Ever since 2009, I had a local anime con in the form of AnimeNEXT, and ever since it emanated from Somerset, NJ I went to it; in 2012 I started doing panels at it, even. Last year, however, it was announced that AnimeNEXT was moving to a new home in Atlantic City for 2016, and while I hope to be there for at least one day this year, I can no longer call it a "local" con (i.e. I can reasonably drive there every day). This past December, though, came news of a brand new anime event making its debut in the same Garden State Expo Center that AnimeNEXT used for part of its event, Anime Fan Fest. Created by MAD Event Management, the company behind Long Beach Comic Con & New Jersey Comic Expo, the event would quickly get the support of Otaku USA Magazine & then sponsorship by Bandai Namco Entertainment, giving it the (official) full name of "Otaku USA Presents Anime Fan Fest Sponsored By Bandai Namco Entertainment"... Yes, that's definitely more than a mouthful to say.
First things first, let's get some of the odd bits of AFF out of the way. First. while it did run from Friday to Sunday, May 6-8, it was "technically" a two-day con, as it started Friday at noon & ended Sunday at 5 pm, which is closer to 48 hours than 72. Also, the programming schedule was more or less truncated compared to other anime cons & events, as the earliest anything started was 10:30 am (on Sunday, no less) & the latest anything ran was until midnight on Saturday (which was only video, as panels ended at 10 pm). Finally, there were no buffers between panels whatsoever, which meant that panels were actually 10 minutes shorter than scheduled, to allow for the next panelist to set up, & if there was any unforeseen problem then you risk having your panel be even shorter. This was the case for ANN's Mike Toole, whose laptop seemingly went on strike right before his Bootleg Anime from South Korea panel started, and after many attempts at using other laptops (including my own), Mike wound up only having ~40 minutes to do his panel, which resulted in a lot of material not being shown. If there are three things I want to see from Anime Fan Fest for next year, which they hope to hold in May 2017, it is these:
1. Make it a three day con. Friday was really, really barren until about after 6 pm (though even that was only slightly more busy), & I think that's partially because it felt like there was nothing to offer fans on that day. Saturday was much more busy, & I think that if Friday was a full day then it would have been notably more busy. As it was, it felt like con goers from afar were reserving hotels starting on Saturday than Friday.
2. Have your programming go as long as it can. I understand that this might have been more or less impossible to do for the first time, but hopefully MAD can not only make the second AFF happen across "three days", but also have them all run from early morning to late, late night. Most of a con's visitors are not going to be local, and they'll be at the nearby hotels. That's part of the reason why most anime cons, to my experience, have panels & programming until anywhere from midnight to 2:00 am; they want to hang out & have fun. It also would give AFF the opportunity to hold 18+ panels, which have an appeal all their own. I'd say the best timeframes would be 9 am to 2 am (Friday & Saturday) & 9 am to 5 pm (Sunday). Hopefully there will be enough for AFF to fill all of those slots, but they have offer them, first.
3. Put in a 10-minute buffer between panels. Cons started doing this a couple of years ago, and none have looked back since. It gives panelists the entire time they are allotted, give enough time for the existing panel to leave & allow the next ones to set up & have their full allotted times, and if a major problem happens, like with Mike Toole, then it eats less into the panel time itself. It sounds like a minor request, but it helps out big time.
Still, there was plenty to like about Anime Fan Fest, and I had some fun with my panels, too, so let's get into that.
First off, the support from Otaku USA & Bandai Namco was most definitely a boon for Anime Fan Fest, because they definitely were the reasons behind how the con was able to have as many notable guests as it did. Whether it was voice actors like Vic Mignogna, Aaron Dismuke, Mike McFarland, & Bill Rogers, industry guests like Lance Heiskell (formerly of FUNimation) & Tommy Yune (Harmony Gold), & a ton of Otaku USA writers like Daryl Surat (from Anime World Order), Joseph Luster, Matt Schley, Darius Washington, the aforementioned Mike Toole, & Jason Thompson, there was still plenty to do at AFF & I had my good share of fun. It was an odd con in some ways, but overall a fine first attempt that shows a lot of potential. It won't be a major competitor for AnimeNEXT anytime soon, but I'd be fine with this being my new local con for the foreseeable future.
As for my panels, I had three of them, one for each day. First up was Friday evening's From Aarzak to Street Combat: Altered Anime Games, which was all about the various video games based on anime that actually came over to North America during the 80s & 90s, but had differing amounts of alterations to make them less "anime" for gamers of the time. Some games were visually similar but had notable differences, others were so different that you could only tell that they were the same game when shown one after another (like I did), & some even were either only given name changes or were left untouched. Since Friday was such a slow day in general, I only had a modest crowd, at best, but all of them seemed to be interested & amused at how stuff like a Ranma 1/2 fighting game for the Super Famicom got utterly transformed into the generic 90s fighter Street Combat for the SNES. It's definitely a panel I'll consider holding at other cons if I get the chance, no doubt.
The second was Saturday afternoon's Great Anime We'll (Probably) Never Get, which I had hoped to make a standard for AnimeNEXT, but maybe one day it will return there. For Fan Fest I decided to make this version a remix of the previous two I did at ANext, mixing together some titles I covered from the first one two years ago with some from last year, plus some brand new entries. The end result was a good crowd that seemed to like the titles I showed them, like Asura, Kamen no Maid Guy, & Gag Manga Biyori, & I tried a little something different to end everything off. I decided to end the panel off with a "So Bad It's Great" entry, & I had no better option for that but Gundoh Musashi. To be fair, I did mention the promising concept behind it & I did show them the entirety of the one scene from the entire anime that was actually good, but my main point was to illustrate how this anime should be brought over here so that others can learn from its constant mistakes. The crowd was intensely amused at gaffes like Musashi dodging a falling tree that wasn't drawn, Princess Kaguya whipping her horse without ever letting go of the reigns, or Yukimura's voice coming out of Saizo's animated mouth for about a good seven seconds before Sazio's quick reply comes out of a third person's mouth. Daryl Surat, naturally, came in late enough to only see Gundoh Musashi, but I can guarantee that this panel was not an attempt at trolling by any means.
Finally, I had Sunday afternoon's The Catalog of Saint Seiya's Masami Kurumada, which was an updated version of the panel I did at Otakon last year. To no surprise, I had almost no one attend, with me averaging only two people in the room at a time, with there being a period of time where I had an audience of only one. Despite all that, though, I still gave it my all, because this is a panel I feel intensely strong about. Eventually, Daryl Surat came in too, which I appreciated, & I wound up having an accidental crowd for the last bits because of the game show panel that came on after me. At the very least, I enjoyed myself, even if most of the con goers at Anime Fan Fest didn't care about what I was offering on Sunday.
Anyway, here's to Anime Fan Fest 2 next year, hopefully, & here are all of the titles I covered in my first two panels (the Kurumada panel was all inclusive, so it's pointless to list that one):
-Altered Anime Games-
Fist of the North Star -> Black Belt (Master System, 1986)
Fist of the North Star: Shinseiki Ura Kyuusei Aruji Densetsu -> Last Battle (Genesis, 1989)
Gegege no Kitaro: Youkai Daimakyou -> Ninja Kid (NES, 1986)
Obake no Q Taro: Wan Wan Panic -> Chubby Cherub (NES, 12/1985; 10/1986)
Dragon Ball: Shenron no Nazo -> Dragon Power (NES, 11/1986; 3/1988)
Moeru! Oniisan -> Circus Caper (NES, 8/1989; 7/1990)
Doraemon: Meikyuu Daisakusen -> Cratermaze (TG-16, 10/1989; 1990)
Magical Hat no Buttobi Tabo! Daibouken -> DecapAttack (Genesis, 12/1990; 1991)
Captain Tsubasa -> Tecmo Cup Soccer Game (NES, 4/1988; 9/1992)
Tokkyuu Shirei Solbrain -> Shatterhand (NES, 1991)
Shinseiki GPX Cyber Formula -> Cyber Spin (SNES, 1992)
Ranma 1/2: Chounai Gekitou Hen -> Street Combat (SNES, 1992; 1993)
[Name Change Only]
Majin Eiyuuden Wataru -> Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (TG-16, 8/1988; 1989)
JoJo's Venture (Arcade, 1998-1999)
Zillion II: The Tri-Formation (Master System, 12/1987; 1988)
Fist of the North Star (NES, 4/1987; 4/1989)
Fist of the North Star (Game Boy, 12/1989; 4/1990)
Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle (SNES, 12/1992; 11/1993)
Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter (Genesis, 2/1993)
The Space Adventure (Sega CD, 1994)
The Masked Rider: Kamen Rider ZO (Sega CD, 1994)
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout (PS1, 1997)
Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage (Dreamcast, 12/1999; 2/2000)
-Great Anime We'll (Probably) Never Get-
Gag Manga Biyori
Ozanari Dungeon: Kaze no Tou
Saint Young Men
Kamen no Maid Guy
Ring ni Kakero 1 (Each Word/Number is a Season Review)
[Bonus Selections Due to Extra Time Remaining]
Cipher the Video
California Crisis: Gun Salvo