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Monday, June 15, 2015

AnimeNEXT 2015: A Report & Farewell of an Era

This past weekend was AnimeNEXT 2015, which I have had to pleasure to call my "local con" ever since 2009, when it moved from the Meadowlands to the Garden State Exhibit Center & DoubleTree Hotel in Somerset, NJ, a mere 15-20 minute drive from where I presently live. While I never went to the con during its initial years, I have attended every single one once it moved to Somerset, and every year I have seen it transform from a small gathering of fans (compared to the likes of Otakon & Anime Boston, at least) into a con that I would argue is becoming a real force to be reckoned with when it comes to East Coast anime conventions. The Somerset location has come to be a very memorable place for me, and while its size was slowly becoming too small for the growing & growing number of con-goers it would receive, it still maintained a welcoming aura behind it. This was the first con I ever did a panel at, back in 2012. This was the con where I started to really meet & converse with other online anime writers, all of which have way more notoriety than me, which makes me feel honored that they have welcomed me to their circle in any way at all (& I know that there are still plenty of people I have yet to meet). While it may never truly reach the level of an Otakon or Anime Boston, let alone the behemoth that is Anime Expo, AnimeNEXT deserves more.

That is why I wasn't surprised to find out on the first day of the con that this would be the last year it would be in Somerset; this would be the last year I could call it my "local con". Next year, AnimeNEXT will emanate from Atlantic City, still in New Jersey but far enough away to no longer be "local" for me. While I will still hope to make it there every year moving on, I can no longer guarantee it, so I just want to say "Thank You" & "Farewell" to AnimeNEXT at Somerset; it was a great seven years.
But enough of this sappiness, right? Allow me to go over what I did this past weekend, and give my panel-goers links that they can use!

First up was Saturday afternoon with Great Anime We (Unknowingly) Actually Got, a spin-off of the "Great Anime We'll (Probably) Never Get" panel I did last year. The impetus for me doing this panel mainly came from a common nitpick I've had for years, which was that cons often have recommendation panels, where the panelist(s) talk about anime they feel others should check out. That itself is fine, but my main nitpick was when the panels would claim to be about "unknown" or "obscure" anime, yet their picks would be known titles like Wolf's Rain or Night on the Galactic Railroad; hell, one notorious "obscure" panel had someone recommend Attack on Titan (I'm dead serious). While I have no problem with people recommending those titles, neither is exactly unknown, as one ran on Adult Swim while the other is an acclaimed classic, & both have been talked about online very often, so it's not hard to find out about them; sure, the younger generation may not know them, but they still aren't "obscure". Hell, if Mike Toole's recent article on ANN shows, younger generations can still easily find out about Dirty Pair, simply because it's easily available right now. Therefore, I finally decided to give it a try & bring up anime that essentially came over here & then was almost as easily forgotten. While a few of the titles I chose were either talked about online by super-hardcore anime fans, were given positive press during its time, or are at least known of by name, none of them are anywhere near as known as the kinds of titles that tended to get brought up at panels like these (though I will give props to someone for recommending Kiba at a similar panel last year; that's obscure). At the end of my panel, someone approached me as I packed up & said that he was pleased with my selection, as it was all stuff that would normally never get brought up in a panel like this. Considering that I did this to a close-to-full room (not one of the bigger ones at the con, but I can't control that), I'd say it was "Mission Accomplished".

And so without further gilding the lily and with no more ado, here are the 12 (technically 16) anime I covered at this panel, with the ones that I've reviewed featuring links:
Next Senki Ehrgeiz
Fantastic Children
Pet Shop of Horrors
Champion Joe 1 & 2
B't X [the OVA was licensed & mentioned, but it never saw release]
Salaryman Kintaro
Matchless Raijin-Oh
Yugo the Negotiator
Eat-Man [both the 1997 series & '98]
Kaiji [both seasons]

Whether you feel that all of these titles deserved to be brought up or not, my intent was to be true to the idea that we "unknowingly" got them released over here, & I think that list cannot be argued.

Up next was Saturday night's What's Old is New Again, where I gave a crash course on TV anime that were based on manga that first aired at least 20 years after the manga originally debuted. I had trailers & commercials for half of the titles I featured, but I did explain all of them as well as I possibly could with the one hour time limit, and I do think that the people who came (instead of going to the Studio Trigger panel that featured a brand new episode of Inferno Cop, amazingly enough!) walked away realizing just how much anime there is that looks relatively recent, but is based on manga older than most of them. The intent was to remind anime fans that it's always worth wondering why exactly older manga sometimes gets animated now, and how it's fun to check them out & see how they likely influenced other, later titles. It was a novel concept, and I think I did the best job I could, so I'm pleased. Here's the list:
Warau Salesman
Human Crossing
Genma Wars
Cinderella Boy
Magic Kaito
Ushio & Tora [the only one which had not aired yet, as it debuts next month]
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Ring ni Kakero 1
Android Kikaider
Gun Frontier
Toward the Terra
Demon Lord Dante
Black Jack
Play Ball
Submarine Super 99
GR -Giant Robo-
Golgo 13
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro

After this I dashed over from one hotel to the other, so that I could join the already-started Panel Lightning Round, which was moderated by Evan Minto of Ani-Gamers & Otaku USA magazine (& CrunchyRoll, technically). The concept was to have a series of panelists do their own 10-minute "mini-panels", all of which simply had to relate to anime, manga, or Japanese culture in general. I came just in time to deliver my mini-panel, which I titled Team Astro: One Panel, Full Throttle. As the title indicated, it was all about Team Astro (a.k.a. Astro Kyudan), the hyper-baseball manga from Shonen Jump's 70s era, but specifically the 2005 live-action J-Drama/tokusatsu series that is now legally streaming on sites like DramaFever, Viki, & even Hulu. I have wanted to share the insanity that is Team Astro ever since I first saw (& reviewed) it back in 2011, but I knew that absolutely no one would come to a full-on panel about it. Professional translator & con guest Neil Nadelman was barely able to get about five or six people for his panel about Urashiman: The Future Police, and that's including myself & Evan! This mini-panel was the perfect opportunity, and while it was only to a crowd of about 10-15 (at most), I explained to them the basic plot, concept, & why the live-action take is so good... Before I had Evan unleash to everyone (including himself) a fan-made video I found that's made up of footage from the show, set to the full version of the opening theme.

No one was ready for the sheer, awe-inspiring insanity that the video contained. They laughed at the constant assault of absurdity, sure, but I'm pretty sure nearly everyone in that panel room knew that they had just seen something special, something so unforgettable that it has to be seen, in full, from start to finish. I know that Ink from Ani-Gamers, Otaku USA, & The Fandom Post was so astonished by it that he instantly put it on his Hulu queue (& told all his followers on Twitter to do the same). I even included a silly attempt at getting Evan to tell CrunchyRoll's acquisition team about Team Astro, as having the show on that site, preferably with a completely proper subtitle translation, would help it become more well known by a large margin. While I'm sure Evan first took the attempt as a "Yeah, sure, whatever", that was before he saw the video clip... Now I don't know what to think. Regardless, it was one of the most fun moments I had at the con; I even shortly brought up the PS2 game & how legendary anime director Hideaki Anno is a giant fan of the manga.

Oh, yeah, & since con guest (& general awesome guy) Charles Dunbar of Study of Anime wasn't able to make it to deliver his mini-panel, we tried to do it ourselves. Naturally, out of the many yokai Charles featured in his slides, we could only identify one (via Ink), while we could tell that another was drawn by yokai manga master Shigeru Mizuki.

Forgive us, Charles, for we have sinned... It was fun as all hell, but we still sinned. There is only one of you, after all.

Finally, first thing Sunday morning was my final panel, Great Anime We'll (Probably) Never Get Mk II, the return of my very successful panel from last year. While the crowd wasn't quite as large as last year (that's the difference between getting a 10 am panel vs. a 12 pm one), it was still a fair turnout, and the crowd was constantly into all ten of my brand-new picks. I got to cover the one title I couldn't get to last year, while also putting out a controversial opinion on another (one that I had to defend against Neil Nadelman the day before, oddly enough, but que sera sera). Anyway, here's what I covered in this final panel:
Metal Armor Dragonar [was on last year's list, but I ran out of time]
The Rokudenashi BLUES Movies
Kochikame [using the first movie for the video clip]
Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoi yo, Masaru-san
Gag Manga Biyori
Fuma no Kojirou
Monkey Turn
The Violinist of Hameln
Naikaku Kenryoku Hanzai Kyousei Torishimarikan Zaizen Jotaro [controversial opinion!]

Overall, my time this past weekend was probably the best possible way for me to say "Sayonara" to AnimeNEXT's Somerset Era, and I hope for nothing but great things for the con as it moves to AC next year. Just looking at the floor plan for the Atlantic City Convention Center shows me that AnimeNEXT will have more room than its people can even conceive, and that's awesome.

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