The 7th Chinese International Comics and Games Expo held at the China Pavilion was a smorgasbord of color and hyperkinetic noise, featuring dozens of exhibitors representing a variety of corners of respective toy, anime, and gaming universes. Children turned out in droves with parents in tow to sample the delights of their favorite fuzzy creatures in the flesh, and cosplay devotees nerded out with several thousand of their spiritual peers, with a sheepish tango involving posing and picture-snapping taking place throughout the Pavilion.
Companies like Marvel, Hasbro, Tencent, Bandai and Disney (along with a number of other domestic firms) were all on hand to get ’em while they’re still young, bringing out huge displays and gift shop sections to hawk their wares.
A performance stage featured a Chinese rock act singing J-metal in Japanese, and costumed girls dancing up and down in place, spread out across a vast stage, never moving from their designated spot or interacting with each other on stage. Rows of computers allowed Expo patrons, who normally never see the outside of an internet cafe, the chance to make their daily habit a performative act in front of other like minded rubberneckers.
A large shopping area provided the unadorned and unwigged the chance to blend in, with neon purple or juice concentrate orange accoutrements on hand to lively up their look. The single most popular item we saw for purchase were large Japanese swords with Buddhist swastika handles, and samurai-umbrellas that employed the same scabbard. Bushido has never been so practical.
The entire experience of navigating the maze-like space felt like a mashup between web-surfing and being at a carnival-slash-video arcade. A map wasn’t really necessary, so much as a willingness to allow one’s id to run free like a dog at a poop-friendly section of a city park: in one corner, giant comforting icons and talismans of childhood, and in another, ladies who look like they’d be more at home in a car show, standing on stage, in a row or shifting their positions, some looking blank, some pouting, all looking reproductively fit and fine.
Like magic, they smile and hold eye contact upon the raising of a camera in their direction, no questions asked. Cosplayers will snap into their practiced moves and poses with little prompting, and we half expected the manga lines surrounding anime characters in especially weighted situations to appear when a particularly invested warrior in red fell to the ground to support her weight with one hand for the sake of our photo.
But there is a slightly disconcerting aspect to the co-mingling of preening beauties salivated over by men and boys with cameras, and the more immature kiddie fare on hand at the Expo. Children are exposed to women who occasionally inadvertently offer views of their nether-clothing and shanks/posteriors, which is all the more visible from their diminutive eye-level. Not to mention posters and figurines for sale featuring those Anime girls-in-distress, who have the faces of children and the bodies of surgically-enhanced mutant sex goddesses.
Some anthropologist would consider the Comics and Games Expo to be a minefield of gender and identity issues, and could have multiple field days deconstructing mediated self-expression through role-playing and singing karaoke at a screen with your back to the audience.
But we were too busy having a ball to criticize the proceedings too harshly. To reject and dismiss the frenetic ADD energy of the Comics and Games Expo Is to be a Larry Luddite unable to engage with how people have fun in the computer/television/smartphone screen-mediated present. Basically, any event where an assembled paparazzi throng will gather for the spontaneous appearance of Big Bird, Elmo and the Cookie Monster is okay by us.