On the weekend of June 10th-12th I had the pleasure of attending one of the biggest anime conventions on the east coast, AnimeNext. Located in Somerset, NJ; AnimeNext gives both fans and newcomers an amazing anime experience. The convention center itself is surrounded by plenty of hotels, but the Double Tree is the one hotel connected to it. So if you were lucky enough to stay at the Double Tree that weekend you were greeted by wall to wall cosplayers as well as many special guests attending the convention. While there were many other hotels that surrounded the convention center, easy access to and from the hotel and the convention center was not available. Staying at the Marriott, I had to walk on the actual road and/or cut through parking lots. While the walk from the neighboring hotels may have been a bit of a pain, AnimeNext does make it worth it. There were a bevy of options food wise available at the con. You had of course the con food, the restaurant that was connected to whatever hotel you were staying at, and take out menus provided by the hotel. But for those looking to do a little grocery shopping or just spend less money, AnimeNext had food Shuttle buses available that took you to the Village Plaza Shopping Center. So if you were lucky enough to have a fridge and a microwave in your room, going grocery shopping was a great idea. Hell even if you didn’t it was still worth the trip to save some money.
Picking up your ticket was a 3 step process. First you had to fill out a form indicating your name, which ticket you were purchasing, and some other info. Then you bring that to the window and pay for your ticket, from there you go to the registration booth to get your actual pass. You 3-4 choices in choosing the design of the pass you wanted, all were pretty cool illustrations to choose from. The Expo Center was your first stop at AnimeNEXT. It held the dealers room, artist alley, the main stage for Cosplay Masquerade, concerts, and various shows, and the food court. Navigating the Expo Center was simple, to get in and out of an area was clearly stated and the staff was on hand to make sure everyone went the right way. The Expo center was a huge place, there was enough space off the sides to take pictures of your favorite cosplayers/cosplayers without blocking traffic. Directly in front of Artist Alley there was a small arena area where a performance by The Promise Sisters took place, as well as 1-on-1 battles and various other performances took place as well. Artist Alley was nicely done and browsing every artist’s work wasn’t too much trouble even with the crowds. Voice actors such as Vic Mignogna(Fullmetal Alchemist, DN Angel), Robert Axel Rod(Power Rangers), and Leah Clark(ADR Director/Writer Funimation) were signing autographs that day as well, so seeing what lines were like for autographs gave you an idea what they would be like for main events later on that night. Dealers room had it share of cool, hard to find, or “thank god I waited til AnimeNext” items ranging from toys, music, posters, props, and clothes. Right next to the dealers room was the food court which I found not to be that bad price wise, but like all conventions still doesn’t beat a $5 subway sub.
Weather wise it was hot and humid most of the weekend, but luckily there were plenty of vending machines with water and Gatorades. I bring this up because while the Expo Center and the Double Tree hotel were connected, the distance between them was still feet away. You still had to walk outside following the path to the Double Tree hotel. Right outside was the AnimeNEXT dunk tank for charity, 100% of the profits from the dunk tank went to the Japanese Red Cross for the relief efforts following the tragedy in Japan. Last year they also had the dunk tank set up to send money for the relief efforts in Haiti. In between the Double Tree and the Expo Center was a great wide open area, suitable for taking a break from the convention, as well as taking tons of photos. A little bridge had to be crossed to get over to either side, but the bridge looked amazing from a craftsman standpoint. Once you reached the Double tree you could have chilled in the courtyard out back and enjoyed the view or walk in to continue the fun. If you wanted some professional shots of your cosplay done , with lights and backgrounds, there was a booth set up specifically for that. You could have copies of your shots done in various sizes as well. Almost like school photos but better. Open Mic Karaoke also took place in the same room that the anime rave would take palce later that night. Since the hotel played host to the majority of people attending, it was no surprise to see cosplayers taking some down time in or around the hotel.
The Double Tree was also host to many panels, as well as the Manga Library, workshops and table top gaming. The one panel I found very helpful was the Hall Cosplay Dos and Don’ts. While I am not a cosplayer, I do find other cosplayers making the same mistakes sometimes when they talk about their cosplays to judges. Whether they are shy, or not really sure on how to present themselves, the judges go into details of how and what factors into their judging. If you were someone who made the costume they wanted to know about your process to make it. If you had your cosplay commissioned they were fine with that, but they still wanted to know about the cosplay and the detail that went into it. So if for people who commission cosplays, you are basically promoting that person’s work. The judges don’t mind getting emails from people who participated in Hall cosplays, but they are more willing to help out someone who is looking for tips on how to really improve their cosplay or their presentation skills. The actual Hall Cosplay judging took place an hour later with the results to be announced on Saturday following the Cosplay Masquerade.
There were at least 3 ways to end the night on Friday, which was very surprising and great if you were still in the mood for some fun or just couldn’t sleep. The first event of the night was the Mix Speaker’s Inc. concert. A live show that not only packed the main event area, but also rocked it as well. Band members Yuki, Miki, Aya, Keiji, Seek, and S not only brought with them some great music, but some of the most imaginative costumes as well. Each band member takes their costume ques from animals: Yuki(dog), Miki(cat), Aya(rabbit), Keiji(lion), Seek(condor), and S(sheep). Each album they have dropped has centered on a theme. Their current and 3rd album “Mix Land” centers on the theme of a traveling circus. While the concert was a sight to behold, unfortunately photos or video of the performance was not allowed and it was strictly enforced.
For those seeking some more entertain that night the Cosplay Burlesque show. A group of cosplaying burlesque performers adding a little spice to your night. The show may have been 18+, that doesn’t mean that there was any sort of nudity. Burlesque is a show in itself that can incorporate sensual as well as comedic themes into a show.
Both shows managed to create lines that extended out to the front of the building. I hear rumors that it went even further back than that.
Also going on that night was the 10th annual AnimeNEXT dance party/rave. This year had a serveral Djs either taking turns or performing together to keep the crowd going way into the night. Friday was from 10pm til 2-am, but Saturday started at midnight and ended at 4am the next morning. And for those just looking to relax the rest of the night, there were still screening going on til 2am that day in case your roommate(s) decided to to call it an early night.
Saturday of course was the big day. Like all conventions it was packed as well with fans and cosplayers, so walking around was a lot of fun. Hall Cosplay Contest judging continued on that day early in the morning til mid afternoon.
The first main event of the day was the Sixh Fashion Show. A fashion line uniting visual-kei artistry with images of a host/hostess clubs. It was the collaboration of designers Naoto Hirooka, IBI&MINT that brought about the birth of Sixh. The fashion itself was an amazing display of their talents. It was like club wear, but with a dark twist to it. Each model walking the stage and the run way displayed a piece that just outdid each other. They definitely found their audience within the anime community at AnimeNEXT. Considering that some of the models themselves are cosplayers as well. But it wasn’t like most fashion shows where the clothes on display were just for display. These were outfits that anyone could wear, and of course all weekend long they had a booth set up where you could buy a lot of their clothing. Immediately after their show, a Q&A was held by the designers and of course fans were encouraged to participate, within reason of course. Mix Speakers Inc. also held a Q&A as well right after the Sixh Q&A. For those looking for a nice relaxing lunch, a lake side picnic was being held immediately after the Sixh fashion show, but of course it was BYOF.
The official AnimeNEXT Karaoke contest took place at the Double Tree Hotel. All songs had to be Anime related and of course the fans and judges must be entertained as well. This wasn’t the group of friends get together with lots of beer and bad singing. It was either bring your A game or sit down and be quiet. For those that were fans, Kaiju Big Battle held a press conference and later on that day held a rubber monster making workshop. So not only did you get some great news from your favorite promotion, but you also got to learn or improve upon some great costume making techniques as well. A hip hop in anime panel really caught my interest, not just because of the anime Samurai Champloo, but also because in the 80’s a majority of african-americans delved into Japanese cinema in a big way. As a kid growing up my family would rent out martial art movies on a regular basis. So when an anime like Samurai Champloo came about, it blended 2 things that already had a long standing relationship.
While I had the pleasure of seeing them at another convention earlier in the year, the Promise Sisters put on a mini performance in the arena area of the convention. Performing anime and original songs this trio of real life sisters have been at for a few years now. At AnimeNEXT they will be singing songs off their debut album. Game shows like the “Iron Cosplay”, a take on iron chef, where instead of food clothing material and props are used to create an all new original cosplay and “Anime Family Fued allowed for audience participation for those seeking an interactive experience during the con.
The second main event of the night was the fantastic Cosplay Masquerade. Since this was my first time at AnimeNEXT I can’t really say how past years comeptitions have been. But I can say that this was year there were a lot skits varied from the very talented, to the very comedic, and the amazingly well done. When winners were announced there was very little doubt in everyone’s mind on whether or not a certain skit should have won. For me that evening I had the honor of watching a good friend and her trio take the stage for the first time at a Masquerade and perform their hearts out. While they may not have won, they did receive honorable mention. Their performance not only stood out amongst the judges, but it meant that they have within them the ability to reach even higher and take home the big prize one day. I look forward to seeing that day. After the performances, there were still a lot more to come before the masquerade winners were announced.
Immediately after the masquerade the judges for the Hall Cosplay came out and announced their winners. While there were many amazing cosplays for this compeition, there were many factors that went into their decision for chosing the cosplayers they chose as the winners. The next awards that was giving out were for the AMV competition. The thing was that I don’t think a lot of people knew where and when the awards for the other competitions would be given out so there were a lot of contestants that did not show up to receive their award. A big surprise that night was a performance by Yu Kimura. While she has been a vocalist for many bands, this was her solo debut and it was an fantastic debut. Introduced to the crowd by renowned producer/author/journalist Takamasa Sakurai, Yu Kimora impressively sang her out heart and entertained the crowd flawlessly
The last big event was the concert performed by the punk rock group Uzuhi. Their name meaning “music has no borders”, they play music for everyone and not just for a specific group. They have played many different venues in the U.S.. Those venues include CBGB and the Knitting Factory in NY, and as well toured parts of the East Coast including our nation’s capital, N.J., CT, and Mass.
For the 2 days that I was able to attend AnimeNEXT, I have to say it was one of the best run anime conventions I have had to pleasure of attending. There was enough to keep everyone entertained, the beautiful scenery outside made for some great photo opportunities. The concerts made a Friday feel like a Saturday and it was just incredible performance by all. While the lines may have been ridiculously long, the shows that awaited everyone were worth the wait. I definitely look forward to next year and will hopefully be able to do a full 3 days and get a room at the Double Tree to avoid a long walk back.
For more Photos check out my flickr: