After more than a year of online-only events big and small, many fans were itching for a return to normalcy. Despite huge strides in inclusivity online-only events have brought about, there is something wonderful about meeting friends you’ve only ever interacted with online in person, or for me, meeting up with editors, managers, and other staff I normally don’t get see in person across the manga and anime world.
AnimeNYC 2021 had a palpable energy I’ve not experienced at other conventions. There was a warmth, an infectious excitement that sent the crowd abuzz. Old friends were finally able to easily meet again in person. Industry coworkers could finally meet up with one another with ease. Artists were ready to meet fans and sell their wares. But none of that really does the convention justice.
Directly before the convention doors opened, there was an opening ceremony, an affair that had words from the Japanese Ambassador. This event is quite memorable every year—though always plagued by a lack of proper equipment to be heard across the entire convention floor. This year, the words that rang truest happened at the very end, only just before the microphones were turned off.
This received cheers, of course, the hype of the event quickly taking over and spreading like wildflower. Yet, there was something else on that floor as well, something that perhaps was only readily recognizable by those at the edges of the crowd, watching the press of people with the curious gaze of a journalist. Half the crowd was in tears. After all this time—the long, long years spent in isolation, industry professionals normally spread around the globe separated even farther by travel restrictions, loved ones lost to a pandemic—we were home.
Of course, some big names were missing from the convention floor—Funimation and Viz Media, to name two of the biggest missing faces. But that isn’t to say that the convention floor looked empty. The Javits Center was chock-full of vendors, liscensors, publishers, and artists. There were things to do and places to sit and relax. Japanese food vendors lined the walls, surrounding the vendors with delicious food and the amazing smells of traditional Japanese dishes, creating a unique ambience.
Never before have I witnessed stalls selling out of merchandise quite as quickly as I did this year. Whether they were huge names in the industry or smaller artist alley sellers, con-goers were only too happy to stock up on merch now that they had the chance. I passed by more than one artist alley table as well as major vendor that had completely sold out of their current stock by the end of the first day of the convention.
All of this isn’t to say that the convention didn’t have its own set of issues. Every convention has things to improve upon, of course, and AnimeNYC 2021 wasn’t any different. First is the perpetual issue with AnimeNYC. Unlike Comic-Con, the tables there isn’t a bag check when first entering the Javits Center, this particular convention instead choosing to check bags right at the entrance to the convention floor. Not only does this mean that someone could potentially walk into the building with a weapon and absolutely no one would be any the wiser, but each time a con-goer leaves the convention floor for a panel, an event, a stop at the food court, or to go to coat check, they need stand in line for another bag check. Not only does this create unnecessary traffic and long lines, but it is also downright aggravating.
The last issue is something which, perhaps, I am in a unique position to comment on, given the circumstances. There wasn’t nearly enough convention staff. Sometimes people will come up to me and ask about my Press badge. Who am I? Where do I work? Have I met anyone cool? This time was no exception, though the questions were very, very different than usual. More than one I heard “She has a Press Badge. She has to know what’s going on!”
And, well, they were usually correct. I directed people to bathrooms, to the food court, helped them figure out how to get to the main stage and panel rooms. I pointed people in the direction of Artist Alley and where voice actors were doing signings. Because no one could find any staff to help them, leaving them feeling lost and alone despite the sea of people.
Truth be told, there just weren’t enough staffers for the convention, leaving
Now, I can’t talk about AnimeNYC without speaking about the Line. If you were there, you know what I mean. A complete and total lack of planning (or speaking with other convention organizers who had dealt with similar issues prior) lead to the lines to get in to be over four hours long on the first day of the convention. While this did get a bit better as the weekend continued, it certainly didn’t improve much. Checking badges and Covid immunization records upon entrance should never, ever have resulted in such an utter clusterfuck, to put it mildly.
Some people only got into the convention center an hour before closing. Thousands were forced to stand out in the cold, many in cosplay and lacking winter gear, as they’d thought the line would be just as quick as other years. Honestly, it was a boggling display of ineptitude. I’ve run events before. It should never have been like this.
I also want to talk about something else I witnessed. See, I’m claustrophobic. Very claustrophobic. My six-and-a-half-foot basement ceiling makes it feel like I’m being crushed to death whenever I need to throw a breaker and narrow stairwells and like small death tubes. Giant crowds in indoors spaces and I don’t always get along. I tend to make shorter trips into the center of the convention floor, then bug out and sit near a wall. Well, I was in “lets sit at the wall where there are no people” mode when The Line management gave up completely and people started pouring into the hall.
I stood up, suddenly wary of the glass doors I was beside, and I’m very glad I did so. The people pouring into the convention center pressed forward, swarming the bag check. Dangerously swarming, closer to a stampede than anything else. Then people did the obvious. They completely ignored bag check and the do not enter signs before pouring through the doors I’d just been standing near, bringing the stampede inside. A security guard saw what was happening and managed to get the traffic under control, but the situation had still been dangerous. People had been on the verge of a stampede, all due to terrible line management, lack of staff to direct traffic, lack of signs, and con-goer impatience due to being left in the cold for hours on end.
In all, the convention was a blend of good and bad, bringing some of the best elements of anime conventions and the worst elements of poor event management to the forefront. Will I go next year? Well, that depends on Covid, largely…and what my editors tell me, of course!