Much of the responses I’ve heard about New York Anime Festival, both online and in person, have been quite negative. The general consensus is that it’s being marketed as a kind of separate con, but it’s more like a daycare center for unruly anime fans. So let’s think for a minute? What’s the point of going to a con? I read Douglas Wolk’s new Kindle ebook about San Diego Comic Con, Comic-Con Strikes Again! yesterday. In one chapter, Wolk breaks down the various reasons behind going to SDCC: interaction with pros, procuring goods, gaining new information, and interacting with fellow fans. These also more or less apply to New York Comic Con. They don’t really apply to NYAF, because they don’t really apply to anime cons in general.
Number one: interaction with pros. At megacons, you are able to interact with the people behind the franchises that you are obsessed with. There’s a big enough group of people behind these works that there are always plenty of people from that work that are available to attend the con in some kind of capacity.
Number two: procuring goods. At megacons, there’s lots of exclusive swag to be gained. There are also so many vendors that you can dig up all kinds of sales or rare, arcane products.
Number three: gaining new information. Because megacons are mouthpieces for the industries behind them, they’re the place to go to experience things like world premieres or the latest buzz and announcements regarding your favorite franchises.
Number four: interacting with fellow fans. Dude, the attendance at these is in the six figures!
But when it comes to anime cons, only number four really applies.
Interacting with pros? Anime cons can get a few high-profiles guests of honor, but that ‘s really it. There aren’t guests for all sorts of different niches, but rather for anime in general. So while I’ve been able in the past to be like “Sweet, there’s the Battlestar Galactica official panel, there’s the Sid Meier panel, etc.” with NYCC, with NYAF if I don’t care about Naruto and don’t care about Fairy Tale, that’s about it for guests.
Procuring goods? Anything you can get at an anime con you can get online for less. There are very rarely rare or interesting goods to be found. The best that you can really hope for are some kind of closeout deals where you can grab a set of manga for $25 or something (or find someone trying to sell a single volume of Real Bout Samurai Girl High School for $25). The problem here is one part the difficulty in procuring the goods for resale, but also one part lacking a critical mass of con-goers to support the market.
Gaining new information? Anime cons used to be the only source for this, but now the problem is that the internet knows everything months (if not years) ahead of time. Megacons are a direct link (and usually the first place this happens) from the “creators” to the fans. Anime cons aren’t, because all the news first happened in Japan, and is now being intermediated by the American companies after the fact. This is also why it makes sense for anime cons to be heavily focused on fan-run panels. That’s the only kind of new information to disseminate.
Interacting with fellow fans? Well, this is really all that’s left for anime cons. Unfortunately, the problem is that a place for 30,000 people to hang out isn’t necessarily going to pay for itself or run itself.
The other important part of Wolk’s book with regards to anime cons has to do with the motivations of the attendees. As I mentioned, at this point the motivation to go to an anime con is primarily to interact with other anime fans. But at megacons, it’s much more about consuming or participating in the objects of one’s fandom. From this perspective, needing to wait in line for an entire day to be able to go to the panel for Game of Thrones isn’t a problem. You went to this con to do Game of Thrones stuff, and this is the big event for that. Besides, you can then spend the next day trawling the dealer room for interesting stuff so it’s not like you’re missing anything while you’re waiting on this line. I mean, what else would you be going to anyway? The new Twilight movie screening? FFS, that shit is killing Comic Con!
What we’re left with in NYAF and NYCC is two cons smushed together that actually have totally different focuses. You can’t apply the megacon style to an anime con, and anime cons are too amorphous and unfocused for the megacon attendees. So next year, either have a separate NYAF or kill NYAF and have random anime programming at NYCC.