Made in Asia is going strong with its fifth edition already and is one of the better known and certainly bigger conventions of Belgium.
Sadly the continuous growth of the con isn’t always positive. While with its fourth edition last year, in a bigger and better hall it seemed to become the top Asia mania event, this year felt like a distinctive step back in an overly cramped (especially on the Saturday) environment where stands were squished together and guests could scarcely get from one side of the convention to the other. Whereas there was still plenty of room to sit and breathe in previous editions, there was hardly any now, which was a downside to many visitors we spoke to, as well as the horrific crowd. Not that the people weren’t friendly, because the vast majority was. The staff was helpful but sadly often woefully uninformed, yet still did their utmost to help out where they could. In fact it was so terribly crowed on the Saturday that on the Sunday I discovered a whole variety of stands that I simply had been unable to see due to the crowd build up in front of them the day before.
What I did like a lot where the two big screens in the patio room where concerts and stage events took place, offering optimal view to those unable to stand in the first couple of rows in front of the stage. The volume control, unlike that of the taiko drums, was also amazing. When events in the patio were happening, the rest of the convention remained unbothered. As a word of advice to the organization: maybe it’s a good idea to move the taiko there as well next year. Taiko is awesome, but people have seen it at pretty much every single other convention for the past couple of years and while it has become a sort of must have part of any Japanese influenced convention, it’s been proven again and again that people appreciate it the most in very small doses when it’s in the main room, or for longer periods when it’s somewhere in its own little corner so to speak.
As usual MiA had a variety of events going on, all of which you could find on the map. A lot of convention visitors seemed to either miss out on maps (which were only distributed at the entrance on the Friday, the other days you had to go to the info desk, which was covered in people on the Saturday) due to general confusion as to where to get them (the info desk being hidden by crowds on Saturday or being told by staff they had run out). But generally people seemed to manage to find things they wanted to do.
Food was, as is generally the case with a con, totally overpriced for what it was and a wider variety could be found at the creativity convention you could also enter for free with your MiA ticket. It was thus unsurprising that a lot of MiA goers had wandered in there for a much quieter, roomier place to find something to eat. It still wasn’t cheap, but at least it offered more affordable options than MiA itself did.
The games room had been separated from the main convention, which gamers could appreciate and while it was great to see that they had some games you don’t commonly see, the room was sadly subpar to that of other cons and simply couldn’t compete.
And then there was Le Formidable Salon de la Bande Dessinee or the formidable comic book salon. On the site people were still under the impression it would be grand and also cater to the Flemish. Wrong on both accounts. Not only was it very small, I didn’t see a single thing in Dutch, and very little in English. Which brings me to another, very annoying part of MiA itself. It’s held in Brussels, which is supposed to be a bilingual city. You hear Flemish spoken very often. And yet most people there hardly speak any Dutch and in many cases barely any English either, which makes it very hard for the Flemish to get around. The organization does do its utmost to cater to the Flemish with Dutch language maps, staff that knows the language and so on, but in reality that once you’re on the con, you’re often faced with a language issue and Flemish visitors often find that they can’t find the things they’re looking to buy are simply not available in a language for them, which is a bit of a shame in my personal opinion because a lot of people do go to a convention to shop for things they’ve had on their wishlist for a while. Luckily shops did offer a wide variety. While there were many that you see every MiA or in some cases practically every convention, there were also a great deal of many new vendors with new things to sell making for a good variety.
And of course, what you’ve all been waiting for: steampunk at the con.
I did see several other steampunks (mostly the usual suspects) and there was one stand that I noticed (there may have been more though!) that had some steampunk wares of dubious quality. The creativity con next doors had some nice big cogs on display though.
All in all this year was really quite sad for steampunk, there were less vendors actually catering to the movement and they were far more few and far between. So while you are definitely welcomed as a steampunk, don’t expect to be able to do much steampunk specific shopping there.
Even though I really enjoyed myself for two days at Made in Asia (I went both Saturday and Sunday), I did feel like this edition was overall, despite all the positive points, a step back for the convention. I do believe that this is largely the problem due to the fact that the hall they were in this year is simply not suited to the amount of people that visits. So hopefully next year they’ll have worked out the glitches and will return in full force. I’m certainly not going to let the downsides of this year stop me from visiting again in 2014!