Jason Borelli went to Anime Fan Fest 2016 for Bleeding Cool,
I try to be open-minded about things. That’s why I called my blog Closet Optimist . . . because, deep down, I want to see the best in things.
Going into the inaugural Anime Fan Fest in Somerset, NJ, I wanted to be positive. Anime Fan Fest was a product of MAD Event Management, which produced a halfway decent two-day convention in New Jersey Comic Expo last year. The problem was that it was taking the place of AnimeNEXT. I had been going to that con regularly since 2011, commuting between my home on Staten Island, NY, and the Garden State Exhibit Center, a trip that takes thirty minutes each way. AnimeNEXT took place at the Exhibit Center and surrounding hotels. But it grew too large for Somerset, and I discovered that it had moved to Atlantic City, which would take me two hours to travel.
I wound up getting three days of admission to Anime Fan Fest. In retrospect, I don’t regret it. However, I did not notice it was scheduled for the first weekend in May, which is a sort of holy time in a comic fan’s year, between Marvel’s latest blockbuster and Free Comic Book Day. Truth be told, there are probably books I got at last year’s FCBD that I have yet to read. However, I tend to gravitate to artists descending upon shops, and I would hope to get a few sketches for my collection. And I wanted to see Captain America: Civil War as soon as possible.
Friday was the toughest day for me. The good news was that the show opened in the afternoon, which meant I could get up at a decent hour before heading out. I had prepaid for the weekend, and I received three wristbands. For me, this was a downgrade from the badges at AnimeNEXT. Also, I was given a lanyard. Should I attend New York Comic Con, that might save me ten seconds’ time for something to connect to a badge.
Anime Fan Fest was confined to the Exhibit Center. Panels were held near the entrance and on the show floor. Also, parking wasn’t an issue for me. With AnimeNEXT, I often found myself driving to the Holiday Inn across the street and braving traffic to get to the show. The door to the covered path to the nearby Doubletree was marked as a smoking area. In years past, that path would be chock full of fans, often in cosplay. Even though the show was indoors, the weather didn’t lighten my mood, as the temperature was around 50 degrees with a steady drizzle.
I made the best of the situation. I got two sketches, including one from Jason L. Grossman, whom I’ve met (and commissioned) in the past at AnimeNEXT. His name was not on the show’s website, so his presence came as a surprise. I bought blind box items, mostly imported from Japan, which is a bit of a weakness for me. And I got Pocky, which I can never find outside an anime show. Still, attendance was sparse, as there weren’t that many bodies walking the floor. At a panel centering on Attack on Titan, there were plenty of seats. Perhaps MAD should have considered making their show a two-day event. At one point, I peeked into a room showing anime, and there was nobody in there.
Saturday was more fun, even as I had to make a detour to JHU Comic Books to pick up four free issues. This time, there were more people at Anime Fan Fest, which made me glad I came. There were a lot of cosplayers, and I’m a sucker for taking pictures of them. The weather was more cooperative, and I found myself walking back to my car to drop off my coat.
The panels I attended were more packed than on Friday. First, I hit “The Worst Anime Of All Time,” moderated by Mike Toole of Anime News Network. It turns out Toole does this panel at conventions, but he changes it up each time. Most of the anime was older stuff, with plodding transformation sequences, bad animation and unintentionally funny moments. For instance, there was Charge Ken Man, with an episode where a record killed people when played. Also, there were no sound effects. Then there was Psychic Wars, where an oncologist fought cancer. I mean, he actually fought it as it popped outside an afflicted body. It was an amusing panel.
I wound up getting three more sketches. While I went in unfamiliar with most of the artists, I wanted to get a few sketches at decent prices. While waiting for the commissions, I spent my time walking the show floor. There was not much to see, and I didn’t break 10,000 steps in a single day like I do in bigger cons, but I managed to effectively kill time.
The other panel I hit was “Inside The Alchemist Studio,” celebrating the tenth anniversary of the release of Fullmetal Alchemist in the U.S. The big draw there was Vic Mignogna, who voiced Edward Elric in the anime as well as the manga-based Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Joining him were Aaron Dismuke (played Alphonse Elric), Mike McFarland (ADR Director; voiced Lt. Havoc) and Lance Heiskell (former Senior Marketing Director at Funimation). The packed room got to see two shorts: “The Fullmetal & Flame Show” (fun with action figures of Ed and Roy Mustang, as voiced as Mignogna and Travis Willingham) and “Fullmetal Fantasy” (where Mignogna found himself slowly turning into Ed). The latter is on Mignogna’s DVD. It wasn’t enough to persuade me to buy it, but it was cute.
The panel was informative, but I wound up leaving early – something I never do – to go back home. Actually, I went to Comic Book Jones for more free comics. Since it was late in the day, I got to pick out six. Among my selections were Bongo Comics Free-For-All and Attack on Titan Anthology. Turns out that between those issues and SpongeBob Squarepants, Evan Dorkin had material in three books. Luckily for me, he and his wife/collaborative partner Sarah Dyer were present. I got the issues signed, as well as my copy of The Eltingville Club (which I went over on my blog), and I managed to engage the couple in a conversation (I tend to get squirrely around people whose works I admire a lot). I also got a sketch from another Staten Island-based creator, Rob Geronimo. That brought my total to six.
Sunday saw a decrease in turnout. It probably was due to the holiday; otaku have mothers, too. I took the final day of AnimeNEXT off last year, mostly because I like sleeping in. This time, I answered the bell and came out to Somerset. On the downside, I left my camera at home. Given the low turnout and lack of cosplayers, maybe that was for the best. I wound up attending two panels: one on great opening credits in anime, and a game show based on songs. I think I recognized two tunes, because I’m mostly a Toonami fanboy.
I left early so that I could see Captain America: Civil War with my mother. For the record, that was not my Mother’s Day gift to her. I gave her a bouquet of flowers on Thursday, and she had wanted to see the movie. As I had expected, it was awesome. After the letdown that was Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was fun to see hero-on-hero violence presented so well. Go see it if you haven’t already, though I’m guessing you probably already have.
I had a good time at Anime Fan Fest, even though my anime-based highlight that weekend was Team Four Star putting out their abridgement of Dragonball Z: The World’s Strongest. While I feel that MAD should stick to Saturday and Sunday only, it will probably go down as a success. In the program, Anime Fan Fest is scheduled for 2017. If it doesn’t conflict with Free Comic Book Day, maybe I’ll give it a try. And if I write about it, I’ll try not to type “AnimeNEXT” any more than needed.