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She arrived with messy blonde hair in pigtails, red and blue eye shadow smeared on the sides of her face, and an eerie maniacal smile that broke out every time she swung her decked out baseball bat—her weapon of choice. In a regular setting, Lily’s Harley Quinn ensemble would have made her look like a freak in the middle of a sea of uniformed workers stuck in their day-to-day affairs. But at ToyCon, she fit in just fine.
“I love being able to act as somebody else,” she said. Lily has been doing cosplay for nine years now. She started in Davao at the age of 14, dressing up as her favorite characters and joining every local anime convention she could find. It was at these events she found a group of people like her, forming a close-knit clique of pop culture fanatics who expressed themselves through costume. All of them showed dedication to the craft, spending an average of three months and thousands of Pesos assembling just one look each. Lily’s go-to fashions are that of Saber from Fade Stay Night and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. But Harley Quinn is still her favorite.
Having moved to Manila four years ago, Lily had to leave her merry tribe of cosplayer friends and settled for dancing in KPop conventions instead. All the while, her inner fangirl was begging for release. Having stumbled upon ToyCon on the Internet revived her love for the art.
For any first-timer at ToyCon, overwhelming is an understatement, especially now that the 15-year old event has tied up with Pop Life FanXperience—the very same group that partners with the Salt Lake Comic Con in the United States. The experience of ToyCon here is like getting lost in the collective daydream of a group of otakus. It’s a wonderland of obsessions, a physical maze whose walls are tacked with a menagerie of iconic bits and bobs.
Think of it as your typical toy store, but supersized and made edgier. Instead of pretty dolls, you get every kind of meme-inspired merchandise concocted by the twisted minds of 4chan. In lieu of cheap plastic guns, you get replica upon replica of every known mecha suit in the anime universe. In place of plush furry critters, there’s a gallery of Funko Pop! figurines. The collection on display is obsessive, almost. Where else would a person find vinyl bobblehead models of Marvel’s Iron Man, Manny Pacquiao, and Thai teen dream Mario Maurer all in the same place? There’s always a toy to please every discerning fan.
But more than just an exhibition of mint condition playthings, the event has branched out into a full on celebration of all things pop culture. There was an NBA section just a few stalls away from the packed board game area. In the middle of the hall was a stage, which, in three whole days, was graced with acts flown from across the globe. DJ Kazu from Japan spun tracks from classic anime favorites like Slam Dunk and Yu Yu Hakusho (locally known as Ghost Fighter.) And not surprisingly, the crowd instantly went nuts, forming a frenzied mosh pit front and center, yelling along to the words. Another DJ, Kristian Nairn, also made a special appearance, although his reputation as the tragic hero Hodor may have slightly overshadowed his skills on a mixer. Nevertheless, he was treated like a god.
Not to be beat by foreign acts, homegrown stars also held their share of fan events. The fact that crowds went to see the cast of last year’s sleeper hit Heneral Luna as well as the Encantadia presentation is a testament to just how fiercely devoted local fandoms are. Luna, for example, has spun its own community of aficionados online, many of which have created fan art and fan fiction as a way of extending the universe of the film over and beyond its original historical context.
Much like Lily in her Harley Quinn garb, the fans who flocked to ToyCon x Pop Life FanXperience are all children of the Internet. Each of their tastes and obsessions were born and molded by the content they consumed online and the continuous sharing of experiences and opinions within the virtual communities of otakus they’ve built over the years.
The Internet has somewhat become a great equalizer, making pop culture easily available to those who are looking for it. We Filipinos, for example, can appreciate Japanese anime more fervently now despite the language difference and the scarcity of these shows on local TV. Kids today can access relics from the past which they wouldn’t be normally able to see on printed dailies. The ease of connectivity has allowed younger people to appreciate things that were once only favored by the generations that came before them. You can see this at work in ToyCon, where parents gush over a towering statue of Voltes V while their kids beg them for selfies with it.
In this sense, ToyCon x Pop Life FanXperience isn’t just an event designed to pander or sell to fans. It is, instead, a celebration of similarities in a diverse hodgepodge of entertainment.
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