Friday, June 2, 2017

Belated Fan Event Report: AnimeJapan 2017

I've always wanted to go to several fan events in Japan but have been put off how crowded they would be. However for my last trip I decided to throw caution to the wind (a bit) and go anyway. Of the three events on my "must do" list in Japan, AnimeJapan has always been number one. Essentially it's a trade show that doubles as a fan event. It's origins go back to 2002 when the Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF) began. Like AnimeJapan, TAF was part trade show, limited to business deals on the first and second day, then opened to the public on the weekend. It's major financial backer was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Industrial and Labor Affairs. In 2010, the then governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, introduced revisions to the Tokyo Youth Development Ordinance which essentially restricted some risque manga and anime aimed at teens to people over 18 years of age where there was no restriction previously.

As you can imagine many manga publishers weren't happy with Ishihara. To cut a long story short and not to go into the long debate of those revisions (or how damn silly they are), a group of manga publishers collectively known as the Comic 10 Society gave the middle finger to Ishihara and boycotted TAF as it was sponsored by the local government. They in turn created their own trade show; Anime Contents Expo (ACE) which ran for two years in 2012 and 2013 in Chiba (the debut 2011 ACE was canceled due to the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami). Ishihara left office in 2012 and in 2014 failed to get elected in the federal election and left politics for good. In late 2013, TAF and ACE jointly announced the first AnimeJapan to be held at Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba, Tokyo in March 2014. Amusingly neither the Tokyo Metropolitan Government nor the Tokyo Governor's Office were listed as being part of AnimeJapan's 2014 organising committee (both were part of all previous organising committees for TAF).

2017 marks the fourth year of AnimeJapan. Like TAF, the first two days, Thursday 23 March and Friday 24 March 2017 are set aside for business deals and the press. On Saturday 25 March and Sunday 26 March 2017, the hordes descend upon Odaiba and as you may have seen from reports on anime news sites, there's tons of cosplay and loads of interesting company booths. When I arrived in Osaka the previous week, I had been trying to get a ticket to AnimeJapan from the Famiport machines at Family Mart convenience stores. After about three or four goes, I just gave up. No matter what I did, I could not find the event on the machine despite using an (terribly out of date) English guide I printed from Family Mart's website. Completely fed up, when I got to my Airbnb place in Kanda, I droped my luggage off and walked across the bridge over the Kanda river, walked straight into Akihabara Gamers and got a ticket over the counter (costing ¥1,800). The weather forecast suggested rain was forecast for Saturday and clear on Sunday, so I opted for a ticket for Sunday thinking it'd be nice weather and much quieter.

Unfortunately the reverse was true; Saturday was sunny, Sunday had drizzle. Screw it, I was going anyway and it's indoors. I decided the best course of action was to get there after 11am (doors open at 10am), taking the Yamanote line from Akihabara station to Osaki station, then the Rinkai line to Kokusai-Tenjijo station in Odaiba, which is a lot less crowded than the Yurikamome line monorail. There were a bunch of Americans on the train (military types stationed in Japan) who yakked non-stop from the moment they got on. Lucky they weren't going to AnimeJapan. From Kokusai-Tenjijo, it's a very short walk to Tokyo Big Sight, almost all the way is undercover too so I didn't get wet. You can't get lost really. If you do manage to lose your way, just follow the other fans who are easy to spot. From the front of Big Sight, staff usher patrons right around to the rear of the convention centre. I was confronted with the scene in the above photo (click to enlarge all photos by the way), however the line moved rather quickly and I was inside within 50 minutes despite the large crowd.

AnimeJapan has several sections; there's the two main halls where about 125 exhibitors promote their products or companies, three stages (which most require separate tickets to see, acquired by a lottery system) in which anime staff, seiyu and some idols hold talk shows or other presentations, a food park where you can buy dishes based upon selected anime shows, a section for cosplayers where they can change into their costumes have their photos taken behind special backgrounds and finally Family Anime Festa 2017, a recent addition where kids 12 or under and their parents can play, eat anime character related food and characters (i.e. poorly paid young people in hot costumes) make occasional visits. In addition there are separate business sections (not open to the general public), one which includes seminars and talks from people in the industry.

I honestly had no game plan, so I just went mindlessly from booth to booth. One of the first things you see when you enter the first hall is the giant blow up titan promoting the second TV series of "Attack on Titan";

One of the biggest properties being promoted strangely enough was "Paddington 2", the second CG film based up the Paddington Bear books published in the UK in the 1950's and 1960's (getting a early 2018 release in Japan). However anime was of course the biggest draw card. "Love Live! Sunshine!!" had a number of displays;

Just as in every single record and video store in around the country at time, Toho made sure everyone knew that "Shin-Godzilla" had just been released on home video in Japan with this display;

A separate booth was plugging the forthcoming "Godzilla" anime due for release in late 2017 with this human sized scale model of a robot which appears in the film;

But by a mile, the biggest draw card this year was the impressive and massive booth for the "Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story: Magia Record" mobile phone game which drew big crowds all day long;

Card game manufacturer Bushiroad was heavily promoting it's multimedia project "BanG Dream!", which in hindsight seems to have totally underwhelmed fans;

There was also plenty of current fan favorites such as "Detective Conan";

"JoJo's Bizarre Adventure";

And this amazing life sized statue of Elias Ainsworth from "The Ancient Magus' Bride";

I hadn't really planed on visiting specific booths, however the Satelight booth was one I didn't want to miss out on seeing. It had a human scaled model of one of the Valkyries promoting the final volume of the video release of "Macross Delta";

Another booth I was interested in was Toho Animation who were promoting amoungst other things the TV series "Little Witch Academia";

Some of the displays were amazing such as the moving and talking (interacting with an emcee) Tachikoma at the Production I.G booth;

And here's the amazing Goten (an armored horse) prop with the owner himself, Garo, behind an emcee, from the live action "Garo" series;

Throughout the two main halls were character balloon art from various TV series such as Chika Takami from "Love Live! Sunshine!!";

Some of the booths had booth girls, most in cosplay, handing out promotional material and often posing if you asked to take a picture of them. I have to admit this lady at the Takara Tomy booth caught my eye;

"Cardcaptor Sakura" had a fairly large presence at AnimeJapan this year, mostly promoting the upcoming anime. But there was plenty of nostalgia for the old anime at this booth;

At a separate booth which displayed many life sized promotional props from the anime, you could take a photo with a guy in a Kero-chan suit. I got there right as a Chewbacca cosplayer decided they wanted a photo with Kero. Pretty much everyone in close proximity crowded around to take a photo of this weird scene;

It was a bit crowded at times and there was a little bit of shoving by some fans. However after 1pm the crowds started thinning out and it was far easier to move about and see things. Some of the booths gave out these very long bags (about 60cm wide) which many fans used to collect the various promotional material being given out. Personally I found these bags really cumbersome and found myself accidentally bumping people with it or it having it being crushed in a crowd. I quickly got annoyed with it and quietly abandoned the bag against one of the walls of hall...

After a couple of hours there you do end up accumulating a lot of promotional material. Let's face it, the vast majority of this stuff is just plain crap promoting anime and games you'll never see or hear of again, or forget within six months of airing or release. Though you might feel compelled to take a flyer or fan or bag or whatever from people handing that stuff out, just ask yourself; do I really want to cart all of this shit home? Having said that, I did get this really cool face mask promoting "The Anonymous Noise" anime TV series;

Though I didn't do any real planning as such, it might be a good idea to preplan which booths you want to go to before you get there. I'd also eat before you go and take some water as it's pretty much impossible to get into the food park. You can get a pass to leave the building and return if you want to grab some food outside. Be warned there's not much available in the immediate area. There's plenty of toilets in the halls, so at least you won't have to worry about that side of things. Apparently over 145,000 people showed up over two days. However it didn't feel that crowded, especially in the afternoon on the Sunday. Due to the rain I didn't see any cosplayers, except for the ones checking out the booths. You're not meant to ask the cosplyers for photos in the building, so don't ask. I spent about two and half hours at AnimeJapan which I think is probably more than enough time to see everything. Getting out of Odaiba can also be a bit of chore. Afterwards I went to Diver City mall, also in Odaiba, to see Tokyo Gundam Front one last time before it shut down, and left for Kanda via Tokyo Teleport station which wasn't too crowded for a Sunday evening.

Summing up, it was a pretty fun experience. It is certainly more of a business event than a fan one. Apart from Japanese companies spruiking anime, games and merchandise, there was also booths promoting female Japanese wrestling, a Chinese video streaming website, and Singaporean, French and US anime and Japanese pop culture conventions. What really hit me was the amount of entertainment being promoted and how much of that fails and ends up forgotten. I sort of felt a bit down knowing a lot of this material, worked on with great passion by it's staff, is just going to forgotten and lost to time or just ignored in the first place. I think by that part of my trip I was a bit fatigued and had overdosed heavily on all of the idols, games, anime and manga merchandise I had seen and trawled through in my trips to Akihabara in the short period I had been staying in Kanda (four days by that stage...). Regardless, this is an event I would recommend to any anime fan.

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