by Erica Friedman
Friday morning at Pier 92/94 a relatively new Electronic Dance Music venue on the Hudson River, a 20-minute walk north from Javits. Animefest @NYCC, an associated event, but one that charged an additional $20-$25 depending on the day, was being held there. But, Friday morning, you might have thought it was setting up for something later that day when people would arrive.
Despite light attendance Friday morning, the Manga Classics panel I was there for was well attended. The two stages and the main screening area were well separated which, in a large, open room without even airwalls, was important.
I returned on Saturday afternoon and found a much more convivial environment. People in costumes were enjoying the panels and the screening of Eleven Art’s Penguin Highway.
Some spaces were lined with tatami mats for relaxation and others filled with decorated “Itasha” cars. These appeared to be merely space fillers, but they served the purpose of giving the screening area the space it needed not to be drowned out – or drown out dealers.
A wall open for decoration with prompts for themes, had a fair amount of contributions, attesting to attendee enthusiasm.
The Dealer’s “Room” and Artist Alley were basically a real-life Etsy shop, with primarily derivative works, and very few booths with original or licensed goods. Good Smile had a small booth set up, but Funimation, Viz, Dark Horse and Kodansha chose to spend their exhibition dollars in Javits.
The Animefest promised “Japanese guests, a curated Artist Alley, creative classes, Instagram-worthy activations [sic], cosplay, and a few more surprises” and they did put up industry panels for Sunrise, Eleven Arts, Kodansha, Manga Classics, Viz Media and Tokyopop. The schedule did include Japanese artistic team Himekawa Akira. Animefest also hosted some larger panels at the Hammerstein Ballroom and The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden alongside meetups for fans of series both old and new.
In speaking to professionals about the event, the general consensus was that it ought to have been held only on Saturday and Sunday and be a cheaper additional fee, as the audience was clearly younger fans. Certainly, the venue was relatively lively on Saturday afternoon (which was labeled “sold out” on the website.) There was a lot of talk among pros at the show about Animefest being an “anime ghetto”.
If there was a signing or panel or meetup that really called to you as a fan, Animefest would be fun add-on to NYCC, but as a standalone event there was little to bring you back the next day and it’s highly unlikely we’ll see it in the same format next year.
Which begs the question – what is the future of anime and manga at New York Comic Con? Is there one? As manga sales grow into a measurable percentage of the North American comics market and manga-based movies are becoming more common, if and when do we see the Comic Cons give it space under the big tent?