Every first weekend of July since 1999, airport security at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport deals with more than just their ordinary odd size luggage: along with the influx of fake weapons comes a large group of ordinary-looking visitors accompanied by their extensive and extraordinary packages. Hotels within a 10 km radius of the airport are entirely booked out 9 months prior to this special weekend. Foreigners and Parisians alike have all learnt to prepare for this sudden spike in human traffic. It is no longer considered unusual to be serving a cup of Starbucks coffee to a customer dressed as the personification of Hatsune Miku; and if asked why are they here in Paris? The answer is always the same: Japan Expo.
Japan Expo Paris is possibly the largest Japanese Traditional Culture, Anime, Games and Pop Cultural event outside Japan, boosting a staggering figure of 280 000 unique visitors over 4 days of its exciting, unique and fun-packed agenda. As Europe’s longest running convention held annually at Parc des Expositions (2 train stops away from Charles de Gaulle International Airport) over 4 of the largest expo halls, Japan Expo presents us a fine balance between the most traditional of Japanese arts, and the overwhelming world-famous Japanese Anime and Gaming craze-doms.
Home to the critically-acclaimed European Cosplay Gathering (ECG) Finals, Japan Expo plays center-stage to the best of European Craftsmanship and Performance in Cosplay, and provides the community with the best possible exposure for both renowned and fast-rising European cosplayers. It is quite literally “the Largest and BEST Cosplay Stage in the World”. Japan Expo also comes with its own edition of a Comic Con: A Western-genre spinoff event, similar to USA’s San Diego Comic Con, attached to its main exhibition: featuring e-sports Tournaments, special Game Launches and Game Producer Panels held by large western Gaming companies such as Blizzard Entertainment. In all, one will have a chance to come up-close and personal with special international guests you never quite get to see at any other such events throughout Europe, and the number of Japanese companies present with original limited edition giveaways is enough to make the entry tickets well worth their price.
Upon exiting Parc des Expositions train station, crowds are ushered into a large queuing hall for entry into the Expo. After surviving queue lines of over 100,000 people, eager visitors are treated to rows after endless rows of exhibition space featuring over 250 independent dealer stores, from traditional Japanese tea ceremony demonstrations to calligraphy auctions, Kyudo and Kendo live demonstrations, samurai villages, professional maiko dance groups coming directly from Japan and all things related to Japanese Anime and Pop culture. Some special highlights included a massive ‘One Piece’ walk-in adventure booth, a huge Colossal Titan life-size head with a photo booth (free of charge!) celebrating the launch of the ‘Attack on Titan’ anime series in France, and a large Square Enix Final Fantasy 13 limited edition DLC launch booth with LIVE music demonstrations and individual podspaces to a special preview of the new upcoming soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu. Though the event is held primarily in French, it is still possible to get around given clear color indicative convention maps and fully English-translated programmes. Japan Expo is possibly the only place most Europeans can come close to tasting real authentic Japanese Takoyaki apart from the usual sashimi and sushi more widely referred to as Japanese cuisine here in the West. Japan Expo does not only attract Europeans visitors alone: it’s a major family affair for Japanese communities living outside of Japan as they attend the convention dressed in full kimono and yukata. It’s a Natsumatsuri (Summer Festival) of sorts towards the foreign Japanese community living in France, and a true celebration of their history, culture and foreign influence.
Of all the things Japan Expo is known for, the most famous of the lot will have to be their excellent Special Guest list. Year after year, JE never disappoint with their golden lineup of the Japanese Anime / Pop Culture industry’s crème de la crème. From having Kyari Pamyu Pamyu last year, the 2013 edition saw guests such as Testuo Hara (creator of “Fist of the North Star”), Junko Takeuchi (original Japanese voice actress of Naruto), Shoji Kawamori (producer of “Macross” and “Vision of Escaflowne”) and Top model and Gyaru Fashion Icon Tsubasa Masuwaka – to name just a few gracing the convention. Apart from the individual guests, there are exceptional participations from established Japanese companies such as Nico Nico Douga on the media frontier, and Good Smile Company/Kotobukiya, much to the delight of the rapidly-increasing populus of figurine enthusiasts. In 2012’s JE, it is estimated that over nearly half the number of visitors to Japan Expo returned home with more than 1 figurine purchased at JE itself – earning dealers over 10 million euros networth in 4 days on figurine sales alone. Unlike most other conventions in the world where VIP guests are ushered and sectioned away from the public crowds, Japan Expo offers maximum interactivity between their VIP guests and the public by allowing their guests to walk freely on the Expo grounds and to speak with their fans. Perhaps this is just a part of the European culture in openness and equality, but the crowds are not fazed by celebrity and are accustomed to giving their idols their free personal space. As such, there can be no better ground for networking within the industry than at Japan Expo itself.
If you are a massive Gaming fanatic, the Comic Con arena will be the perfect getaway to your alternative world. With LIVE ongoing demonstrations and ample opportunities to demo the latest of game releases in Europe, leagues of professional gamers battle it out on stadium-sized screens to thousands of e-sports enthusiasts and expo by-passers. Trading Card Games, Medieval Reenactment societies, even the Church of Star Wars are present. All things geek, you name it – it’s here. Attached to the Comic Con is the Artist Village featuring famous professional illustrators such as Sakizou and Shiitake, to independent hopefuls looking to kick off a career in illustrating and publishing. Limited edition artbooks by famous artists disappear within one hour, and long queues going round the block for exclusive signing sessions are not uncommon. A fast-rising and successful trend within the Comic Con 2013 is that of the Steampunk culture: a genre rather unique to Europe and USA, with many more dealers and independent costume makers stepping up their creations to meet the ever-growing demands for more elaborate and detailed articles. This thirst for craftsmanship and costume detailing drives the community far more than the trend of “moe” cute prevailing in most Asian conventions.
A little away from the halls of dealers and exhibition booth there is a main stage hall capable of housing an 18,000 people audience and fully equipped with a massive catwalk stage and a professional lighting and technical crew. On this stage there is an endless stream of Japanese fashion shows sponsored by Shiseido Co., Kabuki performances with a full orchestra, Cosplay shows and the famous cosplay championship: the European Cosplay Gathering (ECG).
Not to be confused with the Eurocosplay championship in London, the European Cosplay Gathering (ECG) presents not just a focus in the construction and craftsmanship in the cosplay costume alone, but the perfect balance between the very best of onstage competitive cosplay performances with the very best of craftsmanship in performance-based costumes: costumes that you can move in, act in, even include performance elements in. Perhaps what makes the ECG so unique is that there are no limitations and restrictions to whichever titles or genres you wish to cosplay and compete with. All titles are welcome: from American TV series to movies and Japanese anime or even Korean manhwa. It is the epitome of World Cosplay with a scale and standards unmatched by cosplay stages in China, Japan and Singapore. One entire year of selections through 11 of the best European countries in Cosplay, the ECG truly is the most representative of the very best of European Cosplay.
It is no lie that the audience for the ECG Finals alone totals to 17,500 people. In this year’s edition of the ECG Finals, sponsored by the NAMCO-Bandai game “Tales of Xillia”, a good 5000 people were turned away from the massive main stage hall due to maximum capacity reached. The producer of the “Tales of” Games, Hideo Baba, attended the event in person, and was overwhelmed by the vast support for Cosplay coming from the multitudes of regular visitors. This year’s European Cosplay Gathering Finals welcomes its 11th participating country: Poland into the 3rd season of its prestigious championship. A total of over 30 participants (3 representatives per country: 1 Solo representative and 2 Group representatives) went on to awe the audiences with the best performances Europe (and perhaps even the World) has seen yet! Even with an all-star team of cosplay judges comprising of some of the most experienced and famous cosplayers in Europe with solid international experience, it still was extremely difficult deciding who gets to walk away with top prizes of all-expense paid trips to Japan in both the Solo and Group categories.
The most impressive performance this year came from the Group representatives of France – Jerome and Shoko cosplay – whose costumes from Monster Hunter 4 were no less than professionally epic. The extensive props they placed on stage turned what was a boring flat long catwalk stage into that of an imaginary ship, and they took the audience for a stormy ride into the waves with perfectly synchronized lighting and music effects. Perhaps what was even more impressive than their impeccable acting, use of props to costumes, and onstage charisma was the fact that Jerome could not see anything through his Felyne Legendary J Anchor cat costume the entire time! His vision on-stage was literally zero. All the movements he made on stage were practiced, rehearsed and paced to perfection with Shoko. Go close enough and you will see he had a real water container and a floating fish built into the eyes of his Felyne costume. All seams, edging and finishing on both their Felyne and Hunter costumes contained no blemishes. It’s no wonder 80% of the audience gave them a long standing ovation upon the end of their fantastic interactive performance. France takes the win second time in a row!
Coming close, on the second place in the Group category was an emotional and dramatic performance by Team UK with “Lord of the Rings”. Frightfully scary scenes of Frodo’s encounter with the Witch King paired with perfect acting and sound effects gave the team their well-deserved win. Equally dramatic was Team Denmark, with their cosplays as Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White from the TV series “Once Upon a Time”. They left all fans of the series in awe with their accurate character portrayals and fantastic use of props. Magical was the only word they all had for their performance. In the solo categories, new entry country Poland walked away champions with their “Zangeki no Reginleiv” cosplay, followed by UK on the second place with “Legacy of Kain” and Switzerland with “Samurai Warriors 3” on the third place. With all these equally amazing performances by every solo and team cosplayer, it was without a doubt the most competitive and the most rewarding experience for both cosplay representatives and audiences alike: everyone walked away saying it truly was the best year of ECG yet, and an ECG all will remember for years to come.
On the Anime Music frontier, Japan Expo 2013 welcomes famous Japanese Anime music talents such as Angela, May’n, and even a Visual Kei band, Nightmare. All concerts and special stage appearances are included in the ticket price as part of the Expo, and the entry allowed to the concert arena ‘LIVE HOUSE’ goes as far as the queues run. During Angela’s concert, the Paris crowd was treated to a truly special and personal LIVE. Instead of singing what was planned for the band, the vocalist Atsuko paused midway to ask the crowds “What would YOU like to hear me sing?” When the crowds chanted “Shangri’la”, she laid down all song plans and continued to sing all other titles that the crowds requested. In short? A teary experience of a lifetime. The same could be said about the special LIVE appearance by the Visual-Kei band Nightmare. It’s the very first time the Visual-Kei group made a public appearance in Europe, coming up-close and personal with their audience, and even answering to a private Q&A session with their fans. They were perhaps far more overwhelmed by the amount of support coming from their European fanbase than it could have been the other way around, as over 10,000 people packed into concert arena to head-bang their way through 1.5 hours of their full-on LIVE performance. After two encores, the crowds weren’t quite ready to leave them yet!
Japan Expo is the ‘Must-Go’ event for both pop cultural enthusiasts and businesses alike. If ever anyone would ask to see the very best of European Cosplay… It’s got to be right here in France during the first week of July. An advice is to plan your trip way in advance, and have your credit cards ready to purchase premium passes when ticket sales go LIVE in January. Don’t hesitate to pack your very best, bring your energy drinks and get geared up to meet your favorite artists for the perfect convention experience of a lifetime!