NOW & NEW
For a country so small, Japan has an immense presence on the world stage when it comes to pop culture. People from all over the globe dream of taking a trip to Japan or even moving to this country just to experience it firsthand and make their geeky dreams come true. Conventions centered around anime, cosplay, and other things related to “Cool Japan” can be found in major cities worldwide, but in Japan, they usually take place in the same metropolises: Tokyo, Osaka, and sometimes, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and/or Sapporo. When it comes to anime tourism, Hiroshima is still considered a niche destination usually catering to Japanese people who live in the area, but we still hope to attract a wider audience through the few events we do have in our prefecture.
Perhaps none is better fit to do that job than Pop Culture Hiroshima, an annual anime and cosplay event that occurs in the heart of Hiroshima City. At this event, anime and cosplay fans from all over Japan and beyond gather to celebrate their favorite franchises through anime song concerts, talk shows with celebrities, cosplay performances, and doujinshi merchandise markets. This year, it was held primarily in the central hub area of the subterranean shopping mall Shareo, and as the nation’s borders were finally open, cosplayers from overseas were able to swing by our peaceful city to strut their stuff. It took place over the course of two days—November 5th and 6th—but as I was in Iwakuni attending the Kintaikyo Art Festival on the first day, I could only join in on the second day.
Not being able to attend the first day of the event meant that I missed out on the cosplay parade on Hondori, the opening ceremony, a talk show with voice actor Tomokazu Seki, an anisong (anime song) concert, some of the performances by international cosplayers, and the Saturday-exclusive origami and calligraphy workshop held at the Shareo Kamiya-cho Base. The second day began with the international cosplayers touring Peace Memorial Park and Orizuru Tower, something that didn’t pique my interest, so I decided to drop by after lunch. I arrived at the venue some time before 2:00 pm, when I ran into a friend of mine who attends a lot of these events and even helps out behind the scenes. We exchanged greetings and some brief banter before I was advised to take a seat before the start of the next performance. While the central hub was spacious, there were only so many chairs available for the taking, but since I was super-early for the next show, I was able to sit close to the front.
The first event I witnessed was a concert put on by cosplay star Hikari Takeshita and her companions, who were dressed like No-Face and Yubaba from Spirited Away. They all took turns singing covers of recognizable anime theme songs, from childhood classics to contemporary hits. Takeshita herself possesses a fascinating singing voice, and I for one was moved by her rendition of “Mixed Nuts.”
Stroll Between Shows
When the show ended, most spectators left their spots and walked around Shareo while the next performers got ready. Other cosplayers were also roaming around during this time, so this was a chance for spectators to snap pictures of or with their favorite characters. I say this all the time but I’ll say it again: COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT! Those who wish to take photos of people in costume should obtain permission to take the photo as well as permission to share the photo on social media, and the two actions should be phrased as two separate questions. I myself did that when I bumped into Hikari Takeshita and had my picture taken with her.
Elsewhere in the mall was the Sunday-exclusive doujinshi merchandise market, where numerous doujinshi artists and craftspeople were selling their works. This place proved popular with the international cosplayers, as can be seen from the two Spanish performers dressed as the Survey Corps from Attack on Titan. I only had a little time to browse the wares before the next show started, so I simply looked without buying. By the time I got back to the stage area, the members of Human Academy were already in the midst of their fight scene performance. These young women and men are Japanese students in the performing arts, and wielded fans and swords with grace and vigor in sync with enthralling traditional Japanese music.
World of Cosplay
After Human Academy’s performance, it came time for the cosplayers from overseas to shine. This year, there were thirty foreign cosplayers representing twelve nations, and eight teams of two took the stage on the second day of the event. Using props, background music, and pre-recorded voice lines, they were able to recreate famous scenes from popular anime series and films. A couple teams even utilized the monitor next to the stage for further aid in their storytelling by providing context or additional visual effects.
After each team finished performing, the host interviewed each of them, and since most of the international cosplayers couldn’t speak Japanese, there was an additional Chinese cosplayer on stage to help with interpretation. She tried her best going back and forth in Japanese and English, but I realized her English translations were not always sufficient, and when asked to translate back into Japanese, I sensed her trying to cover up the fact that she didn’t understand some of what was said in English. I think if she or any of the Japanese hosts could improve their English ability, these interviews would be more engaging and less awkward.
The first team to perform was this duo from India, who dressed up as two sword fighters doing fight choreography that could give Human Academy a run for its money. I don’t know what anime or video game these costumes were from, but their outfits were definitely convincing and high-quality. Despite the actors not being able to speak Japanese, there were Japanese voice lines during the performance that sounded like the actors recorded their own voices.
Next up was the team from Austria, who reenacted Howl’s Moving Castle, a movie I haven’t seen since high school but whose plot I remembered enough to understand the skit. The show was non-verbal, and featured costume changes in the middle, which were smoothly done. Sadly and not to my surprise, the interviewer confused their country with Australia, but the cosplayers laughed it off, saying they get that all the time.
Cosplay group number three was this pair from Thailand, who recreated an action-packed scene from the Dragon Ball franchise. Throughout the fight, the costume parts managed to stay on even though so much movement would usually make them fall off. Funny story: I actually ran into Cell (the green guy on the right) when I went to use the restroom between shows, and although he was probably just changing inside the stall, it baffled me to imagine how he would do his business in costume.
After them were two cosplayers from Taiwan, who were seemingly dressed as characters from a recent video game that I don’t play. Their dance choreography was elaborate and featured props like ribbons, fans, and swords, and the actresses seamlessly switched objects and places without any loss of time. The two could actually speak Japanese, which was a relief for the host, and another sign of the good relations between the two lands.
Following that performance was this duo from the Philippines, and they certainly came to fight! Honestly, I have no idea how they were able to justify bringing that humongous hammer and delicate bow onto a plane bound for Japan, but those props riled up the crowd and made for an intense fight scene. This team made use of the monitor by the stage to establish a setting for the skit. The two fighters were in the middle of a battle until the girl realized her village was on fire, so the boy dropped his weapon and helped her douse the flames. The story—being told on the monitor in English rather than Japanese—was easy to follow because I understand English. On the other hand, when the Vietnamese team that re-enacted a scene from Naruto also tried using the monitor for storytelling, the audio was in Vietnamese, so anyone who couldn’t see the monitor or understand Vietnamese wouldn’t have been able to figure out what was going on.
As the afternoon progressed on, the French team took the stage by dressing up as Lloyd and Yor Forger from Spy Family, which is all the rage these days. Their skit actually covered multiple episodes of the anime, but as I have seen them all, I found their performance to be one of the most exciting. The costumes in particular were extremely accurate, and after the event ended, there was a considerable crowd of fans surrounding these cosplayers, begging to have their photos taken with the Forger family. Coincidentally, the Chinese interpreter was also cosplaying as Anya Forger, the daughter, so the interview after the performance drew a fair number of laughs from the crowd.
Lastly, we had this duo from Malaysia, which also went for the tried-and-true fight scene routine. One of the combatants was using a sickle on a chain, which is an unwieldy weapon even in the world of cosplay, but this actor made it work. There were so many talented teams today that seeing the conclusion of the final performance was kind of bittersweet, but there was more fun to be had soon.
Moment of Joy: Living the Dream
Although one professional cosplay team after another wowed the audience, it wasn’t a contest and they were all winners in my book. However, if I had to pick a favorite, it would hands-down be the Thai cosplayers with their fast and furious fight scene. Not only was Cell’s costume on point, but the two actors made the best use of props and sound effects to bring the anime to life. It was as though the childhood dreams we had of our favorite TV shows manifesting themselves in the real world actually came to life on this very stage.
Out with a Bang
When all the international cosplayers finished their skits, the time came for every single person in costume to get on stage for a group photo, and to minimize infection, these maskless cosplayers put on face shields before huddling. It should go without saying that any cosplayer who wanted to be on stage for this event had presumably given his or her consent to be photographed or filmed, so visitors don’t have to worry about asking permission from every single person on stage. There were so many people on stage that I could barely fit the entire crowd in my camera lens without backing up and getting the back of some other photographer’s head in the picture.
Afterwards, Hikari Takeshita and her sidekicks got back on stage to lead the crowd of cosplayers in one last round of anisongs. Being the anime pros they were, the international performers all knew these songs and could sing along, in Japanese, no less! This final concert got the whole venue jumping and singing to the music, and there was probably no better way to end this event. When the last song ended, the crowd dispersed, and visitors started pestering their favorite cosplayers for one-on-one photos. Of course, I did the same, and once most of the cosplayers had gone back home to change into regular clothes, I left with my heart full.
Events such as Pop Culture Hiroshima are a great way for visitors to and residents in Japan to make new connections, especially if they are into anime, video games, and other facets of contemporary Japanese pop culture. What’s more, we nerds tend to attend a lot of similar events nationwide, so chances are that the more events like these you attend, the more likely you are to run into familiar faces and enrich your social network in Japan. The presence of so many famous cosplayers from overseas helps Hiroshima show up on the radars of would-be visitors to Japan, which in turn may increase the frequency of said events. My dream is to see Hiroshima join the bigger Japanese cities as a hotspot for pop culture aficionados to assemble, thereby amplifying our city’s—as well as the whole nation’s—influence on the world stage.
Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team