Welcome to WonderFest!
A Look at This Year’s WonderFest
Author: Ed Godziszewski
[Note from Editor] There were so many pictures submitted for this article, many are contained as links within the text. Please click on the highlighted links so you don’t miss any of the amazing kits or items from WonderFest!
Sunday February 24 marked the semi-annual ritual of collecting avarice and odd behavior in Japan known as Wonder Festival. Held at the massive Tokyo Big Sight on the artificial island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay (think of the conclusion of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER), WonderFest is akin to a pilgrimage of fans of all types. On this cold and extremely windy day (with sustained gusts over 40mph), 30,000+ people jammed the huge convention center for shopping, socializing, costume play (i.e. cosplay), and ogling new and upcoming toys and models from small and large companies alike. To judge how serious people are about this event, one need look no further than the entrance line, which 15 minutes prior to opening stretched from the Big Sight doors out to the local monorail station and all the way down the line to the previous station!
Why so many people waiting so long in the cold wind for so many hours? Many dealers offer limited quantities of toys or models, usually of teenage anime girl figures in various stages of undress, so there is a veritable feeding frenzy that occurs right after the opening bell. I am sure that piranhas do not attack fresh meat with any more ferocity than customers who rush at breakneck speed through the convention hall to get a coveted place in line for the chance to spend their money. Indeed, to gain an edge, many people will buy a dealer’s table for the sole purpose of foregoing the lines outside so that they can be inside and ready to go at opening time. Stand in the aisles at your own peril when the bell rings…you are likely to get flattened by crazed anime fans if you aren’t careful.
To fully appreciate Japanese fandom, you need to experience WonderFest at least once. The enormous convention hall filled with endless dealer tables will take several hours to navigate, even if you are just making a cursory examination of their wares. WonderFest started out as a garage kit convention, and about 2/3 of the dealers still sell kits, but toy dealers have now expanded to take up the other 1/3 of the tables. Just about any kind of goods can be found, but the overwhelming majority are related to Japanese animation, both licensed and original characters. Japanese monsters are fairly well represented, but their numbers pale in comparison. There is always quite an eclectic mix of other merchandise, ranging from costumes and costume accessories (mainly weapons), plush dolls, vehicles taking on the appearance of mechanized animals, penguins engaging in various activities like reading newspapers and hanging onto commuter train straps, and so on. Almost anything imaginable and then some can be seen.
And then there is cosplay, which is the main focus of one segment of attendees. People pay a fee to dress up as their favorite characters or original creations, ranging from the simplest to the most ambitious designs. A special area is set aside for this activity, which combines exhibitionism and voyeurism…those in costume seem mainly preoccupied with showing off their work and posing for pictures. Indeed, long lines of camera-toting attendees form for the chance to take pictures of/with participants. The costumes run the gamut from the amazing (such as fully functioning robots) to the disturbing (like chubby guys dressed up as Sailor Moon characters or a white Darth Vader with a Hello Kitty emblem on his chest plate). While this activity normally takes place outside the loading doors on a huge patio, this year the event was shoehorned inside the hall due to the severe cold winds, making negotiation of the cosplay area very difficult. Outside of a morbid curiosity to spot the more ridiculous costumes, I always find myself quickly creeped out by this activity, I make my way back to the main hall.
For giant monster fans, this year’s winter WonderFest was a little more subdued than the past few years. The volume of monster items was down and a good amount was the same as what was shown in previous years. But as always, there were some interesting items to see. A new company called M Arts attracted a lot of attention to their booth with the display of a huge suit-sized King Ghidorah figure. Although it seemed a little bit scaled down from the real thing, it was an impressive sight–but who in Japan (or anywhere) has the space for it? This figure, as well as several other excellent kits of Toho monsters, were for display only (you have to write to M Arts to place an order). The amazing Mad Modeler of Kaiju Freaks showed off a prototype of his impressive 30cm scale Varan, complete with Haneda Airport terminal diorama base. A maker of flexible urethane foam hand puppets of Toho monsters made a return visit this year, and in addition to King Ghidorah heads, a Rodan bust replete with flapping wings, Godzilla (1954 puppet version, 1955, and 1964), new puppet busts of the 1962 Godzilla and Gailah were on display, and practical demonstrations of each puppet could be had for the asking. Competition is the mother of invention, and a second puppet maker was on hand this year. In addition to sporting puppet busts of the first few Godzillas, they also displayed a Varan bust as well as a full size 1964 Godzilla suit with the ability to shoot its atomic breath (compressed air of some type). I wonder if anyone took that one home?
This year seemed to feature an especially large number of huge resin kits in 50cm to 1 meter scale–that’s an incredible amount of resin (and heavy, too)! As with M Arts’ King Ghidorah, they all seem to beg the question of where in a tiny Japanese home these could fit, not to mention who can afford the cost? The most popular rendition in this scale was the 1955 Godzilla (oddly enough), with the original, the 1962, and stylized Millennium Godzillas thrown in for good measure. By far the most interesting was a set of Godzilla and Angilas locked in mortal combat, Godzilla’s teeth sinking into Angilas’ arm. In contrast, tiny SD caricatures of Toho monsters were also in abundance, my favorites being a Godzilla vs. Ebirah diorama and a tiny Baragon sitting on a pillow with its arm upraised, much like the ubiquitous cat figures you see all over Japan (both available from Honey Bones). Whether you were looking for huge items like busts, 20-30cm scale replicas, or kits which define the word miniature, they were all there to be found. WonderFest for modelers is like a trip to 200 hobby shops rolled into one afternoon. And lest we Americans feel left out of the garage kit derby, my friend Bill Gudmundson was once again on hand selling his Resin Chef series of beautifully rendered and fully licensed movie monsters and vehicles.
For those who disdain building and customizing kits or just don’t have the time, WonderFest also offers enough dealers of pre-assembled and pre-painted toys of all types. With the explosion of highly detailed toys, which have begun to rival garage kits for their accuracy and style, no collector is left behind.
In the ancillary hall, many of the major toy companies had booths set up to show off their upcoming toy lines. Of course Bandai was there, touting their Ultraman card battle game. Atop their booth, its walls plastered with beautiful artwork of an army of Ultra monsters, were perched the filming costumes of King Joe Black and Gomora EX from the current ULTRA GALAXY television series. While quite modest in comparison to the Gamera 40th Anniversary display two years ago, it is still always a welcome sight to behold filming costumes from TV shows and movies.
The six and a half-hours that WonderFest is open for is an exhausting event, both physically and mentally. And exhaustive on the pocketbook as well if you get carried away. But even if you buy nothing, it is a worthwhile life experience for fans of Japanese science fiction and fantasy. However if you plan to attend one in the future, do yourself a favor and get there an hour after opening and forego the crazy entrance line…unless you really need that limited edition resin kit of the 374,288th variation of a bikini-clad superhero teenage girl wearing more weapons than clothes.