Made in Asia

Made in Asia is definitively improving.

Made in Asia Brussels Belgium
Visitors at the Made in Asia convention in Brussels, Belgium, March 3 (Hilde Heyvaert)

Made in Asia has over the years become the biggest and most popular Asiamania convention of Belgium. This year it coincided with the last weekend of the February school holiday, giving people ample opportunity to visit.

We visited on Friday and Saturday, the first two days of the event, and so this review is only relevant to these days and not to the final day of Sunday.

Program-wise, Made in Asia did a really good job. They did their best to spread out popular acts and even planning the more popular bands, such as PLASTICZOOMS, BRIDEAR and Neko Light Orchestra, on several days, so the majoirty of people had a fair chance to see them live at least once without having to take time off. This was definitely an example of clever scheduling.

Aside from this, the program was very extensive, with game demos left and right, all kinds of activities and workshops, concerts, cosplay, a Dragon Ball Z photobooth (which was free), you name it. Even if you didn’t go to just hang out and look around with your friends, you could still spend an eventful afternoon without spending a dime by participating in the many things that were going on.

Another strong suit of Made in Asia is that it’s not just an Asiamania event. Sure, Asia is the main focus of the convention, but they team up with the much smaller YouPlay! to provide a hall with nothing but games. This attracts a wider audience and it diversifies the program.

Furthermore, even though it is an Asiamania event, it has a lot of room for subcultural things such as steampunk and LARP. And, believe me, there were a lot of steampunk stands this year.

Speaking of the shops, they range from fashion, home décor, young designers, fandom, gadgets, food, candy, beauty and more. So if you do go to shop, chances are you’ll find at least something you like. Whether it’ll be affordable, that’s another matter entirely, of course.

Friday was, understandably, the quietest of the three days. Most people still had to work, but most students did have the day off. This makes Friday the ideal day if you don’t like crowds. There were still quite a few people around, but it wasn’t crowded. It was easy enough to get around and queues were short and manageable.

By no means was it a slow day, due to aforementioned programming. Even though there was less to do than on Saturday and Sunday, there still was plenty going on.

Saturday was another matter entirely. While the infamous Crowd with capital “C” might not have been happening, the convention was definitely still overcrowded. The only reason it wasn’t quite as bad as previous years is that this time there was no neighbouring event (like Creativa in the past) that provided a two-for-one ticket, meaning that both conventions were a lot more crowded than they had the right to be.

That said, if anything had happened at Made in Asia this year, I fear that first aid would have had a hell of a job actually getting to the area to give medical assistance. I understand that an event want to sell as many tickets as possible, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of visitor safety, a lesson I fear Made in Asia won’t learn until something goes wrong.

Speaking of security, while there was security personnel on site at the entrances and exits, there was very few security on the floor. Again, the common convention malaise of random bag checks and weapons rules forbidding practically anything (which was a moot point as most people just carried weapon props inside in their bags) and everything while selling display weapons, that are more often than not super sharp, on the floor. Safety first and all that jazz, but it’s hard to take these rules seriously the way there is a gross lack of implementation and there is an obvious case of hypocrisy going on. You can’t bring them in according to the rules, but you can buy them on site.

In any case, more security on the floor would be a good thing, if only to do something about people using their free-hugs sign (thankfully a vast minority) as an excuse to fling themselves at women or photographers harassing girls into striking poses they were clearly not comfortable with (which I saw happen on a few occassions and it’s never OK).

Made in Asia is also known to be a concert convention, meaning that all three days, on several stages, you can catch bands perform. This is in itself absolutely awesome, but sadly it’s not always under the best and the safest circumstances as the stage setup could be a lot better and the sound wasn’t always adjusted properly.

BRIDEAR, for instance, were far too loud and could be heard throughout most of adjacent halls. Which is just too loud.

What is great is the side screen, allowing people not in the front rows to still have a decent view of the concert.

On Friday, they made the effort to keep one side of the stage clear, so visitors in wheelchairs would still have a good view of the stage. On Saturday, they sadly canned this, quite possibly due to it being more crowded.

Regardless, it was very thoughtful of them and they could have easily installed a little handicapped area. After all, they did make that weird table setup in front of one side of the stage. Which is another example of Made in Asia’s weird decisionmaking.

Over the years, Made in Asia has gotten a lot better at providing food on site. While a few years back, the offer was limited and grossly overpriced, there is now more variety. Although €5 for a simple hot dog is still expensive.

Snacks and drinks sold at stalls were also very highly priced, this year seemingly even more so than other years from many sellers.

What was great, I will say, is that they devoted an entire hall to food stands, providing a lot of tables for people to sit at. Combined with the permanent little restaurants in the halls themselves, which also have seating facilities, and vendors selling candy, snacks and drinks, this meant that there was quite a lot of variation in food. Not particularly a variation in healthy food, but at least there were more options than there used to be. Some even vegetarian (possibly vegan also, but I’m not sure).

Aside from that, it was easy enough to bring home-made meals and drinks, so if you didn’t want to spend money on the highly priced convention food and drinks, you had that option.

Language sadly remains an issue when it comes to Made in Asia. While Belgium is a trilingual country (Flemish, French, German), the convention barely caters to Flemish-, German- and English-speaking visitors. It is 95 percent French, which is basically not on (it’s actually not even legal, but there you go). The Flemish version of the site isn’t as extensive as the French version and when you attend the convention, you need to be able to speak French to communicate with staff and vendors, as most do not speak any other language.

While there are still some areas Made in Asia needs to work on, it is clear that the convention is trying to get back in shape. And you can see it a little more each year (a lot of things have vastly improved since last year, which was a definite huge improvement on the disasterous 2014 and 2015 editions), so we’re curious to see where this ends up going.

All in all, even with the very obvious downsides, Made in Asia 2017 was a fun edition and, if they keep it up, they’ll remain the biggest Asiamania con Belgium has for a long time coming.

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