Passion for ‘garage kit’ models mounts at Wonder Festival

July 21st, 2010 by Daniel Morales

Wonder Festival showcases some of the top garage kits - handmade models of characters from anime and manga.

Wonder Festival showcases some of the top garage kits – handmade models of characters from anime and manga.

The Japanese are renowned for otaku-levels of devotion to their hobbies, whatever they may be, and this is especially true for “garage kits,” plastic models of anime and game figures that are constructed by hand and are as professional as products produced by major companies.

Garage kits, like anime, came of age in the 1980s. The growth of the hobby has been channeled through Wonder Festival (Won-fes, for short), a biannual convention where garage kit artists have been displaying and selling their wares since 1984. In the beginning, the kits occupied a legal gray market, which led to a uniquely Japanese moment of corporate compromise – the invention of “day-of copyrights” (tojitsu hanken, 当日版権). These copyrights are issued through the event, which is hosted by Kaiyodo, a company that produces garage kits, figures and other toys. Dealers who apply can receive a copyright that allows them to sell and display only accepted models only during the event. They can’t take reservations during the event and ship them later. They can’t sell models that haven’t been accepted. The copyright ends when the event does. This year there will be 1,900 dealers selling their kits on July 25.

If the ’80s was the boom of garage kits, which created a so-called “garage kit spirit” where artists aimed to create the most detailed models possible, then the ’90s was when it became more corporate. Notably, the popularity of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” baptized a generation with the breasts of Asuka and Rei, the two main female characters from the legendary sci-fi anime. Almost singlehandedly, the show increased the number of casual fans of garage kits, fans who were more interested in seeing the characters they liked (in revealing positions, nonetheless) and less interested in the quality the models. Additionally, corporations have taken advantage of the event to release limited edition, already completed models that pander to non-fanatics.

In response to the influx, the label “Wonder Showcase,” closely connected with parent organization Wonder Festival, in 1999 began to highlight some of the highest quality garage kits. For each show they select several artists and profile them along with their works. They help promote the artists and put them in a great position to meet people within the industry during the show, but don’t force them into a management contract – the goal of the showcase is to promote the “garage kit spirit” that initially sparked the boom. Due to the questionable legality of their hobby, artists often use pseudonyms to hide their true identity.

The event was held at Tokyo Big Site until 2008, when an elevator malfunction caused injuries to visitors and drew a surprising amount of attention from the national press. Since 2009, Makuhari Messe has hosted the event.  This year the festival takes place July 25, from 10 a.m.  to 5 p.m.

To follow the coverage from abroad, Danny Choo‘s Web site might be one of your best bets. Here’s his roundup of Wonder Fest 2008.

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