Immersion in the world of animation, comics and games is big business
For lovers of anime, comics and games, summer means the staging of two major events -- ChinaJoy and the CCG Expo.
ChinaJoy, a local digital entertainment expo, celebrates its 20th anniversary when it opens at the end of July. Organizers are predicting more than 100,000 visitors a day in a rebound from the COVID pandemic period.
The China International Comics and Games Expo (CCG) begins on July 13.
Fans got a warmup to both events in May, when the COMICUP 29 exhibition was held. It drew about 300,000 visitors in two days.
Tickets were a mad scramble when they were released online on two websites in late April. Enthusiastic fans caused a website breakdown.
Ticket prices that ranged from 78 yuan (US$11) to 138 yuan were scalped for as high as 3,000 yuan. Try as I might, I failed to get a ticket online but managed to get into the exhibition, courtesy of a stallholder friend.
COMICUP was probably so popular because the previous session was suspended for two years and delayed three times.
At the event, fans dressed in the costumes of their favorite characters.
The exhibition was a place where you could escape the stresses of the real world and link up with people sharing the same interests.
Shanghai has been dubbed "the capital of anime, comics and game culture," a nod to its long history of animation production as well as diverse cultural environment.
Established in 1957, the Shanghai Animation Film Studio was the first one of its kind in China. Its works inspired Japanese comic master Osamu Tezuka and animated film master Miyazaki Hayao.
People born in the 1980s and 1990s grew up with animation films, which drew on traditional Chinese crafts such as paper cutting, ink painting and shadow puppetry.
Last year, the studio's work "Yao --Chinese Folktales," full of mythical stories and Chinese lore, was very popular among young people.
In the 1990s, cultural exchanges between China and Japan introduced Japanese animation series and comics to the mainland.
I remember, as a little girl, how I looked forward every day to watching TV cartoons like Sailor Moon, Detective Conan, Dragon Ball and Chibi Maruko Chan.
At that time, before the inception of the Internet and e-commerce, that was the only way to enjoy such works.
While in primary school, I remember spending 10 yuan for a ticket to attend small events selling some self-made anime, comic and games products.
In 2008, the first COMICUP was held. It became a biannual event, with smaller exhibitions sometimes added.
In those early years, dressing up in costumes was not so prevalent. My parents used to see those who did dress up – with colored hair and odd clothing – as weird. Nowadays, it's commonplace even on the streets and in shopping malls of Shanghai.
"It's probably cool," my mother conceded.
I used to dress up like that when I was at university and participated in anime, comic and games events with other members of the campus Anime and Manga Club.
We made props with paper and polyfoam by ourselves and found tailors to make the costumes.
But now on e-commerce platforms, props and costumes are omnipresent. Some shop even provide bespoke services. In Shanghai, you can find specialized stores and products in almost every shopping center.
Some malls also host events aimed at fans.
For the Labor Day holiday in May, the shopping district in Xujiahui held promotional event with models, scenes and performances from local game publisher miHoyo's new game "Honkai: Star Rail."
Shanghai's prominence in the industry is undisputed.
Revenue from the animation and comic industry in 2020 reached 20 billion yuan, accounting for 10 percent of the nation's total. The city had more than 70,000 animation and comic companies.
According to Jiefang Daily, 2022 sales revenue in the local video game industry hit nearly 128 billion yuan, one third of the nation's total, and the city's eSports industry reached 27 billion yuan, with over 6 billion yuan from eSports games.
The popularity of the industry has spawned new careers for specialist makeup artists and photographers. Many of them advertise on the lifestyle app Xiaohongshu.
One local account called "Two Makeup Girls" boasts six years' experience in a variety of dress-up styles. It claims to take only 30 to 40 minutes to transform a client, at a starting cost of 120 yuan.
Another Xiaohongshu user called "Shanghai Makeup Artist Bailu" claims to have been in the business for over eight years and seeks out fans attending anime, comic and games events.