Anime NYC 2018

Posted by Tomas & Sebastian on

This year we got a vendor booth at Anime NYC, New York City's largest anime, manga, and Japanese pop-culture convention. This was a major milestone for us, as our last convention was Toronto's Anime North. At Anime North, we had a table as a part of the Nominoichi - the fan-run anime flea market. It's a short four-hour event where con-goers can sell their own merchandise including figures, posters, anime, manga, cosplay items and much, much more. The flea market at Anime North was our first real foray into the anime convention scene, and a great way to get our toes wet. In compassion, the vendor booth we had at Anime NYC this year was a much larger affair: a full three days to showcase and sell our stuff as full-fledged vendors! 

Coming from Toronto, the journey to Manhattan was a pretty harrowing experience. On the morning of November 15, we loaded up a car with t-shirts and hoodies, our booth signs, equipment, and luggage - and headed off to the Big Apple. We got about halfway there before driving headfirst into one of the largest snow storms NY state has had in recent memory. What should have been an 8 hour drive from Toronto to NYC turned into a 12 hour slog. Driving through the storm in near white-out conditions at 30-40 km/hour was far from pleasant. Along the way we must have seen at least 20 accidents with cars and trucks littering the ditches and sides of the highway - it was like a post-apocalyptic scene from Mad Max, except with snow instead of sand.

Luckily for us Canadians, snow is nothing new and we powered through - arriving at our Hotel in NYC just before midnight. (On an unrelated note, the Initial D soundtrack makes for great driving music... gonna get you like a space boy!)

The next morning we made our way to the convention, held at Manhattan's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, right outside the Lincoln Tunnel exit. Having already stowed away our car in a one of the city's many parking garages, we decided that it would be easiest to carry and roll all of our stuff to the Center.

Inside the exhibition hall (aka the Crystal Palace):

Inside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, also known as the Crystal Palace. Fate Stay Order posters are up and videos are playing in the background.

From an organizational point of view Anime NYC was exceptional. Great customer service, and staff were eager to help us find our way around, get our badges, and start setting up our booth for the convention.

Here's what our booth looked like when we arrived:

Empty booth at Anime NYC 2018. Simple black curtain wall in the back, with a placeholder sign for Katana Sakana. We were given three empty tables with black table cloths.

The setup for us was pretty quick: we arranged the tables, assembled the clothing rack, organized and stacked all our anime shirts, and set up a couple chairs to chill on. Initially, we had thought to arrange the tables in an open concept, where visitors could come in and browse the shirts on the rack and along the walls. We had envisioned it being sort of miniature anime streetwear store where people could come in and browse with some catchy anime tunes playing.

The initial floor-plan:

Tomas standing next to our Anime NYC booth. Anime shirts stocked on the tables, displayed on the wall, and hanging from clothing rack.

Obligatory closeup of our favourite dog, Beck:

Our sign post, displaying our name "Katana Sakana", our tagline "Anime Inspired T-Shirts", and our mascot inspired by the anime series Beck.

What we quickly realized though was that the more efficient thing to do would be to have a display display table in front in order to maximize the visibility of our shirts, as well as give people space to casually browse the designs as they walked by.

Our new and improved setup:

New setup for Katana Sakana booth. Anime shirts are now have an additional display on a front-facing table. Shirts are laid out neatly in a row, with the designs prominently displayed.

This new layout allowed us to display each of the designs prominently, swap out the shirts as they sold out, and generally made it it easier for folks to browse our collection.

Surprisingly, it took us most of the morning to finish setting everything up. By the time we were ready, it was about 15 minutes before the doors opened. Feeling just a bit nervous, we watched as the double doors were unlocked and the con-goers began to stream in.

A shot of the convention, taken from our booth:

Wide shot of the inside of the Anime NYC 2018 exhibit hall. Large crowd of people around various anime and manga merchandise booths.

Some of our designs sold out in the first few hours! The more popular series of the day, like our Detroit Smash (inspired by My Hero Academia) and Air Bird (inspired by Haikyuu!) were snatched up almost instantly. We definitely under-stocked on a few design I distinctly recall one guy b-lining it to our table and asking: "You guys got any Haikyuu?" Unfortunately we had just sold out. Sorry dude - but come by next year! Other popular designs were the Saiyan Capsule (inspired by Dragonball) and Esper (inspired by Akira).

Another surprisingly popular design was Your Name (inspired by the Kimi no na wa film) - one guy even came by and show us his  half-sleeve tattoo from show!

Over the course of the weekend we had a blast chatting with people and asking them to guess which shows inspired our designs. Surprisingly, quite a few of our designs were confused with other shows - for instance, D-Mail (Inspired by Stein's;Gate) was often thought to be from Future Diary or East of Eden, and Bang (Inspired by Cowboy Bebop) was frequently thought to be from Yu Yu Hakusho. We even had one guy snatch the Hunter (Inspired by Hunter x Hunter) design based purely on its aesthetics - he'd never seen the show (or watched any anime really, he was just there with a friend) but he loved the look.

After playing the guessing game with the designs, we made sure to talk to everyone about how we do the designs ourselves based on the shows and series that we like. We strive for designs that a minimal and subtle, and wearable everyday - in other words: anime streetwear. The core idea behind our t-shirts is that if you've seen the show/series you'll recognize the design right away, and if you haven't you'll just think it's a neat design. It was amazing, and encouraging, how many folks came up to our table and told us exactly that - without any prompting, they had figured out what we were doing and loved the idea!

We also received many design requests throughout the convention for shows we haven't done yet, like Evangelion, Goblin Slayer, and Ancient Magus' Bride. It's tough though - because we'd love to do designs for every show we heard about, but we have a rule between the two of us that we need to watch the show before we do a design from it. We're slowing working through our backlog of series to watch - and one day we'll have a subtle anime shirt for everyone!

On a slightly different note, for us, one the most interesting parts of the convention was actually meeting the other vendors. Somewhere in the back of minds we always knew there were people who made a living from anime conventions, but it never felt quite real until we met them in person. They would travel coast-to-coast hitting up different anime, manga, and comic conventions. They all knew each other, and operated on the same circuits driving around with a truck full of merchandise, selling non-stop for 3-4 days before hitting the road to the next convention. There were whole businesses we met who sold exclusively at conventions. Some even had employees who would travel with them constantly, share hotel rooms, and seemed (at least to us) to have an endless supply of energy for running vendor booths all day long. They had some really interesting stories, and an entrepreneurial spirit that left us feeling inspired.

All that is to say, Anime NYC treated us very well. We sold out of just about everything we brought, and went home feeling excited for next year's convention. It was exciting and humbling to be around so many different kinds of anime fans, from the head-to-toe cosplayer, to the super shredded dude who just really, really loved One Punch Man and nothing else.

For us, it was great to see first-hand how well our products and designs resonated with people. There were so many people who came by just to tell us how happy they were to finally find a subtle anime t-shirt or hoodie from their favourite show - especially if it was older or more niche. One guy that snagged a Beck hoodie form us said he used to listen to the soundtrack from the show on his roof every night, and bought the hoodie for the memories it brought back. (The soundtrack to Mongolian Chop Squad is great and well worth a listen!)

By the end of the third day, we had sold a bunch of t-shirts and made even more more friends. We had people come back with their friends, circle back to get a second or even a third design, and in some cases - even come by just to talk one last time about their favorite shows before the convention closed. For all of you that came by our booth - thank you for a great convention!

We hope to see all of you again next year as we continue on our mission to create great anime-inspired t-shirts.