“One Does Not Care To Acknowledge the Mistakes of One’s Youth” – Char Aznable
The night before the “People’s Action Figures Party”, I got Cuz and Pp to help me make props for the Action Figure activists.
While making the anti-ODEX props at the void deck, Cuz and I were still feeling a little uneasy. “So, was this how the student activists felt the night before Tiananmen happened?” mused Cuz.
The ‘climate of fear’ was palpable – would we be arrested for what we’re gonna do?
Although it’s just a photo-shoot, we know that what we’re “making a statement” in a public place. Will the police construe this ‘act of protest’ as a ‘demonstration’? Were we liable to be prosecuted for ‘unlawful assembly’? We’ve never been activists and were treading on unknown grounds.
As I cut the placards from the printed sheets, I thought to myself,”Why should I be sticking my neck out?”
Was the ODEX saga any of my business?
I have not received any of the threatening letters from ODEX. I doubt I’ll be receiving any
since I don’t download fan-subbed anime via Bit Torrent [EDIT: I actually do download fan-subbed anime. The last series that I followed was "Welcome to the NHK!". If not for the fan-subs, I would not have been able to write articles such as this]. ODEX’s demand for ISPs to disclose the identities of the ‘illegal’ downloaders shouldn’t be of much concern to me. Furthermore, I’m not acquainted to any of those who were penalised by ODEX. If I’d behaved like any other Singaporean, I’d think “boh wah tai chee” (none of my business) so why should I bother?
From my perspective, ODEX’s penalty was tantamount to extortion.
The Freedom to Download Fan Subbed Anime is the Right of all Sentient Beings
It hadn’t been established if ODEX had the right to do what they did. Yet, they went ahead threatening to prosecute those who downloaded fan subbed anime unless they paid ODEX a fee. Emboldened by their success to make victims pay sums from S$3,000 to S$5,000, ODEX widened their campaign to make the other ISPs reveal the identities of the alleged downloaders so that they can issue more ‘legal letters’. If ODEX’s bully-behaviour is left unchecked, more of my fellow otakus/anime fan will fall victim to their scam.
I never believed that downloading of fan-subs constituted a crime. ODEX’s ‘mandated’ crackdown on the downloading of fan-subbed anime would make almost every other local otaku/anime fan liable for litigation. That would deprive us of our freedom to enjoy our passion. It’s not difficult to see ODEX as a villain that’s making unscrupulous gains at the expense of my tribe.
ODEX must be stopped.
TAKING ACTION (FIGURES)
There ought to be something I could do. More could be done to make ODEX feel the heat from the incensed community.
I’d already been toying with the idea of doing a figurine photography session. This is an activity that’s characteristic of Ota-culture. Although it’s almost close to impossible for Singaporeans to stage demonstrations and rally in the street, there’s no prohibition against action figures if they did the same. Afterall, they’re unlikely to run amok and disrupt public order. So I thought the theme of a symbolic protest, with action figures lined up carrying pickets as they were staging a demonstration or rally, would make an interesting theme for the shoot. I won’t deny that the Buangkok white elephants served as an inspiration.
As the ODEX saga unfolded, the chatter on the Internet to oppose ODEX’s heinous deeds grew louder and louder. It appeared that the resistance against ODEX was gaining momentum. There were at least three “resistance groups” that emerged in the context of the situation. One of them was called “ODEX Rebellion”.
This group came to my attention because one of their members posted a comment on the entry where I spoke of sending ODEX’s product to Hell. This group first wanted to collect ODEX’s products for incineration. That was the first initiative by any group to return the ball to ODEX’s court, and I thought it’s a significant move that deserved support. The group had wanted me to “drum up awareness” and I did them the favour. Later, this group changed tack when they realised the act of burning VCDs wasn’t very popular with environmentally conscious otakus and anime fans. The ‘Burning Ceremony’ became a ODEX VCD recycling drive. In the end this recycling drive also fizzled to an anti-climatic end. After all that oo-leng oo-hor (got dragon got tiger/有龙有虎) posturing, it turned out to be nothing more than chui kong lam par song (mouth talk balls shiok/觜讲卵葩爽). Talk is cheap.
However I wasn’t disappointed, because I didn’t expect those ghin nahs (kids) to go very far. I’d made contact with the representative of “ODEX Rebellion” via instant messaging, and he/she left me with the impression that they hadn’t thought through what they wanted to do and apparently wanted to leave things to chance. I wasn’t convinced that they had the conviction to follow through with what they’d wanted to achieve. So when the person behind the idea hum chee (含籽) and gave up, I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t hold it against them because, I think they’re just a bunch of ghin nahs. [That's why, I never agreed with the concept of Gundam Seed series, because I can't believe that the ZAFT, Orb and OMNI would leave war fighting to the kids.]
So when ODEX Rebellion dropped the flag, I thought the “People’s Action Figures Party” (PAFP) could salvage the situation. Xedo Defense is still talking, talking and still talking. The failure to make a decisive gambit would dampen the morale of the resistance, especially when there’s so much hype going around.
Action Figure Calvary
I didn’t pin hopes that people would turn up and contribute their action figures for the shoot. Rather, I was expecting a lot of curious onlookers and bystanders waiting to see drama. If I had depended on them, I don’t think I would be able to create the kind of effect with one Zeong MS-in-Action figure and three Beast Wars apes. I dug deep into the store room and brought out my collection of action figures that I hadn’t seen in years.
TIME & SPACE
I had considered the venue for the photoshoot, and I thought the Youth Park was a good choice. The Youth Park is a convenient location because of its accessibility. Although its in town, the Youth Park is located away from the high traffic area. Unless there’s an event at the park, the place is relatively quiet and is shy of the Orchard Road crowds.
Other than the location, the Youth Park is a symbolic venue. This park would soon be known as *Scape. The *Scape project is an effort by the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports to create a space that would excite Singapore’s youths’ imagination and creativity. It’s defined as a “space of possibilities”. This would be the place where the youths of Singapore create and shape their future. As I see it, when *Scape comes into existence in 2009, this place could be an incubator for Singapore’s indigenous Otaku culture – where aspiring animators, comic artists, cosplayers and other new media artists come together to share ideas and inspire one another.
This is a good venue to make Otaku history.
Two days before the event, I went down to take a look at Youth Park just to get a feel of the area. I was there at around 4pm in the afternoon so I could gauge the direction of lighting, as well as the mood of the place. Although it’s not the weekend, it’s pretty close to get a sensing of how the place would likely to be on the actual day.
During the recce, I picked this corner of the Youth Park as the stage for the PAFP. It’s the edge that’s closest to Exeter Road, away from the bustle of Orchard Road. I felt that we could do our own thing here without inconveniencing the rest of the public. I also recce’d for an alternate site, in case it rained or if the Park became too crowded as a result of other events.
I noticed that there’s this Omega (Ω) shaped concrete bench at that corner. I figured that it’d make an interesting meeting point.
That’s because the “Ω” is a notation for Ohms, a unit of electrical RESISTANCE. And resisting ODEX was our mission. The lower case of “Ω” is “ω”, which looks like a pair of testicles. So it’s also a way of saying that you need ‘balls’ to resist ODEX, as well as telling ODEX ‘balls to you’.
I have to admit that I was feeling nervous on the actual day. I’ve a strong intuition that the police are going to show up, and they might just break up the event.
I reached the Youth Park about half past three. As I was driving down Exeter Road to the car park, I spotted the Ang Chia.
No, not the Ang Chia (Red Bus) at the Youth Park. But these Ang Chias:
04 x Ang Chia
There were four Riot Buses, otherwise known as Ang Chia (Red Bus) in colloquial term. The Singapore Police Force had deployed the Special Operations Command en scene. They’re the heavy duty enforcers of public order. The Riot Buses were an intimidating sight. It begs me to wonder if Singapore is really a Forbidden City. However, I didn’t see any of their body armoured, MP-5 armed patrols moving around.
After parking the car, I went alone in ‘clean fatigue’ (not wearing the Laughing Man t-shirt nor carrying the props) to the Youth Park and walked around. I spotted some people in civilian clothing who looked out of place.
It was a fight or flight moment. I had to decide whether to proceed or abort the mission.
I decided to stand my ground.
I went back to the car, put on the Laughing Man t-shirt and went back to Youth Park with my barang-barang. I knew the eyes were on me, and I sighted people moving into my peripheral vision.
I unpacked the action figures. There were some other people milling around. And then a girl came over, with a black ribbon fixed on her top. Then came another guy, carrying something that might look like a weapon (they’re part of his suite of AV equipment). We’re from the same side. So I got them to help me set up the action figures for the photoshoot.
It didn’t take long for one of those guys in civilian clothing to come up to me. A rather senior guy came up to me and asked what we’re doing, politely as if it’s out of curiosity. I replied him with a question,”Are you from the SOC?” He seemed taken aback by my bluntness. I introduced myself, and learnt that he’s from the Tanglin division. I explained to the Station Inspector what I intended to do – just to put some of my toys together and take some pictures. After I’m done, I would leave the place. I told him I would need around an hour, because I was waiting for my friends to bring down their action figures.
The police took our identification cards and noted our details – myself, the girl and the other guy. And then, the other people started arriving. I very much wanted to turn them away because I didn’t want to implicate them or get them into trouble. But those who turned up and contributed their action figures appeared unfazed. Perhaps that’s because they didn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation (or was I being paranoid?)
Altogether, there were eight of us doing the PAFP (aka 「ODEX倒す！！」) photoshoot. I told Cuz to leave the area as I didn’t want his two Retrievers, Top and Rowdy, to chew up the action figures. There were other bystanders who hung around to observe what we’re doing (but they’re far off in the background). I thought it’s interesting that of the people that showed up (strangers whom I wasn’t previously acquainted with),
two three of them are girls. I think the girls had more Omega than the guys.
The police didn’t stop us from doing what we wanted to do. They pretty much left us to our own devices. Of course, the Station Inspector did ask some other questions, specifically about the black ribbon that the guy and girl pinned on their top. They were asking who made those ribbons, and who was distributing them. I told him that the ribbons were made by the owners themselves, and they weren’t distributed. I did explain to him about the ODEX saga, and why we did what we did. Yes, we’re doing this to protest against ODEX’s actions.
I can’t deny that when all of my action figures were holding anti-ODEX pickets.
When we’re ready for the photo shoot, the police also took out their video camera to film us in action.
Big Brother is Watching
We were under surveillance. The scrutiny was annoying. Although their posture was none-intimidating, their presence made us feel unwelcome and ‘incriminated’. I would have liked to take the time to arrange the figures, set them up in various poses and take them from different angles. I didn’t have that luxury. As much as I had my rights as a free Citizen, I also did not want to impose on the police. They’re just doing their job.
So give and take. 一人一半，感情不散。They let me do my stuff, and I don’t get in their way. We wrapped up the shoot at a quarter to five.
I’m sure the police and the riot squad was there because of the Anti-ODEX protesters. Maybe they had turned out in full force expecting that there would be a group of rabble-rousers carrying banners and pickets, threatening to burn stuff. Ironically, the only thing that was burnt was the police’s weekend. I wonder if they’re working on credible intelligence that there was going to be a demonstration at the Youth Park, or was it a preemptive act in context of the ‘death threats’ that ODEX’s management had received.
Here’s Pp’s account of the event from his perspective. [EDIT: Here's sesshomaru_haku's experience during that day. She's one of the girls who turned up. Psyke brought his Chaiyo Ultraman to the party.]
Even after we dispersed, the police was still maintaining their surveillance over the area. When my group adjourned to the near by Spinelli’s for coffee, we were tailed by the police. They wanted to make sure that we don’t go back to Youth Park or another alternate location to make trouble. I heard that some others turned up at the Youth Park and was disappointed to find nobody there. Well, there’s a reason why we couldn’t go back there. When I drove off at close to 7pm, the Ang Chias were still parked along Exeter Road.
If we heeded the general rule that Singaporeans go by is – keep your head down and don’t look for trouble – the People’s Action Figures Party would not have happened. After this episode was over, I was still wondering if this was something Foolish, but I knew I did the right thing and did it the right way. It was my first taste of activism, although its for a non-political cause. I think the time is ripe for active citizenry. The interests of business groups shouldn’t undermine the well-being of the society. ODEX has to be censured for what it’s doing to the Otaku community.
THE NEXT BATTLE
So, where do I/we go from here? I’d like to make a stop-motion animation using action figures, but I would need people with the expertise to collaborate on the project. Meanwhile, I’ve pledged my support to Tsubaki who’s going to do an Anti-ODEX short film.
For those who want to send their message to Sunrise/Bandai regarding the dissatisfaction with ODEX, I’ve got a Japanese friend who has contacts with industry insiders. She’s willing to assist assist the Singaporean Otakus in translating the English text into Japanese and to convey the message. This is a good opportunity for the local Otakus to collect a petition, draft a letter and send it up the command chain of Sunrise/Bandai. If ODEX can issue love letters, you can issue yours too. The offer is on the table, so make it count.