the roster, but according to their staffer, they requested a panel slot and got denied. GSC didn’t have a panel either, though I expected that. Banpresto surprisingly had a panel, and a rather neat one at that.

Usually Viz is responsible for bringing the anime guest of honor but this year Kodansha took that role and brought Fairy Tail’s Hiro Mashima. The usual SotU from Crunchyroll, Funimation and the like took place, but the anime screenings that usually take place were absent. So theoretically, all the good stuff for the anime crowd is being held off for AnimeNYC.

As for everything else – as I mentioned, if you want something happening on the outside of the Javits, be prepared to spend extra time (up to your whole day) on it. (To NYCC’s credit, their app does update you on lines, vacancies and full panels.) As for all else, it’s hit-or-miss. In 2015 one of the best panels for me was the All That! reunion, with a bunch of cast members getting together and talking about the show and how they got in on it. This year the voice artists for Yakko, Wakko and Dot were in the house – Animaniacs was my SHIT when it was on TV – but no panel, just a short live interview on the expo floor and autographing. See the above “participating in your fandom” line. I’m not that big on collecting paid autographs (not that I’d never do it, it just has to be a heart-stopping favorite tier person), plus, NYCC dissolved weekend passes this year so entrance for the whole weekend is now $200+ after taxes. Paying so much just to get in the door, plus spending money for the show, (add travel and hotel for the non-locals), yeah, I feel entitled and I wanna be catered to! Gimme good panels, not autographs!

Take that with a huge grain of salt as my likes often tend to be on the niche end of things.

So, AnimeNYC

So if you’ve already discussed AnimeNYC (powered by Crunchyroll!) you already know my thoughts, which are, like me, very pessimistic. This is what we’re working with:
– Guest of Honor is LeSean Thomas of “Children of Ether” fame. Never heard of either before this, but the character designer is the same one behind my beloved Michiko to Hatchin. So, I’ll bite.
– Danny Choo will also be in attendance, but I have no kinda money for a SmartDoll right now so I’m kinda salty. LOL
– There will be an Anime Diva night concert with three songstresses – True, Chihiro Yonekura, and Ishida Yoko. I only recognize Ishida Yoko though.
– I once told my friend that I’m jealous of her local small themed conventions (ex. there was a YoI con happening) because that never happens in the US and when it does, it’s Sailor Moon themed.
Right after that, the announcement came: The Sailor Moon dub artists will join the fray. For those not big on mahou shoujo, there’s Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower. So far, that’s more or less it.

No really, that’s more or less it. The con is roughly a month away and there’s no panel or exhibitor lists up. There have been no new announcements for weeks (months?) A few days ago they asked via e-mail for sponsors. I thought… that would be worked out by now… plus, it looks like that mail went out to attendees. Shouldn’t it have gone to companies who would have reason/funds to purchase huge banner spaces in the Javits?

So maybe I was wrong in thinking that having a heavy-hitter for a backer (AHEM, CRUNCHYROLL) would help bring success?

I also read ~somewhere~ that the con has potential to draw 100,000. I mean, yeah, you could gather that many anime fans in the Javits, if you… advertise the event properly, and most importantly, give the people what they want. I can’t help but feel, at the most optimistic angle I can look at this, that this is a “soft opening” for the con. But all the same, the people need to walk out happy because at this point word-of-mouth is going to carry a lot of power because regular advertising isn’t happening. I don’t even see ads in the city for AnimeNYC. Is it because this really is a “soft opening”?

I can kinda get behind that until I remember the ticketing. The problem with NYCC’s old ticketing structure is that the weekend passes were the much better value. Even if you could only go for 2-3 days, it was still cheaper to get a weekend pass than to buy passes for individual days. Which meant someone who was seconds late to the ticket-buying party had to pay for one badge per day. Now that everyone has to buy one badge per day, the price is excruciating to everyone who isn’t press/pro/(insert special badge type). VIP tickets were also done away with.

AnimeNYC is using the old ticketing structure (blergh) but the 3-day weekend is only $60 and nothing is sold out yet so we’re still in a safe zone. But, they also offered VIP tickets, which offered four guaranteed autographs and reserved seating in all Main Stage events for just $275.

Ehh… autographs from who? This was put up for grabs before any announcements were made. Now that the Diva Concert and Gundam concert are on the roster, the VIP tickets are sold out. But who would buy a VIP pass for almost $300 without knowing who/what they’re gaining access to? Well, some people, BUT.

Also notable, this is the first year NYCC did away with weekend passes and also the first year in quite a while that tickets didn’t disappear in a flash. Why scalp if no one wants them in the first place? I blame the ticket pricing and the dullness of 2016’s show. For every panel I sat in, it was almost bizarre how the crowds were so unenthused, even in the face of free prizes. They had to be repeatedly amped up, which is something I hadn’t seen before.

Bottom line, already?

If you’re curious about NYC conventions, I usually tell people to attend NYCC with a grain of salt. I’d say make it two grains -you’ll likely have a blast and find fun things to see and do, but be prepared for the super sized lines/crowds and ask beforehand for tips about getting into the panels you want to see. But if you go and you get to do the things you want to do, show some love. That’s the real name of the game.

As for AnimeNYC, despite my pessimism I am going for the whole weekend and I will give it a fair shot and report back. Best case scenario, it’ll grow to something worthwhile. Worst case, it’ll (once again) get absorbed into NYCC. AnimeExpo, anyone?

And yeah, those ticket prices gotta go.

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