From Thursday July 4 to 7 the annual double extravaganza that is Japan Expo and Comic Con Paris was held at Parc des Expositions de Paris-Nord-Villepinte. A ticket for either one allowed you entrance to both, and the conventions mingled into each other quite easily at the border area between both so it’s best to review them together as a total. Which I shall do indeed.
A little background on both before I start with the actual review:
As far as Japanese culture conventions go, this edition of Japan Expo (because there’s also a Sud, Centre and Belgium edition) is the con. All other J-culture conventions in Europe pale in comparison due to the vast magnitude of things on offer at this one. And it’s also one of the longest running ones (possibly the longest running one but I’m not sure about that) with its 19th edition this year.
Comic Con Paris, the French version of the fabled and infamous San Diego Comic Con is a relatively new (celebrating its 5 anniversary this year) and smaller than many other pop culture conventions of its kind.
The combination of both, however, is a very good one, as it makes sure to considerably enlarge the things on offer to visitors by providing a far larger interest range which in turn, draws more people.
Now you could enter the convention via either the Japan Expo or the Comic Con side. Floor plans where back to back, so you had one map for both conventions. Programs, however, were separate in the paper versions you could pick up at select point, but at the info pillars (which were very well placed in both conventions) you could find the programs for both events.
Both had “main roads” so to speak, marked with a strip of carpet. At Japan Expo this was orange, at Comic Con this was blue, so you could easily see at which convention you found yourself. This color indication was also used on the maps, which made things even easier.
This is an event that is well visited but not overly crowded on the first day, but that gradually becomes far busier on the Friday, hectic and overcrowded on Saturday and still very crowded on Sunday. The organization knows this, and has anticipated it well by making sure there are vast spaces where you can go and sit and have a bit of a breather inside as well as outside. They also made sure that there are wide passageways everywhere, which at least helps to regulate the crowdedness somewhat. Of course, once it gets busy, the temperature in the expo goes up, everyone gets sluggish and you’re not getting anywhere fast because people are moving at a pace where they may get beaten to their destination by the average snail. Which can be pretty annoying but it’s definitely not the organization’s fault.
Another great point was the double entrances to the live areas. You had one regular entrance, and another one for press, vip and other special access types. Thus ensuring that the press could actually get in and do their job. VIP tickets just weren’t fancy more expensive tickets with a gift bag, they were actually properly VIP.
Facilities-wise Expo Paris-Nord-Villepinte is excellent. There’s a large (sadly overpriced) parking lot, easy access via public transport, a free shuttle bus that takes you from the convention to the parking lot and back (you can walk the distance, it’s about 15-20 minutes I’d say, if you don’t want to take a very full shuttle bus), plenty of toilets (in various states of cleanliness toward the end of the day, but free), plenty of places to get food and drinks inside and each convention has their own first aid station.
Now as a note on food and drinks. There are no convenience stores nearby, but you are allowed to bring your own. Which I advise you do.
While there are concession stands in the Expo, ranging from two bakery PAULs (a French chain you find internationally in Europe), a whole slew of places that do sandwiches and other small snacks, sushi places, a bubble tea bar, slushy stand etc etc etc it is largely very expensive. The only place that I saw (and admittedly I didn’t check them all out) that was reasonably priced was the PAUL where I got my giant macaron (I can never resist giant macarons from PAUL). But mind you, as far as that kind of shop is concerned, PAUL isn’t on the low end of the spectrum to start with.
Especially drinks were, in my opinion, grossly overpriced. Charging nearly €5 for a bottle of ice tea is just taking the piss. Especially as it gets hot inside the convention and people will need to drink. So definitely bring your own if you don’t want to pay extortionate prices.
Now for Japan Expo.
I have visited several J-culture conventions in the past, and in several countries and this is indeed the biggest I’ve been to. It is also the most extensive one. Of course you will see things you see at other conventions, and of course part of the program is the same thing. But generally they get bigger names to perform, sign and be present at their event. You see guests you never see at other events and the amount of Japanese companies present you won’t see anywhere else is also quite impressive. Aside from that, they also had martial arts showcases you don’t really see anywhere else, such as the traditional Japanese archery. And the level of the exhibits by professional martial artists was definitely higher than what I’ve previously seen.
For the car fanatics they had a tuning stand displaying several pimped models of Japanese car brands, which was also nice.
They even tried their hand at a French variation of WWF wrestling, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling that a success. But you know, they tried.
There were several stages where you could watch cosplayers do their thing, lectures, bands and much more having to do with something Japanese or other.
All kinds of J-culture things were present going from Karaoke, shopping, magazines, anime, manga, food, street fashion, travel to Japan, exhibits, exhibits currently happening in Japan, concerts and much, much more.
There was such an overflow of Japanese things that they had to house some inside Comic Con, such as the maid cafe and nico nico douga’s stand.
As for the rest, Comic Con was, as is to be expected, geek central. With large presence of French multimedia company Ankama, who are the brains behind the computer games Wakfu and Dofus as well as the publishing house behind many wonderfully drawn graphic novels. Sadly all in French, but that’s to be expected from a convention in France. That said, I think that Ankama would really benefit from English- or Dutch-language versions (seeing they are based in Roubaix and thus close to the Belgian border). But I digress. Aside from Ankama with Wakfu and Dofus, the other large video game presence was, unsurprisingly, Nintendo. The Nintendo Village took up a more than significant portion of the convention, with heavy promotion of the 3DS and even more so: the Wii-U, where you could try out all the latest games, and all those with classic characters that made Nintendo famous such as the Mario Bros and Donkey Kong. They even had meet and greet characters of Pikachu and Mario and Luigi.
I liked how the convention had a LARP village, even though it seemed far more promising on the map than what it really was, it was nice to see they made room for role-players. Aside from the LARP village, they also had a role-playing games, board games and gun play areas and Dungeons and Dragons exhibit. So plenty of things to do for the non-video inclined gamer.
Aside from that they focused on newer and older TV shows and movies, such as a Buffy cast reunion, the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who with the TARDIS and Sunday presence of show writer Mark Gatiss and a World War Z exhibit and a movie cars section, to name but a few of the great many things that were happening at this convention.
It was nice to see how varied Comic Con Paris was, making sure there was something suitable to most popular culture interests and not just following the current craze but making sure that their offer was well rounded.
Of course I was quite pleased to find that the first dressed up visitor I encountered was someone wearing a take on steampunk pirate. A little later I walked past the combined booths of Olkeinheim Craft and Tisse-Songe on Japan Expo early in the morning. They had also sold at Japan Expo Belgium so I wasn’t that surprised by their presence but it was still nice to see steampunk vendors.
I was however, quite baffled when I found a complete steampunk stand at Comic Con, where they had recreated a steampunk City Hall, in a weird west meets Edwardiana style. Complete with flyers of the French branch of EuroSteamCon.
City Hall was in actuality a promotional set-up for the manfra (French manga) published by Ankama of the same name. But still, very cool set up!
And from there on I kept on crossing paths with more and more steampunks, to the point where I was starting to think that all the best dressed people were in fact, steampunks. As there were more of them than people wearing various J-fashion styles!
Of course, most steampunks I encountered were absolutely awesome people, often selling awesome wares, and more than happy to stop and get acquainted with fellow steamers.
So yes, a very pleasant surprise in the steampunk department on both Japan Expo and Comic Con, because of the unexpectedly large presence of the movement at conventions you wouldn’t really expect it to be.
All in all, this combination of conventions is well worth the ticket price because you will see original things you don’t see at other conventions in Europe, the offer is enormous and you definitely get a great value for your ticket.
I’m not entirely sure I agree with the notion that you have to go at least two days to be able to see everything. I think it’s probably true for the weekend as those are very hectic days with the most visitors, but I think that if you go on the Thursday and make sure you’re there when the doors open, you can happily browse and experience the conventions in one, very full, day.
I do wholeheartedly occur with the sentiment that this is one of the best conventions Europe has to offer, and I would really recommend it to all fans of either Japanese or popular culture.
More photos can be found here.