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FRI’s eye: Wonder Festival 2016


Are you familiar with “garage kits”?

They’re models (figures) that aren’t mass-produced, but rather are mainly made by amateur individuals or groups in small quantities. Among the events where they display and sell these garage kits is the Wonder Festival event, which attracts over 50,000 people. This is a report from the Wonder Festival 2016 [Winter], held February 7th.

When Wonder Festival first launched in 1984, it emphasized kaiju (giant monsters) and such, but in recent years there have been a lot of figures of pretty girls on display. At this event we saw a lot of figures of characters from popular games and anime like Love Live! and Kantai Collection, and the more popular booths sold out not long after the doors opened. Aside from pretty girls, mechanical things like robots and spaceships were popular. Due to bad timing we weren’t able to see them despite their popularity, but lately the recently remade Space Battleship Yamato 2199, the longtime favorite Armored Trooper Votoms, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes, which had recently received a new anime series, all drew a lot of attention. In the tokusatsu (live action special effects) field, the longtime favorite Godzilla series was also a draw. There were figures that skillfully reproduced the various versions of Godzilla through the generations, and even a number of larger figures of Godzilla and Mothra and such that looked like they would be suitable for use in an actual film.

Works on display that followed current trends were popular of course, but since these are stubbornly individual works, there were also many interesting products on display based on older titles or ones without any great popularity. This event is unique for how it includes those who’ve kept making kits on the same themes for a decade or more, and those who are rendering their original characters in three dimensions.
Also, though you might expect products made by amateurs and individuals to be less complete than those commercially available, but that’s a big misconception. The quality does vary between makers, but among them many of these figures are from creators who aren’t so concerned with profit, who can put time into small details that a large-scale factory can’t. Encountering these sorts of figures is a big part of the appeal of Wonder Festival.

Also, Wonder Festival isn’t limited to amateurs, and there are “industry booths” put on by manufacturers and content companies. Manufacturer booths offer presentations of their latest figures, show off prototypes of figures in production, sell special limited edition products only available at this festival, and so on, which has helped draw more attendees in recent years. Here too the most popular offerings are characters from trendy anime and games. The Good Smile Company’s booth in particular had an actual-size tank from Girls und Panzer that drew a constant crowd, and a special limited edition “Figma Anglerfish Team Set” of poseable figures sold out quickly at the event.
Aside from anime-related products, the Ultraman series and Godzilla monsters are perennial favorites. Kaiyodo, which organized the festival, had their “sofubi” (soft vinyl) toys out in force, with an incredible level of quality that will certainly surprise past generations who have only seen toys in the old days. Their “Mega Sofubi Advance” series’ latest offerings include an African elephant, and they surpass previous sofubi toys to the point where they look practically like the real thing.

The industry booth for the new Macross Delta anime series that starts in April was an unusual one. They not only had special screenings of the latest anime and character products available for purchase, but since the Macross series makes song such a central theme, they held a karaoke contest.

The industry booth area also had a stage for special events like anime presentations and exhibition events, and it was apparent that Wonder Festival has become a promotion venue for the industry. These rich events, which go beyond what individuals could put on, are one reason that Wonder Festival draws so many people.

The area surrounding Wonder Festival’s venue has a cosplay corner set up, and its main attraction is that people are allowed to bring things like prop swords, staffs, and guns that aren’t usually allowed in many events. From swordsmen carrying huge blades to magical girls with colorful wands, the craftsmanship that goes into creating these props elevates the faithfulness of cosplay. This backdrop of people displaying the highly skilled reproducibility of the props, and displaying them and selling them displaying and selling molded products has become a part of Wonder Festival’s background scenery.

Some readers may be wondering about the matter of copyright and merchandising rights for fan-made character goods. To resolve this problem, Wonder Festival has what it calls a “one-day rights” system. Exhibitors who are offering non-original goods based on copyrighted content send a report to the organizers in advance, who in turn negotiate in bulk for merchandising rights that are limited to the day of the event. This system lets fans create derivative products without infringing on copyrights, and other events have started to follow suit.

Looking around Wonder Festival, we can see how fans and creators could come together in the Japanese market to give a boost to their favorite contents. Just seeing the displays, which overflowed with sentiments of “I love this work!”, we felt oddly energized. The next Wonder Festival will be held on July 24th at Makuhari Messe. If you are interested, why not go and take a look?

Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment. This article was written by the member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests that discovered from daily life.