Wonder Festival 2018 - The Event
Twice a year, since 1999, the suburbs of Tokyo around the Makahari Messe Convention Centre turns into a hive of plastic activity as fans of toys, figurines, models and sculptures flock to see the latest and greatest from both major manufacturers through to independent modelling circles. This year, we were on-hand for the first time to find out what this event is all about, brave the bracing cold and spend our ill-gotten gains on the wonderful, imaginative creations of Japan's greatest creators.
Accessed from the Kaihimmakuhari Station on the JR Keiyo line. This is most easily accessed directly from the Tokyo central station. The trip takes around 45 minutes from Tokyo and can be undertaken using a JR rail pass or a Suica card.
When we discussed how early we should wake up in the morning to get to Wonder Festival, a 5am start was not even considered. However, as we later discovered, our waking at 5am (without alarm clocks thanks to jet lag) would prove highly beneficial as that head start gave us enough time to get onto one of the first trains to Makahari Messe from Tokyo. The first sign that an event was going on was the crowds bustling in Tokyo Central station and heading in the same direction as our intrepid UKA explorers…
Thankfully, Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea are also on the same line, and the majority of the young women escaped leaving our train filled with the sweaty remnants of society, bound for the convention centre. Upon arriving, civilisation broke down as the hoards fled the train station towards the convention centre and brandishing their Wonder Festival guidebooks (which served as the tickets) and was immediately followed by… complete order and serenity as the throngs of fans joined the queue and began the wait.
What immediately caught our attention was the preparedness of those in the queue. No sooner had we stopped and assumed our position, than the portable chairs were pulled out and the crowd parked up for a three hour wait.
Three hours. Outside. In Winter.
While this is not the longest that UKA have waited outside this particular convention centre, we were younger then and things were not helped by the lack of coffee, food or working toilets.
While there are some limited refreshments available at the convention centre, including a Sunkist convenience store, these are extremely limited compared to what is available nearer to the train station. It is strongly recommended that if you are planning to attend the event, buy your meals in advance. Your bags are not searched on entry into the venue and this means that you can freely bring in your own refreshments.
Also, while there are cash machines within the venue, these are not currently setup for International cards. There is a 7-11 and Family Mart near to the station, and these do allow for international cards for cash withdrawal. We found that most of the larger vendors accepted credit cards, but many of the independent stands were cash only. Similarly, there is a reasonable 4G signal in the venue, and we found that Android Pay worked just fine because of this.
The event as spread across all eight halls of the main convention centre and split into key zones to enable easier crowd management.
In halls 1 to 3, the major players in the figure and toy business such as Good Smile Company, Native, Orchid Seed and QuesQ to name a few, were situated in large impressive stands, many with large sales areas to sell and showcase their newest wares.
Halls 4 to 8 were reserved for the independent sellers and the core community behind the festival, the makers of the garage kits and smaller circles and manufacturers specialising in low number, unique items, many of which were only available at the festival. A small area in Hall 8 was devoted to those sellers of R18 goods, which are now fully segregated in an age-controlled and ID only area of the festival to ensure that these goods are not available to minors.
These halls are accessed directly from the queue where a split occurs about 500m from the front. You will need to be aware of which queue you are in so that you can make sure you are directed to the correct hall.
It is important to note that the separation also denotes what is “official” merchandise, and what is “unofficial” or “original”. As seen at other events, and the comic market events which also take place twice a year, the anime industry tends to overlook the prolific availability of doujin or fan-made goods. However, while Wonder Festival is very much a fan-event, enabling these creators of these unofficial and original goods to gather, share their knowledge and sell their goods, it is increasingly becoming more business focused thanks to the increased engagement with the major figure houses.
Wonder Festival Winter 2018 was used, for example, by Good Smile Company and their Racing Team to launch their new racing team car, and to launch new figures in the famous Nendoroid and Figma lines. Retailers such as AmiAmi were using the event to launch pre-orders and other manufacturers such as Takara Tomy and Native were launching and releasing their future product prototype and pre-orders here. So, the event is becoming a little more diverse, more financially stable and, in our opinion, now offers more to those who are looking for an opportunity to shop and find out more about the figure and collectable industry.
Unlike many of the other conventions in the UK and elsewhere around the world which are primarily focused on large sponsors and businesses, Wonder Festival is quite different in so far that it is designed for and caters to the independent creators and small businesses in the industry. This festival is an example of what can be achieved by those who have the talent for sculpture and art and as the festival only lasts for a single day, it is also a showcase of how voracious the fandom can be in consuming these limited availability goods and the tenacity of fans for preparedness and their devotion to the creators they admire. As this was UKA's first ever Wonder Festival, we were not quite prepared for the organised chaos and the intensity of the event which was truly a sight to behold and experience.