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Japan’s Wonder Festival: Modelmaker and Monster Fan Heaven

Published by Dominique Blacher

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Tokyo’s Big Sight conference centre hosts dozens of major events every year. Only one has led to such crowding that its escalators couldn’t keep running. Wonder Festival, a twice-yearly gathering of model, toy and animation fans, stopped the moving stairways at the Summer event.

Luckily, according to the Daily Yomiuri newspaper on 6 August, the only major injury was to the manufacturers’ professional pride, but 10 people were slightly hurt. Festival sponsors Kaiyodo decided to delay the February event pending investigation of the problem, leaving a major gap in fans’ calendars.

Wonder Festival History

Wonder Festival was first held in 1985. Japanese animation was still very much a niche interest even in its home country, and the major kit manufacturers were only interested in major TV franchises. However, hobbyists were already producing limited-run models of their favourite characters and robots from less well-known shows at home. Transformers was broadcast on Japanese TV in the same year, and straight-to-video anime like Megazone 23 were making waves among fans.

The fans who founded Wonder Festival had started running science fiction conventions in Osaka in 1981, with Daicon III, whose opening animation has become famous among anime fans. They used the experience and contacts they gained to set up General Products, Japan’s first specialty science fiction store. Wonder Festival was a logical extension of the store. A number of the group went on to form anime studio GAINAX, creators of such hits as Evangelion, and in 1990 General Products withdrew from Wonder Festival and merged with GAINAX to focus on animation. They later fictionalized their memories of the period in Otaku no Video.

Special Show Issues, Major Manufacturers

The event attracts huge crowds of fans – over 43,000 in summer. They come to see the latest toys, model kits and games from an industry that encompasses major corporations with TV and movies franchises and hobbyists working from home. Major manufacturers produce special-issue toys in distinctive colours or packaging, just for Wonder Festival, and new toys and kits are often launched. One of the goodies on offer in February, for example, was a 1000-piece special colour edition of a Transformers Movie Arcee G1 from Takara and Tomy Toys. Bandai, Kotobukiya, WAVE, Kaiyoro and many other major companies showcase their new lines.

Individual Creators, Rare Old Items

Some of the most popular items, usually sold out early, are the limited-run kits made by respected individual sculptors. You can also find handmade or uniquely painted dolls, cosplay items, and other small-creator lines. Dealers offer secondhand or out-of-production items, giving collectors the chance to snap up rare old kits or fill gaps in a childhood collection.

Magazine and Press Coverage Featuring Cosplay

The big magazines like Hyper Hobby, Hobby Japan and Dengkei Hobby attend the show and provide articles packed with information and pictures for those who can’t be there, or for attendees to savour later. They also provide a look at the costumes on display. Japan’s cosplayers turn out for Wonder Festival – there are not so many facilities as at the much larger Comiket events, but fans can see and photograph excellent costumes.

Attending Wonder Festival

Wonder Festival is held twice a year; the date of the next event is announced online in Japanese but Anime News Network and other information sites translate and publish the details for foreign fans. Admission is by purchase of the show guide onsite; this cost Y2000 (around UK£10/US$18.) Tokyo Big Sight is located on Odaiba Island in Tokyo Bay and there are excellent subway and rail connections. The date for the next Wonder Festival is eagerly awaited by fans around the world.

Further Reading

Takada, Yasuhiro, The Notenki Memoirs: Studio Gainax and the Men who Created Evangelion, English language edition pub. ADV Manga, 2005

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