I went to the next panel I had slated on my schedule and encountered other huge problems at the convention. Here’s a bulleted list of why I didn’t go back the rest of the weekend:

  • The panel rooms for popular topics like Pokemon were so small that if you didn’t line up at least 30 minutes before, you weren’t getting in.
  • The convention staff hired to film and photograph AnimeNEXT 2013 routinely would literally step in front of your photos to direct 5 minute impromptu photo shoots with cosplayers.
  • At a hotel and convention center with only a few couches in the lobby, the volunteers were told to not let anyone sit on the floor anywhere at AnimeNEXT.
  • Gigantic panel rooms were reserved for any panel with a big name guest on it, even if the topic only drew 20 to 30 people.
  • Security staff routinely acted like bouncers at a club, getting aggressive with attendees who were doing such outrageous things as meeting up for a fandom photo shoot or waving hi to friends.
  • The schedule was constantly changed with no updates posted on any panel rooms and the information desk completely unable to answer questions.
  • Some press pass holders were breaking the rules (not even most, just some), bullying their way into panels ahead of the line when we all agreed to general seating for all but the Main Events.

I didn’t want to be associated with that behavior. I’ve been to too many good conventions to think this level of disorganization and poor communication was acceptable. I knew that something bad would happen before the weekend was up and I didn’t want to be there for it. I was right.

Did you hear about the cosplay pillow controversy at AnimeNEXT? It’s a lovely story of exploitation and con staff getting their honey badger on over legitimate complaints from attendees.

Cosplayer Marie Gray previously dealt with 2 Image Solutions at another convention. 2ImageSolutions does 3D/360 cosplay photos and offers a number of custom products. Gray was shocked to find out that 2ImageSolutions was selling pillows at the convention were here likeness on them. She had signed a release saying her picture could be used for promotional purposes, not commercial purposes. The fans at AnimeNEXT banded together and got 2ImageSolutions removed from the show on Saturday night. They were supposed to be banned for the weekend.

Sunday morning, the convention staff let 2ImageSolutions back in. The company told the staff they had contracts signed that allowed them to use the photos for promotional purposes at conventions. Think about that: the company point blank said they were selling licensed promotional merchandise–commercial activity–and the convention let them back in after throwing them out for doing the same thing the day before. The only difference was the insistence that the cosplayers signed contracts letting him sell promotional merchandise; when confronted about contracts, the seller couldn’t produce copies with the cosplayers’ actual signatures on them or text referring to commercial rights. The seller refused to remove or even sell the merchandise to the cosplayers depicted on it. 2ImageSolutions has since admitted they were in the wrong and removed the merchandise.

But why did AnimeNEXT let them back in the building at all? This is a microcosm of the myriad of problems at the convention.

Why were all the rules broken by some press people being ignored? Why were the panelists being forced to face the brunt of the convention’s mistakes again and again? Why were the fans attending the convention being punished for the poor facility chosen for the convention?

I don’t know. I just know that this is a convention I will not be attending again in the future. No convention is perfect, but this is the first one I’ve ever been to that you couldn’t pay me to go back to again. How something this disorganized has lasted this long and developed a reputation this strong I’ll never know. I don’t even care about burning brides at this point. I hold myself and my work to a high standard that this convention did not even come close to reaching.

The one small silver lining is that, despite the convention’s every efforts, the people who paid to be there found ways to have fun. They met up with other fans who liked the same things. They bought really cool fan art in Artist Alley and found great deals on all kinds of merch in the dealer room. The panels they could get into were top quality and most of the volunteer staff were very helpful.

Check out the cosplay gallery below from the first day. These are the only shots I could salvage with the photo poachers on staff at the convention.