Today is AnimeJapan, the largest convention for animation in Japan. This year, one hundred and twenty thousand cartoon enthusiasts are expected to visit the event. Luckily, a friend of mine has saved me the effort of having to pay and has managed to get me a free ticket; a saving of ¥2,000. Three giant stages, 132 exhibits from the large Anime companies, plus a mix of lesser know stands hosted by various Japanese universities.
It is unsurprising really, but each of the individuals exhibits heavily features women dressed in Cosplay, otherwise known as Booth Babes. These often attractive young women are here to lure in men. Almost entirely female, controversial promotional models are often considered to be sexually objectifying to women, and it is a practice that has since been stopped in all other countries. In Japan, however, this style of promotion is still considered to be okay, and at AnimeJapan, these women are everywhere.
I wander through the exhibition halls and make a stop off at the Hi-Animation stage to witness some virtual reality. The people here, who have been queueing for three hours, are trying out the latest product from Sony, the HMZ-T3W; a direct competitor to Oculus Rift. This wireless headset allows participants to watch a live concert performed by characters from Cinderella Girls, a simulation-based game where the player takes on the role of a music producer. Sony offers the live concert in full surround sound, with total immersion, and three-dimensional imagery. Despite this being AnimeJapan, it seems that video games are the most popular attraction today.
The next stand is another video game, Girl Friend Beta. Originally a dating based smartphone game, it is now being adapted into an animated television series. Rather than showcase the game or show previews for the series, a special dance based game has been set up here, and a huge crowd has been drawn in to watch as two women dressed in school uniform demonstrate the game on a giant video screen.
I skip the chance to get on stage and play the game and instead continue my mindless wandering. At some stands, original drawings can be viewed, at others, previews and trailers are displayed showing new releases for the Anime season which is due to start next month. At almost every area, a chance to interact by playing video games is on offer. The event seems to heavily feature interactive content, to give visitors a more hands-on feel. Perhaps this approach is a clever way to make people more interested, or perhaps, a lot of places are short of ideas to keep people engaged.
Despite the flashing lights, multiple television screens, video games, Cosplaying girls, and promotional models, it would be a fair assessment to say that unlike other events I have been to at Tokyo Big Sight, AnimeJapan is most definitely the loudest. I have walked around for only twenty minutes, but already feel myself getting a headache. What certainly doesn’t help matters, is the multiple people pushing promotional flyers into my face as I walk, or the men that have no concept of distance, and will happily shout through a megaphone whilst it is inches away from my ears.
I take a look at the charity auction. Anime originals and various signed products can be bid on here, and all the money will be used for charities pertaining to earthquakes and disasters. ¥14,000,000 was raised from the auction last year, and a similar amount is expected to be raised again today. The winning bidders will cross over to another dimension, or so the sign misleading states. What it really means though, is that the winning persons will be illustrated and added as side characters in various popular Anime.
I check out some of the more amateur booths and those run by the various universities. These stalls are a lot smaller than the mainstream booths, and often feature an array of original frame drawings to browse through. Hand drawn and excellent. One such stall is the Yoyogi Animation School, the largest school for animation in Japan, and perhaps the best. Here, a presentation is being watched by five people. Standing guard over the speakers is a man dressed as a giant blue chicken.
My overall impression of this event differs from my expectations. Surprisingly, there are a lot more women here than I expected, thanks to a rise in animation depicting male characters performing sports. The most popular of such shows is a new cycling Anime featuring men and bicycles. Productions of other popular animation depicting sport include those with themes based around Mahjong, golf, figure skating, and fishing.
I wander around, passing queues that seemingly lead to nowhere, demonstration booths where I can watch people create plastic figures, paint, and draw original frames by hand. I see cakes in the theme of characters, saké depicting Anime characters, all sold out, and various other shops selling toys and figurines. On one of the stages, a loud announcement is made, much to the delight of the thousands of spectators. An eerie ripple of clapping fills the halls for a brief moment, before stopping suddenly, as if someone was messing around with an applaud switch.
After exploring the exhibition at great length, I discover that there really isn’t a lot here that excites me. Having never really bothered watching Anime, I suppose it would obviously be hard for me to enjoy the event. For the thousands of fanatics here though, they all seem quite happy to queue for hours to speak to a voice actress for thirty seconds, or spend huge amounts of money on a signed frame from their favourite show. For me, these things don’t really interest me, and I become disappointed through no fault of the event.
As I push through hoards of excited zombies, flittering from booth to booth like bees to flowers, I decide that enough is enough. On my way out, my headache intensifies, and I realise that AnimeJapan might have been a bit too much for me. Bright lights and loud megaphones, each booth with huge flashing screens blaring out trailers and noise. Far too much noise.
It appears I am not the only one suffering though. The exit is blocked by passed out people and sleeping Otaku, drained from a long day of all things Anime. I actually have to step over people to reach the outside of the venue. I breathe a final sigh of relief when clean fresh air returns to my lungs, before heading for the train, and getting as far away from Tokyo Big Sight as possible.