From attending PAX Australia and Supanova Down Under, POP-con headed north to the Land of the Rising Sun for Tokyo Comic Con.
Japan is already known for massive fan conventions celebrating its own unique pop culture of anime, manga and games. Comic Market, or Comiket, draws over half a million people twice a year as the world’s biggest fair of self-published works, or doujinshi; while this year’s Tokyo Game Show attracted 270,000 visitors over four days.
The inaugural Tokyo Comic Con took place from Dec 2 to 4, focused on western pop culture for a change, and saw an attendance of 32,000.
It took up 13,500sq m of the International Exhibition Hall in Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo city. To put this in a Malaysian perspective, Tokyo Comic Con’s convention floor space was only about 10% less than the recent Comic Fiesta held in Putra World Trade Centre Halls 1 and 2 for 45,000 attendees over two days. While Tokyo Comic Con was not jam-packed like Comic Fiesta, its weekend crowd was substantial enough to form lengthy queues but still comfortable for attendees given the ample space and facilities available.
A Stan Lee cameo!
The convention’s roster of celebrities was headlined by comic-book legend Stan Lee. The godfather of Marvel Comics continues to be a popular guest at conventions, meeting fans in between making cameo appearances in movies. Lee graced the opening ceremony of the convention, delighting attendees with a level of energy and enthusiasm that celebrities far younger than his 93 years would be hard pressed to match.
He kidded that the convention could be mistaken for the famed San Diego Comic-Con and looked forward to Tokyo Comic Con growing just as large in the years to come. For the rest of the weekend, Lee was busy with autograph signings and photo sessions with droves of fans who forked out 15,000 yen (RM570) for the opportunity to meet him.
Other celebrities in the line-up included Jeremy Renner, Matthew Lewis and Billy Boyd. Japanese fans were really looking forward to seeing Hawkeye the Avenger in the flesh, as tickets for Renner’s autograph and photo sessions were sold out online before the convention started, even at prices matching those for Lee.
Lewis is best known as Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter movies, while Boyd played the Hobbit Pippin in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Lewis and Boyd took to the stage with Daniel Logan – young Boba Fett in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones – to share their impressions of the convention (Logan was also the Japan-US “goodwill ambassador” for the event).
Upcoming movies promoted at the convention included Assassin’s Creed and Biohazard: The Final which had major exhibits on the convention floor. Biohazard is known elsewhere in the world as Resident Evil and The Final Chapter concludes a six-movie saga that began in 2002. Milla Jovovich returns as Alice, The movie opened in Japan in late December and hits theatres elsewhere around the world – including Malaysia – later this month.
The movie’s showcase at Tokyo Comic Con included photo ops with an Umbrella Corporation motorcycle, a “zombie transformation” photo session and costume displays. There was also a complementary promo for the upcoming Resident Evil 7: Biohazard video game, with attendees getting the chance to shoot zombie targets with Mini Airsoft guns on a shooting range.
Also represented was independent horror movie Gehenna – Where Death Lives, which was funded through Kickstarter in early 2015. Directed, co-written and produced by Hiroshi Katagiri, the movie was completed in July and is currently being screened at selected film festivals and events including Tokyo Comic Con.
Katagiri mastered the art of sculpture at the renowned Stan Winston Studio, contributing to blockbuster movies like Jurassic Park III, Doom and War Of The Worlds. Gehenna stems from his lifelong passion to create a truly scary movie using practical special effects and was independently funded so as to remain true to his vision.
Believing that the next big entertainment franchise may be spawned through such crowdfunding projects, Malaysian Kee Saik Meng invested in Gehenna and joined the production shoot on the island of Saipan. Kee is credited as an executive producer and will be developing a virtual reality game for the movie through his local entertainment technology startup Havson Group.
The convention also had a Hollywood gallery presented as a timeline chronicling the last century of filmmaking.
Actual movie props displayed included Batman’s costume from The Dark Knight Rises and a T-800 endoskeleton from the Terminator franchise, plus exhibits of Japanese special effects showcasing the creepy shinigami (soul reaper) Ryuk from the Death Note series and the mother of all kaiju, Godzilla – but scaled to human size.
Cosplay at Tokyo Comic Con was nearly 100% Western pop culture with Star Wars, Marvel and DC characters walking around the convention floor, as well as the latest all-woman Ghostbusters team. A Cosplay Fashion Show presented by AirAsia saw lucky contestants winning free flights. AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail was on hand to award Japanese cosplayer Gai the Good Cosplayer Award for a gruesome rendition of Resident Evil’s William Birkin in monstrous Stage 1 G-form. Gai was subsequently flown over to Kuala Lumpur as a special guest at our very own Comic Fiesta convention.
On the memorabilia and merchandise front, Japanese manufacturers were represented by Bandai, Kaiyodo and Prime 1 Studios, among others. With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story due for release shortly after the convention, there were many Star Wars products on show – not just action figures but also watches, backpacks, jewellery, papercraft, floating lights and more.
Much of the content at the convention was presented in Japanese, without translations into English, so the event experience was not as complete for those attendees who do not understand the language. It’s like going to Tokyo Disneyland, where all the rides and shows are conducted in Japanese. The attractions are still entertaining, but you just won’t get all of it.
For updates on Tokyo Comic Con 2017 (no date announced as yet), keep checking at the official website, tokyocomiccon.jp. Readers keen to be part of expeditions to pop culture conventions overseas may join the Facebook group Ultimate Pop Culture Convention Adventures at https://www.facebook.com/groups/YconventionAdventures/