(Update1) Anime Festival Asia – AFA 2013

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Anime Festival Asia – AFA 2013, a set on Flickr. Everything you probably want to see is here.

It was 9am on Saturday when I stepped into Suntec Convention Centre – and already the lines snaked three times around. It also happens to be the year-end school holiday season, so there was no surprise by the demographic in attendance – high school kids (with 7 out of 8 of them being boys) in all their otaku glory.

And this is only the 2nd day of the event – apparently the line snaked as long as 5km on Day One.

Enthusiastic high school kids in line at 9am on a weekend – this must be every educator’s dream come true. Last year’s attendance was 80,000 strong; this year’s felt like the attendance doubled.

Welcome to Anime Festival Asia, or Singapore’s answer to ComiCon@San Diego. This is a world where every closet otaku maniac comes out in full force – including yours truly.

AFA is a triple whammy comprising of exhibits, panel discussions, mini shows and competitions, and a 3-night concert dedicated to anime theme songs. Tickets this year for the exhibits cost $10 for the day, and $20 to include stage access (and by stage access, I mean panel discussions, talks, and exclusive previews. Concert ticket prices sold separately).

“Attack on Titan”  『進撃の巨人』 was a clear highlight. One of the key highlights of its experience booth had what was probably half the size of the actual head of the Colossal Titan itself. Cosplayers, which came out decked in their favorite characters, also dressed as soldiers – mostly assigning themselves to the Scouting Legion. Aniplus – a new channel under Mediacorp’s Toggle online media platform – also featured SnK as their featured show, completely decorating their booth with SnK’s trademark walls and characters flying in mid-air. SnK will officially (and legitimately) broadcast next January – although one cannot help but feel they came nearly a year too late into the game.

There were many booths selling anime paraphernalia, but only one was accepting pre-orders of the 1/8 figurine of Levi. I’m only able to pick it up when the second batch is ready in Q1 2014, but I’m sure when it comes, I will have a special corner on my desk all ready for it.

One surprise in the exhibition hall was Microsoft, which I least expected to see. In its efforts to redeem itself and win back more Internet Explorer users – targeting folks like me that use Chrome – they created a brand new theme exclusive to Asia, including its mascot, Inori Aizawa. Jonathan Wong, Microsoft Asia Pacific’s Apps and Services Marketing Lead, said the character was designed and made in Singapore-based Collateral Damage Studios. The video concept was also produced in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University, and released 3 days before the event.

Inori Aizawa in action against some major malware robots. Who knew IE was so kickass.
Unfortunately, the Inori Aizawa experience is only available to Windows users; Microsoft stopped adapting IE for Macintosh since 2003 (I suspect this probably led to their downfall). 
If exhibits and crowded spaces aren’t your thing, there’s no harm paying extra for the stage access. On my first day, the only point of interest was to hear from the key crew members of “Psycho Pass” (including Gen Urobuchi himself, director Naoyoshi Shiotani, and chief producer Koji Yamamoto). I decided to be early and sit in a full hour in advance – and inadvertently caught a glimpse of BABYMETAL and a IE’s presentation of Inori Aizawa. For the uninformed, BABYMETAL is what appears to me as the new Speed – a trio of teenage girls between 14 to 16 years old – but they specialize in “metal pop”, and are fronted by one lead singer and two other “screamers” (cheerleaders). They may seem insanely young (almost borderline child labour), and their performance resembles more of a goth-themed Zumba class, but they presented themselves way better than a Disney starlet can. 
BABYMETAL’s latest video “Megitsune”

That aside, it was quite surprising to see that many people interested in “Psycho Pass” in spite of a very quiet presence here. Makishima Shogo was also a surprising favorite among fans, considering his psychopathic, twisted character as the main antagonist of the story. Official news is that Psycho Pass season 2 and a movie are in the works. We don’t know when either will be released since they’re still in storyboarding, but we have been promised a sneak preview of the movie at next year’s event.

Of course, no one else stole the show like SnK. The kids were in line in full force, and the hall was full with no standing room left. No one was disappointed either, with a lineup like Araki Tetsuro (director), Asano Kyoji (character designer), George Wada (producer), Nakatake Tetsuya (animation producer), and Ishikawa Yui herself (the voice actress behind Mikasa Ackerman). Apparently this is the first time the crew has gotten together since the show’s premier, and we got to hear how the show was conceptualized. While there were no news about Season 2, we did get an exclusive look into the storyboarding process for the last couple of minutes of Episode 21. Levi was clearly a favorite – the very name elicits screams of deafening proportions.

Several new shows were also introduced, including “Hōzuki no Reitetsu”『鬼灯の冷徹』 and Noragami『ノラガミ』. Given the latter’s relative unfamiliarity in this country (I only knew about it because I stumbled upon the manga online), we were given a very exclusive look at the first episode before its debut broadcast in Jan 2014. Technical glitches aside, the show exceeded my expectations – the storyline was more streamlined than the manga; the voice acting was excellent, and the animation design was just beautiful, with just the right amount of humor.

The cosplay competition came right after, but I decided to give it a miss after seeing enough of them posing for photographers in the area. Photos taken over two days have been uploaded on Flickr and can be viewed via the link above (where the photo collage is).

Update, Nov 11: In retrospect, I will probably think about preparing a survival guide when attending such events, especially given the likelihood of losing things right under your nose. As of this morning, AFA reported on its Facebook page that one of their Japanese guests lost his MacBook Air near the hall entrance, and that a cash reward will be given if found. Last year, photographer also reportedly lost his DSLR. Safety first, folks. No one wants to pay more than $20 for such an experience.

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