Hyper Japan 2010 Report
Date: Sunday 31st October 2010 [17:04] | Posted By: Priss
For Japanese culture fans, October began with a bang at Hyper Japan, a new and highly anticipated event on the UK otaku calendar for 2010. Hosted by Eat-Japan (the number one site for Japanese food, sushi and sake), the show was a sensational success, drawing in excess of 15,000 visitors over the 3 days, a remarkable feat for what was the debut of this cultural festival. The event was located in the heart of London's Shoreditch at Brick Lane, an area well known for its offbeat character and for the eclectic, hip and chic. Standing in the line with the eager attendees, the atmosphere was alive with the building excitement as cosplayers, anime fans and the culturally curious all assembled to enjoy a different class of convention. The preshow campaign, organised and delivered by a Japanese enterprise was loaded with ample incentive for any fan of Japan to take a look at what the exhibitors had to offer. I, in my cosplay guise as Queen's Blade's spectral maid Airi, lined up with the happy crowds all eager to meet and greet, eat and shop! After conquering the queue and ascending the staircase in my heels, a veritable treasure trove was to be found, serving the many delights of Japanese culture and cuisine.
What made Hyper Japan a world apart from all prior Japanese culture events I have attended in the UK before was the fantastic line-up of high profile Japanese companies. Many of these exhibitors were arriving to our shores for the first time, presenting some of the hottest hobby and character goods, high fashion and kawaii couture.
From the cutest merchandise and exquisite Lolita fashion of Baby the Stars Shine Bright, to a slew of shows and competitions the event aimed to cater to every age and taste. For discerning hobbyists, rewards came in the form of Hobby Japan and innovative figure producer Goodsmile Company.
Dashing in the door, my first stop had to be Hobby Japan. The company commands great respect and publishes the not only the most comprehensive magazines for figure collectors but is producer of the mighty Queen's Blade series. The fiercely popular fantasy fanservice sensation is a series of visual combat gaming books, each featuring a femme fatale with her own unique attributes combat skills. The glossy pages showcase all the girls' moves and inglorious states of defeat (and undress). A line of figures has accompanies the books, which have immense appeal for figure fans across the world. Queen's Blade has been followed hot on the heels of the stunning sword fighting fantasy Hyakka Ryoran, which makes its debut as an anime in Japan this autumn. When an exclusive and limited piece is produced in Japan, often the most sought after and memorable figures are produced by Hobby Japan. International fans have been known to pay exorbitant amounts to get their hands on these limited pieces of legend (I myself being more than guilty of falling prey to this irresistible urge). To pay tribute to one of my favourite publishing companies I came prepared, dressed as Queen's Blade's Infernal Temptress, the spectral maid Airi. I summoned up my courage, straightened the frills of my apron (as every good maid should) and stepped over to meet the HJ representatives. I was greeted with warmth and excitement as I was requested to stand in front of their booth to pose for shots holding aloft the book of Airi!
After reserving my purchases, I was soon to find out to my delight and honour that I was speaking with the President of Hobby Japan, himself.
The stand boasted a fine spread of the Queen's Blade books with a selection of figures. As a person who could certainly be categorised as a serious figure fan (currently owning a collection more than 400 pieces strong), I was, in truth somewhat under whelmed by figure selection provided, the majority of which was not particularly fresh or hot in the figure market. This is not to say, however, that I failed to find anything to take my fancy! I came away with a super sultry cosplay photo book featuring a model dressed as Airi and a Yosuga no Sora swimsuit figure.
Next stop was Goodsmile's who had arrived to celebrate their new star series, sponsoring the international licensing launch of the irrepressibly popular Black Rock Shooter. A video screen summoned me to their stand featuring an illustrious display of Black Rock goods including the luxurious line-up of figures produced for the striking and sultry series. These stars shone brightly within the glass display cases, temptingly close. I suspect that on sight, a new flurry of preorders from the visitors will have been made by those who had a chance to see the figures up close and in the figurative flesh. While these delights were not for immediate sale, GSC had come prepared and offered two of their hot posable products from the figma and nendoroid lines, along with t-shirts, clearfiles, and adorable phone charms. At such stunningly good prices the figures were snapped up and sold out before closing time on Saturday! Any fan indulging in the bevy of Black Rock Shooter goods available was rewarded with a complimentary copy of the OVA, fresh with English subtitles. Goodsmile certainly lived up to their name, with friendly staff serving extremely happy fans.
Returning to Hobby Japan I took the opportunity to discuss the industry first hand, with president Daisuke Matsushita. In our exchange, I tried to convey the enthusiasm of the UK otaku community, that there is a strong force of fans who would welcome more direct links with the culture they love and opportunities to buy the products they want.
Hobby Japan often collaborate with license holders of some of Japan's hottest series from the worlds of game and anime to produce fantastic pieces that they offer exclusively through the Hobby Japan magazine. This of course serves the purpose of powerfully promoting the products of companies such as Bushiroad (responsible for the Fate/Stay series who were also present among the exhibitors) and makes Hobby Japan a magazine that for figure collectors, simply cannot be missed.
As Queen's Blade continues to generate excitement and a vast international fan following, I was keen to probe the secrets of its success.
As the characters are always fighting to be the last girl standing, I was interested to find out which of the candidates in the sexy skirmish would be the victor in a popularity contest.
The Queen's Blade cast are as remarkably diverse, completely unfettered by convention or consistency. The art is produced by numerous character designers, the girls emerge from many genres and appeal to many fetishes with their own "moe" points. The series even features cameo appearances from famous fighting games girls such as King of Fighters and Guilty Gear.
According to Matsushita-san, in their native Japan no single Queen's Blade character comes out on top, which is in part down to the design diversity of the deadly divas which fortifies the series with its unique and universal appeal. I wondered if M-san's answer was the diplomatic that playing favourites with the girls would be taboo and to name a favourite would go too far against the spirit of the eternal moe melee. If so, more power to Hobby Japan and long live Queen's Blade!
Beyond Japan a surprise answer came for who had been crowned the European queen. I had my bets placed on the traditional fantasy fare, the elfin warriors, the sword wielder princesses or even the extraordinarily busty weapon smith Catteleya. Imagine if you will, a woman her body part composed of pink gelatinous slime, with sweet pink shoes and bunny ears to boot, a curvaceous creature with the deadliest powers of metamorphosis. She uses her abilities to entrap foes and detonate parts her body like plastic explosives. This is our queen, the mighty morphing jelly bunny Melona tops the popularity polls on the continent! Strange but true!
It was an insightful exchange and we talked of our respective passions, his for classic English vintage cars to my own ardent appreciation of Japanese cuisine. When I revealed my enthusiasm for seafood Matsushita-san's recommendation was the elusive monkfish liver sashimi. A delicacy rarely seen in the UK, I will have to go on the prowl to score this particular piece of fish.
It was truly a pleasure to engage Matsushita-san in conversation, a man with pride and conviction in the Hobby Japan enterprise, an empire that embodies the figure fan's deepest desires.
Toei Animation, to promote the Strong World movie brought with them a larger-than-life softly flocked inflatable Tony Tony Chopper, the world's cutest human-reindeer from Eichiro Oda's irrepressible adventure series One Piece. His blue nose, irresistible to squeeze was pleasingly fuzzy and yielded to the touch! A warm feeling emanated from the inflated huge form that gently stirred with the vibrations of the air in circulating his plump body. Naturally, he was a top photo shot stop and received many hugs. Chopper is, after all, testament to the fact that cute characters make the best babe magnets at shows.
For the final roundup, following my appetite, I had a good explore of the offerings on the sweet and savoury sides of the show. For a girl who readily partakes in a Japanese style diet at home, it was a prime chance to learn more about the culinary wonders of Japan and meet the people who were there to share and celebrate this very special part of their culture. The Japanese have a dedication to food and an irrefutable commitment to excellence. Atari-ya brought a booth of supreme sweet snacks, my favourite traditional sweet shop Minamoto Kitchoan served up my delightful breakfast in the form of kinako ohagi (a soft azuki rice cake, coated in malty toasted soybean flour). Aromas of yakitori and takoyaki filled the air as the chefs set to work over their sizzling skillets.
The stalls even tempted otaku with legendary items of Akiba such as moe zake (alcohol, each with it's own unique flavour and cute girl character), Dragon Quest Slime drinks. For me it was sushi that I savoured, (I tucked into a tasty bespoke bento from the lovely people at Atari-ya who were kind enough to serve me up a few slices of unadulterated salmon sashimi).
Following an exciting and fulfilling day I can readily say that Hyper Japan was a truly exceptional occasion that for the most part really lived up to my expectations. I was delighted by unanticipated joys, had great encounters with exceptional people and discovered many new things. There's a lot to be said for authenticity, for bringing Japanese companies to the UK for a meeting of minds and cultures, where both visitors and attendees were eager to learn more about each other. It was clear from meeting the people behind the booths that the exhibitors were testing the water of the UK market. I hope their experiences will help to build greater connections between our cultures for the future.
There was an electric atmosphere at the event, generated by the genuine enthusiasm and excitement of both the UK attendees and the exhibitors who were all there with a shared purpose - to celebrate culture together. For those who have been to Japan before, the event may have evoked memories of Japan's indigenous appeal – for those who have yet to go, it brought the culture closer to home than ever before. Hyper Japan was a great chance to experience genuine encounters with Japanese culture.
Let's hope the Hyper Japan returns in similar style, that Eat-Japan serve up and even grander cultural buffet for next year and that the Japanese guests know that the UK fans are here and seriously hungry for more.