The following is a quasi-chronological look at the events of February 24th, 2008, and one person’s trip to Japan’s biannual hobby mecca Wonder Festival. In addition to boring personal anecdotes it contains information of a potentially useful nature – if you’ve been wondering when the next Wonder Festival is, what happened to Eropon, why there was a veritable army of Yoko kits for sale, what’s up with Organic, or who translated the text on the warning label of that Mr. Simple Mask for Paint you just bought – well, you’ve come to the right place!

0. What is Wonder Festival?

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Wonder Festival’s
Genshiken alternative

Wonder Festival is to the hobby world what Comic Market is to the world of amateur comics: an event that unites creators, industry, and fans in a celebration of artistry and orgasmic consumerism. It occurs twice yearly (in February and August) at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center, and includes the following groups of participants:

  1. Amateur sculptors, who sell predominately resin “garage kits” produced in small numbers and sold (in the case of derivative IP) on a one day, limited license basis negotiated by the event organizer (Kaiyodo) with the holder of the original IP
  2. Retail shops, who set up booths that act as extensions of their storefronts where they bring stock of new and used hobby items to sell
  3. Hobby industry reps, who display new and upcoming figure projects and sell event-limited items, and back stock of previously released items
  4. Cosplayers, who are allowed to use props as part of their costumes (unlike at Comiket)
  5. Photographers, there to shoot the kits on display and the cosplayers, and finally
  6. Shoppers, in search of a good deal (or any deal) on resin kits and other hobby items of their desire.

The next Wonder Festival will take place on:

August 3rd, 2008

Mark your calendars, ladies and gentlemen!

1. Trek to the Big Sight

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Wanfesu morning:
blizzard in Gunma

My trip to Wonder Festival was scheduled to once again be in the company of the usual suspects, my friends Eima and Xiarobo. However when I walked out the door at 5:00 AM on Wanfesu morning I was surprised to see the central Japan equivalent of a blizzard going on… I got in Eima’s car and we drove back to his house, where Xia had arrived; we didn’t know if we should press on with the weather conditions as dangerous as they were, and if we did whether we’d even make it to the Big Sight on time. In the end we decided to stay the course, and were rewarded with clear roads and a clear sky by the time we made it into Saitama.

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the palm trees
are a cruel sham

We battled fierce winds in Akihabara, making the transition from the car to the train at Akiba station, boarding the Yurikamome monorail a little after eight and making it to the Big Sight just before nine – just in time to get in before the halls were closed to dealers. It was bizarre to go from blizzard conditions up north to the palm trees surrounding the Big Sight in just a few hours – don’t be fooled by the picture, it was still damn cold.

2. Arrival at Base Camp

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Continuing the arctic expedition metaphor, we made it to Xiarobo’s circle space (he was participating once again as Kokumaro Miruku) a little after nine and set up shop. He had applied to sell a Hatsune Miku Pinky Street conversion kit at the event, but didn’t have time to follow through and produce it – which was probably just as well, as the Miku presence was somewhat reduced and I don’t believe any other Miku Pinkys made the cut (I didn’t see any, at least).

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Viletta, in pieces

I used a bit of time before the event opening at 10:00 to prep my camera and shoot the Bome kits on display. As Xia’s circle would have no new items for sale this time around, I held down the fort during the first few minutes of the event while Xiarobo and Eima did a bit of shopping. When they returned I was able to head off on my own to begin the day’s activity in earnest – shooting figures! My first stop was the Hyperspace booth, where I picked up the new ero-ero Viletta kit from sculptor Kiyama Naotake, my sole resin acquisition of the event.

3. Traversing the Garage Kit Tundra

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Lightning
Warrior Raidy

After picking up Viletta I started photographing garage kits, moving from the “C” hall back towards “A”. En route I got the chance to talk with some of the companies not willing to shell out megabucks for big glitzy pavilions in the industry hall, including the people at Toy’sworks, First Class, and Kill Time Communication, who had a prototype of their Raidy kit on display (from Lightning Warrior Raidy, soon to see English release!).

why settle for two when you can have four?

don’t click this
at work – seriously

I also had the chance to talk with a few garage kit dealers, including Minhel of Blond Parrot (the fellow behind the series of tentacley ero Jibril kits seen here) and Nakajima Shuuji of circle Hideyoshi, who from his art I guessed was the force behind the tragically aborted Eropon project. It turns out that guess was right, and talking with him revealed that the company behind the project did in fact collapse before it could be brought to fruition – and took the original prototypes of the figures with it. Bastards. Nakajima still has the original molds he cast them from, though they’re old and a bit warped now. He said it might be possible to make a new set, but it’s probably not worth holding out hopes. In happier news the kit he had on display at the event will be available later this spring at either Hobby Complex or WHF, I’m looking forward to it!

4. The Gainax PR Machine

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the opening rush
to buy, with Gurren
balloons noted

In chatting with Xiarobo on the way to the event I learned something interesting: apparently Gainax doesn’t handle IP-derivative product licensing the same way other companies do. Instead of going through Kaiyodo to request permission of the IP holder, sculpting circles contact Gainax directly, and are then issued a quota for the number of a given kit they can release throughout the year, irrespective of venue. This explains why some circles sell kits derived from Gainax IP via mail order, and the added flexibility of this system also helps explain the profusion of Evangelion kits for so many years, and the explosion of Gurren Lagann kits this time.

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feel the burning
LED spirit!

Another aspect of Gainax’s genius was shown leading up to the event opening, when a man could be seen walking through the garage kit hall with a fistful of helium balloons with the Gurren Lagann logo on them. It turns out he was giving a balloon and an LED pin to every circle selling G-L related merchandise, which made them easily visible throughout the hall – a brilliant gimmick, but one I’m guessing may be banned for future events (or possibly adopted by other makers) given the unfair height advantage they provided. The official Gurren Lagann blog has a picture of the balloons online.


5. Industry Side

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Yoko was a common
sight in the cosplay
area as well

After a five-hour stint on the garage kit side I crossed over to industry in the mid-afternoon. I’d filled the memory card on my main camera and had to resort to the auxiliary, resulting in some truly awful pictures; I have to apologize for those again. One of the first things I noticed was a large space on the hall map that was supposedly empty on the industry side was filled with people – and not just people, cosplaying people. An announcement had come over the intercom in the morning that the cargo bay doors to the outdoor cosplay area were being kept shut due to the strong winds, and it seems that most of the cosplayers ended up congregating in the space between the “D” block tables and the “E” block (industry) side.

Organic's Miyamoto Rei PVC figure from Highschool of the Dead

When I was about to shoot Organic’s Miyamoto Rei I asked a nearby staff member for permission to photograph her, and he replied in English. It turns out we had a mutual acquaintance in Will of Clockwork Machina, and we chatted for a bit about where Organic was going with their product line. While in the past the’ve been acting primarily as a distributor for Kaiyodo, in the near future they’ll be branching off with more Organic original items (including the Rei and Bamboo Blade Tama-chan presented at the event, as well as a more robust non-bishoujo lineup). We’ll be watching for good news from them in the near future!

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PINKYTANK!

I ended my rushed survey of the industry side with a visit to the Vance Project booth. A friend of mine from college landed a job there a couple years ago, and recently asked me to do a bit of translation for them; in exchange, when I stopped by the booth he handed me a copy of the Pinky Street Tank kit they were selling at the event. I hope I can find the time to put it together, despite not having any Pinky figures it’s a pretty cool little machine. In the course of conversation with my friend the idea came up that it might be fun to translate one of their garage kit building guides into English – if anything ever comes of that I’ll be sure to make a note of it here.

After grabbing a few more photos in the industry hall event closing time was approaching, so I hoofed it back to the Kokumaro Miruku table to meet up with Xiarobo and Eima and we left shortly after 5:00. Following the obligatory Akiba stop and dinner on our meandering route home, I walked in the door at 10:00 PM and started compiling this. Voila! Full circle.

6. Lessons Learned

Overall I thought the event went pretty well, but there were some failures in my coverage. I spent too much time shooting on the garage kit side, ran out of camera memory, and didn’t have the time to properly document the industry side. As a bit of a memo to myself, here are some tips for the next event:

  • shoot industry first.
  • get a bigger memory card, second battery
  • focus on figures that stand up to scrutiny at close range
  • focus on figures from the big circles
  • focus on really exceptional pieces regardless of other criteria
  • plan ahead. check online circle listings, check and mark the map for key targets
  • it would be nice to properly shoot cosplay at some point

If I can follow these this summer, I think my event coverage will improve considerably.

7. Up Next

I said this would be the end of HD’s Wonder Festival coverage, but I lied – there are still a few odds and ends to clear up, primarily from industry booths that I neglected; I’ll bring a summary of findings from Yamato, Happinet, etc. in a final “mopping up” post in the next day or so (hopefully soon!). Update: the final industry roundup has been posted. To recap, our Wonder Festival 2008 Winter coverage consisted of:


Wonder Festival 2008 Winter: The End.