So a quick year and a half went by from the first half of this trip report–there actually were other things I thought about writing in the meantime, but I couldn’t face not finishing this one thing and didn’t have time to revisit it. But that’s ok! Virtually nothing happened in the meantime, except a virulent pandemic and the decay of civilization as we knew it.
Anyway, when we last left Past!Jeanine who was still in a reality where people could go places and do things, it was finally Animate Girl Festival day!
Day 3: AGF Time
Started off the day with the 7-11 across the street getting a coffee and onigiri for the road, since I figured time was going to be a little tight.
Having seen the horrific line that covered the entire huge entry staircase to the Sunshine City Mall yesterday, I showed up around 10am to get in line for the 1pm admission time. For a brief second I thought that was early enough as none of the line that I saw yesterday had gathered yet, but going further along the queue, the end of the line came pretty quickly.
At this point we just sat and waited for a couple hours. This wasn’t as terrible as you’d think, since I had my salmon onigiri and finally figured out how to connect to the internet. I also brought a little stadium cushion to sit on, so really, this was about as restful as it gets for me in Tokyo. Eventually, this phenomenon happened that completely baffles me when I experience it in Japan: Everyone is waiting for something and nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then ALL OF A SUDDEN everyone rises to their feet and starts dashing forward like there was some high frequency sound announcement that my gaijin ears can’t hear. I swear, I never catch anything signaling the start of this sprint, but I see it happen like this repeatedly at Tokyo Disney Resort particularly. It’s like some hive mind thing.
Anyway, the line starts moving, and it rapidly becomes evident that not only did I not get there early enough to miss the whole line into the building, but I may not have even missed the bulk of the line. This thing went around like two sides of the building and switchbacked several times and took forever even though we were walking the whole time.
As we passed 1pm, I started sweating it a little, but eventually I managed to check in and get inside with no problems. At THAT point, the line split off to go to about five different color-coded areas inside. I wanted to go to Yellow, where most of the mobile Japanese games I play had booths, and this involved going up roughly a thousand flights of stairs in some back stairwell (who knows what part of the mall/convention center we were in by now.) One thing I’ve noticed about touring Japan: There aren’t many concessions for the weak, and there weren’t here, either. I assume if you left this area you could find an elevator somewhere in the mall, but without being able to read or understand anything anyone was saying, you’d risk having to figure out how to get back in the convention area again, and that seemed like a worse alternative than sucking up the aerobic exercise.
Finally made it into the Yellow area by around 1:45pm, and it was just as much of a madhouse as you’d expect, but a jubilant madhouse, because people finally made it! Photos were kind of crappy because on the one hand, there were people crammed in everywhere, and on the other hand, some booths didn’t allow photos, so you didn’t want to miss a NO PHOTO sign and be offensive.
The first booth I visited was the Cybird booth, whose Ikemen series I play semi-religiously. Of course a lot of the more popular merch was sold out for the day already, as I assume was the case for a lot of the really desirable things across the board, but having an afternoon ticket for the second day, I had expected that.
This year they were doing a casino theme, where you could take a turn at a game of roulette and then pull scratch-off tickets depending on how you placed in your group. I actually managed to win $5 on Amazon Japan, which I thought was pretty good for not understanding anything that anyone said.
Nearby was the Arithmetic booth. I played a lot of their games at the time, but just in the last year they basically stopped updating any of their English games, so they’ve been off my radar for awhile.
The other big company I was familiar with was Voltage who had their usual good-sized booth full of merchandise that also sold out pretty fast. They and Cybird usually have a big presence at Anime Expo (AX) along with Shall We Date. Interestingly, Shall We Date was not here, probably because they stopped doing merch altogether after one AX where they took a lot of flack from people who, I guess wanted their favorite games better represented.
The other interesting thing was that you couldn’t just depend on looking at the company booths for merchandise, as third-party vendors also had items connected to various franchises as well. SEGA had a big Cybird tie-in where not only did they have a boothful of product to sell, but various SEGA arcades throughout Ikebukuro had special claw machines where you could win Ikemen badges.
Most of the items were blind box, which was annoying because I traditionally have the worst luck at blind box purchases. This booth compounded the issue as you had to buy a raffle ticket which then determined from what category of merch you got to pick. At one point, I wound up just buying a complete set of chibi acrylic stands because I knew I would never get the ones I wanted otherwise. I also discovered another element of difficulty, which I really should have expected, in that most of these booths did not take credit cards. Most smaller sellers around Japan do not, but for some reason I couldn’t believe that they would be in a venue where people were buying hundreds of dollars of merchandise and not take credit cards. Cue a trip to the ATM.
At this point, I had gotten to most of the booths I really wanted to see and now was able to wander around looking at everything else in all the other areas. The amount of space was HUGE and kind of spread out around the convention center. Three of the areas were kind of clustered together, but two of the others seemed to be on a completely different floor and side of the mall building, so it wasn’t an entirely small matter to go between them. I think there might have been one color I didn’t even get to, because it closed a little earlier than I had expected. Most of the booths were full of standee photo ops from games and anime that haven’t been localized or brought over to the US yet (at least at that time.) Looking back now, it’s funny how many franchises I’ve seen/played now, that I was clueless about then.
Mostly it was me going around admiring everything and then having to show people my phone where I had PLEASE LOCALIZE THIS AND BRING IT TO AMERICA translated.
One booth actually had all their voice actors out in front greeting people and handing out business cards for their characters. This was at the end of the day and no one was stopping much so the booth people encouraged me to meet them, despite my gesturing that I would not have a lot to say. They were super nice.
Eventually, the time ran out and they shooed us away. In Japan, everything ends pretty promptly–none of the usual convention endings where people straggle around doing last minute buys for another 20 minutes or so. In Japan, everything closes about 15 minutes to the hour, and when it’s done, it’s done. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay there. I celebrated surviving AGF by getting a sundae in the mall in a coffee shop that had the virtue of being the only place that didn’t have a line to sit down.
Later, I staggered back to the hotel through Ikebukuro, stopping at the SEGA arcade to throw money into some claw machines. I was predictably bad at them so eventually the workers took pity on me and basically put the pins I wanted right at the edge for me to knock off.
Even long into the night, every park-like area of Ikebukuro was filled with people trading and chatting and cosplaying their hearts out, which is always nice to see. I particularly liked the prevalence of older women at AGF which is a population I don’t see as much in the usual conventions I attend.
So to sum up: I found AGF super fun but incredibly exhausting. If you don’t know Japanese and aren’t that familiar with being there, the level of difficulty of attending is pretty high because you really can’t depend on anyone being able to understand English at all. Once I was able to get cellular data and could use a translating app again, it became a lot easier, but before that it was pretty frustrating. Having said that, it’s an experience that I really think you could not get in the US, because here there is just too much disdain for women and their entertainment in general for any game companies to put any money into even games aimed towards women, much less big events about the games. The amount of merchandise was staggering, very limited edition, and again, rarely brought out of Japan…so if you want something for a niche game this is really your only chance before paying marked-up secondary market prices.
Things I would consider if I were going again:
- Staying at one of the hotels adjacent or preferably attached to the mall for faster access
- Buying a ticket for both afternoons
- Getting in line 4-5 hours in advance (but probably wouldn’t because that’s a long time)
- Taking as much cash as I could carry.
I think after it was over, I thought I was glad I went, but wasn’t anxious to race back to do it again, mostly because I felt like I missed so much by not being able to understand all the outside events that were happening throughout the town. Having had every event cancelled for this whole year however, I would say that if the conditions were safe, I’d go again now.
[TBH: I would probably go just about anywhere now.]