09/30/2009

Creepy Dude Put His Hand On My Shoulder And Whispered Into My Ear: “Welcome to the dark-side”: The NY Anime Fest 2009 Part 1

by Matthew Hawkins

So… once again, the New York Anime Fest. As previous mentioned, it was a fairly awesome affair! Despite the fact that, in all honestly, the deck was certainly stacked against it going in.

First the negatives: the show as a whole felt a bit smaller than before. As also noted in the past, I was hoping to get a Japanese game publisher to participate in one of my panels and was rather shocked to discover that only one would be on-hand, a stark contrast to the half a dozen at least that had been present before. Making matters worse was how this one publisher, Sega, had completely blown me off each time I extended an invitation. There even came a point where I basically stated “Look, I’m giving you the chance to directly address a room filled with your most loyal customers, or at the very least, the key demographic you want to reach… I’ll let you say or do whatever, pimp the hell out of any game coming out that you’d like, I don’t care, just please stop on by!” Still nothing. Though I would eventually learn the precise reasons for the lack of any interest…

As the weekend approached, I began to hear other things, like how many of the biggest names in the industry that traditionally make an appearance, such as manga publishers and anime distributors, were not going to be present either. A peek at the schedule posted online shortly beforehand simply reinforced the notion that things were decidedly scaled back; there was far less panels and screening as compared to festivals past. Which in all honestly, played a significant part in my own panels being so well attended perhaps, since there wasn’t much else to chose from, so I really can’t complain there. Though I too was dismayed to hear that next year, the Anime Fest is being combined with the New York Comic Con. The jury is still out at the moment, till further details are divulged, though the announcement seemed hardly a shock; it felt like just another sign that the future of an anime show in New York City was in question.

Day 1

I arrived around 1:30, just half an hour after kick-off. Once Hilary showed up shortly thereafter, it was onto the show floor. And again, it definitely felt a bit smaller in scale, even though the space was exactly the same. The primary reason was the World Cyber Games; their gigantic set-up, which consisted of rows and rows of networked PCs along with a stage, absorbed the entirety of the back of the main floor, where the maid cafe was located last year plus much of the artist’s alley. And that was kinda lame; it just felt like an odd fit, at least for such a Japan-centric event. When one thinks of video games and Japan, consoles immediately come to mind. Too bad it wasn’t some huge gamers? alley filled with systems of all kinds, similar to what they have at Otakon, even a very minute version of it. But hey, I’m assuming the World Cyber Games and its partners (which included Samsung) paid a lot of money for the chance to participate, which perhaps filled an important need financially, plus it was at least well attended.

Like I said, there was hardly any big names in the biz on the floor, meaning no booths on their behalf. So it was almost entirely dealers, and as one might expect, much of what they were shilling can be easily attained online and often time for much less. But there was still plenty of weird things that I never knew existed, like actual Dragon Balls…

… I really liked Hilary’s idea of throwing them at people you despise while screaming “I WISH YOU WOULD F*CKING GET LOST!” And here’s a shot of the big Gundam holding a Pikachu that manned this particular booth…

… Which some wise-ass asked the price for. When the dealer responded with $3,000, the kid shot back: “F*ck off!” No idea what his problem was (yeah the price was a bit steep, but it’s also f’n huge and I’d imagine heavy as hell, so I’d probably want a pretty penny for something I’ve been dragging around for so long, plus it’s not something you see everyday, and most importantly IT’S A GIANT GUNDAM), but thankfully he was one of the few dicks from the entire weekend.

Again, not to rag on my fellow indie cartoonists that decided to spend their weekend at SPX, but animu dorks >>>> indie comic dorks, by far.

Moving on, you know those cheesy backlit posters, with the fake waterfall? Well imagine the same thing, except with the V for Vendetta dude and spouting assorted “internet LOL” messages…

The place was also filled with all sorts of wacky new products and services, aimed at otaku. First there was Venom, some new energy drink that Hilary and I sampled throughout the weekend, despite fears of instant diarrhea and kidney stones. Next you had this…

… Remember those Flintstones push-pops? Same thing here, except with sushi, They were okay.

Once such new services was Manga Chat, which is essentially an instant messaging client, except you create a manga to go along with your conversation. Each sentence typed goes into a different world balloon, and I was told half the fun is how you never know what the next panel might be. Hasn?t had a chance to test drive the thing as of yet. One day, eventually.

Then you had the Otaku Social Network, which was busy signing new members up. As the name implies, it’s MySpace or Facebook for animu lovers. And it’s not to be confused with MaiOtaku, which is the OkCupid for animu lovers.

Here we have a booth for something called Sphereplay…

… I loved watching the lady demonstrating the “game” to attendees throughout the weekend, whose intensity was simply a joy to behold. The activity itself basically amounted to moving one’s arms around like a raver while also balancing a ball. Never seen or heard of it before, though Hilary noted that it’s actually called contact juggling and has been the rage at cons for some time now. Guess I’m out of the loop or something. And appears to be hacky sack for the 21st Century, so translation: lol.

You also had plenty of anime con standards, like the table filled to the brim with random figures…

… Because this was taken super early into the weekend, some really good stuff are visible. Unfortunately all the not so interesting things got in the way at the time, hence why only now am I noticing the OneChanbara figure that I would have snatched up in a heartbeat if I only knew it was there. Though I did catch the Melty Blood ones, but not the characters I like.

Original animation cells could be found at some. This Cutey Honey one was fairly tempting…

… Though most were hardly as interesting. Except for this one that we dug up, in the el cheapo $5 pile…

… No idea what show it’s from, let alone why the dude in the foreground has no shirt on.

Game related attire was all over the place, though most I’ve seen before. But there were a small handful of new designs…

What’s an anime con without some yaoi?

… Oh, so that last pic was taken while I was showing Joe Salina around, since it was his first time ever at a convention of its kind. It was me who dragged him to the yaoi table, and while expounding upon its virtues, some creepy dude put his hand on my shoulder and whispered into my ear: “Welcome to the dark-side.” I have no idea why I didn’t lash out at his like the dude who gave me the unprompted hug at the Mega Man panel at Otakon this past summer. I probably should have.

Here’s a look at the aforementioned World Cyber Games set-up…

… Perhaps I’m biased, but I can’t think of anything less exciting than watching people playing FPSs on PCs, even if they look retarded like all Alienware cabs do. Though they had a few consoles running SF4, VF5, and Guitar Hero (ugh) scattered about. As for the only real name in games, here’s a look at Sega’s tiny little corner, which was almost entirely dedicated towards Bayonetta…

… It was here that I discovered why no one from Sega wanted to stop by and say a few words at my Games From Japan Vs Games From America panel; there wasn’t anyone from Sega to be found! They literally just sent a bunch of debug 360s and some banners to some local event organizer that’s not tied to Sega in any real way, and whose lone rep just sat there, babysitting the entire thing (and not able to field any questions related to the game). lol. I shutter to think what went down on Saturday, when the place was jam packed and the systems were locking up, left and right.

Wacky fan art depicting old school Transformers could be found here and there…

Along with this somewhat insane Digimon piece…

Speaking of fan creations, the artist alley was easily the biggest shock of the entire show. The sheer volume of quality work was simply jaw dropping. Thankfully, a few let me take some snapshots of their work; most needed convincing, cuz apparently people take pictures and then make shirts out of them and stuff? Strange. So in that case, the crappy quality of my pictures actually worked in my favor! Unfortunately, I misplaced of everyone’s contact info, so I can give everyone their proper credit. BUT, if you’re one of the artists featured, please drop me a line and I’ll be more than happy to update this post!

For starters, this one set-up had tons of awesome, mostly Nintendo-centric pieces, and from a variety of artists it looks like…

EDIT: Just found Efrain Farias‘s contact info, whose the guy responsible for some of that incredible stuff!

This guy’s Shadow of the Colossus work was absolutely gorgeous…

Hilary and I both totally loved this over-sized and jewel-encrusted Pac Man pic, from Paperelle

One could also find plenty of wonderful original work, like this nifty tote-bag design…

Another person’s card that I thankfully did not lose was Hieng Tang, from Canada I believe he said. I regret not picking up this painting of his…

Original, handcrafted goods was strewn about the main floor as well, like silkscreened hats and shirts from Boshi-Basiik, who are based in Texas I think?

… When I mentioned to Hilary that I was looking to pick something up for Katie, she suggested I get the following shirt…

… Which I wanted, but for myself! Too bad they were all out of my size.

Not sure what these are exactly, but they’re direct from Japan, that much I know at least…

These magnets provided to be quite popular with almost all my colleagues; I believe Salina picked one up, or was that Stephen Glicker?

… Was almost going to get the one with Mario in the big boot, from SMB3, till Hilary mentioned she could easily make one for me, and for free!

When I showed Mia this pic of this custom Mother 2/Earthbound shirt, she immediately demanded where it’s from. Too bad I forget the source that the person wearing it cited! Though maybe Salina remembers the URL…

May as well this chance to segway to some pictures of cosplayers! About time, right? And sticking with custom shirts for a sec, here’s yet another Travis Touchdown!

… At this point, I try to avoid costumes that I’ve covered already, so no more Mario’s or Links’s, sorry. Unless it’s a super cute chick cosplaying as either. But I’ll go for Travis every time, mostly to see what shirt is accompanying the ensemble. That one is No. 51, right?

I wonder if this guy playing El Fuerte is the same one who played El Blaze from last year?

This UmJammer and PaRappa couple was simply the cutest!

This girl made a fairly good go at Michael Jackson, though it felt more like the lead actress from some off beat romantic comedy, circa the late 80s/early 90s, like perhaps Jeanne Garafolo…

Not sure who this character is supposed to be, but the costume was entirely made of construction paper, which was good enough for me…

Black NiGHTS!

And Predator here is actually my downstairs neighbor!

Okay, so what about the programming? As also noted, there wasn’t as much this time, and the stuff that was available didn’t sound particularly interesting. Naturally, Hilary went to see the father of Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino, give the NYAF keynote.

I’m still waiting for her own two cents, but in the meantime, I’m simply mention how she went away both heartbroken and annoyed. It would seem that the guy was a total dick, with a holier than though attitude towards the folks that he’s inspired. You’d think the man who more or less single handedly created the giant robot genre in Japan would have a slightly more ambassadorial attitude towards his copycats, regardless of their quality (some is sh*t, don’t get me wrong but hey, stuff like Evangelion on the other hand has clearly proven itself). Then again, it’s hardly a shock considering his anti-video game sentiments from a few weeks back. And much like back then, Tomino had his apologists at the show, trying their best to conduct damage control. But he’s also just another old Japanese guy, one whose rather hard-lined, as many from his generation tend to be, that’s just the way it is. Plus some of the best creative minds are also often total douchebags, unfortunately. Again, I’ll let Hilary explain more when the time comes.

As for my own panel that Friday evening, Games From Japan Vs Games From America, it was extremely well! The room was packed, but that was hardly a shock, considering it was opening night and the place was finally packed with kids who were no longer in class. And everything went silky smooth, despite the lack of Sega’s participate, which ended up being completely unnecessary in the end! Though going, there was the slight chance a train wreck was about to ensue, but that only last for about three seconds…

While waiting outside the room, for the previous panel to let out, I got a text from Stephen which basically stated: “You had better get in here quick, before these guys hijack your hour.” So I decided to investigate, and lo and behold, it was the dude from Disorganization XIII yelling and screaming up front. Now, some readers might recall that these were the same group that ran the Kingdom Hearts panel last year with the homophobia. And for those who missed it, the person in charge recently responded to my criticisms, which I also addressed as well in the comments section of this post. Anyhow, there was all this yelling and screaming, so I made my way to the stage, where the lead guy asked me, “Are you the guy in charge of the next panel?” To that I responded with “Yes. What’s going on here?” Which in turn got me “GOOD! The people from the previous three panels never bothered to show up, so we’ve been filling time!” Interesting… Not only was he happy to see me and hand over the stage willingly, but he clearly didn’t recognize the face of the dude whose been giving them crap online for what was perceived to be wreckless (and some instances annoying) behavior. As silly as it sounds, I wondered if Disorganization XIII would try any shenanigans, considering how I tried blowing the whistle on them, but turns out that they were running another panel later that weekend, albeit non-game related. As for their apology, it is what it is, and perhaps officially old news at this point. Still, gotta love those chance encounters!

Anyway, my hour couldn’t have gone any better, though it was entirely due to the very fine crew that shared the stage with me, which included Salina plus Gerald Flannory and Domonique Didier, both of whom are from TrueGameHeadz. I forget if I mentioned how I was in a slight state of panic over my inability to find anyone who knew as much about the state of gaming in Japan as myself, since most folks were again out of town for the TGS, but Stephen Totilo’s recommendation of them could not have been any better! As or what was discussed, it ran the gamut, though not surprisingly, the “Man, Japan is over” comments from the creator of Mega Man earlier that afternoon from the TGS drove most of the discussion. The basic message by the end was how Japan’s increasing lack of relevancy on the world stage when it comes to video games, which certainly depressing to long-time gamers such as ourselves, is not entirely shocking given the current economic, technological, and cultural climates. But mostly it’s Japan’s fault, for their inability to share the global stage effectively, though that’s slowly changing (such as Cave’s recent decision to make their games region free, which honestly, should have been happened with their very first 360 release).

By the time it wrapped up, I was both exhausted and hungry, hence the hasty exit. I supposed to could have stuck around for the North American premiere of Cenocoroll, but simply had other obligations to attend to, such as Joe Simko’s art show closing! Here we are with Kenny, the man who produced this Clogged Arteries album in 2000…

… That portion of the night is still a blur, but I think I recall Simko stating that there’s going to be a second Clogged Arteries album?!

TO BE CONTINUED

  • Kirk

    Sorry I didn’t recognize you when you showed for your panel, we were all pretty tired at that point. We didn’t take over the previous three panels, we actually had the second one as ours, so we took over the “Why Anime?” one and the “Hip Hop Hearts” one. At that point we were beat after doing about 5 hours of panels in a row.

    I was hoping you’d come to see one of our three scheduled panels on Saturday and talk about it, since we chatted on your blog after last year’s panel. I wasn’t on the fanfic one, and I don’t blame you for not going as it’s not my thing either. I was hoping you’d come to the new spoiler though, we all worked very hard on this year’s presentation. I can’t fault you though, because I didn’t bother showing on Sunday, and I didn’t catch any of your panels either. You have my email now, tell me what you’re doing for AUSA this year! We’ll have spoiler again there if you want to catch it.

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    Thanks again~!
    - M. of PINK ROYALE! Cosplay

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