Location and Venue
AnimeNEXT 2012 took place at the Garden State Exhibition Center, DoubleTree Somerset Hotel, and Holiday Inn in Somerset, New Jersey, about an hour southwest of New York City.
The surrounding area of the convention center is pretty sparse. The convention was held in the area with a lot of office buildings and hotels, however commercial places like restaurants and stores were only a short drive away. With several hotels in the area, it gave attendees many options and price points for hotel rooms. There was tons of free parking at the convention center and DoubleTree, as well as overflow parking at the nearby office buildings. For those without a car, the convention provided a shuttle to areas with restaurants.
The Garden State Exhibition Center was rather basic, hosting just registration, main events, dealers' room, artists' alley, and an arena where things like boffer battles and stilt demonstrations were shown. It was a large open area, with curtains dividing the different sections. This meant that if something was going on in main events, the sound would easily spill into the other parts of the center. There was also a cafe, with a decent selection of food, including some healthy options like wraps and salads. Most of the remaining programming was held in the DoubleTree which was connected by an outdoor covered walkway.
Gaming programming, including video games and card games, was held at the Holiday Inn across the street from the convention center. Although I understand why additional space was needed, there were no crosswalks to help with the safety of pedestrians over the busy road. The main crossing point for attendees was next to the entrance of the convention center. With cars going in and out, other road traffic, and pedestrians crossing the street in several locations, at times it was a bit treacherous, especially at night. Hopefully something like a crossing guard or flashing lights can help to keep attendees safe.
There were many areas to hang out with friends outside of the convention center. There were several grassy areas between the convention center and DoubleTree and it was well shaded by trees, which helped in the warmer-than-normal June temperatures. Outside the front of the DoubleTree was another grassy area with lots of trees and a pond with a red dock, a perfect location for cosplay pictures.
Many outdoor areas helped to alleviate the crowding by giving people a place to hang out in a wide open area. However, if it had rained, the con would have been in big trouble, as there was not enough indoor space if everyone had to be inside. Luckily there were only a couple sprinkles on Saturday, but for part of the day it looked like it might rain heavily. I had a similar observation when I last went to AnimeNEXT 2008 at their old location, which they left following that year due to the venue being too small.
For its size, AnimeNEXT has a great amount of programming. There were six panel rooms, a smaller main events room, and a few screening rooms. There was also a manga library. Although there seemed to be a great mix of programming, nothing really stuck out to me.
AnimeNEXT also had some western programming on their schedule. Personally, I don't mind seeing that one the schedule, but with "anime" in its name, it does seem out of place. If they want to have more panels on My Little Pony, Adventure Time, and western video games, then maybe a name change is due? There's nothing wrong with having this type of programming, but to me it makes more sense if the name and mission match the programming provided.
However, figuring out exactly what was going on wasn't easy. The con had a list of panel descriptions in the program guide and they also had a schedule grid handout. Not all the panels on the grid were in the program guide, and not all the panels in the program guide were on this grid. A supplemental "daily newsletter" type handout with panel updates would have helped in this situation. It also was frustrating at times because the listings in the program guide didn't have a day or time. I saw something I liked, I had to scan the schedule looking for it, sometimes coming up empty if the panel ended up being taken off the schedule between the guide printing and the con.
The main events area was somewhat small for the size of the convention. It was also in the same open space area as the dealers' room and artists' alley. With only curtains separating the rooms, it led to lots of loud sound pouring into both areas when something in main events was going on.
Due to the lack of room inside the building, the lines for main events had to be outside, where there was no cover from the sun. This could be result in many problems for the convention if con-goers aren't prepared to wait outside for a long period of time. If it had rained, it would have been disastrous. There was also a lot of confusion prior to the masquerade regarding the line, concerning where the line would be and when people could start lining up. I didn't experience this, but a senior staff member came on stage during the masquerade and apologize sincerely to the attendees for the situation, which was a very nice gesture.
The masquerade itself was a little above average for the quality of the entrants. The "Best in Show" winners had a skit that was about four or five minutes long, which would usually be obnoxious, but they were well rehearsed, had great material, and really shined on stage. I didn't want it to end. There were also several other quality skits, including an entire Sailor Moon group dancing wonderfully to the K-Pop song "Gee." Although there were only 14 entries, the event went really long with witty banter in between skits (including one of the hosts as Aerith often being killed then revived, until the last time when Sephiroth kills her for good). But then, after the skits and hall contest walk-ons, there was a greater than usual amount of filler. There were the AMV winners, then the host as Aerith performed four songs, then the hall cosplay awards, then the masquerade awards. The host had a beautiful voice and performed very well, but I think they could have cut one or two songs from her set. It also took a very long time for winners to come up on stage from where they were, sometimes a few minutes. That doesn't seem long, but it adds up.
Cosplay chess was set up strangely, with the pieces in the middle of the floor in front of the stage, with seats set up around it. It made it very difficult to see the action that was going on. However the players were fantastic, and I greatly enjoyed Luigi's Brooklyn accent and attitude during the match.
Dealers' Room and Artists' Alley
Both were very standard for anime conventions. As many conventions are starting to do, the dealers' room had one entrance and one exit to keep the flow of traffic moving in one direction. However the entrance to the dealers' room involved going outside the convention center and around to a side door which was not marked with signs until Sunday. Also, at times during the day the room reached capacity and attendees had to wait outside in the sun for their turn to get in.
The artist's alley was full of talent, but was set up strangely. The entrance was in the center of one side, imagine 6 o'clock on a clock, while the exit was set at the right, imagine 3 o'clock on the same clock. This resulted in more traffic for one side of the alley than the other. Also, tables were set up strangely around poles, which blocked some of the tables. Hopefully next year the con can find a way to make sure no artists are hidden from view.
While attending in 2008, I observed that most of the problems were with the venue. Again in 2012 at a different location, the problem once again is mostly the venue. I don't even want to know what would have happened if it rained, but I hope the convention had a contingency plan in case it did. I know if it did rain, I would have stayed in my room because there is no way the convention center and hotel could have held all the attendees that spent most of their time outside. It was also difficult sometimes to grasp what was going on between the program guide and the schedule grid, leading to less activities to do.
Unfortunately, there isn't much of an upgrade for a location, so AnimeNEXT will have to continue to use what they have to the best of their abilities.