Comic Con Africa 2023 has come and gone, leaving fans with memories made and experiences shared with family and friends. While there was a huge variety of geek and pop culture to consume at the event this year, from comics and gaming to movies and TV shows, there was a great focus on anime and Japanese culture this year that really surprised me. It not only shows the event’s dedication to bring anime to the forefront of South Africa’s entertainment offerings, it also gave anime fans a lot more of their favourite hobbies and interests.
The talk of the town was One Piece, mainly thanks to the unexpected popularity of the recent Netflix live-action series. Walking the show floor this year, it was evident that One Piece was now a household name in South Africa’s anime community, reaching far more audiences and enthusiastic new fans than we’ve ever seen before. In fact, the most popular cosplay for attendees this year seemed to be the iconic Straw Hat, worn by protagonist Monkey D. Luffy. You couldn’t walk five steps without seeing a Straw Hat and that made me smile.
Apart from the cosplay, you could also find countless stalls selling awesome One Piece merchandise, from T-shirts and mugs to figurines and more. To put icing on the cake, Comic Con Africa also hosted South African actor Steven John Ward as a guest this year, better known for portraying Dracule Mihawk in the live-action One Piece series. Veronica Taylor, who voiced the iconic Ash Ketchum in the Pokemon anime series, was another highlight guest.
Those familiar with YouTubers also got an opportunity to meet The Anime Man and Akidearest, two popular content creators who generally focus on anime and Japanese culture in their videos which tend to amass millions of views. Having these talents at the show definitely helped expand the enthusiastic response to anime this year.
That said, I found anime in general to be a lot more present at Comic Con Africa this year compared to previous years. You could still find your assortment of merchandise related to popular anime like Attack on Titan, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, Pokemon, Dragon Ball and more on the show floor, from the vendors to advertisements. However, the tone seems to have changed a bit. In previous years, it definitely felt like anime was a bit sidelined in favour of gaming and comic book pop culture at the show but this year, it was given equal footing.
Of course, a big part of that success was Otaku Town, a section of Hall 6 that featured its own stage where it ran several anime and manga-themed workshops, quizzes, giveaways, panels and more. Fans interested in Japanese culture and its past could also view some fantastic historical stalls in Otaku Town that gave South Africans a bit more insight into the rich culture and traditions of Japan.
For the first time, it also seemed like the number of anime cosplayers outweighed the gaming and comic book cosplayers you often see at the convention. Maybe it has to do with the growing popularity of anime in the country or maybe it has to do with a general lack of interest and enthusiasm for comic book media now after fans are feeling the weight of the saturated DC and Marvel film and TV market.
As a long-time anime fan, it felt great being absorbed in so many anime-themed events and social gatherings. For the longest time, anime was that niche medium that seemed like only the few dabbled in but now, it’s clear that the medium has a lot more staying power in South Africa than ever before and experiencing it first-hand at Comic Con Africa was a heartwarming, eye-opening affair.
Comic Con Africa has hit a sweet spot with the amount of anime and manga exposure this year and I can’t wait to see it evolve as the medium grows to become a new powerhouse in pop culture. If the success of Netflix’s One Piece proves anything, it’s that anime/manga is here, it’s big and it’s only going to get bigger the more spotlights are shone on it.