Today New York Comic Con announced that New York Anime Festival will no longer exist. Attendees of the convention weren’t surprised at the news, but disappointed. This means that there is no large anime convention in New York City! How insane is it to think that the most populated area in the country lacks an Anime Convention?! How did this come about? Some of us had hope when they announced the merging of the two conventions, but it was quickly clear that the two cultures couldn’t co-exist.
Attendees of the past two New York Anime Festivals have been more than vocal about how dissatisfied they were with the event. In 2010 the event was shoved into the basement of the Javits convention center, quarantining anime programing; artist alley; and the mass of anime fans away from the pop culture convention going on above. It was a suitable solution to the problem of combining the two conventions, but no one was completely happy. In 2011 fan run anime panels were nearly abolished entirely while the artist alley was moved to the top floor of the Javits center. The “anime ghetto” returned and it was clear that the two conventions would never be able to live side by side. While anime’s presence at the convention grew ever smaller, the convention itself was bursting at the seams with people interesting in comics and the other pop culture events going on. The tiny anime convention that happened inside the massive New York Comic Con went by unnoticed by the majority of attendees.
Reflecting back, New York Comic Con 2011 was mostly a miserable experience. It was fantastic to see “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” and all the events around Makoto Shinkai, including my own interview with the famous director, are experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. But the convention itself? It was loud, hard to navigate, and even on the slowest days of the convention was packed with people who were more interesting in the shopping bazaar than in the culture of the convention.
One of the problems is that Comic Con has become a hype factory. The event is built around people wanting to stand in line for hours at a time to see celebrities and/or clips from upcoming media that will be out in a few months. The most confusing one was the Batman Arkham City panel having a line out the door when the game was only a week or two from release. That kind of hype doesn’t exist in the anime world because of the distance between Japan and the licensing companies. Until recently most anime convention attendees had already seen shows the licensing companies were showcase. Even with simulcasts licensing doesn’t happen until weeks, at the most, before shows are released which doesn’t give anime licensors time to hype at conventions.
Anime conventions are more focused around the community and gathering with friends. That is why costume contests, masquerades, pan panels, and an Artists’ Alley are all staples of anime conventions but are worth considerably less at the larger pop culture events. The two cultures are far too different for them to ever had existed in the same space. The larger corporate interests were always going to run the dedicated anime sections out of the Javits.
Not to say that this isn’t going to be a benefit to the anime companies. A more integrated Comic Con means that Funimation and Crunchyroll will be billed with the same weight as Marvel and other of the large players, ideally. We’ll have to see how well the complete integration actually plays out and if Anime even gets the nod that New York Comic Con is promising. However, the anime companies being present at the previous NYCCs gives them more of a chance of getting a decent slot in programing. More eyeballs can only benefit the industry.
So yes, the death of New York Anime Festival is tragic but it gives some hope that the complete integration will give some benefit to the industry and the fandom. They gave a lot of time to Makoto Shinkai last year so it wouldn’t be shocking if they allowed an equally important Japanese guest the same privilege even without NYAF being a named part of the convention. What it harms is the culture that anime conventions thrive on. There won’t be any anime fan panels, there will only be the largest of anime artist in the NYCC artist alley, and the kids will have lost a place to hang around with their friends. Will I be attending Comic Con next year? They’ll have to show me some impressive anime guests for me to even consider it at this point. Unfortunately, Comic Con just isn’t a part of nerd culture that I feel the need to subject myself too without decent anime content. Comic Con grows as a mega culture event, and a single anime convention bites the dust.
But looking at the state of anime conventions, will it be long before we start losing more and more of them? Check back for part 2 in my “The Death of the Anime Convention” series “The Homestuck problem” for my thoughts.