Last year we said that New York Comic Con should just swallow up New York Anime Fest– and its anime programming– rather than run a relative non-attraction next door to what is fast becoming one of the biggest geek-interest cons in the country. The good news is that NYCC really did assimilate everything anime– vendors, producers, distributors– into the NYCC show floor proper. Last year’s anime vendor back alley and the traffic jam therein were no longer an issue. The bad news is that the anime ghetto had returned. The space was large, and it was much closer to the show floor… but it was a ghetto all the same.
We suggested last year that NYAF in its current state might be designed to keep characteristically obnoxious anime convention kids off the show floor. This year, we will presume that this is NYAF’s purpose, as it now shows every possible sign that this is absolutely the intention of the event.
Walking up to the show floor, you immediately have the option of turning a left and hopping onto an escalator with a big NYAF banner on it. ANIME GOES HERE, it’s telling you. Get up the first escalator and you’re in a circular in-between area that became a sort of lounge, one of precious few locations in the convention with any room to sit. “Room to sit” is the main feature NYAF offers: that and the most unprofitably placed bar of the con.
After a lap in the ghetto, my friends and I noticed a sign in the lounge that directed us to the “Anime Screening Room” with an arrow pointing right. There was, of course, no hallway to walk down and no room to enter: we were suspended between the third and fourth floor of the center. Puzzled, we walked a little further and realized that we were in the anime screening room: attached to a column were two small HDTVs playing anime DVDs on rotation with a sad little couch in front of them. Ladies and gents, the fate of the anime convention video room.
It takes one more escalator to get up to the show floor, where the only staffers I saw at NYAF are directing traffic and checking badges. Once you’re through there, you’re in an unexpectedly spacious room with a three-aisle artists’ alley. I didn’t really hang out here for long, but it’s nice that there’s a strictly fans-only space at all at NYCC, a con where the main artist’s alley is really just more booth space for any business at all (especially the big ones!) that wants to set up.
You have to see the back of the place to really understand the anime ghetto. The maid lounge is a huge hall lined completely with tables: there isn’t a shred of open space on the floor. In fact, there hasn’t really been any great amount of empty space– aside from the lanes through which traffic moves– from the first escalator.
When I saw the lounge’s vast expanse of tightly packed tables– far more than were likely ever needed in this area– I understood right away what was going on.
NYAF management must have not wanted any dance circles breaking out.
It’s the only explanation that makes sense. It’s well-known that anime fans will stand in a hundred-person circle, break out the boomboxes and blast their Internet Meme Playlist– a repeating loop of Nyan Cat, Caramelldansen, and golden oldie Hare Hare Yukai– for nine hours straight if given more than a few square feet of space to stand in. But there was no place for that here, absolutely none. I’ve seen anime fans break out into Caramelldansen in the space between cafeteria tables. That wasn’t going down at this con. It was actually impossible.
And with this daycare setup, the whole thing becomes clear as day. NYAF is a corral for anime con kids. It is specifically designed to keep them away from the larger mass of geekdom who came here for Avengers and Walking Dead and Venture Brothers. This is now indisputable, and the weird, depressing part of it is that the playpen is completely necessary and warranted. If NYAF ever came back as a separate entity, I’d actually like it to have an anime ghetto.
This isn’t to say that every anime fan– or every young fan– is unbearable and prone to running screaming across the con center brandishing a Yaoi Paddle and a Free Hugs sign. However, when NYAF was its own convention, and the equivalent of the anime ghetto was on the main floor, it was absolutely flooded with such cases: I was amazed nobody ever got their arm hacked off with a novelty Bleach sword. It goes without saying that NYCC would want to keep these people off the con floor, but judging by the very light security presence they weren’t interested in paying for their nannies. This year and the year before, NYAF was the solution.
Just like last year, the big players in anime aren’t bothering with a presence up in NYAF: they want the real con floor, the place that gets two hundred thousand eyeballs on their products. Let’s say NYAF started up as a separate event at another time of year in the Javits again: where do you think Funimation or Aniplex would want to bring their major guests? The event that, however big, has pulled as many people as it’s ever going to pull, or the mega-convention?
The people who lose out here are the fan artists, who are in relatively undesirable real estate, and the fan panelists, who, to be blunt, looked like they were being phased out. Fan panels took place on the “maid stage” from last year, at the very back of the lounge. I happened to sit in on one of these late in the weekend while lounging in the ghetto, and I still don’t know exactly what it was about. The place’s acoustics were not great: the panelist’s voice didn’t even carry all the way down to where we were sitting.
Running a panel in the middle of a busy lounge area– half of which can’t hear or see you– is just not the best setting compared to a traditional panel room, where you can actually count on the people being there for the presentation you were going to give. The maid stage might be a suitable performance space– the second time I came by they were in the middle of a major Naruto karaoke session– but it’s no place for a dicussion panel, and mixing the two together doesn’t seem to work.
NYCC packed a record 105,000 people into the Javits center: certainly too many people to fit into the area it was held in, and perhaps more than the entire massive building could accommodate. NYCC seems due for more expansion next year, and I’m certain that the anime ghetto is an issue that gets a lot of thought from the people planning the con. I’m genuinely curious to see what’s done with it next year.
But none of that changes the elementary fact that upsets so many anime fans who visit NYAF: that we’re in an anime ghetto in the first place. We have to be honest with ourselves here: that part can’t be helped. This very niche scene and its fans are so dwarfed by the combined, crushing might of the film, television, and videogame industries that we’re nearly as niche as, well… comic books, actually. Why segregate when we’re in such a niche to begin with? Don’t hate, assimilate.
A good friend of mine, not an anime fan since we watched VHS fansubs of Evangelion together in junior high, came out of the con excited to see Redline and Madoka Magica. Yeah, that’s not a lot, but I call it progress. Anime desperately needs to pull passers-by from the rest of the geek world– again, let’s be honest with ourselves, the American mainstream doesn’t want this cartoon shit unless it’s got dick jokes and their kids begged them to see it– and that’s not going to happen if we don’t do our damnedest to reach outside of our little circles…. and then make another little circle lined with Pocky, Ramune bottles, and barbed wire to toss the con kids in, I guess, so that people who aren’t them will want to show up too.
Maybe all anime cons need an anime ghetto– but we can’t call it that. Go for some kind of camouflage, like “The Anime Kawaii Gaia Online Free Hat Kingdom Hearts Center”. They’ll never figure it out.
(PS: a parallel-dimension situation was taking place at the massive Hasbro booth, which featured a gigantic Optimus Prime statue, a diorama of Marvel superheroes and a display case full of vintage Jem and the Holograms merchandise– but at which the cult internet hit My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was conspicuous in its total absence. We wonder why.)