Jul 25 2010

Capsule Convention Review: WonFest Summer 2010

The last time I went to WonFest [ワンフェス] was back in the summer of 1995. At the time garage kits were still in their infancy, and most figures were resin model kits made in people’s garages. Nowadays the figure market has changed, and with the introduction of prepainted PVC figures, it is no longer just a hobby for a handful of skilled modelers. The explosion of the figure collecting market has turned WonFest from a meeting of diehard fanatics into a mainstream collector’s event, attracting over 40,000 people to this one day event.  The convention straddles the line between industry showcase and a gathering of hobbyists, and is well worth attending if you happen to be in the area.  This year Summer WonFest was held on July 25th, from 10AM to 5PM at Makuhari Messe, just outside of Tokyo (near Tokyo Disnelyand).  Makuhari Messe is the new home for WonFest it seems, after the famous escalator incident in 2008 at Tokyo Big Site (where ComiKet is held) where an escalator broke, throwing people back.  Photo gallery at the end of the article.

The best way for me to review this event is to divide it into two sections, industry and fans.  This distinction is quite arbitrary, since  the companies that  we call the “industry” are still relatively small and run by people who are passionate about figures and anime.  Still, on the show floor, you can tell what companies have marketing dollars to spend at these events.  Just consider that some companies, (well, I’m thinking primarily Kotobukiya in this case), typically also have a large presence at ComicCon International/San Diego Comic Con which is also going on this weekend.

On the industry side of the show, we have most of the licensed products and the larger retailers.  Since real money is being spent on licensing (more on that later when I explain how the fan side works), companies are more selective on titles.  The show with the obvious marketing power this show was K-On!, with products coming out from Good Smile Company, A-Zone and Alter (and probably half the planet).  Another interesting thing I noticed was that normally we see a pretty big lag between when a title airs and when their merchandise appears.  Take Angel Beats!  Although the show ended a while ago, we are only now starting to see products entering the market.  Now that the show has proven that it can draw an audience, we see products showing up.  The typical order I’ve noticed is Cospa first, doing really simple products like T-Shirts and bags.  Then Animate/MOVIC with character goods such as posters, shitajikis and nowadays food items.  Finally the figures show up.  First the simple, super deformed figures like Nendroids, then the more complicated 1/6th scale character figures.  I think the problem with this approach is that by the time the products hit the shelves, much of the audience has moved on to the next season’s big hit.  As a result, it looks like companies are starting to bet more aggressively on one or two unproven titles they think are going to hit big.  Why do I say this?  Because Ore no Imooto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai [My Sister Isn’t that Cute], otherwise known as Oreimo, had products at Kotobukiya, Sega and GoodSmile/Max Factory before the anime or game has come out.  Primarily a light novel series, there is only one volume of the manga, which is poorly rendered in my opinion.  This is great for me, because I just can’t wait for the anime, and after seeing a sneak peek at the game, I think I might be forced to pick that up as well.  Other titles of interest were Strike Witches, Black Rock Shooters (the vocaloid spinoff had its own private area in the Good Smile Company/Max Factory booth with a line so long I decided to skip it to catch the rest of the show) and Angel Beats!  Interestingly enough, it seems that the big companies are starting to dive into Touhou, the doujin shooter game that seems to have taken over ComiKet and the doujinshi world.

On the fan side of the show, this is where Japanese rules and attitudes towards intellectual property really create a unique creative environment.  Like ComiKet (Comic Market), there is a waiver of the need for fan produced kits to pay licensing fees.  The border between fan and pro is a bit nebulous, but the basic idea is that you are only allowed to sell it at WonFest without worrying about licenses.  This opens up fan artists to take a shot at creating figures for the characters they love.  Some of these fan made kits are simply incredible.  Everyone remembers the Haruhi in bunny outfit and fishnet stockings that was all over the internet.  That is an example of a fan made kit.  The show spanned three large areas (the size of Tokyo Game Show, if I recall correctly, which is also held at Makuhari Messe).  Two of the three halls were for very small companies and fan tables.  Some tables were empty, of course, since really serious fans sign up as an exhibitor to get into the show early so they can buy limited run items before they sell out. I walked around for several hours and saw a lot of very cool stuff.  Of course, not all of it was up to the quality of the industry product, but you could see a lot of heart and dedication in the products.  You really need to budget a few hours just to explore this part of the show.  If you consider that the show runs from 10AM to 5PM, that gives you roughly 7 hours.  If you take some breaks for food, drinks and the bathroom (essential considering the crowds and stifling heat), you will barely have time to see it all.  And that is assuming you did what I did, which is pretty much do a brisk walk past everything.  There were so many things I wanted to stop and look at, but there just wasn’t the time.  If it looks like there isn’t cosplay at this event based on my photos, you’re wrong!  There is lots of cosplay too.  But again, with only a few hours, you have to make strategic decisions about what you are going to see.

In addition to the industry and fan areas, there is also an 18+ area.  You must show identification to get into the area.  It wasn’t always clear to me why some things were inside that area and some things were on the general floor.  Obviously anything explicit was in the 18+ area, but some really nice figures were in the 18+ area that were not sexual at all…and some figures in the general audience area probably should have been in the 18+ area.  Anyway, be warned and bring some kind of ID.  If you are traveling, they will accept a passport.

First things first, Japanese are really touchy about photographs.  Assume that you do not have permission to shoot an image, and ask first.  If you are given permission, it is considered polite to thank them after taking the picture.  This is particularly true of professional models dressed in cosplay as well as fan cosplay, but it applies to static displays as well. YOU MUST ASK PERMISSION.

OK with that out of the way, survival guide and how to get there.  This is a bit tricky, and I made this mistake the first time I went to Tokyo Game Show.  DO NOT go to the Makuhari station on the JR Sobu line.  Go to the Kaihin-Makuhari Station (海浜幕張駅) on the JR Keiyo Line.  Once you leave the station there are a number of signs (and a walkway) that will direct you along the way, it is two blocks from the station to the convention hall, heading in a southwest direction.  The second tip is I’m used to Makuhari Messe during Tokyo Game Show.  Because that is a professional show (at least during the business days), all of the vending machines are well stocked and the food vendors are plentiful.  During WonFest, by 2PM, I found that the vendors were out of ice and selling warm drinks, and most of the vending machines had been totally cleared out of water or sports drinks.  The extra heat and humidity probably didn’t help either, but it might be wise to purchase drinks the night before and freeze them, or at the very minimum bring a bottle or two of water.  If you buy too much, I did see a takkyubin (delivery service) where people were loading up boxes to have them shipped.  To enter you will need to buy a guidebook for Y2000 (they use the guidebook as a ticket, much the same way ComiKet does it).  If you forgot to get a guidebook (like I did), you can get one onsite, it just delays your entry.  Last tip.  You will get crushed.  It has happened to me at every Japanese convention I have been to.  This one was particularly bad because you had everyone in the hall using everything from an DSLR with a gigantic lens and portable lighting rig to a cellphone trying to take pictures of all of the new release figures.  I was nearly crushed to death twice.  Yeah, it was really unpleasant being smashed into a sweaty fan that was starting to smell (by the afternoon this included the well dressed female fans not just the stereotypical male fanboy type, it was so hot and humid), just remember you’re part of the crushing mob and you probably don’t smell like roses yourself.  It was on par with being on a Tokyo rush hour train.  Consider yourself warned.

My final assessment for the show?  MORE TIME!  I wish I had more time, I wanted to do shopping, I wanted to talk to some of the creators, I wanted to see some of the stage shows that the bigger companies threw, I wanted to wait in line to see the Black Rock Shooter stuff, I wanted to grab some of those cool bags like they give away at Tokyo Game Show and Tokyo Anime Fair, I wanted to take pictures of cosplayers…instead, I had time to run through the various tables, take a few pictures, and nearly get crushed trying to take a picture of K-On! or Angel Beats! figures.  The one saving grace is that I was so busy running around, I think I saved myself at least a few hundred dollars.

OK, on to some images.  As I said, I nearly died taking photos, and a lot of places didn’t give permission to take pictures.  Here are a few that I managed to get permission, wasn’t being trampled and managed to get off a quick shot.

Alicia Melchiott (Valkyria Chronicles) by Kotobukiya

Gertrud Barkhorn (Strike Witches) by Kotobukiya

Kousaka Kirino (Oreimo) by Kotobukiya

Sorami Kanata (Sora no Woto) by Kotobukiya

Nendroid Hatsune Miku (Vocaloid) by Good Smile Company

Angel Beats Nendroid Collection 1 -Yusa, Yuri and Shiina
Angel Beats Nendroid Collection 2 -Yui, Tenshi/Kanade and Otonashi
Nakamura Yuri and Tenshi/Tachibana Kaede by Good Smile Company
Apparently the Yuri and Tenshi/Kanade figures are done from anime drawings to CG models to the actual figures.

Kotobuki Tsumugi (K-On!) by Max Factory
WANT.  She was already my favorite character.  People were killing themselves to take a picture of this figure.  There was a great Mio and Ritsu too, but I think Mugi-chan has some new fans now.

Kotobuki Tsumugi (K-On!) by Alter

Tainaka Ritsu (K-On!) by Alter

Agnes Boulange (Shukufuku no Campanella) by Volks A-Brand
GRRRR…I wanted this but they stopped sales.  They brought it back for the con only…I should have bought it right then but I wanted to keep looking.

SuperSylph (Yukikaze) by Platz
Again, I wanted this.  Maybe Alter will reissue theirs since they are releasing two new models.

Sgt. “Packy” Perkins and Botasky (Cat Sh*t One)

Human Sized Unit 1, 1:1 Scale Asuka Langley Soryu (Evangelion) by Akiyama Kobo, Inc.

VF-1A with Super and Strike Pack -looks like Super Pack on display (Macross: Ai Oboeteimasuka?) by Yamato

Fate Testarossa (Magical Lyrical Nanoha the Movie 1st) by Yamato
Perhaps the only Fate figure that didn’t require me getting killed to take the picture.  Don’t worry, there are LOTS of Nanoha/Fate figures.

Akiyama Mio (K-On!) and Nagi (Kannagi) by ?
I absolutely loved the Nagi, and the detail on the headphones for Mio was pretty cool.

Minna-Dietwinde Wilcke (Strike Witches) by Sachio

Mizunashi Akari and President Aria (Aria) by ?

Wermacht Girls -Pamela Levinski, Rosa Neumann and Erika ? (Originals) by ?

Princess Feena Fam Earthlight (Yoakena) by ?

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