Showing posts with label cosplay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cosplay. Show all posts

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Brief History of Hobby and Fandom Conventions in the Philippines

I'm fresh from the New Worlds Alliance 5 Convention where various local fandom groups converged. In the days prior to the event, one email I got from the mailing list I was part of is that someone was baffled at how a convention could be held in a mall of all places, as he was used to US events were most conventions were hosted in a hotel or some similar location. Now that fact I take for granted but it made me realize how different--and unique--the Philippine hobby and fandom culture has become. In this essay, I'll attempt to tackle the evolution of the local convention industry, at least as far as fandoms and hobbies are concerned.

The first question I think we have to ask is why hold a convention? Of course each sub-culture has reason to congregate in large numbers and meet with like-minded people. In the case of the hobby and fandom convention, there were clearly precedents abroad (with science fiction conventions and all) but what would entice local fans to hold such an event? One of my longest passions has been anime and as much as I want to attribute the origins of the local fandom conventions to it, I can't. If there's anyone to blame, it's my retired hobby of Collectible Card Games (CCGs), Magic: The Gathering.

As early as 1995, the CCG Magic: The Gathering was a big hit in the country. For those unaware, Magic: The Gathering is a game played by two people, competing in a chess-like environment except instead of chess pieces, one uses cards. Of course like chess, there are professional tournaments where cash prizes can be won (and the champions are even sent abroad to compete). In the late 90's, the game was slowly becoming more and more popular with official and non-official tournaments held on a regular (at least monthly) basis. Novelty Entertainment, the company that was distributing the CCG (and would later import other CCGs as well), was heavily marketing these tournaments and there was a point when turn-outs at such tournaments numbered in the hundreds (either as participants, friends keen on watching the games, or independent vendors looking to sell/trade cards at the last minute). At the time, there were no hobby stores that could accommodate such numbers so the organizers usually held the event at malls, renting the space where mall events usually occur (anywhere from masses [yes, Filipinos hold mass at malls] to bingo games).

I forgot the exact year, whether it was 1998 or 1999, but Novelty Entertainment would later push for a bigger event: a Collectibles Convention where various retailers could peddle their wares all in one place. Unlike the conventions of the current decade, the highlight of such conventions back then wasn't cosplaying but rather the CCG tournaments they would host. Of course the question again was where would such a convention be held? Unlike the previous tournaments where all you needed were some tables and chairs, running a convention was an entirely different matter. Aside from a huge space, larger than what was taken up by tournaments, running a convention would need sound systems, electrical outlets, and booths that could be managed by individual retailers. One of the largest and most popular malls at the time, SM Mega Mall, had a venue for such an event. In fact, it was a hall rented out to various non-hobby related conventions and for quite some time, was the venue of the Philippine Book Fair. It was the Mega Trade Hall, 3 modular halls that could accommodate a huge number of people. All 3 halls were usually rented (depending on the budget) and the place was divided among the retailers. It was a bazaar of sorts as not only CCGs were sold but any shop that was closely related to the hobby such as comics, anime, and toys.

The convention enjoyed some success, at least enough to perpetuate it several times. I remember working for one of the retailers during the 3rd such convention and it was easily the place I satiated my desire to meet fellow anime fans. Unfortunately, Novelty Entertainment would later fold as a business and with it this massive, multi-hobby convention. That's not to say there weren't events that attempted such a convention. I faintly remember a Star Wars mini-convention at the smaller Shangri-La atrium although I never really got to attend the event. And then there was this Otaku Rave anime party hosted by Sterling Animation but it lacked a certain excitement for me and was more of a rave party for anime fans.

Of course in 1999, it was at that time that pockets of anime culture was being cultivated. Not only was anime hitting it mainstream thanks to Yu Yu Hakusho ("Ghost Fighter" is the local dub of the show) and Gundam Wing, but smaller events such as an anime film showing was behind held by various groups (I cleary remember the Anime@Arki shows in UP as well as the OraCafe screenings by Anima Anime). And then in 2000, the wish of every anime fan came true: we had a convention that was solely devoted to anime. The name of the event was entitled Anime Explosion 2000 and was held at the SM Mega Trade Hall over the span of three days (it was a weekend and semester break for the students to boot). What made it different from the previous Collectibles Convention is that this garnered much publicity, supposedly over 11,000 people in attendance, in spite of the entrance fee (P100.00 or around $3.00 at the time).

Now before I continue, I'd like to tackle the economics of such a convention. One reason why such conventions were held at the Mega Trade Hall wasn't simply because it was the only place such a convention could be held, the organizers (I assume) also want to garner a lot of foot traffic and make it affordable. In the US, conventions are usually held at hotels and there's lots of pre-registration. In conventions here, there's less pre-registration and more of impromptu walk-ins. I don't remember if the Collectibles Convention charged for its entrance but if there was, the cost was minimal. For the most part, the attendees of the Collectibles Convention were by people aware of the event or simply people interested in buying toys (be it kids or adults). Anime Explosion 2000, on the other hand, seemed to attract a wider demographic despite its narrower focus. I'm sure some of the attendees heard of the event prior to that day but it's also not uncommon for anime conventions both present and future to attract the attention of people who didn't even know there was such an event going on by its sheer location (usually malls). I've attended conventions that weren't held in malls but the result of such events is that it tends to be inclusive--that is the only participants are the die-hard fans themselves who have heard of the event previously. Such events are minimal in attendance (hundreds at most) but I think that is the target market of the organizers. Rather than simply attracting numbers, they're more focused on the quality of the participants.

Anyway, moving back to the topic, the 11,000 attendance was a strong indicator that organizing such an event was feasible, and made it look like a worthwhile endeavor to sponsors. In many ways, Anime Explosion 2000 was the first event of its kind and in my opinion was perhaps one of the best conventions ever held. However, not all of its elements would be retained in future conventions: First and foremost, Anime Explosion 2000 introduced cosplay to the Philippines. That's not to say there weren't any cosplay events here in the Philippines prior to that event (we held one at Anime@Arki even before Anime Explosion 2000), but that was the time when it hit mainstream consciousness. I'd like to think the cosplay event was the main attraction of the convention and in retrospect, is one of the legacies of the con that's still being put into practice today, irregardless of whether you're an anime convention or not. The second was the special guest: Anime Explosion 2000 featured Yuu Watase, creator of the manga/anime Fushigi Yuugi. Now in US cons, I'm sure they usually have a special guest, whether it's an actor, the dubber, or the seiyuu or a particular fandom. In the Philippines, honestly, that doesn't happen often. Most conventions are more of an event by fans for fellow fans, and so special guests aren't always possible. That's not to say there haven't been special guests in conventions such as artists and designers from Japan but that seldom happens. Anime Explosion 2000 was marketed as the first appearance of Yuu Watase in the Philippines but the special guest feature isn't replicated in subsequent cons. The third factor which was important for me was that for the most part, a lot of related industries were united. The event was backed up by cable channel AXN for example. There was also the participation of the various animation groups in the Philippines (ArtFarm Asia and Toei comes to mind). For the most part, I think everyone wanted this to succeed. Later conventions, in my opinion, seemed to have splintered groups participating in the event. Instead of a united front, the various institutions held their own convention, such as the AXN holding its own AXN Convention (I'm not saying that this is a bad thing or that it could have been averted, merely that it's different). The last legacy is the specialization. While The Collectibles Convention was a hodgepodge of various interests, Anime Explosion 2000 was focused on one medium. This is perhaps the other element that is retained in present conventions: focus.

As successful as the Anime Explosion was, it wouldn't be replicated until a year later. Since then, there seems to be an anime convention being held every year under one organizer or another. Of course it wouldn't only be anime that would cash in on this market. Over the years, several "specialized" conventions would pop up: video games, comics, toys, jpop/rock, etc. Instead of this melting pot of various groups and fandoms, local conventions these days seem to be drifting towards a specific agenda. The one exception I think is the New Worlds Alliance. They first popped up in 2003 and what's peculiar is that they're not quite specialized. Instead of merely focusing on one fandom, the New Worlds Alliance is a combination of sorts, drawing in various related fields such as anime or a particular cult title. Perhaps its one concession is that on some years, each event is "hosted" by one fandom group, such as Star Wars when the Episode III movie was debuting in that particular year. Another highlight of such conventions, as I said before, was the cosplay aspect. Whether as a formal event (a catwalk on stage) or an informal one (where fans merely pop up in costume), cosplaying seems to be prevalent in conventions (no doubt due to the cosplayers who have developed into a fandom of their own and desire to appear in costume, accommodating the themes of the various events). In the formal cosplay competition, this can be observed by the fact that the catwalk is usually the "prime time" slot of most conventions, anywhere from mid-afternoon to early in the evening, capping off the event. Of course cosplaying is also audience friendly as many people will ask people in costume if they could take their photo with them. And a couple of fandoms such as Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Star Wars don their costumes like uniforms, identifying their particular allegiances.

Currently, there's almost like a convention-like event occurring almost every month, with various hobbies and interests being promoted as well as cosplay competitions being a vital part of the program. As for Magic: The Gathering and other CCGs, tournaments are still being held at the mall regularly although the local distributor stopped adopting the convention model for such events. That's not to say they didn't attempt one before and it seemed an enjoyable event in itself. But as far as conventions are concerned, a variety of events are popping up, so much so that they even surprise me. Which is probably a good thing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Footnote to the Philippine Cosplay Phenomenon

One of the memories that stick out from the 90's was the first attempt at an anime convention. Sterling Animation was capitalizing with the popularity of Slam Dunk and decided to hold an "Anime Rave Party". The event was divided into two segments, the afternoon for those under 18, and the evening for those above that age bracket. There were no special guests, just a dark room and bar with banners and streamers on the walls. It was an easily forgettable experience (and I wouldn't be surprised if many don't remember that it even ever existed). A year or two later, AnimeExplosion 2000 was held at the Mega Trade Hall in Mega Mall. There were more than 10,000 attendees over the span of three days. For many people, the highlight of the event was the cosplay. Fans dressed up in costume and paraded themselves in front of complete strangers but fellow fans. It was easily the most memorable event for me. And apparently the same can be said for a lot of people. Seven years down the line, cosplaying is still thriving. In fact, in many ways, it's outgrown its initial roots. Lately, whenever there's a pop culture convention of any sort, there's a cosplay event: anime convention, j-rock convention, video game convention, comics convention, toy conventions, Star Wars convention, etc. There's an entire generation who live to cosplay no matter what the genre or theme.

This is all interesting for me because initially, I associated cosplaying with anime. Normally, the only time I'd expect cosplayers were in an anime convention. Even before AnimeExplosion 2000, the country already had a fledging market of hobbyists and fans. There were regular conventions held at the Mega Trade Hall but instead of a focused niche, it was a chopsuey of various fandoms and interests: Collectible Card Game (CCG) fans, comic fans, anime fans, model kit fans, etc. Did we have a cosplay? No. But we nonetheless attended the convention because it was a place for bargains and a chance to meet up with fellow fans (more of the former than the latter). In many ways, AnimeExplosion 2000 changed all of that. Cosplaying I think became more than just dressing up and acting in front of people. It became the main attraction of conventions. Instead of non-events (with the exception of CCG tournaments) and blindly walking through the stalls, there was an actual performance, an actual show for people to get involved with. And this is where the social dynamic gets interesting. When people get isolated in a place whether it's trying out for the school paper with fellow freshmen or waiting in line for Neil Gaiman to sign your book, people will socialize with each other (perhaps they're bored, perhaps they're curious, but that's irrelevant--people start talking to each other). That was, in many ways, the scenario faced by the initial cosplayers. Here we are dressed up in costume for the first time in front of thousands of people. Gee, I'm glad I'm not the only one here. What's your name? And so a bond between cosplayers was formed. But it's not only the cosplayers who truly got involved. So did the audience. I can't believe there are people who have the skill to make such costumes and the courage to go up on stage! A part of the audience eventually became cosplayers themselves. Another segment simply admires them and treat them as quasi-celebrities.

Of course back in 2000, anime conventions were scarce. You were fortunate if you got away with two a year. So over the years, the cosplaying community improvised. There's no cosplaying event? We'll hold one. And since the cosplayers are not just anime fans, they also incorporated it into their other interests. For example, there was a socialite Halloween Party by Tim Yap for example and some cosplayers showed up in the event in their full glory, in a non-anime costume. During a local gaming convention hosted by the local distributor (alas, the corporation that distributes RPGs is the same corporation that distributes miniatures, Warhammer, and CCGs--any CCGs; we're at the mercy of a monopoly), cosplayers dressed up as Magic: The Gathering characters and Star Wars vehicles. The cosplaying phenomenon began with the anime community but the cosplaying community soon splintered into a community of their own. And as much as a lot can be credited to these initial anime cosplayers, other fandoms have proven that they can walk side-by-side with the best. The Trekkies all showed up in Starfleet uniforms. Amidala clones and Stormtroopers heralded the presence of the Star Wars group. I think it's unanimous when we say that we were wowed with the Nazgul and orcs from Lord of the Rings, or the resemblance and acting of fans from Pirates of the Carribean.

These days, it seems like there's a cosplay-related event every month. A gaming convention? Okay, cosplay! An upcoming comic convention? Cosplay! Just recently, the annual Manila International Book Fair held a cosplay competition. At this rate, I don't think it's fair to associate cosplayers with just one segment of a fandom, but rather they're a cult phenomenon of their own.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fabric Warehouse

I was with one of our magazine's stylists during the weekend, tagging along as I am wont to do. Eventually, we landed in an actual fabric warehouse where they sell the material in bulk, priced by the kilo. Of course if you're looking for a specific fabric, well, you'll have to do it the way bibliophiles scrounge for their books: you do it one lane at a time. However, for those of you who might be interested in such pursuits (i.e. cosplayers), you might want to visit the place.

Warehouse #4 Tantuco Complex
No. 100 Conception Street
Brgy. Buting, Pasig City, Philippines
Tel. No. 641-2764

Monday, September 18, 2006

Beyond Anime

This one is much more recent, which I wrote in March of last year. Some of you might have even spotted this in one of my livejournal entries. Anyway, it was supposed to be a feature for my second, defunct anime fanzine Fanime, but I put it on hold indefinitely, until last year of course. It's a good example of how anime fans in general aren't these elitist snobs, but that anime culture can be socially relevant as well.

In any subculture hobby, the masses will often have a different perspective of things. In the past, for example, anime fans have been thought of as geeks or adults who are still fascinated with cartoons. In the present, anime has perhaps been passively accepted as part of the norm, a product of the current generation.

Reach Out Otaku (ROO), an organization comprised of anime fans, is a good example that beneath all the glitz and the glamour, that anime enthusiasts can be socially responsible and still participate in their hobby. Formed in July 17, 2001, ROO began by visiting street children in Kanlungan, Erma and held some workshops for them. A year and a half later, it would also tie up with the Musmos organization based in Ateneo and would hold “Krismusmos”, a Christmas party for the street children in Katipunan. I interviewed them back in 2002, a few months after their successful Christmas party, but several months before they would host Krismusmos.

Gem, founder of ROO, was initially inspired by watching some street kids play Dragonball Z. “Parang they were imitating the anime character. So why not help, street kids sila eh. Kahit street kids sila, na-aapreciate nila yung anime. So at least natutulungan ko sila.” (“They were like imitating the anime character. So why not help since they are street kids. Even though they are street children, they apprecite anime. At least this way, we are able to help them.”) But it would only be after an anime convention that Gem would make formal plans for the organization. “Basically the idea started after Cosplay Manila. So parang, napag-isip ako, for the December party iyon, at since maraming kids nag-enenjoy seeing people cosplaying their favorite anime characters in costume, why not incorporate it with charity work? Since ‘yun nga, maraming pa lang tao na involved sa outreach programs, para at least magamit natin yung interest in anime, our hobby, as a medium to help other people. So bali iyon yung pinaka idea ko kung bakit na setup yung Reach Out Otaku.” (“Basically the idea started after Cosplay Manila. It got me thinking that for the December party, since a lot of kids were enjoying seeing people cosplaying their favorite anime characters, why not incorporate it with charity work? Apparently, a lot of people were involved in outreach programs and this way, we could at least utilize interest in anime, our hobby, as a medium to help other people. That was the fundamental idea behind setting up Reach Out Otaku.”)

This was far from a solo project though. Gem would depend on Vinnie to choose and coordinate for their venue in Kanlungan considering he had contacts with NGOs. “Ako naman since I’ve been doing that kind of volunteer work before and I have the experience, and then joining up with this group is a good thing to do for me also para maging enlightened din in a way. And to help others din, to guide other people din.” (“For me it was natural since I’ve been doing this kind of volunteer work before and I have the experience, and then joining up with this group is a good thing to do for me to becoming enlightened in a way. And to help and guide other people as well.”)

The activities of ROO wasn’t a one-shot event and Vinnie shares with us his plans back in 2002. “Since nagstart na kami sa Kanlungan para magkaroon ng activity volunteer-type with them, which is naenjoy naming before so we decided ituloy na naming, magkaroon kami ng series of visits na makakatulong din sa kanila for their learning kasi most of the kids there are not going to school for now, kaya ganun. Like recently, some of the available na members ng Reach Out, nagtambak sila ng workshops on fixing, illustrations, animation by using anime as a medium para gawin iyon. And then so far, nafullfil yung expectation na the kids grew interest sa mga recent na visits naming. They’re looking forward to the next visits na magkaroon kami ng activity ulit.” (“Since we started in the Kanlungan area so that we could have a volunteer-type activity with them, we decided to push through with the series of visits since we’re having fun and it aids in their learning considering most of the kids are not going to school. Recently, some of the available members of Reach Out held a bunch of workshops on fixing, illustrations and animation, using anime as a medium to perform just that. And so far, our expectations were fulfilled since the interest of kids grew with our recent visits. They’re looking forward to the next visits, hoping for other activities.)

Despite its popularity, ROO didn’t always start out that way. It began with a small mailing list comprised of cosplayers who then branched out and sought additional members from other anime-related mailing lists. It boasted not only anime fans, but people who are just plainly interested in outreach projects. Even winners of previous cosplay competitions participated in ROO. Not that everything was picture perfect. Coordination proved to be a big hurdle since most of the members were students and had difficulty finding a common time. Finances were another probem but Joy, Gem’s successor after she left for the US, shares this anecdote with us. “The December 15 party, that was one of the craziest and funniest thing to have happened. It was so interesting. We weren’t going to be excited but a lot of things happened, most of them we didn’t expect. And sometimes, we were worried, some of us were crying over the lack of sponsors, the lack of materials and then when the day came, we had too much food on our hands, we had too much food on our hands. And then you realize, oh, we were able to get pala so much stuff. I guess it was really cool because we didn’t expect them to happen. We were medyo discouraged to go on na and it’s already like something happened out of the blue. People started helping each other out, they volunteered themselves, like we had a lot of nonmembers with us and said kami na ang bahala rito. It was very interesting, very different.” (“The December 15 party… And then you realize, oh, we were apparently able to get so much stuff. I guess it was really cool because we didn’t expect them to happen. We were a bit discouraged to go on and it’s like something happened out of the blue. People started helping each other out, they volunteered themselves, and we had a lot of nonmembers with us and said we’re take care of this. It was very interesting, very different.”)

Gem shares with us the goals of ROO: “Our goal is to open the eyes of the people that there’s more to the world than anime. If we can use anime as a medium of helping other people out, of reaching out to the world, so that’s why we’re a bunch of otakus, we rave over the latest anime, we rave over Yue. (laughs) Or some bishonen. But basically we’re still human, we’re still ready to help people out. One of our main goals is to open the eyes of the people into helping each other.” Joy adds to that by saying “Kasi people have this thing na parang they think na, those anime people, wala naman silang ginagawa. They spend all their money, wasting their money on cartoons, and comic books and stuff like that. I guess connected with Ate Gem, we’re out to change that. Sure, we like all the cartoons, the comic books but our lives does not begin and end with them. We want to help other people also. And out to show that we’re otakus with hearts.” (“Because people have this thing, thinking that those anime people, they don’t do anything…”)

Not that outreach doesn’t have its own rewards. “Like when we were like, at the December 15 party, all these children were enjoying themselves. Seeing all the people that we got to help us out that they were enjoying themselves also. It’s really very encouraging because you kinda feel na there are people who are still into this sort of thing, who are still into helping other people,” Gem shares. “After the December party, there was these nonmembers, cosplayers during the EB, they approached me. Ate Gem, sabi nila, naalala ko yung pangalan ng partner ko. Sabi ko buti ka pa, naalala mo yung pangalan niya. Honestly, sa dami nila, I don’t even remember their names, yung mga volunteers, but they remember the names ng partners nila. Yung mga kids na partners nila.” (“After the December party, there was these nonmembers, cosplayers during the EB, they approached me. Ate Gem, they say, we remember the names of our partners. I reply good for you because I don’t remember their names. Honestly, with all their numbers, I don’t even remember their names, but the volunteers, they remember the names of their partners. The kids are their partners.”)

Perhaps one of the basic questions that must be asked from a social organization is whether they’re succeeding in helping their intended audience. “Well sa reaction ng mga bata, I think so. Not in a really big scale pero in the little things, makikita mo rin ang satisfaction nila. Sa workshop naming, makikita mo yung satisfaction nila by showing their talent and actually being recognized. Doon yung nakakatouch, I think, kasi most of these kids were victims of abuse so in their own little ways na-heheal. Wow, may kaya pala akong gawin!” (“Well based on the reactions of the children, I think so. Not in areally big scale but in the little things, you can see their satisfaction. In our workshops, you can see their satisfaction in showing their talent and actually being recognized. That’s what touches me the most, I think, because most of these kids were victims of abuse so in their own little way, they are healed. Wow, there’s actually something that I can do!”)

While ROO never made it to the newspapers, never made it to the limelights, each of its members know that they helped change someone’s life. I think that’s what reaching out is really about: it’s not about the rewards, either financial or social, but more of realizing that there’s something one can do to help those around us. And while anime fans will still probably be perceived as something unproductive by society, ROO will be an example of how any hobby, not just anime, can be made into something socially productive. In the end, it doesn’t matter what other people say, but rather what you believe in.