|Fans and passers-by are attracted by the Conan-themed Lawson store in Shanghai which opened in November. Shelves are liberally decorated with posters of the manga characters.(China Daily/Lai Xinlin)|
Anime fans are having a field day in Shanghai, where the latest shopping mall displays are very close to their hearts. Shi Jing tells us more about this new trend.
A bronze replica of Japanese comics character Detective Conan is the star attraction in a shopping center in Shanghai. Dozens of Conan fans come to pay homage every day, posing beside their hero in his signature stance of "There is only one truth" while he prepares to shoot anesthetic needles from his watch.
No, this is not a miniature theme park.
Lawson, the next to largest convenience chain in Japan, has recently launched a Conan store on the first floor of Metro Town in downtown Shanghai. Just beside the metro exit, the storefront attracts fans and passers-by with its display of Detective Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street home in London down to the red telephone booth outside. All familiar sights from the anime Conan film, The Phantom of Baker Street.
A huge billboard outside the shop declares: "Welcome to the mysterious world of Conan".
Inside, customers are greeted by service staff all togged up as Detective Conan - beige baseball cap, tweed cape in matching beige and brown, cream-colored Oxford shirt, brown pants and the signature monocles large enough to cover half the face.
"I like the entire outfit, except for the cape, which I think is a bit girly," Wang Huanhuan, a shop assistant, laughs.
"The monocles glasses gave me some trouble at first, but I got used to them. Loyal fans or curious passers-by come and pose for pictures with us every day."
Wang himself is a manga fan, and he follows the series Naruto and One Piece, but he says he used to watch the Conan series on TV when he was younger. It was this early exposure that made him apply for his current position.
Apart from its usual stocks, the Lawson store at this location also sells Detective Conan merchandise including clocks, mugs, mirrors, notebooks, pens, T-shirts, iPhone cases and much more.
"It is so much fun. Conan Fans cannot miss it. You can also take a quiz and watch anime films here," says Wang Shiyuan, a model based in Shanghai who is also a hard-core fan of Detective Conan.
Wu Yongsheng, the shop manager of the Conan store, has been working with Lawson for more than four years. After knowing that the Conan store was about to be opened, he applied to be transferred here.
"I knew for sure we'd get a lot of customers because there are so many Conan fans here.
"Many of them come over and take pictures, which helps boost business. We were nervous about posing for them at first, but we have gotten used to that," he says.
To better serve customers, Lawson also started a small counter selling freshly brewed coffee and oden, Japanese tidbits cooked in a miso base.
"It is hard to pass by the shop and not check it out," Wu says. "Especially those of our generation who grew up watching these comics." Wu still spends much of his days off watching anime with his girl friend.
The Conan-themed store is not the first. Last year, Lawson also started an Ultraman store, in June, and followed up with Conan five months later. Sales figures from June to December were five times that of other Lawson stores without the anime push.
Even so, the Ultraman store was closed down, a casualty of skyrocketing rental in Shanghai, a fate that threatens the Conan store as well.
But Wu says Ultraman will resurrect, although it may move to Xujiahui, an equally commercialized neighborhood with lower rents.
"Detective Conan has super high popularity in Asia and all over the world. Its healthy and positive image has no ambiguity in universal values. These explain why we have chosen this cartoon character," says Sun Jian, chief executive officer of China Shanghai Character License Administrative Corporation, the company which owns the merchandising rights for Detective Conan and Ultraman in China.
He adds that more anime-themed convenience stores will open in China soon, as his company is already in negotiations with future partners.
Lawson entered Shanghai in 1996 with a first store in the city. It now has a chain of more than 200 in Shanghai. The company says it plans to open 10,000 convenience stores all over China by 2020.
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