Sunday, June 23, 2013

JAFAX 18 - Out Amongst the Fans

Colorful, peculiar characters were meandering about the crowded lobby floor of Henry Hall on the campus of Grand Valley State University. Cute creatures, guns for hire, and sword-wielding heroes stood out from the hoards of mundane browsers and consumers. Long tables stood out from the walls, bearing impressive loads of artwork, craft work, DVDs, books, collectible figures, and stuffed animals. All of the above, each an aspect of a bizarre festival where Anime, Manga, and general Japanese Popular Culture are worshiped and celebrated with abandon. Such is the event known as JAFAX (the Japanese Art, Anime, and Film Expo).

I found myself wandering into the crowds of JAFAX this afternoon as the sun mercilessly blasted down. Lying in random patches of shade between the parking lot and the entrance to the headquarters of the event were cliques of sweaty, irritable kids in body paint and drooping costumes. Scantily clad girls were giddily chasing each other around hedgerows as somber, darkly dressed pseudo-warriors congregated around the aquamarine fountain outside of the Student Services Building. At times the grounds of the area surrounding the event felt like the neighboring regions of dreams, with the occasional huffing obese guy shuffling his way about, carrying one too many Pikachu backpacks.

Once inside, I spent my time attempting to locate the vendors section of the event, hoping to find some choice Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, Mobile Suit Gundam, or Rumiko Takahashi items. After a brief chat with one of the event coordinators and a couple more hundred feet later, I was walking through the Mackinac building, peaking into random classrooms, each of which was stuffed with three-to-four different vendors. With some occasional clever footwork I managed to avoid being overwhelmed by sweaty throngs of wig-wearing children as I stood gazing over the offerings of each of the merchants. Studying their price stickers, I found myself supremely frustrated by the hard truth of expo extortion. Piles of items meant to appeal to the current trends were all that most of the vendors had to offer, though I did occasionally find a few Gundam models or Studio Ghibli films - each extremely overpriced.

Eventually I was able to find some decently priced items of interest, but shortly after I began exploring the vendor area there was a loud call from some event personnel that everything in that section was set to close within the next ten minutes. I hurried about checking and double checking tables in each of the rooms still hoping to find what I've usually found at most conventions or expos - the seemingly elusive "Magical Deal." It proved itself truly elusive as I rounded a corner and found the expo folks locking up rooms and directing myself and others out of the building. The show, sadly, was over.

JAFAX is an event I've visited off and on for many years now. I even wrote about it last year. No matter what I discover during the expo or what discourtesies assail me in those reeking, heated halls, I always find myself returning the weekend after Father's Day, every chance I get. I think what keeps me going back is an irresistible urge to chance fate and hope beyond hope that each year I attend will be the one in which I find that rare collection of sought after, discounted Manga or Anime. Sure, this year allowed me the chance to buy an Adventure Time wallet for my wife and a volume of Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikkoku, but I get the feeling that next year, in spite of what has or hasn't happened for me at JAFAX in the past, will be the year that I strike gold or get the perfect collector's opportunity. Here's hoping that I'll find some cheap Gundam models or inexpensive Miyazaki treasures in 2014.

If you're interested in learning more about JAFAX, visit the website for the event at or read my blog about JAFAX 17 at

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