BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | New York has a major Comic Con but, in years past there was also a con just for Japanese comics and cartoons. The old New York Anime Festival was absorbed into the New York Comic Con (NYCC) five years ago, leaving the city’s nerdy Japanophiles without a major con they could claim as their own.
This year saw the arrival of the first Anime NYC — a three-day event held November 17 to 19 at the Javits Center, where fans could indulge their love of “Sailor Moon,” “Fullmetal Alchemist,” and more in the company of fellow Otakus (a Japanese term for obsessives, most commonly of the anime and manga stripes).
Although a sizable event, Anime NYC was smaller than the juggernaut that is NYCC. Its show floor took up only a fraction of Javits’ space, and had about 20,000 attendees — as opposed to the 180,000 at NYCC. Though smaller, the crowd lacked for nothing in enthusiasm as they eagerly lined up to meet voice actors from games and cartoons, catch exclusive movie screenings, and participate in the Masquerade ULTRA DELUXE costume contest.
Costumed fans of Japanese comics and cartoons convene at Javits
It has been more than 25 years since “Sailor Moon” premiered, influencing an entire generation. As such, the con declared November 18 to be “Sailor Moon Day,” and had panels that allowed fans to meet the voice cast of the English language version of “Sailor Moon Crystal,” the most recent anime adaptation. Unofficial meet-ups were held around the convention center too, and more than 50 costumed “Sailor Moon” fans attended one such gathering. The organizer of this event, who goes by the name Rizuki, told us, “I expected maybe 10 to 20… It was quite more than I expected.”
After spending an hour organizing the swarm of sailor scouts for photo shoots, Rizuki explained that that she and many of the attendees discovered “Sailor Moon” in the early ’90s, when the English dub first aired on American TV. The franchise has such a wide appeal, she said, because, “it doesn’t matter who you are, what you label yourself as, ‘Sailor Moon’ is for everyone. The fans today proved it, so much… We have a common love and a common ground, and we can all come together with that common link and do something beautiful like we did today.”
Cosplayers from all fandoms later participated in the con’s official Masquerade ULTRA DELUXE. Just about any pop culture convention will have a costume contest, but anime cons draw a distinct crowd, according to judges YuffieBunny and Uncanny Megan.
“The cosplay is totally different,” said YuffieBunny. “It’s usually a much younger crowd at anime cons.”
Uncanny Megan added, “There’s more focus on the cosplay because, typically, anime conventions do contests based on craftsmanship, while at a lot of comic cons it’s just walk onstage and present yourself.”
Indeed, some of the winners wore outfits that could only be fully appreciated when seen up close, like a ‘Sailor Moon’ dress that was hand-knitted from yarn.
Instead of merely parading their contestants across the stage, the Masquerade ULTRA DELUXE also got the audience into the act. While the judges were debating who had the best costumes, audience members were invited onstage by host Uncle Yo to participate in party games and compete for prizes.
Uncle Yo explained that this degree of interaction with the audience during a costume contest was rare at cons.
“The Masquerade has always been for the contestants and the con-goers themselves,” he said, and described Anime NYC’s version as a “multi-level, ‘Price is Right’-style game show.” Random audience members were selected to compete in anime-themed Pictionary, charades, and a dance-off (to anime themes songs, naturally).
The audience was dazzled when one cosplayer, Aaron Libato, was brought onstage for the final round of the dance off. Libato was dressed as Star Lord, Chris Pratt’s character from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He told us that he was fortunate enough to have memorized all of Pratt’s dance moves from the films, and that he knew the theme song of the anime he had to dance to. He won the dance contest, and joyfully told us afterward, “Never doubt yourself when going to a convention or cosplaying. Even if you bought the costume or it’s made of cardboard or duct tape, do it!”
Fans who weren’t daring enough to dance onstage could also try out a selection of rare Japanese arcade games on the show floor, including dance games. Japanese arcade machine provider Tokyo Attack offered an assortment of oddball game cabinets that could be played for free. Alongside favorites like “Dance Dance Revolution” and Taiko drum simulators were several unusual games that can’t be found on this side of the Pacific.
Anthony Capobianco of Tokyo Attack explained, “In your traditional American arcade, you have a joystick and you have buttons… We’ve got some unique games like Super Table Flip. The idea is, you hit a table, and when you build up your anger meter, you flip over the table. Something you’re never going to see in America.”
True to his description, the game has a controller shaped like a dinner table and forces players to endure a meal with infuriating virtual people, before inevitably knocking over the table to the astonishment of their fellow diners.
The con ended with an exclusive screening of the live-action film adaptation of “Fullmetal Alchemist.” This was an opportunity for Americans to catch a highly anticipated Japanese movie even before its Japanese premiere in December. The sold-out screening also let fans meet the film’s director, Fumihiko Sori. Although this particular audience was composed of hardcore fans, the movie is accessible to people who are just discovering the franchise. It condensed about one third of the manga’s storyline down to a self-contained feature, but left room for possible sequels.
In addition to cartoons and comics, Anime NYC allowed attendees to show their obsession with other elements of Japanese culture, like pop music with a “Diva Night” concert, and Japanese food with a panel on ramen noodles that featured a discussion among globally-recognized ramen chefs.
As Uncle Yo reminded the audience at the Masquerade, “This is New York City. We’re the home of the Avengers, the Ghostbusters, Spider-Man, and now we are the home of the nerds.”
This was the first Anime NYC, and it only took until the day after for word to arrive that it will become an annual affair, next scheduled for November 16-18, 2018.