Something struck my panties recently, and it was this odd buzzing discussion that some of the people I followed about events, or rather, it’s lukewarm attention it has this past 2-3 years. People in the circle are wondering, are the people experiencing burnout?
To explain my point, let me tell a story. The year is 2008; there is this phenomenon that is spreading among the youth. It is this where you dress up as your favourite anime character, and you walk around while people take a picture of you. It was an instant hit for kids. Suddenly, they realised that people started giving them attention. They matter. Soon more kids caught on, and everybody started doing it. By the time you know it, people as in the “madlang people” got wind of the term “cosplay.”
Of course, Cosplay didn’t just pop in 2008. But I peg it as the start where it took off, and people started riding on it like a train. As many wanted their 5 minutes of attention. With its rise, comes the demand for more. Businesses started to scratch the itch of the market. From selling materials to these soon-to-be cosplayers to hosting an entire event just for Cosplay, hence Cosplay Mania. It also bolstered then existing events and made them sort-of a household name in the niche. ToyCon for instance, while it started as a venue for people to sell and buy toys. The cosplay craze helped them with their branding. They were the biggest crowd magnet back then when they’re hosting their event at the Megatrade Hall in Megamall. Boasting somewhere around 20000 plus crowd. A chunk of them is cosplayers and photographers loitering around the venue doing their business while waiting for the anticipated Cosplay competition where the average contestant count was around 100 on average for the first few years. A lot of them are crap, but it was a good show nonetheless. It was more of a test of courage and esteem for the participant while the audience has to cringe by their actions.
We also shouldn’t forget about other events. Ozine became mainstream and became the “people’s event.” Best of Anime got established by the folks doing the Manila International Book Fair. We have the Naruto Cosplayers, who had their share of events that I’ll get to in a moment. There is also CNPH who is now called Moonstruck creative and they were responsible for that boutique Cosplay event called Fantasy Quest. I could continue, with UP AME doing its thing. Campuses holding their cosplay events as an organisational requirement and thesis is so to speak. There are a lot of events back then and it all hedge on cosplayers going there to cosplay. The audience is the entertainers themselves. It was cheap, and people love it back then.
But as the years go by, there is a shift in the audience. These then teenagers matured got out of college and had their own lives. The drama-lama and the colourful personalities that were featured by the infamous GamerTotoy and continued by anon Facebook pages of Pepeng Chaika became men and women and faded in obscurity. Cosplaying and otaku life became secondary as their career and life move. The secondary became a memory. They don’t have time to cosplay and had lost track of what made them love anime in the first place.
After the last millennials move out of college, the post-millennial kids take their place. But unlike the attention seeking gung-ho personalities we knew and sometimes loathe. The kids today are not making the same steps as their predecessors. They aren’t as loud and vocal, and they are more focused on their personal growth either themselves or their trusted peers. They don’t see otaku events as the “rite of passage.” They’re content with small gatherings and photo shoots around BGC or some park that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg to shoot. On some chances they sometimes attend events, but it is mostly for pleasure than climbing the cosplay social tree. Hence, they aren’t as keen into joining cosplay catwalks and what not. They’re just there, with their costumes walking around. But it is nowhere near as many as it was then.
That is where we are now. The shift in the cosplay fanbase left events whose success are based on the attendance slowly decline. Fortunately, big-ticket events are now shifting their focus to something else. Concert / Guest tours. All the three events: ToyCon, Best of Anime and Cosplay Mania are all hedging on whale congoers to their event. These very same millennials who are now working with money to burn in their pockets. In the case of Toy Con, they diversified themselves by being a general geek event. To which may or may not be what people wanted, but it is working for them right now. Cosplay Mania used to be going for random cosplayers to guest on their event. But are shifting away from their cosplay roots into a general Japanese Pop-Culture experience (They are trying to imitate AFA all these years). They have the market right now getting voice talents and authors to appear on their show. A tough market there. It’s early to tell yet if its a good strategy. Surely, not as expensive as bringing bands and singers. But VAs aren’t precisely a “surface-level” sub-genre most japan loving aficionados are in taps. Best of Anime is aiming for general Japanese entertainment. They struck out with Joe Inoue, Starmarie, Eri Aoi and their memorable SpyAir. Of course, we had Scandal this year as well. It is clear where their priorities lie. If its possible, BoA might stray away with the general convention and push for a Concert Medley like Pulp Live Summer Slam for instance; though that would be a huge logistical nightmare if we consider the wants of the market. But that’s likely the end goal for Best of Anime given the behaviour.
On the other hand, there are speciality events that are small and specifically designed to cater to a specific kind of crowd. On a more significant chunk are the idol events which is the new frontier in the anime events scene. With a vibrant set of homebrew idols like Seishun Kamkumei, Ai Sorai to name a few. Then the elephant in the room, MNL48 that is spearheading the idol event scene to the masses. The potential of the genre to achieve the same levels as to what happened in the cosplay craze in the past is there. While these small events organisers couldn’t compete with the Toy Cons, Cosplay Mania and Best of Anime in their niche. On the part of the idol craze, we have patrons that are willing to shell money for their idols and event themselves. The entire support in idols hedges of its fans supporting them by throwing money at them. With exceptions to MNL, the homebrew idols are cheap to book and as long as you treat them and their fans well, there is a guarantee that you can get your name out there. So far, we have two big Idol centric conventions announced. One is the already concluded Manila Idol Matsuri that ended with controversy. There’s the AI Con which is an event that due for at the beginning of next year. I hope the issues the plagued MIM would serve as a cautionary tale. One thing with the idol culture is that they are composed of vocal and die-hard fans that will not stop until they get what they wanted. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the fans. It won’t end well.
The last type of event in the speciality scale are the fan meets and the general niche of events. Organized by a small group of passionate people. These events held at restaurants, cafes or similar hippy venue. We had a Persona fan meet; people are organising birthday parties of their waifus and your occasional photo shoots. They are hard to spot, and you need to be deep in the community to know these. Niche events are what remains of what’s left of the cosplay craze. Naruto Cosplayer’s PH is one of the few remaining groups who still do your traditional cosplay event. They are also branching out on some genre of the otaku fandom like holding a Music event this October is one thing. Another example of a niche targeted event. I’ll also mention Yaoi events; Furry events are also part of a niche target event. They are not very many, and they don’t gather a large crowd. But if you are an aficionado of the otaku culture, these are likely the kind of events you would go.
All in all, the event scene in the past years spearheaded by one craze that opened new doors to the potential of the otaku market with its other facets. Big events focused on a commercialised approach by addressing fan’s dreams of meeting their favourite artist. While those big events shifted, it opened doors to smaller events that answer to a specific set of crowds with the idol craze being the new battleground into new space it began. This change followed by the shifting audience of then millennials replaced by a more self-experience driven and personalised Gen Z.