In mid-July, a few weeks after Anime Expo 2018, a major Japanese pop culture show held in Los Angeles, New York Comic Con announced a new addition to its fall pop culture lineup: Anime Fest @ NYCC x Anime Expo, a newly organized anime- and manga-focused event to be held in conjunction with NYCC at Pier 94, an exhibition space about 20 blocks north of the Javits Center.
In fact, the event is actually the return of the New York Anime Festival, a ReedPop-organized anime and manga show that ended in 2012; it is now being revived with a few key changes. Fans had the option to buy tickets for just the Anime Fest or to combine them with their NYCC badges at a slightly reduced price, but the discounted tickets for NYCC badge holders are now sold out. And ReedPop, which organizes NYCC, also announced that it will be partnering with the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (the promoters of Anime Expo) “to provide fans the ultimate East Coast anime festival and celebration of Japanese pop culture.”
“We’ve been thinking about revisiting the New York Anime Festival for some time now,” says ReedPop event director Mike Armstrong. “And it just so happened that everything came together this year. The AX crew and the SPJA have proven to be great partners when it comes to identifying and locking in Japanese talent. They’ve also helped us identify show features that have performed well at their show in L.A., that we could potentially bring to Anime Fest.”
Armstrong described added attractions and programming to this improved version of NY Anime Fest. “The previous iteration of Anime Fest leaned heavy on panels, music, and other entertainment presentations on stages and on retail,” he says. “This time, the team is focused on creating show features that are more experimental than what we see at other events.”
At Anime Fest, ReedPop promises “autograph signings, cosplay, Instagram-worthy activations, a curated Artist Alley, live music, and creative Japanese pop culture classes” at the Pier 94 venue.
Already on tap to appear are the creative team behind fan-favorite anime series Cowboy Bebop, including animator Toshihiro Kawamoto, screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, and mecha designer Kimitoshi Yamane. The creative trio are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the perpetually popular sci-fi anime series. The multicity Dragon Ball Super tour is also scheduled to make a stop at Anime Fest.
Though some fans were thrilled to hear of a new anime-focused event in New York City, news of the fest’s revival has generated mixed reactions due to the history of the original New York Anime Festival, which had its share of ups and downs over the five years of its existence.
NYCC launched in 2006, and the New York Anime Festival debuted in December 2007 as a separate event at the Javits Center. In 2010, Reed Exhibitions combined the two events at Javits, creating a separate anime-centric Artist Alley area and an anime and manga programming track—an arrangement that was widely panned by anime fans in attendance.
By 2012, NYCC had absorbed the New York Anime Festival completely, and Japanese pop culture artists were featured during NYCC. Indeed, NYCC has welcomed some of the most popular anime and manga guests of Japan, attracting standing-room-only crowds for manga artists Takeshi Obata (artist and cocreator of Death Note) in 2014 and Masashi Kishimoto (creator of Naruto) in 2015.
ReedPop and Anime Fest are receiving some of the same criticisms that were leveled at the previous iteration of the event, with fans and Asian pop journalists expressing concern that the fest is not being held at the Javits Center. Online, fans bitterly recall how the earlier show was “shoved into the top floor hallway and then completely obliterated.”
“The fake Anime Fest isn’t actually at the Javits with NY Comic Con itself,” tweeted Mike Toole, editor at large at Anime News Network. “It’s at Pier 94, and requires a separate ticket. Definitive indication that @Reed_Pop didn’t learn a single thing from their anime ghetto bullshit back in the NYAF days.”
Armstrong says it is a big challenge to accommodate the different but sometimes overlapping fandoms of NYCC and of anime and manga, especially as NYCC has grown in exhibition floor size, ticket sales, and attendance. Hosting NYCC and Anime Fest as two separate shows allows ReedPop to offer more anime and manga exhibit space and programming than it could at Javits, given that NYCC has pretty much maxed out the convention center’s capacity. On the other hand, putting Anime Fest at a separate venue about a 20-minute walk away from NYCC creates issues for fans who want to attend events at both locations.
But the popularity of Japanese popular culture drove ReedPop to take another shot at an anime- and manga-specific show, Armstong says. “Digging into the research from NYCC 2017, we saw interest in anime skyrocket among our fans, to the tune of 51% of them asking for more and more anime content.” He notes that “given our constraints for new booth and panel space at NYCC and the Javits Center, it made sense to deliver a new event that can cater to the hardcore anime fan.”
NYCC will also continue to host major Japanese pop culture presentations at its satellite venues at the nearby Hammerstein Ballroom (the Voltron panel) and at Madison Square Garden (the Dragon Ball Super panel). “Both will be open to Anime Fest ticket holders,” Armstrong says.
Adding to the controversy is the fact that there’s already a New York anime and manga festival: Anime NYC, which launched in November 2017 and is organized by Left Field Media (which runs Awesome Con, a pop culture convention in D.C.) with sponsorship by Crunchyroll and Viz Media. This year’s Anime NYC will be held November 16–18 at the Javits Center.
Left Field Media’s Peter Tatara, a former ReedPop executive, responded to the news of NYCC’s Anime Fest in a statement: “When Anime NYC launched last year, it was something special that we all made together. We got a lot of attention around NYC, across the US, and as far away as Tokyo. It seems we got NYCC and Anime Expo’s attention, too, and I’m pretty shocked about Anime Fest @ NYCC x Anime Expo. But I’m not going to comment on their motives. They’re plain to see.”
Tatara adds that the new ReedPop show will not impact Anime NYC, and that this year’s show will have “double the space” of last year’s Anime NYC at Javits, as well as a new 3,000-seat main stage and “bigger guests, huge premieres, and absolutely massive concerts.”
Adam Sheehan, the director of events at Ellation, which oversees Crunchyroll, and a long-time exhibitor at NYCC and at the original New York Anime Festival, says he is glad to see Anime Fest return: “I’m curious to see how the return of the New York Anime Festival does at a different location. With the majority of our events taking place in and around the Javits Center, I do not feel that ReedPop’s goal is to segregate anime and manga fans from NYCC. We certainly do not feel like we are being pushed out of NYCC and over to AF @ NYCC.”
With less than a month to go before NYCC and Anime Fest, guests, schedules, and events are being firmed up. Chinese anime streaming site BiliBili, anime distributor Funimation, and Japanese collectible figure company Good Smile are confirmed as exhibitors at both venues. Exhibitors will also include N.Y.C. manga publishers Kodansha Comics, Vertical, and Yen Press, along with San Francisco–based Viz Media. It remains to be seen how these publishers will handle the demands of two shows at once.
With robust ticket sales and a star-studded guest lineup, NYCC 2018 is already shaping up to be a huge show. But the questions in manga and anime land linger: Will fans make the trek between the two related-but-separate pop culture shows? And can N.Y.C. support two anime cons in two months? Time will tell.