When CharaExpo 2015 was first announced, many including myself wondered if this is one popular culture event too many. After all, the year’s calendar is already packed with popular culture events and having one more event which specifically looks at the Japanese popular culture is really starting to push the limit. Sure it can be argued that this is more mainstream Japanese popular culture and these are many of such events that cater to the sub-culture but with a target of 15,000 visitors over 2 days to a less popular event venue in the east compared to the rest which are more centralised, it will interesting to see what CharaExpo 2015 has to offer to stand out from the rest.
Thankfully getting up early on a Saturday morning to make the trip east after a busy SEA Games 2015 week was made less painful with the addition of Jushin Thunder Liger from New Japan Pro-Wrestling. While opening ceremonies are usually more on the formal side with ribbon cutting and the presence of VIPs such as President and Chief Executive Officer of Bushiroad Inc, Takaaki Kidani and the Managing Director of JETRO, Masaya Hasebe, the addition of illustrator of Captain Tusbasa, Yoichi Takahashi with Jushin Thunder Liger providing some light hearted “fan-service” helped ease the tiredness away.
Occupying the whole of Hall 7 with a layout similar to other popular culture events in their earlier years, CharaExpo 2015 can be explored fully in about half a day. Content at the event while decent in variety, is nothing to shout about with lots of familiar vendors showcasing their products. Limited editions and limited quantities of sort after products such as figurines, cards and toys helped create the hype for day 1 with queues forming all the way to the back of Singapore Expo Hall 8. In contrast, day 2 was slower with the hype simmering down as visitors stream in slowly towards the later part of the morning.
With Bushiroad Inc in the driver’s seat for CharaExpo 2015, it comes as no surprise that the main content found at the event centres around card games and especially their Vanguard, Buddyfight and Weiss Schwarz. With many stores selling these card games and accessories plus one big portion of the hall used for visitors to battle it out with other card players, the collectible card games and trading cards enthusiasts were well taken of.
CharaExpo 2015 also featured a small area called Creator’s Corner for local artist to showcase and sell their products. Sadly when compared to other popular culture events, this pales in comparison as it felt as though the area was there for the sake of having it rather than to help promote local content. Constantly overshadowed by the movie area and the wrestling ring with the empty space nearby used by cosplayers to rest and gather, unless you truly explore the whole hall, you will not really come across the area. Hopefully organisers of CharaExpo can look into the better placement for these local artist as some of their works are truly impressive.
Another area of interest at CharaExpo 2015 is the Entertainment Stage where visitors not only get to watch mini concerts featuring the popular anisong artist such as BACK-ON, Maon Kurosaki, Ayaka Kitazawa and Mashiro Ayano but also segments where mecha designer Masami Obari and voice actress AIMI shared their experiences from the industry. The CharaExpo 2015 Cos☆Stage was also held there with guest cosplayers KANAME☆, Tatsumi Inui and Sin Izumi judged in the competition. The CharaExpo 2015 Cos☆Stage saw local cosplayer Evelia taking the top prize with her rendition of guildmarm from the popular Monster Hunter 4 game. All these comes included with the CharaExpo 2015 ticket pricing and the added extra value is something I am sure visitors appreciated.
While all these content are technically not new to popular culture fans who have been visiting the various events over the years, the one that probably stood out the most was the appearance of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. With matches happening on both days, the Pro-Wrestling Ring Area is always crowded with fans and curious onlookers.
As a fan of professional wrestling entertainment since my childhood growing up with the likes of Hulk Hogan, The Ulitmate Warrior and the Heart Break Kid during the days of WWF (before it became WWE), the $5 ticket was probably the most well spent amount over the weekend. From over the top ropes moves to high risk jumps off the turnbuckle, the New Japan Pro-Wrestling stars such as Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe gave their all to entertain everyone present. The crowd too didn’t take too long to get into the mood with chants of their favourite stars’ name and even the localised infamous sporting chant “Referee Kayu!” could be heard when the referee missed out certain events or makes a wrong call.
*Kayu means wood and when put together with referee, it means the referee is a block head, dull or stupid.
In the end it is the presence of these New Japan Pro-Wrestling stars which made CharaExpo 2015 stand out from the rest of the popular culture events. Mr Takaaki Kidani commented (in an earlier interview with POPCulture Online) that the addition of NJPW strengthens Bushiroad’s entertainment portfolio as pro-wrestling is not only sports but also an entertainment platform where different characters are portrayed. He couldn’t be more correct looking at the reaction of the crowd and the entertainment value add it brings to the event.
Overall CharaExpo 2015 is still a decent event with its cheap ticket pricing which definitely played a part in bringing in the numbers despite its location. In a packed line up of popular culture events, CharaExpo 2015 will need to make itself standout more if it were to challenge the leaders in this category. One suggestion would be continued capitalisation on their signature card game reach and New Japan Pro-Wrestling while strengthening their other Japanese popular culture content might be the way moving forward.
The POPCulture Online coverage team enjoyed our time watching the New Japan Pro-Wrestling matches and we definitely look forward to seeing more New Japan Pro-Wrestling stars come to Singapore.
Photos by Alex Tan, Ken Koh & Randy Hong.
By Kenneth Wong
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