Singapore's largest anime convention returns for the 4th consecutive year15 November, 2011 by Chad
Over the weekend, I had the chance to visit AFA11, the Anime Festival Asia 2011 held at the Suntec Convention Center. This is the fourth year running for Singapore and South East Asia’s largest anime related convention. Once again it attracted quite a crowd over the two days, some of whom had come down from neighboring countries specifically for the event. Impressions inside.
Met up with Geraldine over the Suntec on Sunday. She was initially supposed to come as Black Gold Saw but it fell through at the last moment. Instead, she was here as Shikibu Seiju from the manga Dolls so I was shown around the place by this cute Nazi boy. It’s supposed to be a police uniform but only a rare few managed to identify the obscure character (much to her delight).
It definitely helped to have someone knowledgeable about anime stuff when exploring the festival.
Last year was my first time visiting the event in Singapore and admittedly walked away with a rather unfavorable experience, especially with regard to the unruly crowds. And judging from the vocal feedback, I wasn’t the only one.
Thankfully, the organizers have been keen to react to public feedback and have taken direct steps to remedy the situation, along with a number of improvements to this year’s Anime Festival Asia.
We took issue to the poor distribution of tickets last year and the ridiculous crowds that resulted. Thankfully, tickets were made available online directly from the Anime Festival Asia website this year, finally addressing the need to queue up physically on the day for entry.
One of the other main gripes among other visitors last year were the ticket prices (that started at $15/day). This is a fair price to pay as far as overseas conventions go but locally, most are spoiled by the free entry offered by the other fairs here. It doesn’t help that most of Anime Festival Asia’s young audience tend to survive off a allowance. But in response, ticket prices have been reduced to $8.
As if taking a nod out from the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention (STGCC), booths and experience zones at AFA11 have been spread more efficiently around the hall too. I found that there now should had been ample room to move around the hall.
Yet moving around wasn’t pain free. Because with all that extra space, it reached a point where people were just standing in the middle of the halls chatting and obstructing traffic. The organizers have done their part, but it is now ultimately left up to the visitors to learn some navigational skills.
This is probably a cultural issue. But back in Japan, visitors tend to gravitate towards the corners of halls where they can squat or sit out of sight when not actively scouring conventions. It could be that the Japanese just don’t like people very much. But it does have the side effect of easing the congestion.
Instead, any sitting on the attendees part were done in the most disruptive way possible. This year’s I Love Ani-Song Concerts were held at the adjacent hall in the late afternoon on both days. Despite most tickets being numbered, many concert-goers felt the compulsion to start queuing hours in advance. The only free standing areas were at the extreme back of the hall where it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Thankfully, the queue took up most of the area outside of the exit of the main hall, rather than the entrance. But it still resulted in most being unable to navigate the fourth level of Suntec Convention Center.
The other problem were of course the numerous cosplayers directly outside of the entrance and the many more sitting around the rest of Suntec City. Many more seem to pop up each year and aren’t a problem alone. But when combined with the camera wielding mobs, lead to a rather unsightly situation.
I can’t really blame the management for not providing them a place to flaunt their craft this year, as I was told that many of the cosplayers here weren’t even Anime Festival Asia patrons. Judging from the lack of ticketing bands, this ended up being most most of the cosplayers we would come across today.
On a side note, the standard of cosplay does seem to be improving, with many sporting impressive or intriguing costumes. But I highly doubt that the $8 makes much of a difference to their costumes.
One might argue that the cosplayers would be more inclined to pay if if there were proper amenities to facilitate their cosplay. But this is arguable. The dim halls here don’t exactly make the best places for photography to begin with.
Between the concert queue and the cosplayers, moving around outside the was actually more difficult a task. Comparatively, once you got into the convention hall moving around was a breeze.
Squeezing through the crowds, we found Strength, the only surviving character from Geraldine’s cosplay group. The adorably tiny character became an instant fave with the cameras. The impressive costume was assembled with the help of her brother. Amazingly the fingers on the arms actually move.
Hopefully we’ll be able to drop in for a proper shoot when the rest of the team assemble their costumes next month.
Inside, similar booths were organized in a more understandable manner this year.
On the right, there was the Artist Alley where local talents and aspiring fan artists could display their works. Beside, Canon had set up a promotional Cosplay Zone which provided printed backdrops for visitors to use for free, granted you didn’t mind enduring the hard selling that came with it.
On the opposite side of the hall were large play areas dedicated to Bushiroad’s anime card games. They’d probably make a good place to rest too, but most were contempt with standing in the middle of the hall.
Hasbro made an appearance this year, in the form of a introduction area for their card game Magic: The Gathering as well. Though small, there’s a surprisingly long-lived community of players over here. Their presence compliments Bushiroad’s nicely.
Toy companies and retailers took up the center area of the hall. Many were returning stores from last year, most of whom also own retail outlets down in Chinatown. There were fewer overall retailers this year but more directly represented companies.
Bandai had set up a booth at the entrance displaying collectible figures from their anime licenses made by the Banpresto subsidiary and Gundam models. Most of the figures on display were from the One Piece anime/manga, some of which are yet to be sold in Singapore. Definitely a popular spot among camera enthusiasts, or just people with cameras in general (everyone).
The girl with pink hair popped up in numerous occasions before. I was told that it was the main character from an anime Madoka and is currently the most popular anime here. Based on her lovely pink dress, I guessed it was a magical girl anime. I was right.
Sure enough, we’d come across many cosplayers dressed up in this pink outfit. There was a surprising lack of Hatsune Mikus that used to plague previous conventions but at least a dozen Madokas today.
The shops from Shanghai were back too, their goods a hit among the visitors each year. They sold plastic swords to increase your posing stats as well as quick and easy fixes to cosp-ise your outfit, such as cat ears and paws. Kind of like the anime equivalent of Mickey Mouse ears in Disneyland. I found Eri playing around with one of the cat paws, seems she had bought a couple as gifts for the AKB48 guests too.
Trade and business booths were sparse this year. But those that remained tended to tie in better with the whole anime fair theme. Long time partners like Animax and Good Smile were back of course. But the more unique came from the Cool Japan Showcase.
The Nico Nico Douga booth by Dwango attracted the most attention from passersby.
More than just being located at the center of the hall, a live streaming feed was set up and the staff went around the hall actively pulling visitors on camera.
Viewers from Japan offered their real-time comments, overlaid over the video in typical Nico Nico fashion. It’s a good thing the comments were in Japanese. Many were less than flattering.
Plushies of the mascot were available for sale albeit at a cut-throat price. The largest ones went for $100 a piece. There were some autographed by notable AFA11 guests but those weren’t for sale.
Not For Sale also happened to be the name of a fortune telling talent agency straight from Shibuya that had set up booth nearby. The group is made up of four Japanese studs specializing in different types of predictions.
I’m quite surprised that there wasn’t an extensive queue, since the opportunity to have your had caressed by one of the Japanese ikemen for an entire session would seem more appealing than a butler cafe.
But the butler and maid cafes did draw a remarkable crowd. Like last year, the makeshift Moe Moe Kyun and Atelier Royale Butler Cafes made their appearance at the Anime Festival Asia. Many took this once a year chance to stop by the cafes.
There’s something about being in a convention that makes visiting such a cafe more of a social norm, something the organizers understand and use to their advantage.
Visitors got the chance to meet some of their old favorites, as well as new butlers and maids. Some of the others, of the maids at least, have moved on to join the AKB48 Singapore Cafe and Shop.
AKB48 Singapore made a presence at AFA11. A booth was set up where merchandise, some of which exclusive to the festival was sold. The girls from the AKB48 Cafe also appeared at the AFA11 mini-stage to perform a couple of songs each day. Some fans turned up to support the local performers.
Two members from AKB48 also visited Anime Festival Asia on Sunday, Team A’s Nakaya Sayaka and Team B’s Miku Tanabe, both of whom are self-confessed anime otaku. They appeared on stage in the afternoon for a short talk session after the performances by the cafe staff.
Fans of AKB48 also had the chance to interact with the members in a more personal manner later on at the AKB48 Official Singapore Shop booth. The two members held a number of greet and meet sessions here over the course of the day. Visitors were entitled to a handshake ticket to meet the girls with a minimum purchase of $20 at the shop booth.
Overall, Anime Festival Asia 2011 was a stark improvement, particularly logistically over last year’s festival. As mentioned before, SOZO Pte Ltd, the company running the show have announced plans to hold similar events around the rest of South East Asia soon.
Hopefully with the experience from these additional runs, the organizers continue to learn and iron out the problems faced. And in time the Anime Festival Asia will be able to grow to a world class level more fitting of this self-proclaimed global hub.