Atlantic City has yet to figure out how to combat out-of-state casino competition, related job losses and a looming state takeover.
But a super-hero of sorts could emerge in the form of AnimeNEXT, a convention for fans and creators of the Japanese art form that will make its local debut from Friday to Sunday, June 10 to 12, at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
AnimeNEXT, which is slated to be held annually in Atlantic City through 2020, is expected to attract some 15,000 attendees. A.C. is becoming a draw for this type of convention, with events over the last year including the second edition of Atlantic City Boardwalk Con, the debut of Gameacon, which focused on video and board games, and a Magic the Gathering card tournament.
“AnimeNEXT promotes Japanese culture through animation, comics, fashion and art,” says Eric Torgersen, chairman of the event. “Anime continues to grow in popularity. It now reaches a broad audience — it has all different genres, from science fiction to fantasy to sports.”
Launched in 2002, AnimeNEXT is produced by Universal Animation, with the help of some 330 volunteers, including Torgersen, who is a project manager for a smart-home company.
The event goes beyond “anime,” which in Japan means all animation, to include manga, Japanese printed comics and graphic novels for children and adults; cosplay, an abbreviation of costume play, whether from cartoons, comics, TV shows or movies; otaku, a Japanese word that describes a person with obsessive interests, such as a fan of anime, cosplay and manga; and an even more familiar term in the U.S. — gamers.
“It can reach people in different age groups, from young kids who see ‘Pokemon’ to adults who watch anime, or have an affinity for shows they watched growing up, like ‘Volton,’” Torgersen says.
AnimeNEXT, which outgrew its previous venue, the Garden State Exhibition Center in Somerset, will feature everything from a video game arcade with contests and artists selling original works, to a karaoke room and two parties featuring electronic dance music. Also on tap are the competition to pick the U.S. team for the World Cosplay Summit in Japan, and appearances by music act ROOKIEZ is PUNK’D; ZAQ, a female-singer songwriter, and “guest of honor” Naoko Matsui, an anime veteran whose credits include “Detective Conan,” “One Piece” and “Death Note.”
Meanwhile, multiple panels will cover such topics as the future of anime, how it’s evolving and how to break into the industry.
For voice actor and AnimeNEXT guest Bill Rogers — Brock in “Pokemon” — the convention experience brings him back to his early days doing live theater, when feedback was immediate.
“It’s a solitary process — you record one-on-one in the studio,” he says of his voice-over work. “The product gets released on TV or DVD — you don’t get an audience response. It’s nice to go to the conventions and meet fans that are watching it, and realize you’re having an impact on people.”
Now Los Angeles-based, Rogers went to high school in central New Jersey, and graduated from Rutgers with a degree in English. He was a struggling actor with a series of “day jobs” when he landed his first voice-acting in 2001. His big break came in 2006 when he joined the cast of “Pokemon,” and he also can be heard in “Gravitation,” “Genshiken” and “Boogiepop Phantom,” as well as cartoon legend Heathcliff in the video game, “Heathcliff: Fast and the Furriest.”
“I started off doing a couple of shows that were direct to video — at the time the audience was people who were diehard anime fans,” he says.
He credits the rise of shows like “Pokemon,” “Dragon Ball” and “Sailor Moon,” as well as the Toonami block on Cartoon Network, for helping to build a wider audience for the Japanese art form.
AnimeNEXT, which he has attended since its first year when there were just 1,000 people, is “almost like a family reunion,” he says.
Costume contest will determine U.S. team
for global event
For die-hard fans, one of the biggest events at this year’s AnimeNEXT convention in Atlantic City will be the American finals of the World Cosplay Summit.
Cosplay or costume play is where people wear costumes to show their appreciation of a character, which must originate in a Japanese anime, manga, video games or tokusatsu — a form of live-action TV series or movies with special effects.
The competition will feature teams from around the country who will vie for the chance to represent the U.S. at the finals taking place from July 30 through Aug. 7 in Nagoya, Japan; only one team with two people can advance from the U.S.
Note: Costumes must be hand-made, and the competition is strictly limited to amateurs.
When: 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, June 10 and 11, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 12
Where: Atlantic City Convention Center, 1 Convention Blvd., Atlantic City
How much: Registration costs $40 for Friday; $50 for Saturday; $35 for Sunday; and $70 for all three days; purchase at AnimeNext.org or on-site
More info: AnimeNext.org