Curated From Check Them Out For More Content.

Cosplaying taking a selfie with each other on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.
Yohji Lam

Sounds of indistinct chatter, cluttered by crowds so packed you could only go with the flow, snaking through the people and obstacles alike among the photography stages in the corridors.

This is the reality of Hong Kong’s biggest doujinshi convention for community-made products, the 30th Rainbow Gala (RG) held on December 23 and 24, a signal hellscape where nothing goes through other than intermittent calls as cellular service can barely support the load—and it may be shutting down.

RG has been the sole anime doujinshi event held at this scale in Hong Kong to date, encompassing 60,000 square feet of event space in three separate halls and 900,000 square feet of mall space outside for attendees to hang out. It was first held in 2007, alongside rival events such as Comic World (CW) since 1998, and later, C3AFA from 2009 onwards, both of which subsequently shut down in 2021.

Many anime events have used the RG venue, Kowlonbay International Trade & Exhibition Centre (KITEC), which is also home to a variety of events, concerts, and other exhibition functions, including a performance by Japanese singer ReoNa scheduled on January 28.

In light of the recent redevelopment efforts, KITEC is set to be demolished in June 2024.

Exhibitor Necho Nara posing in front of their stall on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.
Yohji Lam

As questions are raised about the potential loss of RG, eight-year cosplayer and one-year exhibitor Necho Nara stated that they believe the fallout to not be serious as people will just get used to it and “move on” like how people “forgot all about CW after just two years of inactivity.”

However, Nara also added that the loss of RG would also mean the loss of one extra source of income for exhibitors.

Harry Tsang, a self-proclaimed “workaholic” and cosplayer, stated that the loss of RG is “one less outlet for expression,” while Kazu Tang, an exhibitor of three years, further believes that the doujinshi scape will shrink with the loss of KITEC. The closing was compared to the loss of family by photographer Andrew Hui, whilst joking that at least it will put an end to the “trashy signal black hole.”

Exhibitor Kazu Tang in cosplay posing in front of her stall on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.

“Hopefully, RG could find another venue, like D2 Place, but it won’t live up to the landmark status of KITEC as the home of doujinshi events,” Tang suggested.

Organizers echo this sentiment, as the venue space at the 12,000 square feet D2 Place could hardly encompass even one-tenth of the current RG. Event manager Chole Lisa Kung remarked, pointing to the event hall, “My pride is here.”

“Regretful” is the common word used by exhibitors, attendees, and staff alike when asked if RG were to shut down as a result. Tang added that it was already in its seventh rendition when she joined the community.

“To put it simply, the current existing event of this scale and extent is only RG. Once it ends, there might not be another one,” said Charles Mo, a newcomer to exhibiting.

Many attendees remain hopeful that RG will be able to survive after the demolishment, pointing to the convention center that hosts Animation-Comic-Game Hong Kong (ACGHK), Hong Kong’s largest entertainment fair to focus on anime-esque culture. However, organizers lament that they would require tenfold the budget compared to what is currently available.

Kung stated that instead of being financially reliant, RG survives on self-sufficiency “simply based on the couple hundred bucks from stalls and several tens of dollars from attendees.”

Organizer Chole Lisa Kung at the 6/F reception on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.
Yohji Lam

“I know everyone wants to go to the convention center, but where will the budget come from? Will stalls be offered for two thousand dollars? Will attendees be willing to purchase two hundred dollar tickets?” Kung replied regarding the future of RG. “In the end, the cost is the reality in Hong Kong, and that’s what makes Hong Kong most unfortunate.”

Kung reminded us that the convention center only provides an empty field and calls the budget required for installation, set-up, and clean-up, for every single table, chair, and electrical socket “simply frightening.”

“I wouldn’t mind the price hike; we are just here to seek fun at the end of the day, whether it is selling or just exhibiting,” said Tang. However, Nara stated that they only made two to three thousand dollars at the last RG.

Mo stated that it is exactly the hobby, atmosphere, and affordability of the 650-dollar stalls at RG that drive the doujinshi market, as “there might not be any customers who will buy any products” in actuality, adding that they would be pushing out hobbyists by changing to a more expensive venue.

Exhibitor Charles Mo sitting at his stall waiting for a customer on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.
Yohji Lam

Costs are not the only hurdle, however, as Kung explained why Hong Kong remains a “fragmented” and “broken” place. “We lost a lot of the youth. These people are the pillars of creativity and future— and we have lost our future.”

Kung said that despite recent stress on culture in the development efforts of Hong Kong, Hong Kong is still a “very sorrowful place” and “pathetic, even,” as no actual support or space is given to local youth for anything “creative or happy,” nor to people who could inspire them.

“There’s just no breathing ground for them to exist,” Kung added. “The 11-year-old me in 1997 saw these artworks, and my first reaction was, ‘How can these grown-ups draw so beautifully?’ They inspired me because I wanted to draw like them too.”

“I started drawing doujinshi artwork when I was 12, and I started running Rainbow Gala when I was 20. I am now 38,” said Kung pointing to the exhibitors inside, calling them the “most valuable asset” as she further questioned, “Where are the new 12-year-olds entering the community?”

On the topic of the evermore popularity of anime culture in Hong Kong, Kung is blessed that they went from 150 stalls initially in 2007 to more than 1,200 now, with ten thousand daily ticketed attendance rising along every iteration. “Indeed, there are more consumers now than ever, but the most important lead still lies in the people inside drawing.”

Yet, some voices have claimed that as the Rainbow Gala grew larger and larger, organizers have lost sight of their initial aspirations. To that, Kung only affirmed. “Of course, I have already lost sight of my aspiration. At first, hosting events was to satisfy my selfish desire to be happy. Now I just want people to be happy.”

The gradual departure of some Japanese brands with telecom, toy, and car companies in their place has raised questions about the “anime” focus of the ACGHK in recent years. Kung stated that her core focus for RG was always on the people. “If I had moved to the convention center, I might have lost any semblance of my aspiration left.”

A stall at the third-floor exhibition hall on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.
Yohji Lam

Attendee Isaac Sung shared a similar sentiment, stating that he would fear RG being “a duplicate of ACGHK” in the future. “Now that I think about it, ACGHK is more of a hangout spot for the community than an actual event.”

“ACGHK is too commercialized, and there are too many irrelevant stalls,” Tsang commented.

Mo also agreed, stating that the doujinshi space allocated in ACGHK is “rather disorganized, messy and in actuality not that large.”

In RG, tickets for different periods are sold online by organizers, with the possibility of re-entry all day long. Kung stated that she gained inspiration for this system from the timed slotted entrance used by Tokyo Sky Tree, and merging the system with the tickets themselves.

ACGHK, on the other hand, has 2-kilometre long four-hour queues as the sole single-entry method for the regular 200,000 ticketed attendees to enter.

Kung believes that “standing there for hours” is not what makes “a happy event,” as she further elaborated on giving care to the community. “We must have a bit of ‘chūnibyō’ inside us. The fact is we like manga because of the moral within that could touch us emotionally, and we have to behave as we are taught from these media.”

Crowds at the mall in the closing hours of the first day of the event. Photographers and cosplayers have fill the space where the in-person ticket queue used to be on 3/F.
Yohji Lam

However, her ideals may be in contrast with the behavior of some attendees, as it has long been a pressing issue.

While there were signs instructing photographers against placing tripods and lighting set-ups or attendees from loitering around the corridors, the rule has rarely been enforced in recent years at KITEC events due to the events’ sheer scale. Photography stages and carpets from cosplayers remain present across all floors and along the guardrails of the mall.

“I do view rule-breakers in a tinted light,” said Tang. “They might ruin the venue and the atmosphere. I’ve been in the cosplay community for too long, seeing its downward spiral as the community drifts towards being younger.”

Despite there being debates locally about the appropriateness of such installments across events with cosplayers, Patrick Tyler Scott, a first-time Hong Kong con-goer and cosplayer from Los Angeles, stated that this is what makes the local con special.

“I’ve been blown away by just how many people, how many cosplayers there are, and how popular it is. They could pose somewhere, and photographers could come to take pictures. That just doesn’t happen in America,” said Scott, commenting on why he is “cool” with the tight corridors and space occupied by attendees. “Seeing it happen just seems like more of a culture here. I like the cons in LA, but I honestly think this is more fun.”

A cosplayer posing for the camera, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023.
Yohji Lam, Cheung Wai Ching

It is not to say all remains well.

During reporting at RG, a photographer was spotted arguing with another group for allegedly hoarding space that they were going to occupy for a group cosplay photoshoot. It was only resolved when a member clarified that the other group was there first originally. The photographer in question had also previously assaulted the public relations director of the doujinshi event Luminous Lodge 01 for being blacklisted from media applications.

“Raising the respect for photographers is a community effort,” said photographer Isaac Sung.

Photographers are not the sole party receiving the short end of the stick. During the closing hours of the event, trash was also seen strewn around the mall outside the event space as attendees left the building.

Directors from the convention center arrived to inspect the operations of RG and made comments about the behavior of attendees, as mentioned as well.

“Shouldn’t we be more self-disciplined, or at least be on our better behavior so that others will be more accepting of us?” said Kung as she reflected on the director’s comments. “Each good deed you do, no matter how small, will be remembered.”

“People would just be accustomed to not having an event other than small exhibitions in D2 Place and the annual ACGHK,” Kung summed up her worries about losing RG, planning to hold a seminar-eque activity next time to inspire people and pick up where they left off. “I am not someone important. If someone can step up and replicate this effect going forward. I’d be glad to see it.”

The 30th Rainbow Gala came to an end as Kung made a public announcement to all exhibitors. “Counting down to the second-to-last RG, my feelings remain complicated as this information gets released. I could only hope to see your support in the coming RG mid-June.”

The crowd erupted in cheer and celebration in line with the festive spirits, yet, also in echo with the public’s support for the organizers amidst the potential end of an era. “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” Kung closed.

Source link

- A word from our sposor -

Rainbow Gala 30 and the End of an Era: Hong Kong’s Biggest Doujinshi Convention Set to Shutter