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Anime Festival Asia 2015

by Rafael Antonio Pineda,

This year's main Anime Festival Asia convention took place from November 27-29 at the Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre in Singapore. The convention is known as one of the largest outside of Japan, and this year drew 90,669.

The guests for AFA Singapore 2015 included some from the Japanese industry as part of the convention's “featured anime” lineup, and it was absolutely packed. Guests included One-Punch Man voice actor Makoto Furukawa, Garakowa -Restore the World- director Masashi Ishihama and voice actress Yumiri Hanamori, Yuruyuri San Hai! voice actors Shiori Mikami and Suzuko Mimori, The Asterisk War original light novel series author Yuu Miyazaki, the anime's director Manabu Ono, and voice actor Atsushi Tamaru. We're not done yet: also in attendance were Charlotte director Yoshiyuki Asai, voice actress Maaya Uchida, and opening theme song artist Lia. Guests for Is the order a rabbit?? included voice actor Show Hayami.

Other guests included illustrator NOB-C, and the late producer and cultural ambassador Takamasa Sakurai, idol groups Stand-Up! Hearts and Niji no Conquistador, the dance group Real Akiba Boyz, and the party rock performance unit PCF. Japanese entertainment company Yoshimoto Creative Agency also brought on comedians Tomonori Jinnai, Seiji Chihara, the comedy duo Tutorial, and the anime comedy skit group Gekidan Animeza.

For many attendees, the convention's yearly “I Love Anisong” concert is easily the highlight of the event. The lineup for this year's concert, spread out over all three days of the convention, included Back-On, bless4, HoneyWorks/CHICO with HoneyWorks, ZAQ, Ayana Taketatsu, Maaya Uchida, Suzuko Mimori, Michi, Shiori Mikami, Yumiri Hanamori, Yurika Endō, GARNiDELiA, May'n, Lia, Mika Kobayashi, and Nano. The opening acts included Anisong Singer Audition winners USAGI and AkatsukiRin, musicians Majiko and mikitoP, and DJ YURiA.

The convention floor was divided into the main booth area, the main stage area (where they held the industry panels and concerts), the mini-stage area, and the cosplay area. The convention's scheduling and layout kept each area busy throughout all three days, and there really was no shortage of things to do or see while you were there.

Main Booth Area

The area for various companies' booths naturally took up the largest floor space in the entire convention.

The first of these you'll see immediately upon entering the con is the karaoke booth for the Anisong Singer Audition. Here, those who were willing could belt out anisongs (or any Japanese song, really) with an updated DAM karaoke setup, so long as you were willing to have basically everyone entering the con as your audience (and let's face it, anyone this isn't really holding anyone back). As testament to the enduring popularity of showing off your Japanese singing skills, this booth did not lose steam at all in all three days.

Film distributor Odex's booth was easily the largest and most populated the entire three days. At any point in time, you could have passed by the booth and there would be a line snaking around it some three or four times. Odex's booth, as well as the similarly large booths of its neighbors, Taiwanese licensee Muse and Chinese licensee Mighty Media, sold merchandise from many of their licensed properties, including dakimakura, clear files, mugs, keychains, wall scrolls, and other assorted goods.

Anime Consortium Japan's Daisuki streaming site also had a booth presence. They were promoting their currently streaming shows, including Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and One-Punch Man. There was constant interest in the booth, as people kept lining up to sign up for the service. Though slowly, Daisuki has slowly been gaining traction in South East Asia as a service, and the steady flow of people to their booth certainly shows that.

South East Asian anime channels Animax Asia and Aniplus HD also had booths in the convention, to promote their currently running anime. Additions to Animax's lineup this season include the second season of Kamisama Kiss, Danganronpa, Assassination Classroom, and Fafner EXODUS. Aniplus HD is airing Galilei Donna this season.

Pony Canyon also had a booth, and a big presence in the convention, as not only was it hosting the international premiere of the Garakowa -Restore the World- film, but also brought over many of their singers for the I Love Anisong concert. Their booth featured information on the film, and also sold singles and albums from the singers it brought over for the concert.

Kadokawa, Bandai Namco, Good Smile, Aniplex, and Banpresto were there to display and sell some of their high end merchandise, the highlight of course being figures. Kadokawa had a ton of Kancolle figures on display, while Banpresto had some gorgeous Dragon Ball Z, One Piece figure sets.

Collectible card game developer Bushiroad also showed up, hot off their announcement of their latest card game and accompanying anime Luck and Logic. The new anime television series, as well as the first two started decks and booster packs for the new game are coming in January, but they already brought over some of the cards for people to learn the game and try it out. The rest of the booth focused on teaching new players the basics of their bread and butter games Cardfight Vanguard and Future Card Buddyfight.

Canon maintained a large area on the floor to show off its convention photography, as well as having sets themed around anime settings so that cosplayers could have their photographs taken. As the con progressed, the Canon booth would continually post prints of the best photographs they had taken, and it was neat to pass by it every few hours and see the new pictures it had put up.

A number of smaller exhibitor booths dotted the eastern end of the convention floor. Shogakukan Asia was one of these, and they released their new manga The Legendary Hero is Dead! at the convention. MSV Pictures, an animation studio from Indonesia, also had a booth here. They were presenting their recently released animated film Battle of Surabaya at the convention. Collateral Damage Studios, who animated the AFA Singapore commercial, and designed the Seika mascot character, were also exhibiting its members' artwork in their professional booth, and also had doujin artists manning their booth at the creators hub. Other merchandise retailers, such as Kotobukiya, Otakutachi, 1st Place, and Anime Yorozuya were also selling their wares.

The convention set aside space for a creators hub, so that exhibitors can sell their doujin and artwork. Some of the books these people were putting out were pretty well put-together, and weren't really far from professional material. As can be expected, what dominated here are a lot of the recent trending IPs, including Kancolle, One-Punch Man, Attack on Titan, and various other otaku interests. Among one of the notable artists who had a booth here was Einlee, perhaps best known today for being the character designer of Rooster Teeth's RWBY show.

Main Stage

Asian Regional Cosplay Championships

The yearly ARCC is traditionally held at Anime Festival Asia, and it was no different this year, save that the convention held the event on the first day rather than the usual last day. In the competition, cosplay teams from Southeast Asia compete for the recognition of having the best-crafted costumes in the event. Team Daikon Sky from Indonesia were awarded first place, portraying characters from CAPCOM video game series Devil May Cry. Team Thailand came in second with their Megaman X skit. Team Ban×Kai from the Philippines placed third, wearing costumes based on Oda Nobunaga and Mitsuhide Akechi from KOEI Tecmo's Samurai Warriors series.

Focus Panel: The Asterisk War

Guests for this panel included the original light novel series' author Yuu Miyazaki, the anime adaptation's director Manabe Ono, and Atsushi Tamaru, who voices the protagonist Ayato Amagiri in the show. They shared some of the creative decisions that went into creating the anime. Ono said that the design of the show's metropolitan setting is not based on Tokyo, but more on cities that captured a more consolidated, near-future look. Singapore served as a visual inspiration. Miyazaki added that the first scene of the show's first episode included a duel not present in the novel, but was added to the anime so that the audience immediately gets a “running start” of the series' duel concept. Tamaru shared his enjoyment in voicing main character Ayato, as he was not a perfect protagonist, but had flaws that allowed him to be relatable. Tamaru also reads a line from the script.

At the end of the panel, representatives from Bandai Namco Entertainment made a surprise announcement, revealing that it is localizing The Asterisk War: Hōka Kenran PS Vita game for Asia. Bandai Namco later stated that it is still determining demand in deciding which language to localize the game in.

Focus Panel: Charlotte

Guests for this panel included the anime's director Yoshiyuki Asai, voice actress Maaya Uchida, who voiced the characters Misa and Yusa Nishimori, and Lia, who sang the show's opening theme song “Bravely You.” Each guest chose a scene that they liked the most.

Asai chose a scene from the first episode where Jōjirō captures protagonist Yū, as he cites it as an example of the kind of comedy that he thought best used before the show turns into a drama in the show's second half. Uchida chose a scene that showed her character Yusa eating a marshmallow, which she found odd as it was the only time you could see her character eating a marshmallow in the entire series. The scene launched a discussion between her and Asai, about whether it meant anything in particular, and Asai told her to ask Jun Maeda, as he wrote the script. Uchida said that she had tried, but Maeda had given off an air of not wanting to be talked to during recording. Lia chose a scene showing Yusa and her parents, because she thought that Japanese people don't tend to express their thanks to their parents a lot. Later, Lia shared that Jun Maeda wrote the lyrics to the theme song “Bravely You,” and that she didn't know what the lyrics she was singing meant until later on in the show.

Focus Panel: One-Punch Man

This panel just had Makoto Furukawa, the voice of the show's protagonist Saitama, as the guest. He shared his thoughts and experiences while voicing the character. When he had first seen the character design for Saitama, he thought it was funny at first. But as he found out more about the character, he began to think Saitama was cool, and even considered shaving his head for the role. Furukawa expressed some frustration at some of his line reading directions, as he is specifically directed to not raise his voice above a certain level, even if he thinks it would be best for the scene. He expressed envy at his fellow voice actors in the show, who are free to raise their voice and scream for their roles. The one time he could raise his voice for his character was in the extended dream sequence in the show's first episode. In fact, when asked to perform lines from the show during the panel, he performed lines from this exact scene for that reason.

He said that despite reading the manga to prepare for recording, reading the script still made him laugh sometimes. To stifle his laugh, he tries to channel it into a grin, but he said that voice acting experts can definitely hear the change in his voice due to his expression. His favorite character is Zombieman, who hasn't appeared in the show yet, but does appear in the drama CD, voiced by Takahiro Sakurai. He said that Sakurai's acting on a particular scene in the drama CD is what made him a fan.

Focus Panel: Yoshimoto Creative Agency

Yoshimoto Creative Agency is one of the largest comedy entertainment management companies in Japan, and they brought over some of their best acts to AFA Singapore. Cabbage Kakuninchuu did an awesome show of turning some balloons into anime props, including a really impressive balloon recreation of the omni-maneuver gear from Attack on Titan, complete with swords!

Focus Panel: Garakowa -Restore the World-

The convention featured the international premiere of the Garakowa –Restore the World- anime film, and also brought in the film's director Masashi Ishihama, and voice actress Yumiri Hanamori, who voices the character Remo in the film.

The film focuses on Dorothy and Dual, the personifications of anti-virus programs inside an operating system which seems designed to preserve fragmentary moments in the entirety of human history. Viruses seek to infect the memory data, and when one gets infected it always has to be erased. When a new “entity” in the form of a young girl named Remo enters the program, they don't know what to do with her, as she is neither virus nor part of the program. As Dorothy and Dual attempt to find out what Remo is, they explore the landscape of human history, and find some answers to the mystery of the entire program they exist in.

Clocking it at around an hour, Garakowa has barely enough time to endear you to its characters before it has them stumbling on revelations that change them. It's definitely exploring some decidedly familiar territory, both in theme and characterization. It really holds up visually, however. The OS world is all wild shapes and color and floaty physics, while “real-world” locations use photo-based or traced backgrounds, and the film uses its cyberworld conceit to visit a variety of locales and timelines during a montage. The few flashback scenes play with striking silhouettes. We rarely get to see the fast-paced editing that Ishihama has been experimenting with in recent years (see the Psycho-Pass 2 and second Attack on Titan opening), but he does play around with neat spacial editing: quick zooms and pull-outs change audience information on the shot's subject.

The film only showed once in the Tokyo International Film Festival in late October, and is opening in Japan on January 9. Pony Canyon USA is planning a dubbed release in the United States.

Mini Stage

The mini stage was where some of the smaller acts invited for the convention had their space to perform. The scheduling for the mini stage ensured there was always something interesting going on in the convention, and everyone that wandered around here found something they liked.

Pony Canyon artists Yumiri Hanamori, Yurika Endō, and Michi performed their hearts out on this stage three times, once each day. And that's apart from their appearances at various featured anime panels and the Pony Canyon concert at the end of the second day. Musical group Everlast also performed their theme songs for the Force of Will card game once each day on the mini stage.

Relatively new idol groups Stand-Up! Hearts and Niji no Conquistador (Nijicon) also performed on the mini stage. Stand-Up! Hearts won their spot in AFA Singapore after being voted #1 in the idol app CHEERZ. Niji no Conquistador just formed in 2014, and are currently associated with pixiv.

Guest cosplayers invited for the convention also made their appearances on the mini stage. Guest cosplayers included: SiuTao, ELY, Angie, Otogi Nekomu, YingTze, Baozi and Hana, Liui, Seiji Chihara, Jun and Neru, and Tomia and Sansin.

Sadly, the mini stage was also where the late producer and cultural ambassador Takamasa Sakurai would conduct his last panel before passing away last Friday. He presented a panel explaining his theorized origins for Japanese idols, which he connected to Edo-era geisha being admired and respected, and with nobility exchanging ukiyo-e pictures of the respective geisha. He used idol culture as a possible bridge that could bring the world together, as there were many enthusiastic fans of Japanese idols all over the world. He concluded the panel by announcing that he would pen a regular column on Anime Festival Asia's AFA Channel website. Unfortunately, this never came into fruition, as he passed away before his first article.

Cosplay Area

The cosplay area was where cosplayers could strut their stuff, and where photographers could ask to take their photographs using professional props, backgrounds, and equipment. Like most cons, this was not actually inside the con proper (as this would be a logistical nightmare), but actually in the floor below the con itself, though still inside Suntec Convention Centre. If you exited the con into the corridor, and looked below you, the entire floor was basically a sea of costumes, camera flashes, and pretend weaponry, a veritable sea of cosplay.

Setups varied from hastily prepared shots, to full-on setups with backgrounds and reflector boards, and cosplayers enjoyed just hanging around here. The quality and range of costumes and display was truly impressive. Despite the press of people and props in the floor space, it was easy to navigate, and people politely gave way and didn't block access points with photo ops.

I Love Anisong Concert

Anime Festival Asia invited a large lineup of anisong singers and artists for its yearly I Love Anisong concert, which bookended each of the three days of the convention. For a lot of attendees, getting to see their favorite anisong artists perform live on stage is the entire point, so it's no wonder that the concert floor is filled to capacity each night.

The first day opened with an energetic set from Back-On, who definitely garnered some audience impact by singing familiar songs from Air Gear, Gundam Build Fighters Try, and Fairy Tail among others. ZAQ performed some of her signature songs from Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions!, Trinity Seven, and the recent Concrete Revolutio. AKINO with bless4 went up next, and encouraged audience interaction, banking on the familiarity of their songs to get together some call and response. They got possibly the largest reaction from the crowd for singing the theme songs to Kancolle and Genesis of Aquarion. After them, the concert slowed the pace, with Aimer coming up and performing vocal and piano renditions of her already slow-paced songs. These included her two themes from Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, No. 6, and Natsuyuki Rendezvous. HoneyWorks/CHICO with HoneyWorks finished the day up with their sings from Tokyo Ravens, Brothers Conflict, Blue Spring Ride, Magic Kaito 1412, and many songs from their Kokuhaku Jikkō Iinkai ~Renai Series~ concept album. They concluded with a trailer for Zutto Mae Kara Suki Deshita: Kokuhaku Jikkō Iinkai, the upcoming film based on their concept album's story.

Day two was labeled as a P's LIVE concert, which is Japanese music label Pony Canyon's name for its concerts with Pony Canyon-associated actors, actresses, and artists. This is the first time that Pony Canyon held a P's LIVE concert outside of Japan. Michi, Yumiri Hanamori, Maaya Uchida, Yurika Endo, Shiori Mikami, Suzuko Mimori, Ayane Taketatsu, and Suzuko Mimori all took to the stage in very well-organized timings of exits and entries to perform solos and duet songs from the anime they performed theme songs for.

While we weren't able to attend May'n's performance on the third day due to schedule constraints, the other artists we did see still had some stellar performances to close out the last day of the convention. nano, despite being the last day's first act, still got pretty emotional at seeing how well the songs from Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Btooom!, and Magical Warfare were received. Mika Kobayashi's performance was unique, as she hasn't really sung a lot of theme songs, but a lot of background vocals for soundtracks by Hiroyuki Sawano. So she sung some of the vocal tracks from Attack on Titan, particularly “at'aek ON taitn,” and Kill la Kill, such as the ever popular “Don't lose your way.” She also performed her own songs on piano, while kendo master and fight choreographer Tetsuro Shimaguchi performed some slick sword dances on stage. Definitely a unique performance. Lia, long known as collaborator on Jun Maeda songs, performed the themes for Air, Angel Beats!, Charlotte, and Little Busters! Refrain. Garnidelia performed the second Kill la Kill opening song, which was her debut single, as well as songs from The irregular in magic high school, and Gundam Reconguista in G.

Photo Credit: Some indicated photos by Kelvin Koh/Nutcase 23 and Sozo Pte Ltd/Anime Festival Asia 2015

Update: This article previously used gendered pronouns in reference to the singer nano, which have been removed to respect nano's decision to not publicize the singer's gender.

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