From humble beginnings in 2006, Smash! Sydney Manga and Anime Show has gone from strength to strength. It’s a home for world-class cosplayers, and it sees visits high profile guests like Yoko Taro. There’s an ever-growing artist marketplace, and a wide range of fascinating panels and workshops to attend. For anyone who likes anime, manga, and Japanese media in general, Smash! Sydney Manga and Anime Show is one of the highlights of the year.
This year was actually my first time attending Smash!, and I was taken aback by how well organised it was and the warmth and positivity in the atmosphere. I’ve been to a few pop culture shows in my time, and to be honest, I usually find them stressful. But at Smash!, I was able to just take it easy and enjoy the spectacle.
What’s most apparent when you walk onto the show floor is that Smash! is a cosplayer’s heaven. These sorts of events always have people dressing up as their favourite characters, but at Smash! I wouldn’t be surprised if cosplayers actually outnumbered muggles–it certainly looked that way.
And we’re not just a Naruto headband here and a mask there; the amount of effort and detail that goes into these costumes is immense. Given NieR: Automata‘s popularity and Yoko Taro’s appearance at the show, I saw plenty of 2Bs, 9Ss, and A2s who all perfectly looked the part—and those are elaborate outfits to put together.
There were Hatsune Mikus aplenty, every member of Persona 5‘s Phantom Thieves of Hearts, and lots of Pokemon. Anime classics like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away were represented alongside newer hits like Little Witch Academia. One There were all sorts of characters I didn’t recognise, who nonetheless looked fantastic.
Some cosplayers took a more comedic approach. One guy was wearing a regular, everyday outfit, but with a cardboard sign that read “Background Character”. Someone else was dressed as a Fisherman trainer from Pokemon, complete with a Pokeball rod and Magikarp. There were a couple of people in giant blow-up T-rex costumes, and a similarly massive blow-up Pikachu. Someone even came dressed as Jesus.
For me, one of the best things about the cosplay wasn’t the costumes themselves; it was the way they brought people together. More times than I could count, I’d see people meet one another and start talking about their shared fandom, whatever it may be. Different people dressed as the same character would start talking about how they put their outfits together and share tips with one another. People who’d otherwise never cross paths come to Smash! dressed as characters from the same anime and form cosplay super squads.
Another big part of Smash! is the artist market, where creatives of all sorts come to showcase and sell their work. Given the nature of the show, fandom was front and centre of the artist market, and even though there were a lot of common themes—Overwatch and Persona 5 characters were particularly popular, for good reason—there was a huge range of different creations and art styles. I saw cute, chibi adaptations in everything from phone charms to postcards; fan-art prints in every style from humorous caricatures to erotic yaoi and boys love; knit beanies and hand-made plushies; and plenty of others besides.
It wasn’t all fandom-focused, though. Some artists were selling prints of original characters, gorgeous landscapes, and the like, and quite a few were taking on the spot commissions. I saw a lot of original comics and zines on sale, and artists’ unique designs on things like enamel pins and earrings. One of my favourite artists at the show was Nicole Louise (aka The Bee Community), who had a selection of utterly adorable bee-themed prints, postcards, and stickers.
It looked like the artist booths were doing really well, too. The artist hall was consistently busy, and it looked like a lot of stuff was selling like hotcakes. Lots of cool stuff I saw early on the first day had sold out well before the show closed up, and I saw a few people taking orders for future print runs. If you’re an up-and-coming artist who can get to Sydney, a booth at Smash seems like a good place to be. (A lot of people shared booths, too, which would no doubt make things a lot cheaper!)
While anime and manga is obviously the main focus of Smash!, there was also a big games section. A handful of Australian indie devs were on hand to show off their games, with great stuff like Boomerang Fu (which I’ve already raved about), Nick Cellini’s relaxing puzzle game Ashi: Lake of Light (which is already out!), a slick 16-bit action RPG platformer called Insignia, and a paper-folding puzzle game called Qinoto.
The nearby Free Play area had a bunch of computers and consoles set up with various games—mostly rhythm games like Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone and an imported Persona 5 Dancing Star Night, but also recently released JRPGs like Shining Resonance Refrain and fighting games like Blazblue. A mini arcade had arcade versions of Mario Kart and Dance Dance Revolution, and outside Japan, arcade games of any sort are something of a rarity.
Trading card games also had a good showing at Smash! 2018, with a particular focus on Dragon Ball Super TCG, Cardfight!! Vanguard, and Weiss Schwarz. As well as tournaments organised across the weekend, there was a free play area and a lot of opportunities to learn to play. Admittedly, I didn’t spend too much time there because I’ve lost interest in TCGs over the years, but Weiss Schwarz in particular stood out just for the sheer volume of collaborations with other media. Hatsune Miku, Sword Art Online, Sengoku Basara, The Idolmaster, Love Live, and Fate are just a few franchises repped in Weiss Schwarz.
The highlight of the games corner—and of the whole show, really—was Yoko Taro. The NieR and Drakengard director was one of Smash! 2018’s special guests, and as well as the usual signing sessions, he held a couple of Q&A sessions. As expected, those were weird, hilarious, and insightful. He gave thoughtful, considered to questions about things like censorship and increasing convergence between games and reality, mixed with plenty of his trademark self-deprecating humour and oddball antics. It was great.
Another panel that really stood out to me was “Okama, gay boys, blue boys, anime ‘boys’: Transgenderism and homosexuality in Japan”, hosted by Foxy Lady Ayame. She looked at a history of trans and queer representation in anime and manga, and how the wider cultural picture helped create a situation where gender identity and sexual orientation often get conflated.
At the centre of the presentation was the character Fire Emblem from Tiger and Bunny, a non-binary gender hero. From the sounds of things, Fire Emblem’s identity wasn’t handled well in early episodes, but the creators took feedback on board and managed to take things in a positive direction with one of the later movies. From being little more than a flamboyant, problematic caricature, Fire Emblem ended up getting a quite poignant arc in which they really get to explore and embrace their identity.
It was an incredibly thought-provoking presentation, and it’s great to see these sorts of topics getting explored at an event like Smash!
All up, the Smash! organisers put on a fantastic show. Sydney’s new-ish International Convention Centre made for a great venue—central, easy to get to, and spacious, with plenty of restaurants and other shops around the Darling Harbour vicinity nearby. The artist market had so many incredible creations to see and buy, the gaming section offered a great way to unwind and check out upcoming indie games, and the quality of the cosplay throughout the show was fantastic. Yoko Taro was the main draw for me, but there wasn’t a moment that I wasn’t having a good time.
For anime fans in Australia and New Zealand, Smash! is well worth a trip to Sydney, and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store.