WALKING with blogger Danny Choo through the crowd at Comic Fiesta 2012 was a little like being at Woodstock with Jimi Hendrix. Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but in the world of anime, manga and Japanese culture, Choo is nevertheless a bona fide rock star.

As we made our way across the packed exhibition hall to the meeting room for our interview, people all over were calling out “Hi, Danny!” with the kind of affection usually reserved for pop idols.

Earlier on, a young lady was reduced to tears after she was told she had missed the chance to meet Choo at his Culture Japan booth. Culture Japan is an online TV show about Japanese culture that’s directed, presented and edited by Choo himself.

So who exactly is Danny Choo, and why is he such a big deal?

For some, he is the son of shoe designer Datuk Jimmy Choo, and a pretty well-known blogger. But among otaku (anime and manga fans) circles, he is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon.

He is now the face of a mini-empire. His website mascot, an anime character called Mirai Suenaga, is now as famous as him, having made appearances in popular anime series. In 2011, he developed a Japanese language learning product, Moekana, which sold out before the pre-order stage was even over. On top of that, he sells merchandise, organises events and is a highly sought-after speaker.

When asked how he got to where he is, Choo made it sound remarkably easy: “It started off as just the website (blog), just me and my photos. Then it evolved to include my website’s mascot character, then the TV show, then the products. Now it’s a whole brand on its own.”

Home sweet home
When R.AGE first interviewed him, it was during his “homecoming” event back in 2010. Having spent most of his life in Britain and Japan, where he built a name for himself as one of the most popular bloggers on the planet (though little known to most Malaysians), it was his first trip back to Malaysia in close to a decade.

At the time, his blog on Japanese culture was being visited by 2.5 million people a month, some called him the “world’s most popular otaku” and Choo’s popularity made him the subject of a special feature by CNN.

Since he knew he had some blog followers in Malaysia, he decided to organise a meet-up at Lot 10, Kuala Lumpur, hoping to have a small gathering of “comrades”, which is how he prefers to call his fans.

The event ended up drawing over 100 comrades, and it lasted around four hours because Choo – as is his habit – made a point to speak to every person who showed up, signing autographs, exchanging name cards and admiring their work (many came to show him their manga-inspired artwork).

He told R.AGE back then that he had plans to return to Malaysia more frequently, a promise he has held true to. He made a special appearance at last year’s Anime Festival Asia Malaysia, and organised a couple of “Culture Japan Nights” in KL.

“I feel my roots are in Malaysia,” he said during our latest interview. “I like to work with people like Comic Fiesta to continue to let the world know about all the talented cosplayers and artists in Malaysia.”

The first thing Choo does every time he comes back to Malaysia is have a nice bowl of prawn noodles.

“I usually touch down in KL, and not in Penang (where his family is from), so I go to the Hutong food court in Lot 10, or the Food Republic in Pavilion KL,” he said.

Why Japan?
Choo first fell in love with Japanese culture 20 years ago, while he was still living in London.
“I felt it resonated with what I enjoyed. It’s very visually stimulating, and the content was very rich – things like games, and anime. It’s content that can take you away to another world,” he said.

About 12 years ago, Choo moved to Japan where he secured jobs with large corporations like Microsoft and Amazon, all the while feeding his insatiable appetite for anime, manga, cosplay and all things Japanese.

These days, Choo hopes to help connect different cultures through his website and events.

He explained: “Japanese culture gives me an opportunity to promote many cultures around the world. I go to events around the world, I get to discover lots of different people, and they create content which is unique to their culture.

“The artwork that we see at Comic Fiesta – there are a lot of talented artists who draw illustrations which are influenced by Japanese culture, but with a Malaysian flavour. By being here, I can help share their artwork and culture with the rest of the world.”

Rough ride
While things are going swimmingly for Choo now, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for him growing up. Choo was a victim of severe bullying during his teens.

“You could say I had the whole works,” he said with a grin. “I was dragged by my feet through gravel, I had my possessions set on fire, I had people kick a football in my face repeatedly just to break my glasses, and I had people threatening to kill me.

“There was one guy who had a steel bat, and he said to me: ‘I could kill you right now, and I’d go to jail, but it would be worth it.’ That happened throughout most of my childhood, and there was nothing much I could do about it.”

Even now, Choo said he experiences bullying, only in a different form.

“I’m bullied every day right now. I call them trolls. They tell lies about me (on the Internet), and do things to try and stop what I’m doing. I basically use that energy and channel it to enable me to live well.

“For kids who are bullied, I think the best retaliation is to live well. Living well means studying hard. Just focus on your life, and use the energy from people who hate you to do well. That’s going to hurt the people who’re bullying you more than sticks and stones,” he said.

Someday, Choo hopes he will be able to do something to help other victims of bullying.
“If I had a choice – and I hope I will – before I die, I would spend the rest of my money and use it to help kids who get bullied,” he said.

Cosplayers unite

When Comic Fiesta first came to being over a decade ago, it was held at the Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall, and it catered to roughly 150 people.

Undeterred, the organisers soldiered on year after year. And it’s a good thing they did too, because the latest edition of the ACG (anime, comics and games) convention held last month at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre drew in 25,000 visitors from all over the world.

Cosplayer Cath Chan, 24, travelled all the way from Norway to attend the event.

“It’s my second year coming to Comic Fiesta, and I really think the cosplay scene in Malaysia is really the best.

“The atmosphere (at cosplay events) is good, and the people are nice and more open. In Hong Kong, for instance, the cosplayers tend to keep to themselves,” he said.

Event guest of honour and celebrity blogger Danny Choo added: “The level of cosplay in Malaysia is particularly high. They are very creative, especially in the materials they use. Craftsmen, I call them. They have a very high level of craftsmanship, and the same goes for the people who draw and design.”

Here are some photos of those crafstmen in action:

Over 25,000 people filled the halls during Comic Fiesta 2012.

Apart from cosplayers, local comic artists were also at the event to showcase their talents.

Katan and Rosiel from Angel Sanctuary

Asuna/ Fairy Queen Titania from Sword Art Online.

Nope, that’s not an action figure — it’s a cosplayer from Singapore. — ARIS ZAINAL/The Star



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