Anime NYC 2021 Suffers from Growing Pains (A Very Belated Recap)

anime nyc 2021
Tired, masked, and hungry! Sunday afternoon at an anime convention.

I’m slightly overdue for this wrap-up post, so I apologize for taking so long to finally get to it. Anime NYC 2021 was a return to the Javits Center after more than a year of good-enough virtual events. New York Comic Con 2021, held the month before in the same venue, went fairly smoothly albeit with a drastically-reduced schedule, so I was excited to spend the weekend geeking out over anime. While overall I did have a good time, there were some major concerns.

Anime NYC 2021 suffered from some massive logistical issues. The biggest of which was the absolute disaster that was entrance on Friday, which many who were stuck in the mess dubbed “Line Con”. Many waited upwards of three hours in 40-degree weather simply to get into the building, which had opened hours earlier. I arrived at 12:30pm and wasn’t able to get into the building until 3pm, and even then that was only because they changed the lines without letting anyone know. I honestly considered giving up the ghost and going home; it was only the thought of having to go through all that again the next day that made me stay.

It’s hard to describe if you’re unfamiliar with the Javits Center, but basically in front of the building is a road – called the Inner Roadway – which is used to bring in vehicles for setup. During NYCC, it is filled with booths and food trucks. On the Friday of Anime NYC, it was filled with people, as the line snaked down from the 35th Street entrance, zigzagged through the Inner Roadway (in three different sections), then spilled out onto 11th Ave, down to 41st Street and looped back. There were long stretches of time where no one moved. If you were there alone, as I was, you couldn’t risk ducking out of line to hit the bathroom or grab something to eat, because you would likely end up at the end of the line again.

The main issue was the vaccination check; in the city of New York, if you want to do basically anything indoors – eat, see a movie, attend an event – you have to be vaccinated. So Anime NYC, like last month’s NYCC, required proof of vaccination. Once you provided proof (your vax card and ID), you were given a wristband to wear for the entirety of the con. The problem was that NYCC’s vax check happened offsite, in an empty lot across the street where there were multiple checkpoints, while Anime NYC’s was conducted at the door.

Thus, thousands of people were funneled into one single point of entry – and only four people were checking vax cards. They finally started adding more checkpoints at about 3pm (which is how I was able to get in), but when that happened, the line devolved into chaos, because even with thousands of people in line, there were no volunteers to manage it. When I finally made it into the building, they were only checking vax cards and not verifying IDs.

Even with that, or perhaps because of that, Anime NYC ended up being a potential super-spreader event, as at least one attendee has since tested positive for the Omicron variant. (But not me!)

Friday night, Anime NYC emailed all attendees with an updated entrance plan, involving separate lines for people who had badges and wristbands, people who had badges but no wristbands, and people who needed both. I was extremely fortunate enough to be able to enter through the dedicated press entrance the rest of the weekend, but it’s my understanding that even with separate lines, it still took much too long to get people into the building, leaving many waiting out in the cold for the second day in a row. And of course this did nothing to help those who had Friday only badges, many of whom took to Twitter demanding refunds.

Unfortunately, getting into the building wasn’t the only snag. Anime NYC, like NYCC, has a bag check. However, NYCC’s bag check is located immediately on entrance (or before entrance, depending on your badge type), while Anime NYC has them in various places. I mentioned this in my 2019 recap, about getting my bag checked six times in one day, even though I never left the building. There were only two bag checkpoints this year – at the entrance to panels and at the entrance to the show floor (which also held the autographing area and Artist Alley) – but even so, it’s an unnecessary bottleneck that causes more problems than it solves and isn’t uniformly enforced.

Then there were the panels. Now, there were rooms specifically dedicated to holding queues for the panels, and the rooms themselves were pretty well managed. The problems began when the rooms filled up and overflow lines began to form, because it soon became clear that there was no plan to manage overflow lines. When waiting in the overflow line for the Crunchyroll Industry Panel, somehow two lines formed, which were let in simultaneously. The overflow line for the Orient premiere was a mess, especially once the overflow line for the Berserk panel started to form right next to us and quickly swelled to the point where it was difficult to tell the two lines apart.

anime nyc 2021
A comparison of crowds. Both photos were taken on Saturday from the same location at approximately the same time (around 1pm). NYCC is on the left, Anime NYC on the right.

Anime NYC’s issue, I believe, is that they don’t seem to realize just how many people attend their events – which is ludicrous, because they sell tickets. They know exactly how many people were expected to attend and they put forth a plan as though they were going to get maybe a third of the number. In 2017, when this convention launched, this entrance plan may have worked. But it doesn’t anymore. As the convention grows, procedures need to evolve. What worked for an event with 20,000 people just doesn’t work for an event with more than 50,000.

The most obvious solution would be to take over more of the convention center. For the first time ever, Anime NYC utilized the entire show floor, the River Pavilion, and one of the lower halls – in addition to the Main Stage – for panels. However, there was so much on the show floor that on Saturday the crowd felt overwhelming. (For the first time, I was more overwhelmed at Anime NYC than at NYCC.) I love Anime NYC’s show floor primarily because of the arcade, but I think that having exhibitors, autographs, and Artist Alley all on the floor was too much. I know it’s more expensive, but I’m hoping that next year they can open another one of the lower halls in order to spread everything out and help thin the crowd.

Now, even with all of this frustration, I did have a good time. I wasn’t able to see all of the panels I wanted to (one of them because I was stuck in the massive line outside on Friday), but I enjoyed the ones that I did see. And while a lot of standbys were absent (there are normally a lot of industry panels and not as many studios or publishing houses came out this year), there was some great variety on the schedule – panels about inclusion, about culture, about history. My highlight remains the My Hero Academia concert (and yes, I have finally started the show!), but I also greatly enjoyed the “Black Trailblazers in Anime” panel as well as the Love of Kill screening.

Yes, the show floor was chaotic and at times overwhelming, but it remains one of my favorite show floors (and Artist Alleys) because they try really hard to have a nice mix of vendors and exhibits. Some mainstays weren’t there (Funimation had almost no presence, which is probably due to the massive presence they had at NYCC), but I loved the arcade and the PC gaming area, as well as the “Japanese food hall” and the multiple photo ops. The Attack on Titan manga gallery was phenomenal (although despite being assured there were no spoilers there actually were spoilers), and having that out in the Crystal Palace was a good idea, due to how crowded the show floor was.

anime nyc 2021

In short, while Anime NYC 2021 was still a fun event, and I loved being back there after so long away, they really need to learn from the hiccups this year when planning next year’s show. There needs to be a change in the way they manage crowds and lines, and they really should give the event some more space. But still, I hope to return next year for another weekend of anime.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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