Despite the conveniences New York City does offer its otaku – Japantown groceries, fresh imports at Kinokuniya, cheap manga and old games at Book-Off, a wide selection of quality ramen – we have longed for an anime convention. Though there are a lot of us, the rent is too high to justify a con catering to our niche (RIP New York Anime Fest). And so, we have waited and wished – while taking trips out of state to Anime-Next, Otakon, Katsucon and so on.
And help has come! Kind of! Waku Waku NYC is a “Cool Japan” event: that is, it’s run by a private company (Azix) and paid for by the Japanese government’s subsidy to promote its culture around the world (J-LOP). So it isn’t strictly an “anime” convention, but a “Japan” con, where otaku interests happen to be under that umbrella. So how did that work out?
I had a pretty good time! But it depends very much on what you’re looking for. There was absolutely anime stuff at Waku Waku. There were anime publishers, anime dealers, creatives who’ve been involved with anime like m-flo DJ Taku Takahashi, idol Yun*chi, screenwriters on Dragon Ball Z. However, Waku Waku is not quite an “anime con” and certainly Japanese comics/cartoons were not the focal point of the convention.
If you ask me, the focal point was food. New York has no shortage of great Japanese restaurants, and many (including Ippudo and Totto Ramen) were on the scene. Here we have a bowl of paitan ramen and a healthy serving of sake from Kuro-Obi. The takoyaki – chefs flowin in from Osaka and all – was also delightful, and I was overjoyed to scarf down green tea in iced drink and ice cream forms. And don’t forget the taiyaki! Contrary to the average convention fare – think of $4 hot dogs at the Javits Center, God forbid – food at Waku Waku was both delicious and affordable. Pushuu.
After eating up, you’d head inside to the main space, which was basically the same as a dealer’s room with a large public stage where the major events were taking place.
The usual suspects for an East Coast anime con were present, with a few curveballs (Royce’s luxury chocolates and the Japanese Railways’ transforming bullet train robot Shinkalion) due to the Cool Japan backing.
NHK World had the biggest presence: I posed with Domo-kun and watched a live cooking show. NHK wanted to take your picture with Domo, but they didn’t want to give you that picture – presumably my Kawaiikochans will get on NHK now – so I had a friend snipe this picture from the side.
Keiji Inafune of Megaman and Mighty No. 9 fame showed up, but the presentation was a softball one. The producer simply kicked back while fans, one after the other, failed to complete a level of his new game. It didn’t seem that tough, guys!
After a few laps in that room you’ve seen it all, which means it’s about time to head to the other locations. That’s right, this con takes place in four different buildings. Waku Waku can’t really be blamed for this; it’s simply part of the New York problem. Real estate is too expensive for a massive events building (like those you see host other anime cons) to be viable… and the less said about the Javits Center, the better.
Anime screenings were nestled in a corner of the Wythe Hotel (I sat in a packed screening of the serene, contemplative kids’ show Chibi Maruko-chan), and panels took place in a laid-back meeting room in the same building. I finished off my weekend at the panel “Anime that Time Forgot,” in which were screened bits of pieces of some very rare – and sometimes literally lost – anime, some ancient and some very recent. In another rare and appreciated move for an anime con, the Wythe had some full-service bars. Pushuu.
Live music is also expected at this kind of thing: a nearby club, Verboten, hosted a DJ night with the aforementioned Takahashi, and the weekend ended with a concert at the Brooklyn Bowl. Verboten even hosted a lolita fashion show with designers from PUTUMAYO and Baby, the Stars Shine Bright.
So while the anime content was light, Waku Waku offered a pleasantly wide range of Japanese-flavored experiences, from a tutorial on putting on your kimono to an expert kendama demonstration. It’s good to widen your horizons! Personally, nothing is quite so important to me as the simple delight of ramen and cold sake on a summer afternoon. Pushuu.
Anyway, here I am with the train robot. Hope he comes back next year.