New York Anime Fest – Anime Ghetto 2: We Told You Not To Call It A Comeback

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.)

19 Comments

  1. Completely agree with you Dave. For perspective, I actually represent a part of that younger generation of anime fans. I am probably the youngest CD reader too. As a seventeen year old senior in high school, I have never attended an anime convention. Why? Mostly because my anime-loving peers are embarrassments to humanity. And the ones who are somewhat normal and casually interested would never go to a convention because of that. I could get my friend who has a copy of Angry Birds to go to PAX, but it would be difficult to get someone who enjoyed Spirited Away to go to Otakon.

    Maybe something more accessible needs to rise from fandom, from the American side at least. While Mega64 may be immature, and RedLetterMedia can be creepy, they are popular and do a great job of luring outsiders into geek culture. Anime really doesn’t have that equivalent.

    Great article by the way.

  2. Sounds like one big Kindercare hopped up on caffeine, yaoi and autism. What’s an old fart to do besides stay away? There’s more of them than there are of us.

  3. Have an ‘ANIME GOES HERE’ sign that leads to ‘The Anime Kawaii Gaia Online Free Hat Kingdom Hearts Center’ and what-not. Then, have a ‘JAPANESE CARTOONS HERE’ sign, which leads to the good stuff. The undesirables can’t acknowledge the fact that anime is cartoons so they’ll stay far the fuck away. Problem solved. :3

  4. Keep in mind that NYCC is run by Reed Exhibitions, a company that does professional events for major corporations and such like. They took on NYAF because, well, I assume because of ‘information lag’ about the ‘heat’ of anime at that point.

    The ONLY goal they have is to get that sweet, sweet Hollywood money they see being spent every year out in San Diego. screw comic books, screw anime, let’s see if we can become so big (eyeballs, everyone, eyeballs) that Hollywood offers US (redacted) to get in. That’s the goal.

    Of course the problem is one reason Hollywood loves SDCC is because it’s all but in the backyard. No huge transport costs, no problem shipping displays or props from movies, usually some of the stars are in the area and can pop by. And it does get a ton of press now.

    New York, not so much. Shipping cross country, dealing with NYC unions at the loading dock, huge expenses on what is supposed to be free (or cheap) viral-ish publicity.

    As to the NYAF, didn’t you hear? Al Kahn declared Japan was over several years ago. And the CEO of 4Kids should know! (hey, how’s that Chaotic crap working out for you there, Al baby?)

    I will be surprised if there is a NYAF next year.

  5. Steve, some of the people at Reed (Peter Tatara, in particular) really do care about anime, and are trying to make the NYAF events as valuable to the fans as possible. You shouldn’t conflate the goals of Reed as a corporation with the goals of the individuals who run Reed’s events.

    That said, the “ghettoization” of the NYAF events at this year’s NYCC was pretty sad. As I recall, a couple of my friends managed to go the whole con without figuring out how to get to the NYAF area is. At least the big anime screenings on sunday were well-run, though the Makoto Shinkai screening had poor attendance (probably because it started so early in the day).

  6. Early on Sunday at that. This was a marathon session for me and a lot of my friends: if I hadn’t had somewhere to be (sitting on the ANN panel) Sunday, I absolutely would have passed out long before then. Thankfully I already caught the movie at Otakon (that post is also on CD).

  7. Paul, I don’t doubt a single thing you’re saying. I’m sure Tatara and the others had the goal of NYAF becoming AX East, and actually doing what AX failed to do, get the entire anime industry onboard and supporting the fair, ala what goes on at E3 or other ‘big industry’ events.

    Not gonna happen. That’s over.

    (I assume Tatara was brought under Reed’s umbrella to run NYAF (as in Reed absorbed the existing event and not a Reed employee who got stuck with the job. correct me if I’m engaging in incorrect thinking).

    Take into account not just how NYAF was handled this year but last year. From the sound of things there’s not just marginalization but INCREASED marginalization. Tatara seemingly didn’t do anything to change that. I suspect he was presented with a “it’s this or nothing” option.

    Oh, I can hear the explanations. “it took forever to approve our budget. We ran into trouble when (x) happened. Approval for (y) was late in coming” and so on. (guesses, note, guesses, not knowledge)

    How do you kill something without being seen killing it? You delay, you cut funding, you apologize and say “next year I promise”, and so on.

    were I a betting man I’d bet no maid cafe next year and reduced space. NYAF isn’t generating traffic in line with NYCC (oh, never mind all the difficulties in ACCESSING it, that’s not considered) and what doesn’t generate traffic must go to feed the greater beast.

    Ah, blah blah blah. Don’t mean nothin’.

  8. I’ve been to Anime Expo 04 as well as Fanime 09 and 10… All 3 were excellent and handled well. Needless to say I’m glad I didn’t attend NYAF when the slight chance came up, because it sounded pretty freaking terrible. Sigh. I also found it puzzling when reading how NYAF and NYCC aren’t properly merged in some manner (say, one side of the center is for NYAF, the other is for NYCC) until a friend–who attended NYAF and hated it–explained that comic book fans and anime fans tend to hate each other. (Which is also odd when you stop and think: different fandoms all boil down to nerds being nerds, just in different forms.)

  9. Steve:
    “(I assume Tatara was brought under Reed’s umbrella to run NYAF (as in Reed absorbed the existing event and not a Reed employee who got stuck with the job. correct me if I’m engaging in incorrect thinking).”

    This is way off. Tatara was working at Reed when Reed *created* NYAF as a spinoff of NYCC. He was given the director of programming job the first year because he was a guy within Reed that cared about anime and had experience in the anime industry. He seems to wear a lot of hats at this point, though – the ReedPop site has him listed as in charge of programming at NYCC, NYAF, C2E2, and Star Wars Celebration, and as I recall from his Twitter, Reed had him spend much of this year in Singapore, preparing for SGTCC.

    Anyway, the important thing to note here is the division between convention programming – the stuff that’s for the actual attendees – which is run separately from the logistics of putting on a convention, and from the core business, which is anything that brings in money (exhibitors, admissions, etc). While Reed as a company may be shoving NYAF into the corner, that’s entirely separate from the people who are programming the event.

    It’s also important to note that the decline of NYAF’s position in the Reed hierarchy entirely coincides with the contraction of the U.S. anime industry. With fewer anime and manga publishers to exhibit at the convention, less new product coming out for dealers to sell on the show floor, the pressure on the suits at Reed to scale back the convention and keep it profitable should be self-evident. With the division between programming and logistics/sales/etc – and the latter superseding the former – the changes to the scope and positioning of the event happen independently of the aspects of the event that fans care about.

  10. Paul, maybe my reading comprehension has gone out the window, but it seems to me you’re saying exactly what I said, only using more words.

    Altho I stand corrected about Tatara, and thank you. But I’ve heard that name before, and not connected with Reed. Wasn’t he part of one of the East Coast cons? Maybe part of Creation?

    Dealers, no, let’s be professional. Vendors and Industry Professionals go where the people are, sorry, where the significant traffic paradigm exists. Those people are at the big hall of NYCC. From the sound of things there was no actual attempt to create a ‘dealer’s room’ at NYAF. What was there seemed to be outgrowth from the Artist’s Alley and the usual “let’s try to get away with this” opportunists. I assume artist tables were cheaper than dealer’s tables?

    Has there been a contraction? Of course there has, because the bubble broke in 2005 (and the aftereffects started in ’06)but things have been fairly stable (well, up til the Borders crash but anyone with half a brain saw that coming a couple years back a*hem) since then. Yes the insane decline of the Dollar and the stupidly stronger Yen has put quite the kabosh on some dealers but I *suspect* the majority at NYCC had bootleg goods anyway, so no real effect.

    Lotta departments going on there. Maybe too many hands in the pot. And that’s still no excuse for the lazy-ass event billed as NYAF. I stand by my statement, expect even less next year.

  11. Also, in a response to the tag at the end of the column:

    Why can’t Hasbro make MLP toys that look like the cartoon? I mean, I KNOW why, big money invested in legacy tooling and the expected high ROI from using that tooling, but they’re cranking out all manner of new-tooled toys now, ponies in all sizes, why not go that extra little bit and make them look like the cartoon? Articulation would be nice as well.

    And give Applejack her damn cowgirl hat!

  12. Steve was winning these comments until he started obsessing over My Little Pony.

    Paul and Steve’s exchange was better than the con report (sorry Dave).

  13. “it seems to me you’re saying exactly what I said, only using more words.”

    That’s possible. I think the difference we’re having here is that you have an essentially negative attitude, portraying Reed as intentionally trying to kill NYAF – Whereas I see it as a compromise situation, with the people at Reed who actually care accommodating the anime events as best they can while still pleasing their corporate masters. There’s no question the anime events at NYCC/NYAF are getting screwed – it may be malicious, or it may just be collateral damage.

    “Those people are at the big hall of NYCC. From the sound of things there was no actual attempt to create a ‘dealer’s room’ at NYAF.”

    Right. The dealers selling anime merchandise were on the NYCC convention floor, not the NYAF artists’ alley. It even seemed to be organized in a thematic fashion – I noticed that a number of booths selling anime DVDs and manga volumes were clustered around the Bandai/Tamashii Nations booth, though it was nothing so official as the designer toy “Cultyard” at the opposite end of the show floor.

    “Yes the insane decline of the Dollar and the stupidly stronger Yen has put quite the kabosh on some dealers but I *suspect* the majority at NYCC had bootleg goods anyway, so no real effect.”

    I have no idea what you are talking about. I even recall examining some items at NYCC that I suspected were bootleg (video game t-shirts that I haven’t seen sold for years, for instance) and found accurate copyright notices. I didn’t see any bootleg DVDs or anything, though I didn’t pay very close attention to DVD dealers.

  14. “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…”

    Dave, great point. I certainly do NOT disagree with you on this one.

    I didn’t make it to NYCC this year–my brother’s wedding was the same weekend–but I did go last year and saw the NYAF ghetto. Too bad that it seems that things have not really changed….

  15. Your ivory towers crumbled 10 years ago, guys. Maybe it’s time to realize that casuals like yourselves don’t matter in the long run of the anime community.

    True, NYAF sucked, but that was because there wasn’t any fucking space for it. I sincerely doubt equating Shinji with Spiderman is going to help out.

  16. Funny how it’s the ‘casuals’ who contribute most of the creative effort and legitimacy the rest of you trade on, though, isn’t it?

  17. In all seriousness, what right-minded person wants to go to a convention that has a fucking “maid-cafe”, where people are likely to “cosplay (translation: loser-fag dress-up)”, and people will most likely be talking about BLEACH and NARUTO and ONE-PIECE like they are the highest forms of entertainment.

    I don’t want to be anywhere that has people doing Naruto karaoke. Not ever!

    Can they not just remove that shit? You can’t convince a normal person to check out a new media, or go to a convention for said media when the thing caters to the worst types of retards imaginable.

  18. Well I’ll be damned. Looks like they’ll continue with NYAF for 2012.

    Probably will visit there and give status update for all 4 days. Didn’t go to 2011 due to boss calling for me to work on all 4 days.

    Won’t be surprised if this happen again.

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