Japan No-Go: The best-laid plans of Arena Púrpura go awry

By Phil Stoneman October 22, 2018
Arena Púrpura

The so called ‘hanami’ picnic area. Photo: Phil Stoneman

Saturday’s Arena Púrpura Fan Fest made a lot of big promises about celebrating Japanese popular culture in the capital. Did it manage to pull it off? Sadly, not really.

The publicity sold it to many of Bogotá’s anime devotees: come and walk the streets of manga paradise Akihabara and have an authentic Japanese experience in Bogotá. Despite the comparatively high ticket price for the one-day event ($50,000 compared to the $20,000 it cost at long-running geekfest SOFA the week before), there was keen interest in attending an event that would cater so specifically to otaku tastes.

These high expectations were however to be left unfulfilled on the big day. Disappointingly enough, the Arena Púrpura Fan Fest failed again and again to hit the target. The food? Dominated by burger vans and run-of-the-mill sushi. The hanami picnic area? A few paper flowers tied into the trees. The gaming zone? A handful of arcade games crammed into a claustrophobic space. And the event’s main selling point, the replica of an Akihabara street? Not even there at all.

As a general feeling of disappointment gathered at the event, the Facebook comments started to take a turn for the nasty. If life can be cruel in Tokyo, then life on social networks can be so much worse. “It’s just a school bazaar, except we paid $50,000 to be here,” wrote one commentator. “After less than an hour here, I’d had enough,” wrote another. This soon snowballed into comment after comment of dissatisfied customers complaining about the lack of things to see at the event, frustrated at how boring it all was, and keen to get a refund.

Particularly disappointing was the attitude of the organisers: as one of the attendees told us: “Around 50 of us got together during the event to demand a response, and all they did was call security and threaten to throw us out.” Shortly after the event, all the negative comments on the event’s Facebook page were simply erased, and the commenters were blocked, with no recognition that anything had gone badly. Hardly a satisfactory situation for the unhappy punters.

As another of the attendees told us, “My daughter and niece (11 and 13 years old) had saved up and put a lot of effort into getting ready for the big day, and it was really upsetting for me to see them so disappointed.” She goes on to say that the event’s only saving grace was the attitude of the other attendees: “They tried to make the best of it, even when faced with such a terrible scam.”

This sort of festival has great potential in Colombia, with its teeming anime fanbase and growing leisure options. As one of the attendant cosplayers told us, “It’s always great to have an excuse to dress up,” and events that let people get together and celebrate their collective passions are becoming more and more popular here.

On the other hand, as Colombians have more events to choose from, and experience of such festivals here and abroad show people what really can be done, the attendees can’t accept fairs that don’t come up to scratch, or even worse, make advertising promises that they then can’t live up to. Bogotá, and its nerds, deserve better.