By Ernie Layug

After the announcement was made that AnimeNEXT was moving from the Garden State Exhibit Center to Atlantic City, many people were sad that they were going to leave a venue that they developed a kinship for. Fortunately for those who loved the venue, they were happy when MAD Management announced Anime Fan Fest for that same weekend in the first weekend of May. I was lucky enough to attend the event and made the drive up from Washington DC.

I didn’t have any expectations for the convention because I really didn’t know what to except. There was one thing for sure that I didn’t want to compare this to AnimeNEXT. I knew that it wasn’t going to match the size nor the attendance, since it was a first year convention. Many attendees/cosplayers tend to shy away since they want to know how it was and if it’s worth going to the following year. With a solid guest line-up, you hope that attendance is better than some other first conventions we went to in the past.

After the 6 hour drive in the rain, in traffic, and stopping for food at Wawa (Love that place), I finally arrived to a familiar venue. However, one thing that wasn’t familiar was that the parking lot wasn’t fully filled and I was able to get a spot in the convention center parking lot which I delighted to get cause I didn’t want to walk too long in the rain. When I got inside, I was easily able to grab my badge and walk into what was essentially the convention floor.

The layout is very similar to AnimeNEXT with the right side of the space being the dealer’s area and the left side dedicated to two big programming areas that bookend the artist alley, cosplay guests, and autograph signings. There was a walkway up the middle. It was great to see the convention all in one space that was easy to navigate and easy to understand. It’s easy to spot my favorite dealer or my favorite artist, and in some cases my favorite cosplayer. I only have one problem with this layout is where the programming areas were located. They were along one side, which is very easy to figure out where they are. However, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was with the sound coming out of those areas.

I know I’m being very nick-picky, but hear me out. The speakers from the “Pepper Town” panel room, which was the closest to the entrance, had their speakers facing towards the back of the panel area where the sound is traveling across the artist alley, across the autographs & cosplayers away and spilling into the “Central City” panel room which is across the hall at the very back. There were several instances where I couldn’t hear what was going on with the speaker cause the sound from the other room was spilling out. Now I moved closer when that happened, however there were some cases where the room was packed and couldn’t move closer. Other than that, I was fine with the setup. Maybe have the speakers pointed towards the wall instead of out onto the floor could have solved some of the problem, but I’m not sure it would completely get rid of it.

Speaking of programming, I actually attended several panels and I enjoyed them. I loved the Cirque du Soleil panel where a former worker (Jez Roth) talked about some of the shows and some of the costume design elements from them. I also attended Cosplay Photography hosted by Ani-Mia & Rufflebutt, along with How to Talk to Hot Cosplayer. Both were a lot of fun and both were very sightful. It’s good to see some fan panels mixed with “industry” panels like this one was. There was a new panel starting at least every 30 minutes, so you had the chance to see one and if you didn’t enjoy it you can next door and see if you like that one.

However if you wanted to go to this convention for the cosplayers, then Friday wasn’t your day. When I arrived Friday night to pick up my badge, attendance was very minimal. According to some staff, attendance was actually for a Friday. Granted, I arrived around 6pm and was able to walk the entire convention floor in the span of about 20 minutes. I met up with a couple of photographer & videographer people and pretty much figured that Saturday would be the better day and IT WAS by a long shot. Saturday had a better feel, better energy, and better atmosphere to the convention. Everyone was excited and got a buzz from being around the people and the convention floor was busy. It wasn’t busy to the point of being packed, however it wasn’t empty. It was nice flow and it brought a chill, hang-out with my friends convention. That was the best way to describe this convention. It was cool way to catch up with old friends & meet new ones, especially those who said that they won’t make the trip to Atlantic City for AnimeNEXT.

It’s a solid convention with a lot of potential to be great. It has the marketing machine of Otaku USA magazine & MAD Management behind it to pull off some great guests and solid programming. There are some kinks that need to be worked out, but overall, it’s a fun convention to go for at least one day. Also, they need free Wi-Fi in that venue. My friend Jon I. won’t go unless there is free wi-fi in the facility.

Rating: A 7.5 out of 10.

If want to see our cosplay music video, here it is below…