Toycon 2019: Going Back to Basics

Pop-culture conventions are big business in this country. We have many hobby-related conventions with at least one or two major events each quarter. These hobbies can range from comics, to Japanese pop-culture (cosplay, anime, etc), history, general pop-culture, and of course, toys.

The Philippine Toys, Hobbies and Collectible Convention (Toycon), is one of the oldest continually existing pop-culture conventions in the Philippines. It rose from a relatively small gathering of toy enthusiasts looking for some eye-candy in the exhibits and great deals in the toy booths, into one of the country’s most anticipated annual events. But as the event grew and absorbed other aspects of pop-culture, its focus started deviating from toys to celebrity guests. A fact bemoaned by many toy enthusiasts because instead of sticking to their foundation, the event tried to go toe-to-toe with the other conventions like Asia Pop Comicon.

From a business perspective, Toycon was just trying to survive in an increasingly competitive scene. APCC had the strength of both its celebrity guests as well as the Netflix and Marvel halls. Best of Anime and Anime Expo has always been about anime and Japanese pop-culture, Cosmania is all about Cosplay, and ESGS is all about gaming. Toycon seemed like it wanted to attract the same crowds that go to APCC, and so their program swung heavily towards that direction. And for several years, the once proud Toycon had become almost like a primer event for APCC.

But this year, Toycon promised to be different. It still had celebrity guests, it still had non-toy related programs, but now the focus was on toys, indie toymakers, and the hobbyists themselves. There were programs on both floors of the SMX Conventions center that catered to gamers, cosplayers, and even local idols, but the heart of the convention – the toys – seemed omnipresent, with exhibits in both floors. More importantly, APCC won’t be around this year, so Toycon had this great opportunity to re-focus and entice more people to come.

Unlike other events I have covered, I was only available for the third day. I had work on day one, and I went to MNL48’s Handshake Event on day two. I figured that one day would be enough to cover what Toycon had to offer.

I was mistaken, one day was barely enough to cover even half of what Toycon offered.

Toycon 2019 was massive in both its size and ambition. Although it tried to stay grounded and “return” to the toys, it still tried to reach a wide and varied audience from toy collectors and enthusiasts, to video gamers, to cosplayers, to idol fans, and general pop-culture fans. It wanted to continue the path it has taken these past years but at the same time re-focus the spotlight on the toys. In the short time I was there, I had the feeling that finally, Toycon once again found its soul.

Because I only attended one day out of three, I don’t feel that it is right for me to make a review on the event as a whole, especially since I wasn’t able to enter the Play Hub due to lack of time. However, I can at least talk about the things I liked, didn’t like, and stuff that I have mixed feelings about.

I really liked the fact that there’s a lot more exhibits and booths dedicated to toys. Sure, it’s still far from the likes of WonFes, but it is improving. Busts and figurines of various characters dot the whole area, and probably more so in the Play Hub where the displays of the various toy collecting groups are located (and which I have the misfortune to miss).

I liked the fact that the guest toy creators are given enough space to both exhibit and sell their wares. Conventions like Toycon can get crowded, and there has been a bit of clogging especially in the merchandise booths, but I was able to go to their area without any problem at all.

Despite not being able to go there, I absolutely love the fact that the various collector communities are given a neat space to exhibit their stuff, especially because the area also includes the gaming section of Toycon. From scattered pictures in the internet, I saw that they had neat exhibits. I was personally hoping to see some 1/12 scale stuff in there. Hopefully, Play Hub comes back next year.

I also liked that Toycon included local J-pop idol concept groups, especially since they have Davao-based group Pastel Mix on board. The 10-year old group impressed a lot of idol fans in last year’s Manila Idol Matsuri, and many of us were hoping we would see them perform again. I am currently making a separate article about the group.

I also liked the fact that there is food aplenty. Getting yourself fed during the event can sometimes be an exercise in patience, understanding, and the ability to eat anywhere in any position. While there are stands that had some lines towards the end of the day, at least there are other stands available that you can try out.

Now, let’s go to the parts that needs to improve next year. First off, while I was happy with the inclusion of Good Smile Factory among the exhibitors, they had a woefully small booth, with only a few figures on display. There’s also the notable absence of other Toy manufacturers like Hasbro, Bandai, MAFEX, and Mezco. Sure, other displays have their products, but a Toycon isn’t a Toycon without the toys.

I am actually not sure if Bandai and the others have displays in the Play Hub, but if there are, those should have been in the main event area. I believe all of this boils down to contacts: I am not sure the organizers had contacts with those companies. But hopefully for next year, they should try to reach out.

There was also a mix-up in the schedule of the idols, as the girls had to alternate between the main event stage, and the Play Hub area literally after their performance in each location. That is a big scheduling failure, as the girls had to hurry to two locations.

But by and large, Toyconph 2019 accomplished what it set out to do: an event to celebrate toys both as a hobby and as an art. It still has a long way to go to reach the levels of other asian toy conventions, but it has regained its focus and its heart and I have no doubt that someday, they will speak of Toyconph in the same way they do WonFes or San Diego Comic Con.

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