ACG Events in Malaysia: Same Old, Same Old?

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Disclaimer: the article is solely of the opinion of the author and does not reflect the collective thoughts and opinions of The Magic Rain and its members.

Oftentimes, when we think about an Anime, Comic and Games (ACG) event in Malaysia, our thoughts (for most of us) heads automatically to Comic Fiesta. Since its humble beginnings, Comic Fiesta – boasted as the largest and longest running ACG event in Malaysia – has long set the standard of what an ACG event is within the minds of its consumers. While this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing (with Comic Fiesta’s steadily rising amount of participants annually), it seems to have set a trend and mindset to Malaysians that an ACG event in Malaysia equals to, or at the very least, is similar to Comic Fiesta.

For the past few years, the Malaysian ACG scene has been stagnant, with only a few events among many announced that is worth looking forward to. We are at a phase where instead of looking forward to the event itself – whether it’s the content, stage line up, or the like – participants mainly look forward to meeting and spending time with friends. In a recent survey of 100 random ACG event attendees in Malaysia, an average of 8 out of 10 participants generally attend events to meet friends. Other reasons include wanting to meet special guests and attend concerts of famous artists. In many ways, this statistic is to be expected considering that most events are essentially the same thing.

I say this because recent events seem to follow a general rule or template of sorts. For one, it’s normally held in a hall or shopping mall. The event structure is normally inclusive of a stage, a doujin area, some normal booths, some bigger sponsor set ups, and a recent addition, an e-sports section. Same can also be said about the event line ups, which usually comprise of a cosplay competition, panels, some guest cosplayers, meet and greets, and so on.

The aspect that I find most amusing, is that you see the same faces appearing for these events as well; be it the booths, guest performances, volunteers, and attendees (*cough cough* plus some stalkers), you are bound to see some familiar faces in every event you go. In retrospect, all one has to do to create an event is just change the name, date, venue, some minor stuff here and there (you don’t want the event to be the exact same after all), and Voila! You got yourself a “brand new” event.

The problem with this is that it creates a bubble or ecosystem that is stagnant. Having events with no major difference between one another causes consumers to be coerced into having repetitive content which will, in turn, lead to the normalisation of subpar content. I believe that I am not exaggerating when I say that the ACG scene in Malaysia is flooded with events which are lacking creativity, innovation and value. Once we come to know and think in depth about this situation as a whole – very much like a person that does not know that the air they’re living with is polluted until they’ve breathed fresh air – the ACG society will come to realise that the “unique selling points” of each individual event just isn’t enough to deliver satisfactory content and contribute value to its consumers at its current state.

Looking at the bigger picture, the ACG scene in Malaysia is a huge market. Having a stagnant ecosystem prevents us from getting quality content, bigger sponsors, higher profit, and the chance of being in a better community. It doesn’t help that this bubble that we created generates a false perception of the ACG community towards the general public. Let’s face it, we all know that not all of these returning faces I’ve mentioned earlier are good influences.

In recent light, a sexual predator has been exposed on Facebook to be preying on young, pretty and naive girls. Based on the comments on said post, it is apparent that this has been going on for quite some time. What baffles me the most is that although many have known him to harass young girls (who might have just joined the community by the way) nothing has been done to rectify the problem, until now. If we continue to turn a blind eye to what’s happening within the community, choosing to only tune in whenever there’s a scene involved while bringing your “popcorn”, we are never going anywhere.

At its current state, the large majority of ACG events that we have can be symbolically equated to being in the Red Ocean. Based on the Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, the term Red Ocean was coined based on how, in shark infested oceans, sharks fight each other for the same prey causing the ocean to be red in color. It is how companies or in our case, events, compete with one another for an existing market. What we are lacking of, is events that focuses on the Blue Ocean. We need events that, instead of focusing on beating existing competition, they create and cater to new demands and possibly new markets. Hence, making the competition irrelevant.

Bringing back to what we are currently facing, with so many competitors contesting for the same audiences, you’ll also notice that the people within the community recycle wealth among one another. This reinforces the environment where the same bigger names are the ones that sustain themselves and profit while newer and less established events struggle to survive.

It’s about time that we – event organisers, participants and the like – take a step back, evaluate the state we are in, and ask, “are we ever going to prosper further?” It is of my opinion when I say that, at the rate we are in at the moment, it won’t be happening anytime soon.

Personally, to grow is to learn new things, make mistakes, learn from it, and meet new people. How are we to grow when all that we are experiencing is essentially the same in almost all events we attend? I believe that while the Malaysian ACG scene is far from dying, it is also far from flourishing. If we continue to allow ourselves to settle on mediocrity, we will continue getting mediocre events and content. There’s just so much more that meets the eye, so much more that we’re capable of.

For a starting point, we need to cultivate the belief that we can do so much better. To do this, we cannot keep looking at the face value of an event, but must delve deeper into ensuring that we as a community consume, demand and produce better events that deliver quality content. What we need is not another copy of Comic Fiesta – we’ve already gotten enough of that and they’re already holding strong on their own – but rather events that are unique on its own. It’s about time for a paradigm shift to happen within this community, and that starts from knowing and acknowledging that we deserve better.

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