World of ani-com plays growing role in Hong Kong's cultural life

Fans shed their inhibitions and don elaborate costumes at annual games extravaganza

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 7:42am

From the cute to the kitsch, the elaborate to the downright bizarre, the city's love of comics, animation and games comes to life, literally, this weekend at an annual event that has courted controversy in recent years.

The 15th Ani-Com and Games fair at the Convention and Exhibition Centre is a five-day feast of colour and cosplay, where fans - teenagers and adults alike - don elaborate costumes of their favourite fictional characters.

Across the globe, similar events for animation and comic book fans draw in huge cosplay crowds such as the Comic Con International in San Diego, California, which wrapped up its 2013 four-day extravaganza last week.

It debuted in 1970 and is now considered one of the biggest and most important events on the comic convention calendar.

Cosplay - short for costume play - has been a hugely popular subculture in Japan for decades and Hongkongers have been catching the craze in the past few years, spending hundreds of dollars on elaborate role-play outfits.

Inside the fair, you will spot an eclectic mix of people wearing bright blue wigs, swinging replica medieval weaponry or waking around in space suits.

This year's fair, which ends on Tuesday, is expected to attract 700,000 visitors, with 170 exhibitors selling all manner of comic books and merchandise.

Another major draw card for fans is the chance to meet celebrities of the comic and anime world.

In 2010, so-called pseudo-models such as Chrissie Chau Sau-na were banned from appearing at stalls because they caused too much chaos and were only allowed to appear on the main stage for organised events.

For many fans, the excitement starts well before the fair doors open, with some devotees - who take annual leave for the event - camping out days ahead.

Shipping worker Edmond Tsoi Chi-wai was the first in line this year - for the 12th year in a row - when he grabbed his spot at 2am on Tuesday despite the torrential rain.

The queuing became such a problem for fair organisers that last year they introduced a controversial ban on the sale of limited edition figurines - which can fetch tidy sums on the re-sale market - because of queuing gangs hired by speculators.

This led to some high-profile exhibitors pulling out of the expo and a new system where fans must purchase the figurines online weeks before they pick them up from the fair.

Exhibitors were also hit with a HK$15,000 deposit that will only be returned in full if the stall holders maintain order.

But things are looking good for comic fans city after the government poured HK$55 million into the animation and comics industry four years ago.

This month also saw the opening of a museum dedicated to visual story-telling, the Comix Home Base at the Green House in Wan Chai.

This comes despite the recent comments from Hong Kong Comics and Animation Federation director Alan Wan Siu-lun, who said the number of locally produced weekly comics had fallen from a peak of 50 in the mid-1990s to 20 today.