Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An Otaku's Daytrip to New York City

I don't live too far from New York City, so every now and then it's not too unreasonable to hop a train into the city for a few hours of adventure. Somewhat recently we decided to make an impromptu trip to New York City to hit up a couple anime, Japanese, and generally pretty nerdy shops. Being the cheapskates that we all are (hey, all our money was planning on going towards mangas and DVDs), we planned this day trip without having to pay for the subway, so everything we planned was within walking distance. Granted, by the train ride home, we seriously wished we didn't walk so far.

Our first stop was Nintendo World, which Google Maps misleadingly told us it was in Rockefeller Plaza. This isn't exactly untrue, but Rockefeller Plaza is sort of a big place and the entrance to Nintendo World is actually a street over on 48th street. Our trip to Nintendo World was supposed to be a sort of "Well, we're going to be here anyways" sort of thing, but after the 40 minutes or so of walking in circles we were kind of invested in the idea of going there. Unfortunately for us, Ninetendo World is sort of a flashy tourist location that's really only fun to go to so you can say you went. With the exception of maybe a few specific Pokemon plushies that might be hard to find, there's almost nothing you can buy at Nintendo World that you can't buy at a trip to almost any mall, or even Walmart. It is Nintendo after all.

The one really cool thing about Nintendo World is the mini-museum on the 2nd floor that showcases some really interesting pieces of Nintendo History, including some really neat retro systems and games. My favorite part was what looked like the "display case of shame" that featured a virtual boy and some merch from the Super Mario Bros. movie.

Nintendo World isn't really a place you should just not go to if you're making a day trip to NYC and want to hit up some neat places, but it's really no reason to make any sort of special trip. In retrospect, we sort of regretted not just going to the Lego Store a few streets over instead. 

The second place we went on our trip was Kinokuniya. If you could only hit up one shop on this list in NYC, make it Kinokuniya, it's like a weeaboo's dream. It's 3 floors packed with Japanese books, manga (in English and Japanese), magazines, and various gifts ranging from anime figures to traditional Japanese gifts. There's also a Japanese style cafe on the top floor. If you're looking for a particular Japanese language book, Kinokuniya is probably one of the few places you're going to be able to find it without ordering it directly from Japan. The prices are pretty typical of what you would expect to pay for rare import books, but it's the mere fact that you can find them here that makes it special.

The first floor of Kinokuniya is mainly Japanese language magazines and a small selection of English language books that I've honestly not even given a second glance in all the times I've been there. If you're coming here for the manga and the true Otaku experience, you're going to want to head to the top floor where the manga, anime figures, and classy traditional Japanese gifts and cafe are located. This is probably going to be one of the largest selection of manga that you're ever going to find in a retail location outside of an anime convention (unless you live around some really spectacular manga shops, in which case I hate you). If you head to the basement you're going to find a massive assortment of Japanese Language books as well as some more Japanese gifts, stationery, and craft supplies.

It's a bit easy to feel overwhelmed and completely unprepared when stepping into Kinokuniya. But it's sort of an awesome feeling being surrounded by so many cool things.

Book-Off was actually the last place we went to, but it's near enough to Kinokuniya that you can hit them both up one after another, we just happened to visit on our way back. Book-Off is a lot like Kinokuniya, only to the extreme and for the more hardcore Otaku. It's a, mostly used, Japanese book, music, and DVD store, and just like Kinokuniya, 3 stories as well.

The main floor has a pretty large selection of used English Language books, as well as a large selection of used DVDs, video games, and CDs in both Japanese and English. Back in the dark ages, this was pretty much the place to go to buy Japanese music, as there are hundreds of different bands that were impossible to buy elsewhere that you could pick up here for relatively cheap used prices. The basement here is a collection of used English and Japanese language manga, as well as used Japanese magazines. Since this was our last stop of the day, we were completely exhausted by the time we got here, so unfortunately I didn't get a real chance to dig through the thousands of Japanese manga here, but in the past whenever I have I've always left with something interesting, and for $1. English language manga tends to cost between $6 and $9. The top floor is Japanese language books, and unless you're fluent in the language and keeping up on a Japanese novel series, probably not a whole lot of use to you. However, if you are, there's a ton more Japanese language books for $1 on the top floor.

Despite being so thoroughly done with NYC by the time I got to Book-Off, I left with a volume of ADV's dub of Ghost Stories and a volume of The Fuccons for a pretty cheap price. Not too bad if you've ever tried to hunt either of those things down outside of the internet, because they practically don't exist.

Image Anime was actually the reason why we planned a trip to NYC in the first place, in hopes of hunting down some figures. Image Anime is sort of a typical "con goods" store, which is pretty exciting to find in the real world. If you need that con fix in the off season, it's definitely a place you're going to want to check out. It's a relatively small store (especially with the multiple 3-story-tall Japanese bookstores we visited that day), but it's filled with with figures, merch plushies, DVDs, and more plamos and paints than you'll typically find at a convention. DVD prices were a bit cheaper than you might find at Best Buy or another video store, the rest was pretty much what you would expect, or a bit more, to pay for otaku goods.

To take a bit of a break from the otaku, and to venture into general nerdom, we visited The Compleat Strategist, which is a traditional game store. Pretty much whatever game you want to play that doesn't involve a console or a computer you're probably going find it here from table-top war games, to boardgames, to card games. This was one of those typical NYC stores that has a tiny storefront and just keeps going once you're inside, only it was literally packed to the ceiling with game boxes and books. I've honestly never seen more games and game resources in any one place. Prices were typical of retail, but many of these games are almost impossible to find even online, making a store like this something pretty amazing.

If you're determined to pack your nerdy NYC day trip with as much weeaboo stuff as you can, we actually found a box of Tanto Cuore, a maid-centric deck building game packed away between some decks of Magic Cards. It looks like a game to guarantee that you're friends will never want to go to another game night with you again! Or maybe not, I guess it depends just how chummy you are with your friends.

The final stop on this tour-du-otaku is Midtown comics, specifically the 2 story on on 7th avenue. Midtown comics is a great comic book shop if you happen to be in the area, especially if you get roped into a more touristy trip to NYC that doesn't venture far from Times Square. It's obviously a more Western comics oriented place but it's big enough to have a pretty large selection of all sorts of stuff. If you're there for back issues and graphic novels, you're most likely going to find what you're looking for, and then some, as well as a pretty large selection of action figures and impressive collectibles. If you're going for manga, you're still going to find a pretty good sized collection, as well as a number of figures and some merch up on the top floor. Midtown comics is probably like you're typical local comic book store, only much larger. One of the most notable things about Midtown Comics was how incredibly friendly and helpful the staff was, despite the fact that the store is almost constantly packed full of both regulars and tourists.

There are, of course, dozens of other otaku and nerd shops in New York City, including some absolutely amazing restaurants, but we tried to pack what we could, without spending anything on transportation, into the 6 or so hours that we were in the city and I would say that pretty much every place we went to was well worth the trip. With even an ounce more planning (because we sort of decided to go the night before and just used a combination of Yelp and a "Japanese things to do in New York" magazine we found along the way we sort of just did everything on the fly) and a $10 subway ticket, you can fit so much more into the same amount of time. Living close to NYC, I tend to go a few times a year but usually in groups of people who all have different things they want to do, so it was really nice getting to experience the city with a group of people who just wanted to buy manga and look for some new figures. 

If you're interested in checking out the places we visited, check out this map. It's almost a 3 mile walk, taking about an hour of city walking to get from place to place, but only between 5 and 15 minutes of walking between each individual place. So if you include a few breaks, and plan your path much better than we did, it's really not so bad of a walking trip.

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